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Housley challenges opponent's 'extreme' politics in senate bid

This is the second time state Sen. Karin Housley is running as a challenge to Democratic policies -- first, in 2012 when she ran for the state Legislature to combat policies hurting small business; now, to unseat Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., who doesn't represent everyday Minnesotans, Housley said. Submitted Photo / Housley campaign1 / 2
U.S. Senate Republican candidate Karin Housley speaks at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce Monday, July 30, about her bid for Congress and her opponent, Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video2 / 2

Republican Senate candidate Karin Housley isn't a fan of Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn.

While campaigning across the state, Housley stopped by the Dispatch Monday, July 30, to expound on her candidacy—a candidacy that's one part pro-Housley and one part anti-Smith; a bid for the U.S. Senate in many ways shaped and framed by her opposition to the senator who currently occupies former Sen. Al Franken's seat.

"I had been in the Minnesota Senate for the last six years and seen the failures of the Dayton-Smith administration and I thought, 'There's no way that woman represents everyone in Minnesota or what we really stand for in Minnesota,'" Housley said. "I decided to jump into the race and fight for Minnesotans."

Characterizing her and Smith's respective positions as polar opposites, Housley took aim at what she termed Smith's obstructionism, metro-centrism and extreme far-left ideas—exemplified, she said, by Smith's short term in the Senate, as well as stints as Gov. Mark Dayton's lieutenant governor, chief of staff and her prior role as a vice president of Planned Parenthood.

By replacing Smith, Housley said she hopes to help break the deadlock in the nation's upper house—750 bills left on the debate floor, undebated and not voted upon because of rigid partisan lines. Sen. John McCain's absence leaves the Senate in a state of limbo, a razor-thin 50-49 Republican majority.

In doing so, Housley said, she'll look to restore a kind of representation that actually represents the interests of everyday Minnesotans—not blind dogmatism, not run-of-the-mill Capitol Hill and not an out-of-touch Democrat who favors big government and the big problems that brings.

A native of South St. Paul, Housley graduated from South St. Paul High School in 1982 and went on to study communications at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She's worked as a television news producer, radio host and author.

Since 2003, Housley has been a small business owner and is also a real estate agent by trade—though, she admitted, she almost closed up shop in 2010 because of restrictive policies by the state at that time.

"It got to a point where you're working so hard and everything you've earned is going to the government, but the government is spending your hard-earned money not on things you want it spent on," Housley said. "That's the reason I ran. We're just starting to reverse that. People are keeping more money in their pockets, and so are our business owners, so we just have to continue that trend."

Smith, on the other hand, is "against everything that helps our job creators," Housley said.

Housley looks at these issues through a prism of experience—much of it gleaned through 20 years of traveling across the country and many political environments as the wife of NHL Hall of Famer Phil Housley, then implemented through two terms in the Minnesota Senate for District 39. During the talk, she often mentioned family—a niece with crippling student loan debt or a relative addicted to opioids, along with her husband, four adult children and two grandchildren that form the central core in her life.

And now, she's taking that life—plus the endorsements of former Sen. Norm Coleman, former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, Rep. Tom Emmer and nearly every Republican in the state Legislature—along with in her headlong charge at Smith's seat.

The opioid epidemic

The number of Minnesotans who succumbed to drug overdoses rose from 129 to 637 between 2000 and 2016, according to a report filed in September by the Minnesota Department of Health. In 2016 alone, 395 deaths and more than 2,000 hospitalizations were directly tied to opiate abuse—though these statistics do not capture other indirect social impacts.

"What we really need to focus our resources on is prevention, treatment and education," Housley said. "I think that would go a long way toward stopping the epidemic across the country.

Citing personal experience with a family member, as well as speaking with constituents across Minnesota, she said it requires a wholesale effort from the state to Congress, educating kids in second grade on the issue all the way up to maintaining the kind of treatment facilities people who are addicted need.

She noted Adult & Teen Challenge as a particularly effective program she would like to see emulated in other areas.

Economics in greater Minnesota

Crow Wing County has experienced episodes of economic challenges as a result of shifting job markets and the loss of community cornerstones through the decades—for example, the departure of iron ore companies from the Cuyuna Range area during the '60s, or the closure of paper mills in Brainerd, with the Wausau mill closing as recently as 2013.

Housley said it's often a matter of overbearing government—whether it's one of the highest tax rates in the nation, or too much regulation and bureaucracy—that stifles businesses, both great and small.

"The bureaucracy and regulations really, really, really hurt Minnesotans over the last eight years and that all happened under the Dayton-Smith administration," Housley said. "Tina Smith is all in the 'tax 'em more' camp and that's exactly how you want businesses out of business."

Housley said investing in mining is a viable path—of which, she noted, copper-nickel and taconite mining represent potential pillars of the region. Among small businesses in Crow Wing County, 54 percent of employers have one to four employees, while 88.4 percent of employers have 19 or fewer on the payroll.

In addition, Housley said she is in favor of President Donald Trump's tax cuts and supports similar measures in the future to cultivate a pro-business environment in Minnesota. Smith is against these tax cuts, she noted.

She said she supports the Enbridge Line 3 initiative, citing reports installing a new crude oil pipeline in northern Minnesota would bring in $4 million in tax revenue for Aitkin County alone.

In terms of preparing the workforce for coming decades, Housley said there needs to be a de-emphasis on four-year college degrees and a stronger emphasis on whichever post-secondary certification fits a student best—whether that's a trade school, community college, apprenticeship, or other forms of training that fall outside a traditional four-year track. Many well-paying jobs in areas like manufacturing, she noted, are unfairly stigmatized.

The student debt bubble

In 2010, student loan debt surpassed credit card debt as the largest form of individual debt in the United States—$1.4 trillion. While this may inhibit economic mobility and opportunities for young Americans in an individual sense, it also poses a threat to the long-term health of the economy. With more and more money delegated to paying off loans, and less disposable income, commerce may suffer as a result.

Citing her tenure in the state Legislature, Housley said instituting a loan forgiveness program hand-in-hand with future employers is a way to solve two problems with one solution—essentially, meeting worker shortages in greater Minnesota while helping students with their debt load. By incentivizing students to work in greater Minnesota through partnerships with local companies, the community, the organization and the employee all benefit.

However, she said these programs only benefit people moving to work in greater Minnesota. Students who remain in the Twin Cities would not be eligible for this program.

"It's particular to greater Minnesota—to get qualified people to move away from the Cities and come to greater Minnesota," Housley said.

Echoing earlier statements on education, Housley noted education costs typically decrease when a student is placed in a track fitting them best, such as two-year degrees that lead to a host of different well-paying jobs.

In addition, Housley noted there needs to be changes in how and what rate colleges charge students—though, she added, it should be the primary responsibility of the states that understand their own situations best, not Capitol Hill.

The gun debate

"I'm pro-Second Amendment," Housley said. "I think our gun laws in Minnesota are extremely important, especially greater Minnesota, where it's sportsmen-land. It's the rights of everybody in the United States, the right to bear arms."

Housley said she is not in favor of any moderate gun-control measures—namely, background checks, buyers' waiting periods or inter-state records transparency. There's already a solid law framework in place, she said, it's just a matter of applying it.

"We need to enforce the gun laws that we have," Housley said. "I don't think there is a need for more gun laws in any of the incidences we have across the country. Things have fallen through the cracks and the gun laws on the books were not enforced."

Housley characterized the United States' high rates of gun violence—compared to the developed world—as a mental health issue, one that can be addressed with increased emphasis and funding on mental health services.

"That's absolutely where I want to spearhead this issue," she said. "That's where resources are needed."

Discussing health care

Calling it "one of the greatest failures of the Obama administration," Housley criticized Obamacare—particularly its propensity to hike up premiums and the now-repealed federal individual mandate requiring everyone to get some form of health care.

"One-size-fits-all from Washington, D.C., didn't work," Housley said. "We have to create a better health care system that doesn't increase costs and it needs to be done right away."

Housley said the system in place in Minnesota prior to Obamacare was imperfect, but far superior to its successor.

"It needed some tweaks," said Housley, who noted any tax returns from Trump's bill were eaten up by high premiums implemented by the Dayton-Smith administration. "But to turn it all on its head and all the bureaucracy—then another layer of bureaucracy, when Dayton and Smith created MnSure, that $90 million failure on top of it, it dug into people's pocket books."

Instead, Housley said, the state of Minnesota and the nation as a whole should look at moving back toward a free-market system—"Where you buy health insurance like we do our car insurance," she said—or implementing a employer-based health saving plans.

Mining and environmentalism

Housley said she is in favor of renewable sources of energy on the grounds they're proven to be cleaner and—with the development of technology—increasingly cheaper.

But, she said, she does not favor a homogeneous set of energy sources, instead electing for a diverse and balanced portfolio—whether that's wind power or solar, or oil and other forms of fossil fuel.

"Nobody disagrees that clean energy is good energy, but it's not the only source of energy," Housley said. "You really have to work with everybody and not be all in on one form of energy."

In terms of mining, Housley said she is in favor of proposals from PolyMet Mining and Twin Metals, describing them as central economic pillars that affect every aspect of a community's health—whether that's the job growth associated with those initiatives, or boosting tourism through increases in disposable income.

That, and PolyMet Mining and Twin Metals are certified safe for the ecosystems they're going to be implemented in, Housley added.

"They have gone through the Environmental Protection Agency and the environmental impact studies—everytime they had another test or hurdle to pass through, they passed with flying colors," Housley said.

In terms of Enbridge Line 3, Housley said replacing the current line—which was built in the 1960s and deteriorated—is a pro-environmental move because it removes a potential threat to local ecosystems with a new, stronger, modernized system.

Foreign wars

Currently, the United States has $696 billion for the 2018 military budget—similar numbers to World War II levels—and it's estimated the U.S. spent trillions of dollars on its various conflicts across the globe the prior decade.

Housley said she is in favor of maintaining a strong pipeline of funding for military initiatives.

"Making sure that those who fight for our freedom have the tools to fight for our freedom, I think military spending is extremely important," Housley said. "I know Tina Smith would want to decrease our military spending."

In terms of foreign military policy, Housley praised Trump and said she supports his policies emphasizing national defense and prioritizing of American interests abroad—especially in comparison to former President Barack Obama, but also former President George W. Bush.

Big money in politics

"I'd rather be out talking with communities," Housley said. "I wish campaigns didn't have to cost so much, but they do. I'm in support of a free market when it comes to campaigns."

She noted while sometimes it's necessary to spend large sums to campaign in population-thin areas like greater Minnesota, the high influx of donor and political action committee dollars complicates races.

Often, Housley said, a candidate is endorsed by a group or message they don't support themselves and this also plays out with how outside money—or money funding political campaigns or candidates by groups outside the constituency—is handled in national elections.

Housley said she is in support of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling granting corporations personhood, or similar rights and privileges as human beings—Citizens United v. FEC.

"I would be in support of the way it is right now," she said.

Prison reform in America

Currently, the U.S. prison system incarcerates 2.2 million people, the largest prison population in the world and one populated by mostly nonviolent offenders, according to reports by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Citing her experience as a state legislator with a high concentration of prisons in her district, Housley said much of the issue of incarceration comes down to broken individuals—people who come from dysfunctional backgrounds and lack the education to make positive changes in their own lives.

By incorporating rehabilitative programs in these prisons, Housley said, more incarcerated individuals can return to being productive members of society, which in turn cuts down on recidivism.

"I really am in support of those programs. I know a lot of people aren't, but I am because if they're remorseful and they want to lead a productive life—besides, our workforce needs them," Housley said. "That's where we should focus our resources."

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