Election 2018: US Senate (Smith seat)

This is a special election. As you probably recall, Al Franken resigned and Tina Smith was appointed to fill his seat. The person who wins in November will serve out the remainder of the term and then run again in 2020.

On the ballot:

Tina Smith (DFL)
Karin Housley (Republican)
Jerry Trooien (Unaffiliated)
Sarah Wellington (Legal Marijuana Now)

This is a much closer race than Klobuchar’s. I think this is partly because Tina Smith is new and people don’t know her all that well yet, and partly because so many Democrats are still pissed off about Franken’s resignation. I wanted to just start this post out by saying, “we’re not going to relitigate Franken’s resignation here” but then decided I wanted to say a few more things. (1) I’m also still mad. (2) At Franken. (3) Claiming that his downfall was some sort of Republican plot ignores the fact that at least two of his accusers were Democrats.

It is not too much to ask that our icons, our representatives, the people we love, the people who ask the hard and confrontational questions in the Senate, don’t grope us.

If you’re still on Team Al: the absolute last thing he’d ask from you is to protest his resignation by putting a Republican in that seat, so don’t. (I strongly suspect that the majority of Twitter accounts saying that they’re so angry about Al that they’re going to vote Republican are Republicans who wouldn’t have voted for Al on a bet, or possibly bots/Russians, working overtime to convince people that “I am so angry that a Democrat I liked for his confrontational attitude and unapologetic progressivism was pressured into resigning, I’m going to elect a Republican who wants to ban abortion and block gun control!” is the sort of thing normal Democrats think.)

Sarah Wellington (Legal Marijuana Now)

Sarah is one of those candidates who’s on the ballot but not really running. She has a campaign Facebook page but there’s no way to volunteer or donate. Her issues are 100% weed-related. Her most recent post was in June, where she said, “please see the page Sarah4SenateMN for the most recent information,” but she doesn’t link to it. I had trouble finding it because she didn’t link and she got it wrong: it’s Sarah4MNSenate in the actual page address. The new page is mostly re-shares of weed-related news stories with occasional pictures of her.

She is not a real candidate and she’s not going to win. If you want to see marijuana legalized, US Senate isn’t even a race you should be focused on; vote for Tim Walz and enough Democrats to give him a DFL-majority legislature.

Jerry Trooien (Unaffiliated)

I initially heard about Jerry Trooien because he kept putting sponsored Tweets in my Twitter feed. His campaign Twitter feed is profoundly unimpressive: he’s spending the money to sponsor Tweets but then not bothering to interact with anyone who responds, even if they’re asking him questions about his issues, like I did. (This might explain why he has a whopping 491 followers.

What I was specifically curious about was his stance on abortion rights. His website has a lot of bloviating about how the Democrats and Republicans are “more alike than they are different” followed by some soft-core promotion of what mostly amounts to Democratic policies (pass the DREAM Act, have universal background checks and red flag laws for guns) with a few totally oddball suggestions (improve education by teaching students mindfulness — I mean, I’m not anti-mindfulness, but when I try to imagine what a Mindfulness Curriculum would wind up looking like after it passed through the legislative process and the Department of Education, I have to go do several minutes of deep breathing to calm myself down.)

He didn’t answer me on Twitter, so I e-mailed the campaign and asked what his stance was on abortion. I heard nothing for about two weeks, then got back this response:

He is extremely sensitive and respectful to people who cannot support a woman’s right to choose but he believes it is not the role of government to decide for a woman. It is an issue that divides America and he believes we need to be respectful to each other in our disagreements.

I don’t even know what to make of this statement, other than to say, he’s pro-choice but super weaksauce about it, so if abortion is a major issue for you — in either direction — he’s probably not your guy.

I was curious if he’d made any statements on Brett Kavanaugh, and found one on his Facebook. It’s a bunch of tsk-tsk’ing about partisanship.

I am deeply unimpressed by Trooien. His main principles seem to be, “why aren’t people nicer anymore?” and “Parties are bad.” He also brings zero political experience to the table — he lists athletic experience and real estate/business stuff, but nothing about volunteering even with a kid’s scout troop, supporting someone else’s campaign (we had an active third party in this state for a while — what was Trooien up to during Ventura’s governor term?), serving on any sort of municipal committee… yeah, NOPE.

He’s currently petitioning to have his party identification changed from “Unaffiliated” to “Independent.” It’s not going to help.

Karin Housley (Republican)

Karin, like a lot of the Republicans who think they might have a shot at winning, is portraying herself as a moderate and a generally nice lady. She’s hampered by the fact that she’s not very nice. Here’s Karin some years back mocking John McCain’s physical disabilities, which were caused by torture:

And here’s Karin this summer making fun of the Pow Wow she’d attended.

The thing that’s the most striking to me about Karin is the extent to which the issues she claims to care about are issues where we’ve all been consistently screwed over by her party. She’s made some political hay over her commitment to Elder Care issues, mentioning her mother with dementia, but when Governor Dayton rolled out a set of proposals for licensure and greater oversight of assisted living communities, Karin Housley’s counter-proposal was for “further study of these issues through special task forces” with a side of complaining about Governor Dayton’s past failures. From the March 15th article:

“There’s no sugarcoating it. The Dayton-Smith administration failed elderly and vulnerable Minnesotans and their families,” said Sen. Karin Housley, chairwoman of the Senate Aging and Long-Term Care Policy committee. “We owe them answers, accountability, and action this session.”

The end result was modest reforms and weakened protections.

Karin’s campaign page on elder care also mentions the formation of a statewide palliative care council. Remember how the Affordable Care Act originally had a provision that was intended to provide Medicare reimbursement for appointments where patients would have conversations with their doctors about end-of-life care? Remember how that got removed because the GOP referred to this as “death panels”? Palliative care shouldn’t be a political issue! It was Karin’s party that decided it would make a great one.

Karin has run against Tina by claiming that Tina’s a career politician; Karin has actually been seeking elected office for a lot longer than Tina (she first ran in 2010, I think).

Karin has tried to keep a certain amount of daylight between herself and Trump. I looked for a picture of her in a MAGA hat because I was curious if one existed; I didn’t find one. I did, however, find her speaking at a Trump rally. She gives Trump an “A” for his politics, though on her website I’d say she’s trying to be vague about tariffs in the hope of reassuring both the people who want them, and the people who are aghast at the damage the tariffs are doing to their industry. (Edited 10/31 to add: she also said she wanted to be a rubber stamp for Trump’s agenda, which … yeah, wow. WOW. I mean, if that’s what you want in a Senator, you probably didn’t need my blog to help you pick one out.)

I found a pretty interesting Q&A with Smith and Housley at the Duluth News Tribune. One of the bits that caught my eye was Housley saying that one of the major problems with the current health care system was a lack of transparency — she’s not wrong — and that the way to fix this is to expand HSAs. Which — what? I ask about the cost of stuff all the time and it’s pretty hilarious the extent to which no one can tell you what anything costs. I get some prescriptions via my insurer’s mail-order pharmacy and refill them online. I have to put in my credit card number and and click “Order Now” without knowing how much they will charge me.

There are some proposals to legislate this transparency, so that if a patient asks, “how much will this procedure cost?” the doctor has to be able to provide that information. That’s not what Karin’s proposing here and I’d bet my next prescription deductible she’s opposed to that requirement because I’m sure the lobbyists all think it’s a terrible idea. (For one thing, it makes it a hell of a lot harder to charge you, me, and my grandmother three different prices for the same goddamn thing.)

One final note: if you’re searching for Karin on the Internet, make sure you spell her name correctly. Karin with an I. It’s actually pronounced car-in, I discovered while watching some of these videos. (I was trying to find her Twitter feed and failing, earlier today, because Twitter is not as good as Google at figuring out what you mean.) (and lololol I misspelled her name twice in this post. FIXED NOW.)

Tina Smith (DFL)

I like Tina. Here’s what I said in the primary, which still applies:

She’s been a Senator since January, and has been a consistent voice for — well, progressive values, sure, but mostly basic fucking human decency, which is currently in remarkably short supply in GOP-controlled Washington. She took an immediate stand against family separation and was one of 11 Senators who signed a letter demanding updates on whether kids were back with their parents. She took an immediate stand against confirming the Supreme Court nominee (even before he was named, she and Amy Klobuchar released a statement saying no vote should be held until after the election in November.) Whenever I read the latest briefings from the nightmare hellscape that is our country in 2018 (there’s something new every hour) with the instruction to Contact My Senator ASAP, I check Tina’s Twitter feed, and usually she’s Tweeted out the position I want to see from her quickly enough that I don’t have to call. I really appreciate that in a Senator.

To this I’ll add that I appreciate that she called out, and did not going along with, the pharmaceutical industry’s attempt to slip a nice little windfall for themselves into the bill addressing the opioid crisis. And, although this was an uncontroversial, bipartisan bill, I appreciate that she supported the bill that said pharmacists could let you know if your prescription was actually going to be cheaper if you didn’t go through your insurer and just paid the actual cost rather than the co-pay. On the issues where I want Democrats to fight: she’s fighting. On issues where I want Democrats to cooperate with the Republicans: she’s happy to work on a bipartisan basis.

What Tina’s career looks like to me is that of an incredibly smart, incredibly competent woman whose public service mostly happened behind the scenes — which is not uncommon for a woman of her generation. (She’s 60.) I’m really glad she’s moved out into the public sphere of public service.

I have donated to Tina, I will enthusiastically vote for her, and I would encourage everyone else to do the same. Don’t take this race for granted — Amy Klobuchar holds one of the safer seats in the Senate, but Tina Smith does not.








1 thought on “Election 2018: US Senate (Smith seat)

  1. I work for a health insurance company. One of my coworkers generates a spreadsheet with our health insurance options, and most of the time either an HRA or HSA is cheaper than the traditional insurance plans for us when one compares the insurance premiums and the cost of medical services after deductible and copays. The HRA and HSA also don’t have a stupid 2 tier for covered providers with a preferred-network with low deductible/copay, and not-preferred network with a second much higher deductible (independent of the first deductible, of course) with a much higher copay. I go to an Entira clinic, and because they don’t have a full network of internal specialists like Allina, Fairview and the other networks with their own hospitals, I kept getting referred to specialists in the not-preferred network, and sometimes it wasn’t obvious whether the provider was in or out of preferred network until the bill came. Yay! Surprise! Triple the deductible I thought I had and double the copays.

    I recently saw a doctor at HCMC specialty clinics, and they sent me a letter warning me that they could be charging me for an out-patient hospital visit instead of an office visit, and therefore I might get a second bill for hospital overhead, and I should check with my insurance company. So I did call my insurance company (my employer), and was basically told that they could explain a bill, but not tell me in advance what I might get charged for the visit. I suppose I could have called HCMC and asked for a pre-authorization for services, but who knows to do that, and could they actually get it done in the week or so between the time I got the letter and the scheduled appointment. I have an HSA, but I can never get a provider to give me an estimate of what it’s going to cost before a service or procedure. At best, I might get directed to their billing office and my insurance company. If we had single payer healthcare, it would be a lot easier to estimate the cost of healthcare services that don’t involve unexpected complications because we won’t have a super-sekret master price list kept by the provider, with dozens of different discounts based on the insurer and the policy.

    So anyway, when I hear a Republican saying “We can contain costs through competition” and that “HSAs make people better health consumers”, or “We’re going to keep insurance companies from charging you more for pre-existing conditions (assuming continuous coverage, which is the Obamacare requirement)”, or “We’re going to get rid of Obamacare and then come up with something better and cheaper”, I know they’re spouting bullshit.

    The cost of healthcare insurance is (cost of medical services + insurance company overhead) / (size of risk pool). While it may be that some of the current risk pools (e.g., large company, small company, government, self-insured companies, the personal market) may have low costs because of fewer unhealthy people in the risk pool, it’s hard to beat the entire country as the risk pool for lowest average health insurance costs.

    I have pre-existing conditions, I am old enough to consider early retirement, but too young for Medicare, and there’s a possibility I could lose my job to outsourcing before I hit 65, I really don’t want to leave my health insurance up to the party that’s been voting to repeal Obamacare for the last 8 years, but still has no clue on what should replace it.

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