Spend some time with the major-party candidates for the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Al Franken resigned, and this quickly becomes clear: Both Republican Karin Housley and Democrat Tina Smith promise to be strong, well-informed advocates for the issues that matter most to the Northland and to the state of Minnesota. And both have experiences and qualifications for any voter confident in his or her choice at the ballot box on Election Day, Nov. 6.
"Minnesotans are looking for a new voice to represent them," Housley said in a candidate screening last week with the News Tribune Editorial Board. "People are so frustrated with the extremism and the partisanship that is taking place in Washington. We need somebody who is going to work with the other side and get things done, and I have a track record of doing that in the Minnesota Senate; 90 percent of my bills were bipartisan. I can tell you the Democrats and I get along in the Minnesota Senate. We are a strong group of 'sensibles,' we call us, in the middle, who work across the aisle and pass really good legislation."
An example: Housley worked with Democrats and Republicans alike on legislation to protect Minnesota seniors after reports of elder abuse in care facilities. Another example: She reached across the aisle again to broker a land deal that led to a new public park on the St. Croix River after the property was being targeted by condo-building developers.
On one of the most divisive issues facing our nation, health care, Housley has a rich, unique perspective after she lived in Canada for nine years while her husband played professional hockey there.
"I know It sounds great to have free health care - until you get sick. Then you just pray you can get your treatment or your surgery before things don't go so well. I know many, many people that happened to," Housley said. She supports increased competition, more choices for consumers, and lower costs to improve health care. Allowing consumers to buy insurance across state lines can help pull that off, she said.
While Housley agrees with President Donald Trump's commitment to securing our borders, for reasons of national security, she'd be no rubber stamp for the president, she vowed.
"I never will be a rubber stamp for anybody," she said, responding to such accusations.
In contrast to Trump, who zeroed out funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Housley would make Great Lakes protections "a huge priority," she said.
"My daughter went to school here at (the University of Minnesota Duluth)," she said. "Paying attention to Lake Superior and Duluth and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is extremely important. I was disappointed, too, when Trump wanted to cut that funding, and I was happy to see (it restored). I will continue to fight for it because it's important to Duluthians and it's important to the economy here."
A pause of concern over Housley: In 2009, in a Facebook message to her sister, she compared Michelle Obama to a "chimp." She was referring to the first lady's posture, she said of the 9-year-old post. It was in reference to something her mother used to say to her and her sister when reminding them to stand up straight. No similar comments from Housley have emerged or are known to exist on Facebook or anywhere.
"I did not mean it to be disrespectful of the first lady; that's not what I meant it to be at all," she said.
Smith has served in place of Franken since January, after Gov. Mark Dayton appointed her. She had been Dayton's lieutenant governor. In the early 2000s, she worked as an executive for Planned Parenthood.
"Minnesotans are sick and tired of the partisan bickering," Smith said in a separate meeting with the editorial board, also last week. "They don't have Republican problems or Democrat problems, and so my whole approach has been to listen really hard, to work really hard to do my best to solve problems for people. That's what I've been doing, and that's what I want to continue to do."
Housley, in addition to political experience as a state senator, has business experience; she has operated her own real estate firm for 15 years. She's a seasoned communicator; for nine years she wrote a weekly newspaper column and hosted a weekly radio show. And she's a strong, independent advocate for women; in 2001, her book, "Chicks Laying Nest Eggs," was published, empowering women to reach for financial security.
"I want to be a real voice for Minnesota," Housley said. "I want to focus on getting things done."
About this endorsement
This News Tribune endorsement editorial was determined entirely by the newspaper's Editorial Board. The board's members are Publisher Neal Ronquist, Editorial Page Editor Chuck Frederick, employee representative Kris Vereecken, citizen representative Julene Boe and citizen representative Denise Wise.