On Air
0:00
0:00
Open In Popup
MPR News

6 questions for Tina Smith, Minnesota's new U.S. senator

Share story

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith fields questions after being named to replace Franken.
Then-Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith fields questions after being named the replacement to Sen. Al Franken by Gov. Mark Dayton on Dec. 13, 2017, at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images 2017

Updated 12 p.m. | Posted 8:27 a.m.

Former Minnesota Lt. Gov Tina Smith was sworn in Wednesday as the state's junior senator, replacing Al Franken, who formally resigned Tuesday over allegations of sexual misconduct. 

Smith will serve alongside Sen. Amy Klobuchar. It will be the first time women hold both of Minnesota's Senate seats. 

But for Smith there won't be much time to savor the moment. She's also kicking off a campaign to keep her new job since her Senate seat will be up for a special election in November. 

Smith spoke to MPR News' Phil Picardi earlier in the day Wednesday, before her swearing-in. Comments have been edited for length and clarity.    

1) What's been challenging so far about the transition?

I'm excited to get to work — there has been a lot of stuff to figure out starting a new job. There's always some things that you do when you start a new job that are the same. You have to provide emergency contacts. 

I had to scan over my phone number and information, and then also find a place to live while I'm in D.C. So it's been a bit of a whirlwind. 

2) What issues have you been cramming on in your new Senate role?

As lieutenant governor I spent a lot of time working on the issues that are important to Minnesotans especially health care and health care costs, rural broadband, child care, paid family leave and agricultural issues. My goal is to bring those issues here and to be a fierce advocate for Minnesotans as I step into this new job. 

3) Much of your political life has been focused on managing the image and the agendas of others. What will it be like to have your own reputation on the line?

I bring to this job a lifetime experience. I started my own small business, and I was responsible for payroll. I'm going to bring that experience to Washington, D.C. When I was chief of staff to Gov. Dayton, I was responsible for managing a multibillion-dollar organization with over 34,000 employees. Bringing that kind of experience to Washington, I think, will be much needed. 

4) A year ago you removed your name from consideration for governor. Now you plan to run in the special election this November. What makes a Senate run more appealing?

Sometimes, I think people in politics are always looking for the next job and the next opportunity. And frankly, that's just not the way I'm wired. When I made the decision not to run for governor earlier this year I did so because I didn't feel that it was something I needed to do. 

This situation, though, is a unique moment and a different time. As I looked at this I came to realize that it was exactly the right thing for me to do. 

5) Sen. Franken resigned amid allegations that brought sympathy from many in the #metoo movement. Do you feel you owe something to the many women who say "me too"?

I think that we are at a turning point in our culture right now when it comes to people's views about sexual harassment. What I think is interesting about this moment is that it has been in large part led by young women who are saying to women of my generation you don't have to put up with this and you shouldn't have to put up with this. 

Having that, I think it would be a tragedy if we lost some of this momentum. So, yes, I feel a strong obligation to continue that forward momentum for just basic respect and decency. 

6) What are your plans after the swearing-in ceremony?

We're going to have a kind of a low-key reception for some Minnesotans. Former Vice President Walter Mondale is here and he and Klobuchar will be walking me down to the swearing-in. 

I also have my family here. My husband Archie and I have been married for over 33 years, and he demonstrated his devotion this morning by getting up at 6:30 to bring me an egg sandwich so I would have a good breakfast. 

Our children and their wives are here, and my father — who is almost 88 — is here and has been stopping literally everybody that he has met anywhere and explaining to them that I'm about to become a U.S. senator.