ST. MARY'S POINT, Minn.—State Sen. Karin Housley, a Republican from Washington County, announced Tuesday that she'll run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Al Franken.
Housley, a Realtor who lives in St. Mary's Point, is the first Republican to formally announce a bid for the seat.
In a statement to potential supporters and in interviews Tuesday, Housley pitched herself less as a conservative ideologue than a can-do champion of Minnesota ideals with a conservative approach. Her statements focused on her family, her work to protect seniors living in assisted-living centers, and her beliefs that small businesses need lower taxes and fewer government obstacles to succeed.
"I am running because for too long, Washington elites have gotten away with doing whatever they want. I will look after those that have been forgotten, just like I have in Minnesota," Housley said in a statement. "The times are changing, and it is time for there to be a new voice for Minnesota in Washington, D.C."
The Housley name is well-known among hockey circles. She is married to Buffalo Sabres head coach and NHL Hall of Famer Phil Housley.
Her entry sets up the possibility of a race between two women for a seat never held by a woman amid a climate that has brought sexual conduct of men to the fore.
Franken has announced he'll resign amid allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior from multiple women.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, has named Lt. Gov. Tina Smith as his choice to replace Franken, and Smith has said she'll run in the special election to serve out the remainder of the six-year term, which ends after 2020.
Karin Housley, 53, was elected in 2012 and re-elected in 2016.
Housley currently represents Senate District 39, which includes Stillwater, Forest Lake, Lake Elmo, Bayport, Oak Park Heights and the surrounding St. Croix Valley. She chairs the Senate Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care.
She has owned and operated Karin Housley Homes, a Stillwater real estate business she started 15 years ago. It now has several employees.
She said it was doing taxes for her own business that prompted her to run for public office originally. She described forming a small business as "the American dream," and said she believes lowering taxes is a sentiment that still resonates.
"People want to keep more of their hard-earned money," she said.
She said her experience running the business also gave her insight into challenges some face in getting health insurance.
"That was something that was working relatively well here before Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act," she said in an interview with the Pioneer Press. "That came into the state, and then we had to do all of these state-level fixes. That's another area that I know is on everyone's minds is that government got in the way and made it more expensive, when all we needed to do was some small fixes, but instead we just turned it upside down and made life a lot harder for a lot of people."
She said she supports repealing Obamacare. When asked what she would replace it with, she responded, "Those issues are coming."
WIFE OF NHL COACH
A native of South St. Paul, Housley married her high school sweetheart, Phil Housley. He was drafted by the Sabres as a defenseman out of South St. Paul High School in 1982. He served for eight years as head coach of the Stillwater High boys hockey team. He left Stillwater for an assistant gig with the Nashville Predators in 2013. He took over coaching the Sabres this season.
Phil Housley retired from playing in the NHL 14 years ago with the most points (1,232) and games played (1,495) by an American-born player. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.
Karin and Phil Housley have four children and two grandchildren.
ON PRESIDENT TRUMP
Alliance for a Better Minnesota, a Democratic-allied group, quickly put out a statement criticizing Housley titled "Karin Housley Will Bring Trump-style Economic Agenda to the Senate."
"Karin Housley has the same agenda that has made Donald Trump historically unpopular — tax giveaways for a handful of the wealthiest and tobacco companies while hardworking families feel the squeeze," said Joe Davis, executive director of the group. "This is the wrong direction for Minnesota and our country. We need a leader who will invest in our schools, healthcare, and continue to make our state and country better for all Minnesotans."
Housley said she voted for Trump and supports his policies.
As for Trump as a person and his style, she said, "I think everybody's presidential style is different. His is not one that would be mine, but it's his, so I focus on his policies. ... I don't really like following (Trump on) Twitter. ... Again, that's not my style, but it's his. I don't think I can go to Washington, D.C., and change President Trump's style."
MAJOR ELECTION IN NOVEMBER
November's ballot will be a rarity in that both of the state's Senate seats and the governor's office will be on the ballot.
Dayton isn't running for re-election, and crowded fields of Republicans and Democrats — with women candidates from each party — are forming.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, was the first woman elected to the Senate from Minnesota. Klobuchar will be running for re-election for a third term, also on November's ballot. State Rep. Jim Newberger from Becker is the only Republican to emerge as a challenger so far.
The state Republican Party has never endorsed a female candidate for senator before. It remains unclear what sort of opposition Housley might face as she seeks the party endorsement at its June convention.
Several Republicans have been mentioned as possible serious candidates. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty is reportedly considering a run for either governor or Franken's seat.
Another name bandied about is that of former state Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch. On Tuesday, Koch was helping to organize Housley's media appearances, a position Koch said she volunteered for. When asked if her support for Housley meant she was not running for the Senate seat, Koch demurred, saying only, "I'm focusing on supporting Karin."