Sen. Mark Dayton is planning his own unofficial remake of the Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Like Stewart in the 1939 film, the Minnesota Democrat is threatening to bottleneck Senate business for the sake of an obscure cause. It could be quite a sideshow from a very unlikely star. Since being elected to the Senate in 2000, Dayton has been a relatively obscure figure, garnering little attention with his limited attempts at advocacy. But a bit of back room finagling has put him in a mood to rattle the walls. It seems Northwest Airlines swung a deal with Mississippi Republican Trent Lott, the former Senate majority leader.
The airline agreed to add flights to Mississippi in exchange for a last-minute clause inserted by Lott in a House-Senate conference committee report which would restrict noise-abatement efforts near the Twin Cities airport. While some may call this shadowy maneuver just business as usual in Washington, it prompted Dayton to fly into a rage at the airline. In a floor speech, he attacked Northwest's "sneaky, slimy and sordid shenanigan" and vowed to tie up Senate business when the body reconvenes Sept. 2 unless the offending clause is removed.
This threat conjures up images of Dayton filibustering himself into a state of exhaustion, just as Stewart's fictional Jefferson Smith character did in 1939. Dayton's protest may not take that exact form, but it would certainly make him a hot topic at every Washington tea party, something he has never been before. Naturally he runs the risk of making a fool of himself and damaging his political career. However, most Americans are as fed up with congressional wheeling-and-dealing as Dayton is in this case. If his protest can tap into that undercurrent of resentment, he could be rewarded. Not with an Academy Award, but with something he'd prize much more highly -- a second term.
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