When the Star Tribune endorsed Tina Smith over Karin Housley for the U.S. Senate special election (“They’ll do nation’s teamwork,” Oct. 21), its editorial board had a major advantage over the voters of Minnesota — they got to hear Smith answer questions. While Smith couldn’t find 30 minutes the other evening to participate in the only publicly televised debate in this campaign, she somehow managed to find the time to sit down for a private interview with the newspaper.

Why was Smith a no-show for the Oct. 21 debate that was broadcast live statewide on KSTP and its four affiliates? Five days before the long-planned debate, her campaign cited “a complicated schedule” that precluded Smith from participating — and cameras were left showing Karin Housley on stage answering questions next to an empty podium.

This was the only televised debate in which voters could see and hear the candidates provide impromptu answers to questions asked by an impartial moderator — yet the unelected senator refused to show up.

And it’s not like we already know Smith. This is the first time she’s run for public office on her own, having been appointed to this seat last year by her former boss, Gov. Mark Dayton, after Al Franken resigned.

And it’s also not like we already know the details of Smith’s positions on the issues. On her website, Smith says she’s “a fierce advocate for a Minnesota that works for everyone” where “we come up with solutions.” She’s in favor of a strong economy, affordable high-quality health care and quality education.

I assume Smith is also in favor of puppies, but the public deserves to hear her explain how she’s going to make all these good things happen … like in a debate.

Candidates who respect the election process make time to participate in debates to provide voters with the knowledge they need to make an informed decision. I’m sure Sen. Amy Klobuchar has a complicated schedule, with her increasing national travel and recent appearance on “The View,” but that didn’t stop her from participating in a televised debate with her opponent Jim Newberger.

And if we want to talk about complicated schedules, think back to the tragic loss of Sen. Paul Wellstone 11 days before the 2002 election. Former Vice President Walter Mondale stepped in as the DFL nominee and engaged in a televised debate with Norm Coleman on the eve of the election — because both of those candidates respected the voters.

If Smith is too busy now — while she’s campaigning — to participate in even one televised debate, how will she find the time to respond to our issues as a senator? Will she be too busy then to pick up the phone when one of us calls with an issue that needs to be addressed?

But let’s dispense with this subterfuge. No one really believes that Smith refused to participate in the debate because her schedule is “complicated.” Undoubtedly, the real reason why she was a no-show was that she didn’t want to be seen on television responding to questions next to Karin Housley.

The only question: Why?

Maybe it’s because Smith can’t provide solid answers to the questions she would have been asked — like how is someone whose family money was earned on Wall Street and is invested in Bermuda going to be an advocate for average Minnesotans? Or what is her position on the enforcement of immigration laws? Or will she denounce the violent mob tactics that radical leftists are deploying on a weekly basis?

On the other side, Karin Housley is unafraid to talk about her background and her positions. She’s a native Minnesotan who started a successful small business, served two terms in the Minnesota Senate, championed the investigation into the elder abuse scandal at the Department of Health and will enforce our immigration laws. Karin supports responsible mining, free and fair trade, and lowering our taxes. Karin is not a partisan politician; she’s a sensible citizen-turned-public servant.

Minnesota needs a senator with the courage, honesty, and accessibility to be our advocate in the U.S. Senate. Karin Housley has proven that she is all that and more — while all Smith has shown us is an empty podium.


Howard Root is the retired CEO of Vascular Solutions Inc., a medical device company based in Maple Grove.