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Other View: Franken has long road to regain credibility

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken told Twin Cities reporters Sunday he's embarrassed and ashamed by the sexual misconduct allegations against him, and he said he's determined to "gradually regain" the trust of his constituents.

Whether that's possible depends on the definition of "gradually."

Franken, who just a few weeks ago was to his progressive fans a "giant of the Senate," as his new book is called, and who was being mentioned as a possible Democratic contender for president in 2020, is now in a very deep hole after the allegations that began emerging Nov. 16, when Los Angeles radio personality Leeann Tweeden accused him of forcibly kissing her during a USO tour in 2006.

Then there's the infamous photo of Franken with his hands hovering over Tweeden's breasts as she slept. Since then, three other women have alleged — two anonymously — that he groped them during photo shoots.

Franken apologized immediately, without necessarily acknowledging exactly what happened, and he encouraged a Senate Ethics Committee investigation of his conduct. But prior to Sunday, he had been in seclusion since Tweeden told her story. The interviews were his first direct contact with the media since the firestorm began.

Was he waiting for any other allegations to bubble up? A reasonable guess, though Franken says he was "reflecting" on his behavior. Nonetheless, it took too long for him to talk directly with the media and Minnesotans. It compounded the sense that his career was in a tailspin, at a critical time in Washington.

Some have called for Franken to resign. While his alleged conduct before and after his election to the Senate is reprehensible and he's clearly damaged, we believe the ethics process should go forward and the full Senate render a judgment. In the current environment, and in the context of other allegations against elected leaders, including President Donald Trump, we think the process has value in casting a harsh, bright light on sexual misconduct.

The process may provide a kind of justice for the women who called him out, while respecting the fact that 53 percent of voters in 2014 gave Franken a second Senate term. His removal or resignation should be a last resort of historic gravity.

If nothing else, the process can drive home to Americans that we do, in fact, have high standards for our elected officials, and that we hold them accountable when they demean our democratic institutions.

It's also imperative that Congress open the files on sexual-harassment complaints against elected officials, such as the harassment settlement involving powerful Democratic Rep. John Conyers. Bills have been introduced in both chambers to require complaints to be addressed publicly, and these and other reforms must move now so they don't sink into oblivion when the outrage has passed.

Can Franken regain his effectiveness in the Senate? We have our doubts. The former "Saturday Night Live" comedian and writer had to overcome considerable skepticism to win the stature he achieved. The outcome of the ethics process will go a long way to determine whether he has a political future.

"Gradually" recovering the respect of Minnesotans will be a long and exacting process. It's up to Franken to reassure, by word and deed, that he understands the gravity of the allegations and is capable of addressing them.

— Post Bulletin of Rochester, Minn.