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Minnesotans invoke Iowa produce in fight to end stalled Franken-Coleman Senate race

June 1, 2009 | 10:05 pm


Talk about a corny idea …

The Norm Coleman-Al Franken battle for Minnesota’s U.S. Senate seat is now seven months and counting, and the state’s voters of every political sway are understandably weary of it all. But that hasn’t stopped at least one pro-Franken group from using humor to add fuel to the political firestorm.

Late last week, the group Americans United for Change decided to point out (in their minds) the ridiculousness of a stance taken by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty – a politician with White House aspirations. He has refused to sign the election certificate that would allow Franken to assume office and get to work. They sent Pawlenty a basket of Iowa corn, in a nod to the Iowa caucus, which traditionally kicks off the presidential election season.

Their message: Stop putting your White House dreams ahead of the needs of the North Star State. But wait, it gets better. The basket was delivered by a 6-foot-2, 290-pound guy dressed in a corn costume. Who in their right mind would do this?

Meet Xavier Lopez-Ayala, 21, a recent college graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He now lives in Minneapolis and, according to him, has grown increasingly frustrated with watching state services dwindle as Minnesota’s economy continues to suffer amid the recession. It reminds him, Lopez-Ayala said, too much of the woes long endured by residents in Michigan.

When the folks over at Americans United for Change decided to send their package of snarky produce, they realized that maybe -- just maybe -- the corn itself wasn’t a clear enough message. They asked Lopez-Ayala, the group’s new media director, to find a costume.

“I did a search for costume shops in Minneapolis,” Lopez-Ayala said. “The first site listed had corn for rent.” (Gotta love Google.)

So Friday afternoon, Lopez-Ayala squeezed his husky frame into the foam cob, hefted the wicker basket and headed to the state Capitol in St. Paul.

He ran into a school tour group in the Capitol's rotunda. When the tour leader pointed him out as an ear of Minnesota corn, he was quick to correct her. “I tried to explain to the kids about the Senate race, but I don’t think they got the reference to Iowa,” Lopez-Ayala said. Besides, “it was kind of hard to see them in the costume. And that basket was getting heavy.”

So he shuffled on to the governor’s office. A police officer greeted him. A receptionist took the basket, heard the group’s explanation and thanked them. No word yet on whether Pawlenty grilled ’em up on the barbecue.

And Lopez-Ayala? His friends have nicknamed him "the corn man."

Despite all this corniness, it’s actually not such a simple decision to make for the Republican governor, who has found himself stuck between a political rock and hard place. If Franken is seated, that would give Democrats a 60-vote – and filibuster-proof – majority in the Senate (if the independents tag along), something that the GOP would like to avoid (or at least delay) as long as possible.

If Pawlenty signs the certificate, he upsets the national Republican Party – whom he needs to woo to make a presidential bid in 2012. If he doesn’t, then he infuriates Minnesota voters who want this fight to end and have a second voice in Washington working to get them additional economic aid during these tough times.

A three-judge panel ruled that Franken won the race by 312 votes. Coleman is appealing the decision before the state Supreme Court. To see how those oral arguments turned out Monday morning, read the story here.

-- P.J. Huffstutter

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Photo: Xavier Lopez-Ayala; Joe Davis, deputy director, Alliance for a Better Minnesota; Donald McFarland, Minnesota state director, Americans United for Change. Credit: Courtesy of Lopez-Ayala.