State Sen. Housley opens bid for Franken seat

State Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, said she will seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Al Franken. Brian Bakst | MPR News

Posted at 10:15 a.m. | Updated at 11:45 p.m.

State Sen. Karin Housley became the first Republican to declare a candidacy for the 2018 U.S. Senate special election, a race touched off by the planned resignation of Democratic Sen. Al Franken.

Housley, 53, entered the race Tuesday with a video that traces her political involvement to the campaigns of former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, whose old seat is on the line next year. In a message to Republican delegates, who got first word through email, Housley said she has “fought hard for our senior citizens, our kids’ education and the unborn.”

“You might be asking yourself, ‘Why would anyone want to go to Washington D.C. right now and be part of that dysfunction they call Congress,’” Housley says in the video. “Actually, I can’t think of any place in this country more in need of someone like me right now.”

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is Member supported public media. Show your support today, donate, and ensure access to local news and in-depth conversations for everyone.

In an interview, Housley described herself as a "hockey mom" with experience in the public and private sectors. She said she has a track record of working across party lines, something she said is sorely missing in Washington.

"I really don't like to see a letter behind somebody's name," she said. "I like to get to know the person, what their priorities are, how I can work with them and we can work together to get things done. And I think that's what Minnesotans would like us to do."

Other Republicans have said they are considering running in a campaign that will be more of a sprint than usual. The process of selecting nominees begins in early February with precinct caucuses and conclude with a primary in August. Housley said that compressed time frame was a reason to get out of the gate quickly.

Housley, of St. Marys Point, has been in the state Senate since 2013 and ran once before for statewide office, albeit briefly. She was on the ticket of Republican candidate for governor Scott Honour in 2014. Honour picked Housley as his lieutenant governor running mate in late May; they finished fourth in an August primary.

Born in South St. Paul, the real estate broker is married to Phil Housley, the head coach of professional hockey’s Buffalo Sabres. She has her own Buffalo connection, having earned a degree in communications from a New York state university there. Housley was a former television producer and wrote a book about investing.

The Housleys have four children and two grandchildren.

In the Legislature, Housley chairs the Aging and Long-Term Care Policy Committee, where she has put forward measures to combat elder abuse.

She sponsored a bill last year that would have enhanced criminal penalties for female genital mutilation, a proposal that passed the House but stalled in the Senate. She also gained attention in 2016 for a bill to make purple the official state color, a tribute to the late artist Prince.

The state Senate isn’t on the 2018 ballot, so Housley’s attempt at the U.S. Senate won’t require her to give up the legislative seat she’s held for two terms. She took a pass on challenging Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar for that Senate seat, which is also up in 2018.

She described Klobuchar as "very nice" but said some of her votes could make for a tougher re-election than many expect. But Housley said voters might be looking for a split Senate delegation. "I think the fiscally responsible folks here in Minnesota would really like somebody to represent them in D.C., somebody who isn't out to raise taxes, somebody who isn't a liberal tax and spender," she said. "I'm thinking they're going to go, I'm hoping they go to the polls and would like a balance in the U.S. Senate."

The Alliance for a Better Minnesota criticized Housley out of the gate as more partisan than she lets on.

"Karin Housley has the same agenda that has made Donald Trump historically unpopular," said Joe Davis, the executive director of the Democratic-aligned group.

On the DFL side, Tina Smith will be a nomination contender. The lieutenant governor is slated take over the Franken seat early next year and plans to be a candidate in the special election for the final two years of his term. No other Democrats have entered the race to date.