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Workhorse role suits Sen. Franken

Finally, Minnesota has two votes in the U.S. Senate, and Al Franken has a new career. Minnesota's junior senator took the oath of office Tuesday, with evident resolve to earn his Senate stripes as a workhorse in the five-plus years remaining in his term.

Franken's career change has been a thing of fascination for national pundits in the week since the closest U.S. Senate race in Minnesota history ended in his favor. They marvel at how the author of "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot" now fails to crack a joke when confronted with a phalanx of microphones, preferring to talk instead about the need for health care cost containment.

For the Minnesotans who closely followed the prolonged contest between former GOP Sen. Norm Coleman and DFLer Franken, the change is old news. But that does not make it less welcome. Franken's capacity for sharp wit is among the personal assets he brings to the Senate. But it ought not be a prominent one in the years ahead. If it is, his effectiveness as the voice Minnesotans need in Washington will be diminished.

To his credit, Franken shows signs of grasping that his new career requires skills and a style quite different from his old one. His low profile during the eight-month recount and court battle served him well. His emphasis in recent days on the weighty matters that now confront him in the Senate -- and on the special stake Minnesota has in them -- befits his new role.

Franken will not join the Senate's health committee until the markup is complete on the major reform bill being drafted this summer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday. We hope that delay does not deter Franken from pushing for fair treatment of low-cost health care states like Minnesota in the big debate that's just ahead. We also look for Franken to speak up for Minnesota interests on the judiciary, Indian affairs and aging panels.

Inescapably, Franken is in for an extra measure of scrutiny in Washington. His previous career, the harsh 2008 Senate campaign, and the long uncertainty of its aftermath have left him with an unusually large cadre of critics. If he aims only to satisfy them, he will grant them undue influence. But if he focuses on enacting policies that will benefit all Minnesotans, he'll stand a decent chance of eventually winning their respect. -- Minneapolis Star Tribune