Karin Housley, a small-business owner and suburban state senator, on Tuesday became the first Republican to announce plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Al Franken.
"I'll work hard, play fair, do the right thing and get things done," Housley, who lives in St. Marys Point and owns a Stillwater real estate business, said in a YouTube video explaining her decision to run. She was first elected to the Legislature in 2012.
In Housley, Republicans see an appealing profile and fundraising potential that could carry the party to its first statewide victory in more than a decade.
"She's a dynamo," said state Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, a close friend.
Still, Housley is in for an uphill climb. She must win the Republican endorsement at the party's state convention next June, raise the estimated $15 million to $20 million required to compete, and introduce herself to Minnesota voters who mostly don't know her — in a year when many Republicans fear heavy losses around the country.
In her announcement video, Housley mostly avoided partisan and ideological rhetoric as she talked about her upbringing in South St. Paul as the daughter of two public school teachers, and of her family life.
Housley is married to Phil Housley, the coach of the National Hockey League's Buffalo Sabres; the couple have four children and two grandchildren.
Last week, Gov. Mark Dayton announced he would appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to replace Franken. The Minneapolis DFLer said she would run in the special election in 2018 to finish Franken's term, and so far no other DFLers have joined the race. Franken is leaving under a cloud of allegations of inappropriate touching by more than half-a-dozen women.
"Minnesotans are tired of seeing people they've elected in the news for reasons having nothing to do with what they were elected for," Housley said.
She owns an east metro real estate business called Karin Housley Homes. "I ran for the state Senate because I wanted to help our small businesses, and I'll continue to do that in Washington," she said. "Who knows when the next Medtronic will come out of Minnesota, if we support them."
Housley also published a book in 2001, entitled "Chicks Laying Nest Eggs: How 10 Skirts Beat the Pants Off Wall Street ... And How You Can Too!"
As chairwoman of the Senate's Aging and Long-term Care Policy Committee, she focused on the needs of the elderly, with the number of Minnesotans older than 65 expected to double by 2030, she said.
"Having been through taking care of my parents, this issue is important to me," said Housley, whose mother is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease.
Housley has been active in recent weeks in response to a Star Tribune series on a breakdown of state investigations into elder abuse, including bringing forth a whistleblower who has brought still more allegations of mismanagement.
Despite a promised agenda focused on small business and the elderly, the DFL will tie Housley to Washington Republicans during the campaign.
This week, without any Democratic votes, Republicans in Congress are set to pass the most significant changes to the tax code in three decades. The legislation would provide temporary tax cuts to most Americans and permanent reductions for corporations, while slashing some popular tax breaks like state and local deductions that Minnesotans receive on their federal returns. Polls show a majority of Americans are against the bill.
Housley said she would urge Minnesota's current senators to support it: "I think there are a lot of good policies in there," she said. But she called the legislation "just a start," citing the lack of a permanent elimination of a tax on medical devices sought by the Minnesota industry's powerful lobby.
The DFL-aligned Alliance for a Better Minnesota attacked her for supporting a 2017 tax bill that passed the Minnesota Legislature with large, bipartisan majorities: "Housley has the same agenda that has made Donald Trump historically unpopular — tax giveaways for a handful of the wealthiest and tobacco companies while hardworking families feel the squeeze," said Joe Davis, executive director of the group.
Other Republicans being mentioned for the race include former Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Whoever wins the 2018 special election would have to run again in 2020 if they want to hold the seat for a full, six-year term.