Minnesota Democrats can find ample reason to stick with U.S. Sen. Tina Smith in the Aug. 11 primary. In just two years in D.C., after a stint in St. Paul as lieutenant governor, Smith has forged a reputation as a progresive and consistent advocate for her state, with notable work to her credit, particularly in the areas of tax fairness and health care.
COVID-19 continuing to ravage the nation is just one reason for Democrats to rally around the health-minded senator.
“My leadership is one of going out, talking to people, building relationships, and then turning that into action that helps Minnesotans, helps Duluth, and helps the north country,” Smith said in an interview this month, held virtually, with members of the News Tribune Editorial Board. “I have a record … of working across party lines to actually accomplish things for people, and I think that is the kind of leadership people are looking for in this moment, leadership that is steady and strong and compassionate and is focused on getting results.”
Smith’s bipartisan efforts have included preserving electrical cooperatives’ tax-exempt status, expanding mental health care in schools, and lowering insulin prices.
Smith has long been a fighter for accessible and affordable health care, including expanding telehealth and supporting behavioral community health centers. Since March, she has pushed for more COVID-19 testing and for hospitals and clinics to have the resources they need. A bill she introduced made COVID-19 tests free for everyone. She has been an active watchdog, too, in ensuring that COVID-19 relief goes where intended and where it’s needed most.
“The most important thing in a moment like this is that we don’t politicize public health and data and evidence, that we follow the facts (and) we follow the best evidence, (and) that we find (the best ways) to keep people safe,” Smith said. “My criticism of the administration, from the president on down, is that there have been too many efforts really to politicize what is happening. We see this with masks.”
Smith called herself a “champion” for iron ore mining. She acknowledged the science is in place for the PolyMet project and said she is “not opposed to it.” She is “quite concerned,” however, about the proposed Twin Metals project’s “proximity to the Boundary waters, this very very precious resource that we have.”
While Duluth Police have “acted with responsibility,” Smith said, “I believe that we have a systemic problem with policing in our country and that we need to address the root causes.” She supports increased accountability for officers’ actions, more de-escalation training, and broader use of body cameras. She also supports a national registry of officers and their disciplinary records to make it more difficult for bad cops to bounce undetected from department to department.
“I think about Duluth, a city that I love so much, and I think about the trajectory that Duluth has been on over the last several years: just such a strong, rich, diverse economy, a community that is so strengthened by strong health care and strong educational institutions and yet a community that is, just as many places are, grappling with the impacts of COVID,” Smith said. “I deeply respect what has been happening in Duluth, (particularly) around racial justice.”
With Smith clearly in their corner, Duluth DFLers can be in hers — including in the primary.
Also running: Four others are on the Democrats’ ballot for U.S. Senate in Minnesota. They are Christopher Lowell Seymore, who wrote in an op-ed in the News Tribune that his focuses include legalizing marijuana and job creation; Paula Overby of Eagan, Minnesota, a health advocate and former Green Party and Independence Party member; Ahmad Hassan of Katy Texas, who told editorial board members that the economy, equity, and immigration are his priorities; and Steve Carlson of St. Paul, a longtime Independence Party candidate and advocate for women’s health.