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Story highlights

The governor of Minnesota said appointed Tina Smith to replace Sen. Al Franken

Franken is accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with women

(CNN) —  

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith has been selected to replace Al Franken in the Senate.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Minnesota Democrat, announced Wednesday morning that Smith has been appointed to a one-year term in the Senate, which will conclude in January 2019. Smith, thought to be a leading contender to replace Franken, accepted the appointment.

“Though I never anticipated this moment,” Smith said, “I am resolved to do everything I can to move Minnesota forward, and I will be a fierce advocate in the United States Senate for the economic opportunity and fairness.”

“This is a difficult moment for us. But even now, I am filled with optimism for Minnesota,” Smith, a Democrat, added.

The announcement comes following Franken’s December 7 decision to resign from office over allegations that he touched women inappropriately. Smith told Minnesota reporters that she respects Franken’s decision to resign, and thanked him for his service as senator.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Franken called Smith an excellent choice for the seat, saying that he looks forward to working with her on ensuring “a speedy and seamless transition.”

“She is a dedicated public servant who’s worked tirelessly on behalf of Minnesotans, and Governor Dayton couldn’t have made a better choice for this job,” Franken said. “Her record of accomplishment as Lieutenant Governor demonstrates that she’ll be an effective senator who knows how to work across party lines to get things done for Minnesota.”

Smith said during the appointment announcement that she expects to head to the Senate in early January. However, political offices in Washington and in Minnesota are still finalizing the details. She added that she intends to run for the seat during next November’s special election.

“Tina Smith is a person of the highest integrity and ability,” Dayton said. “There is no one I trust more to assume the responsibilities of this important office. I know that she will be a superb senator, representing the best interests of our state and our citizens.”

Currently, there are 21 women serving in the Senate (16 Democrats and 5 Republicans). This is the record for women in the upper chamber, which Smith will increase upon taking office.

Asked about renewed allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior by President Donald Trump, Smith declined to take a direct shot at the President, but said there’s “a sort of sea change in attitudes” over sexual harassment.

“(S)exual harassment is disrespectful to people and it can’t be tolerated. … I can promise you that I will be working on these issues when I get to Washington, DC, but that will be in January,” she said.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, was one of the names also suggested to replace Franken, but he praised the governor’s decision in a statement following the announcement.

“Tina Smith is the right person at the right time and has my full support both now and when she runs in the 2018 special election,” Ellison said.

While she will keep the Senate balance of power the same, this will be an additional seat Democrats have to defend next year in their hopes to regain the majority in the upper chamber.

Jennifer Carnahan, the chairwoman of Republican Party of Minnesota, said in a statement that by choosing Smith, Dayton “chose to play politics with Senator Franken’s replacement.”

“It’s an underhanded ‘House of Cards’ style move,” Carnahan continued. “This is clearly an attempt to throw the Republican majority in the Minnesota Senate out of balance. This decision will ripple through the next legislative session. This move is as transparent as it is political.”

CNN’s Terence Burlij, Adam Levy, and Wade Payson-Denney contributed to this report.