Institute of Politics Visiting Fellow and former U.S. Senator Norman B. “Norm” Coleman has spent the past three decades working in public service. Coleman became mayor of St. Paul, Minn. in 1993 and won his Senate seat in 2002. His prolonged battle for reelection grabbed national headlines, ending with his concession to Al Franken ’73 last June.
The Crimson sat down with Coleman to talk about his time in the Senate and what lies ahead.
The Harvard Crimson: You were once an outspoken Democrat but switched to the Republican Party in 1996. What motivated you to switch parties?
Norm Coleman: I was a reformer as a young student in the 1960s, and I was a reformer as a mayor. I cut taxes, limited the size of government, worked in partnership with the business community, and was very tough on crime. I took over a city that was dead and dying in the early 1990s and saw revitalization by the principles that I used, which were clearly consistent with Republican principles.
THC: What was your proudest achievement in the Senate?
NC: On the policy side, it is the work I did on the U.N. I led investigations into the Oil-for-Food scam that Saddam Hussein perpetrated. That became part of a larger discussion on U.N. reform. My lament is that it hasn’t gone far enough—that the U.N. still needs reform. I believe we need a United Nations, but if we’re going to make that investment, we need greater transparency and accountability.
THC: You’ve been a strong proponent of the War on Terror. What kind of advice would you give President Obama as he mulls policy in Afghanistan?
NC: My advice on Afghanistan—I’ll be cautious on this—is to listen to your commanders, listen to [General Commander Stanley A.] McChrystal, set a course and follow through with it. I don’t object to the President taking time to reflect on Afghanistan. My concern is that it becomes politicized, that there is discussion that the President may somehow compromise between various plans. We’re involved in a war. Lives are on the line. It’s not about compromise.
THC: If given the chance again, would you still hold out for the Minnesota Senate seat?
NC: I’m not sure what you mean by hold out. I got more votes on Election Day. The decision was made after a legal battle in which the other side had more absentee ballots counted than we did. They [the Franken campaign] chose a strategy that allowed them to get more of their votes counted. We had a strategy based on equal protection. There were literally thousand of votes in Republican areas that still have not been counted. I have no regrets about fighting hard to get somebody’s vote counted.
THC: Do you plan to seek the Minnesota governorship?
NC: I’m not going to make that decision for a little bit. I thought it was important to step away from the political process. It’s really nice waking up in the morning and reading the paper and realizing that nobody is trying to kill you politically today. I’m a public servant at heart, but I haven’t made a final decision on whether being the governor is the best way to do that.
—Staff writer Evan T. R. Rosenman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.