After two days of formal receptions and press conferences, Al Franken drove across town on Tuesday for a more spirited celebration at the AFL-CIO headquarters. And though many in the national media mourned the death of his wit on Monday, the senator showed he could still entertain a crowd.
Franken, who asked the union group to hold the reception, was joined by Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Vice President Walter Mondale, who had stood beside him hours earlier when he was sworn in as senator. With Walleye and fried pickles lying on nearby tables, the crowd howled as Franken entered the building, later holding up enlarged copies of his election certificate.
In contrast to the formalities of the day, the tone was decidedly lighthearted.
â€œI do bring you greetings from the state of Minnesota,â€ Klobuchar said. â€œWhere in the words of our poet laureate Garrison Keillor: the women are strong â€“ right Al? â€“ the men are good looking â€“ right Mr. vice president? â€“ and all the recounts are above-average!â€
Franken took the stage for 15 minutes, beginning his speech by reflecting on a comment made earlier in the evening about Minnesotaâ€™s election lasting longer than the 2000 election in Florida.
â€œRichard talked about Minnesota taking a little bit longer than Florida. In Minnesota we counted the votes,â€ Franken said, prompting laughter from the packed room.
Franken also humorously thanked Klobuchar for her participation in his campaign events.
â€œI must have done 50 or 60 [events]. And if I did 50 or 60, Amy was at 40 of them. And if Amy wasnâ€™t there, her husband John was there, and her daughter Abigail. And if they werenâ€™t there her father Jim â€“ whoâ€™s legendary in Minnesota â€“ was there. And if none of them were there I just thought to myself, â€˜Why am I here?â€™â€
The bulk of Frankenâ€™s speech was devoted to union-related issues. Franken, who is a member of the Writers Guild, the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists, the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild, said he and his wife would not have had health care during the campaign without his union affiliations.
â€œWe need to level the playing field,â€ Franken said. â€œThe unions built the middle class in this country and what we have seen in the last 30 years or so is the playing field become a steep hill for working families. Weâ€™ve seen a great risk shift in this country, and thatâ€™s why we need health care reform.â€
Franken emphasized that he would work to protect peopleâ€™s pensions, especially those working for companies declaring bankruptcy.
â€œWe have shifted in this country all the risks in life to working people,â€ Franken said. â€œAnd one of them shouldnâ€™t be that youâ€™re going to lose your pension after building up a pension. A hard dayâ€™s work should get a decent dayâ€™s pay, and a lifetime of work should bring a secure retirement.â€