Who'll replace Franken? Minn. special Senate race voter guide

U.S. Senator Tina Smith and state Sen. Karin Housley.
One of the hardest fought campaigns this fall is the U.S. Senate contest between Democrat Tina Smith and Republican Karin Housley, as well as two minor party candidates.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

After Democrat Al Franken resigned his Senate seat amid allegations of sexual misconduct, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to take over in Washington.

Now, Smith, a Democrat, is facing three others in a special election to decide who will fill out the remaining two years of Franken's term: Republican Karin Housley, Legal Marijuana Now candidate Sarah Wellington and Jerry Trooien, who's running without party affiliation.

The major party candidates are Smith and Housley, a state senator. Wellington's main campaign presence appears to be a Facebook page with a couple dozen likes. Trooien, a once-bankrupt real estate developer, is self-funding almost all his campaign.

Smith and Housley are running in a tight race and oppose each other on most major issues.

Here's where all the candidates stand on major issues this midterm election:

On President Trump

Smith: Smith has been critical of many Trump policies and potential legal problems. "Nobody is above the law in this country."

Housley: Housley backs the president and has appeared with him on the campaign trail. "I do support his policies. I don't know if I'm a fan of his style, but his policies are working."

Wellington: "Trump has done an excellent job of getting people angry at each other and building hate through his actions personally, on the job and at media events. While he builds the people into a frenzy he quietly passes legislation that hurts people and the environment."

Trooien: The candidate appears to have no public position. MPR News has reached out for comment.

Gun control

Smith: Smith says she wants "common-sense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous individuals." She's working on a measure to ban people convicted of stalking from having guns.

Housley: She says: "The rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms is a fundamental guarantee of our Constitution. ... We must enforce existing gun laws, better address mental illness, and prevent violent criminals and known terrorists from gaining instant access to firearms."

Wellington: "I am very committed to hearing and learning about each aspect [of gun violence and solutions] and crafting common sense, constitutionally sound and safer legislation. "

Trooien: He supports universal background checks, "red flag" laws and increased mental health care.

Health care

Smith: Smith supports a single-payer health care system and says it's "the most direct way to ensure universal coverage."

Housley: Housley is critical of the Affordable Care Act and says she believes in "a patient-centered, market-driven health care system that provides individuals and families with affordable, accessible coverage and care."

Wellington: Wellington wants to legalize marijuana and fund health care from the tax revenue.

Trooien: Trooien advocates for more transparency in health care costs and using more data and research to even prices across the board and emphasize the most effective forms of care.

K-12 education priorities

Smith: She says a "strong public education system — from early childhood to higher education — is one of the most important investments we can make." Smith has authored a bill to provide kids with mental health services in school.

Housley: She believes education should be a state and local responsibility and is critical of federal education mandates. "We must eliminate wasteful and duplicative federal programs and allow states and local school districts the freedom to best serve their student populations, and give parents every available tool to provide the best possible education for their children."

Wellington: Wellington wants tax revenue from legal marijuana to go toward education.

Trooien: He supports a "student-centric model" of education that helps students gain "emotional intelligence."

Higher education

Smith: Smith wants to promote community and technical colleges and authored a bill called the "21st Century Workforce Act," which invests in key partnerships between education, local business and higher education." She also backed a measure to help people refinance student loans.

Housley: Housley has advocated for a student loan forgiveness program where the government and employers work together to create incentives to bring workers to greater Minnesota. She has been critical of the cost of college, but said the issue should be up to states to address — not the federal government.

Wellington: Wellington wants tax revenue from legal marijuana to go toward education.

Trooien: The candidate appears to have no public position. MPR News has reached out for comment.


Smith: Smith says people covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy should recieve help becoming citizens. She has also criticized the Trump administration's practice of separating children from their parents at the border.

Housley: Housley has criticized the Trump administration's practice of separating children from their parents at the border. She also says "Securing our borders is the first step toward a workable immigration plan that attracts the best and brightest students and workers, ultimately improving our economy and preserving our global competitiveness."

Wellington: "We need immediate action to restore families and hold asylum court quickly. ... We need to start over with our path to citizenship and border policies and write laws that are enforceable, fair and just."

Trooien: He wants technology-focused border security and "reasonable visa programs that welcome a future generation of college students, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and others who are able to be part of growing the U.S. economy."


Smith: She's pro-choice and has spoken out against efforts to oppose abortion rights.

Housley: She opposes abortion and would be against using federal funding to pay for it.

Wellington: She believes women "must have access to all aspects" of health care, including abortion.

Trooien: The candidate appears to have no public position. MPR News has reached out for comment.

Jobs and the economy

Smith: She says it's crucial to advocate for "fair trade policies that help Minnesota workers, businesses and farmers get ahead, and we need to crack down on foreign countries that break international trade rules and put American workers out of jobs." She has also backed a measure to close the pay gap between men and women.

Housley: She has called regulations a "silent tax" hindering job creation. "The bureaucracy and regulations really, really, really hurt Minnesotans over the last eight years and that all happened under the Dayton-Smith administration," she told the Brainerd Dispatch.

Wellington: She says a low unemployment rate "means nothing when so many families are working multiple jobs at low wages just to provide the basics for living, housing, food. It is imperative that we raise not only the minimum wage but we raise our expectations of employers and legislation. This includes but is not limited to, paid time off for the addition of children to the family, paid sick time and health care that is affordable and accessible. "

Trooien: "The key to economic growth will always be tied to the health and attitude of us as a people. ... Supporting and fostering confidence in small business and entrepreneurs matters."

Climate change

Smith: Smith pushed for 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030 in Minnesota and says she helped expand renewable energy in state government, resulting in over $20 million in savings. Among her work in the Senate, she says she fought the Trump administration's rollbacks of environmental standards and pushed for renewable energy funding in the Farm Bill.

Housley: She told WCCO the Paris climate agreement would've "cost the American people trillions of dollars, killed jobs, and hindered the oil, gas, coal and manufacturing industries. ... I believe in a balanced approach to climate policy that lowers emissions, promotes economic growth and ensures energy security."

Wellington: "We must do what we can to preserve what we can and work to find sustainable fuel sources and replacements for plastics and industrial hemp offers many of those solutions."

Trooien: He believes climate change is real and that Minnesota should "embrace" the transition to renewable energy.

Copper-nickel mining

Smith: In the Senate, Smith backed a land swap between the federal government and mining company PolyMet, which was required for it to build a copper-nickel mine in northern Minnesota. However, she argues that doesn't necessarily mean she endorses the mining.

Housley: She says: "Mining is one of Minnesota's most important industries. When it comes to copper-nickel mining, I believe we can both protect our environment and mine responsibly, maintaining our clean water while opening the door to a major economic boost."

Wellington: Wellington says short-term economic benefits from mining can't "ever replace what is lost in environmental costs."

Trooien: He says "we can and must find a way to continue mining in Minnesota."

Taxes and government spending

Smith: Smith wants "a fairer tax code that supports working families, not just the wealthiest of Americans." She has pushed tax credits to help middle-class families with child care. She opposes the recent GOP tax bill and says it "adds $1.5 trillion to our national debt and risks major cuts to Social Security and Medicare."

Housley: Housley favors lower taxes and less spending overall. "It's your money, not the government's — and as a small business owner, I understand the crushing impact high taxes have on job creation. I believe a healthy economy begins when hardworking Minnesotans keep more of their earnings and businesses are free to spur economic growth."

Wellington: Wellington wants to legalize marijuana and tax it.

Trooien: The candidate appears to have no public position. MPR News has reached out for comment.


Smith: She has said more research is necessary to weigh the benefits of legalizing recreational marijuana.

Housley: She has said states should decide the issue for themselves.

Wellington: She wants to legalize marijuana.

Trooien: The candidate appears to have no public position. MPR News has reached out for comment.

This post was updated Oct. 17 with more information from the Wellington campaign.

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