In December, Tina Smith was appointed to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Sen. Al Franken after allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him. In just a little more than half a year, Smith has shown Minnesota DFLers plenty as an elected leader and public servant to earn their support in the Aug. 14 primary election.
After serving as Minnesota's lieutenant governor and as chief of staff for Gov. Mark Dayton and for former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Smith is running for public office for the second time. Voters in next month's primary can send her to face a Republican opponent in the Nov. 6 special election.
"I think that most people's problems aren't Democratic problems or Republican problems; they're just the problems in life. The reason I'm running," Smith said this month in a candidate-screening interview with News Tribune Editorial Board members. "The reason I want so much to be able to keep this seat ... is because of what I hear from Minnesotans. What people basically want is the opportunity and freedom to live the lives that they want to live. And stuff gets in the way of that."
Yes, the U.S. Senate, she said, can get that stuff out of the way.
That includes high health care costs. She introduced a bill to lower prescription-drug prices by stopping larger drug companies from paying smaller drug companies to keep the smaller drug companies' lower-cost products off the market. She also wants Medicare to be able to negotiate lower prescription prices, she said.
In-the-way stuff also includes runaway student-loan debt, Smith said, which is preventing young Americans from purchasing homes and investing in the economy. She supports expanding federal grants to lower the cost of college. Not free college, Smith said, but more affordable college. She also introduced a bill to better connect businesses in need of workers to high schools and technical colleges that teach the necessary job skills.
A Smith provision last month to help complete a land exchange between PolyMet Mining and the federal government exposed a widening rift in the Minnesota DFL that very well may decide this primary. Further-left environmentalist activists ripped Smith over the land exchange and how it could help to introduce copper-nickel mining to Northeastern Minnesota.
"The land exchange simply aligns the mineral rights with the surface rights for the private land and the public land," Smith told Editorial Board members. "I think it's a good thing for Minnesota regardless of what you think about PolyMet. It codifies what the Obama Administration was moving forward (with) even before I was in the Senate.
"The land exchange doesn't undermine or preclude any of the underlying environmental-review process (for PolyMet)," Smith further said. "If (the project) moves through that review process and receives all the permits to mine, then I will support it."
Her position is in contrast to her strongest DFL challengers, including Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer for two years under President George W. Bush.
"To me, it's not worth the risk," he said. "The environmental groups oppose it for good reason."
Lawyer Nick Leonard, endorsed in this election by Our Revolution Minnesota, a group formed from Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential bid, holds a similar position.
"I have been an advocate for the environment my whole life," he said. "Looking at the science behind clean water, ... I have very grave concerns over copper sulfide mining and whether or not it can be done in a safe manner."
The more moderate and less-extreme Smith separates herself from the crowded primary field of six DFLers with her experience and her commitment to serving Minnesotans, including us in the northeastern corner of the state.
ABOUT THIS ENDORSEMENT
This endorsement editorial was determined entirely by the Duluth News Tribune Editorial Board. The members of the board are Publisher Neal Ronquist, Editorial Page Editor Chuck Frederick, employee representative Kris Vereecken and citizen representative Julene Boe.