Candidates running to fill Al Franken’s seat for U.S. Senate have their work cut out for them.
Not only must they win an election for the seat this November, but because it was vacated two years ahead of schedule, the winner will soon have to run again to keep the job for the upcoming six-year term in 2020.
The sole Republican candidate to enter the race, Minnesota District 39 Sen. Karin Housley of St. Mary’s Point, visited Hutchinson and Glencoe Tuesday. After she visited Hutchinson High School’s Center for Technical Excellence, and chatted with the robotics team, she toured Harmony River Living Center as part of her work as chair of the Aging and Long-Term Care Committee.
DFL contenders for the same seat include Tina Smith, Gov. Mark Dayton’s lieutenant governor who filled the Senate role when Franken resigned, and Minneapolis attorney Nick Leonard.
A reporter caught up with Housley before she headed to Glencoe for a speaking engagement with the Greater Minnesota Republican Women.”
Introduce yourself to our readers, and tell us a bit about yourself.
“I’m a small business owner. I am from Stillwater, Minnesota. I am married to my high school sweetheart Phil — we both graduated from South St. Paul — for 33 years. We have four children and two grandchildren. In addition to being a small business owner – it’s a real estate business in the St. Croix Valley — I was a radio show host for nine years. I wrote a book, and I’ve been in the Minnesota state Senate for the last six years. I am chair of the Aging and Long-Term Care Committee, and I also serve on the veterans committee where I work with Rep. (Dean) Urdahl, who is here (visiting Harmony River), and jobs and commerce committees.”
What’s the title of your book?
“‘Chicks Laying Nest Eggs: How 10 Skirts Beat the Pants Off Wall Street... and How You Can, Too!’ It was published in 2000. It’s published by Random House. I had started an investment club, and an agent in New York found my blog online and asked me to write the book. I wrote a few chapters and then I went to New York and shopped it around to 15 different publishers. Twelve of them wanted to buy it so it went up for auction and Random House got it.”
Why did you decide to run for U.S. Senate?
“I felt it’s been a long time since our voice was heard in the United States Senate. We’ve had Franken for almost 10 years. And I know I could do a good job. I think I’ve done a good job in the Minnesota Senate representing the people, authoring and supporting bills, helping our businesses create jobs. There was a real need for someone to jump in fast and somebody that could do it, run a statewide campaign, raise the money, and really be a voice for the people, listen to the people. I think I’ve proven I’ve done that at the state level. So I would like to represent the people of Minnesota in D.C.”
What qualifies you as the person to make sure the voice of the Minnesotan is heard?
“In my six years representing District 9, the Stillwater, Forest Lake area — it’s a swing district that has been represented by Democrats and Republicans — my door has always been open to listen to both sides of every issue. Every bill I’ve had to vote (on), they say that we’re the lucky ones that have swing districts because you have to know those bills inside and out. Because when I go back to the district you have half the people wondering why you voted that way, so you really have to know.
“I sort of feel Minnesota is a swing state, we go from Democrat to Republican. I prefer to think that it’s a little middle right, but I have always listened. Even when I vote not the way the other half of the district wants me (to), they’re not upset because I can explain myself and I listen to them going in. So I think that everyone just wants to be heard and I make sure I do. And I weigh those opinions when I do go to vote. So I would continue to listen to everybody in the state of Minnesota, and represent everybody. Not just Republicans.”
What’s the place of bipartisanship today in national politics?
“It’s missing. I think it’s missing and that’s why a lot of people are frustrated with our politicians. Because they dig their heels in and somewhere along the way compromise got to be a bad word. I’m still going to stick to my core principals and values, but it doesn’t mean I’m not going to work with the other side to listen to theirs and find something in the middle. I think the public across the country is very frustrated with their politicians just drawing a line in the sand and sticking to it and then voting to shut down government. Nothing gets done when you shut down government. I think it’s really, really missing in D.C., and I think Rep. Urdahl will tell you it’s missing at the state level sometimes, and I think it’s very important to keep the lines of communication open.
“People vote for their elected officials, whether it’s school board or city council, state legislature or nationally to go there and get something done, not to fight, and people are really tired of fighting.”
You mentioned core values. What would you say your core values are?
“My dad was a school teacher, and growing up he had three daughters, and he was a high school basketball coach. He would, every day, tell us three girls: ‘Work hard, play fair and do the right thing.’ And so, every day I keep that with me. When I lay my head on the pillow at night it’s, ‘Did I work hard, play fair and do the right thing?’ But my mom, who was the daughter of a Lutheran minister, would say, ‘And you make sure to put God first.’ So that’s my core values, it’s really always doing the right thing and putting everything in perspective. And even at the State Capitol, I’m not going to lose sleep over the way I voted. I want to make sure I did the right thing for my district and at the end of the day that’s all you can do. So sticking to those I think is very important to everything I do.”
What do you say to people who are wondering if they should get out to the polls this election?
“Absolutely everybody should get out to the polls. I think there is still going to be some excitement here in Minnesota. I think Minnesotans like the way things are going with the tax reform bill and the extra money being put in people’s pockets right now. And there is a lot happening in the different districts. We have two open seats in our congressional races. We have some excitement. I think people were thinking this was going to be a blue wave, and I think even with the two races yesterday (special elections to fill the seats of Sen. Dan Schoen and Rep. Tony Cornish were held by Democrats) those did not end up being a blue wave. The Republicans did a lot better than people thought they were going to. Presidential years always get more voters out there. Minnesotans, we value our right to vote, so I think we are still going to have a good turnout on Election Day.”
How do you differ from prior representation?
“I think what’s different between me and who I am running against, Tina Smith, is ... she’s never been a stand-alone candidate. And she was part of the Dayton administration the last eight years. Everything that has happened in the Dayton administration, from MNSure, the debacle that turned out to be, more bureaucracy with our health care system, MNLARS. Well, MNSure was $95 million, and MNLARS $93 million. Complete debacles. And they want another $43 million to fix it. And then what happened with the Department of Health, and the oversight of the office of health facility complaints where reports were just thrown in the garbage, and Tina Smith and Gov. Dayton knew all about that. So, I don’t know what there is to be happy with that at all. So I’d say I’m a lot different from her there, being a stand-alone candidate and doing good things for my district.”
Where do you agree with the president, and where do you differ?
“I agree with the president on most of his policies that he has put out. I think getting this tax reform bill passed was a huge win for him and for the people of this country. And that’s what I’m hearing when I travel around Minnesota is more jobs (are) being created, companies like Apple bringing $350 billion they had off shore back into the United States creating 20,000 jobs, that’s just Apple alone. People are happy with that. You can’t argue with that. I think where I disagree with the president it’s just a style issue. I’m not a huge fan of the way he goes about getting some of his messages out, but I’m sticking to the policy.”
Do you tweet a lot?
“I tweet a lot. I do tweet a lot. But they’re nice tweets, they’re upbeat tweets. When I’m frustrated I don’t take it out on Twitter.”
Speaking of policy, what makes you tick? What are you really excited to work on?
“This aging and long-term care thing is really huge for me. There are a lot of things that can help our facilities. Regulations are the new tax, so I think what we can do to help our nursing homes and our assisted living is crafting legislation that works for them but still protects our seniors. Regulations in our small businesses, regulations alone, we have too many of them across the board. I think helping our businesses with less regulations, helping them grow, helping them create jobs. Helping our businesses is really important to me. And taking care of our elderly, and our veterans. My dad was a veteran, so that one is really big. And especially working with Rep. Urdahl and Sen. Bruce Anderson at the state level was really a big help for me sitting on the veterans committee. I want to make sure those veterans programs are there so when those who are serving in the military come back, they’ll still be able to get benefits from them.”
Do you intend to be visible here in Minnesota and how do you intend to do that?
“I’m always visible in Minnesota. My husband and I — he played hockey around the U.S. for 20 years and we always considered Minnesota our home. When we always came back we called Minnesota ‘God’s Country.’ So we were born and raised here, lived here every summer but knew we wanted to raise our kids here. So going throughout the state we have our lake place up in Walker, Minnesota, and relatives all over Minnesota. I love it here and love meeting the people.
“So I would absolutely be visible all over Minnesota ... our state is so diverse, we are lucky with the farms we have in Greater Minnesota, to our metro businesses, to Hutchinson and the manufacturing going on there, to the mines up in Northern Minnesota. We are so lucky to be diverse, many states don’t have that. So it’s fun for me. I was telling Rep. Urdahl today that (is) the best part of this job even at the state Senate, to get to see the inside of our businesses and meet the folks across Minnesota and what they do and how they provide for their families, and the different cultures in different neighborhoods. It’s so much fun, you learn so much along the way that I love it. Yes, I will be visible.”
What asset does rural Minnesota have that helps it compete on a national scale, and how can you help support that in Washington?
“I think it’s helping our farmers in rural Minnesota, and the businesses, there are plenty of businesses in rural Minnesota. It’s really helping them sustain their businesses, providing for their families and growing their businesses if that’s what they have. I think that’s important to be a representative in Washington, (to be) someone who can listen to all different factors, or assets Minnesota has and bringing that to Washington. Not just a metro specific senator, you have to get out and represent everybody.”