Langness, Housley square off in Tuesday’s primary

Former FL school board member faces funding hole against highly visible Senate district newcomer


Clint Riese
Staff Writer

Neither Karin Housley nor Eric Langness on June 4 had any inkling of running for state Senate, but they found themselves filing as candidates in District 39 after frantic trips to the Capitol the very next day.

The eleventh-hour decision of seven-term state legislator Ray Vandeveer (R-Forest Lake) not to seek a third term in the Senate left his party temporarily without a prospect for representation on the November ballot. Ultimately, it set up an Aug. 14 primary between Housley, a business owner from St. Mary’s Point, and Langness, a collegiate career services advisor from Forest Lake.

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Up for grabs is the chance to run on the Nov. 6 ticket against DFL candidate Julie Bunn for the senate seat in the newly formed district which includes: Bayport, Baytown Township, Forest Lake, Franconia Township, Grant, Lake Elmo, Lake St. Croix Beach, Lakeland, Lakeland Shores, Marine on St. Croix, May Township, Oak Park Heights, Pine Springs, Scandia, Shafer, St. Mary’s Point, Stillwater, Stillwater Township and West Lakeland Township.

Langness touts experience

The candidacy of Langness, a Forest Lake resident of 14 years, has direct ties to the seat’s outgoing legislator. Langness was a veteran member of Vandeveer’s campaign committee and was working as communications coordinator for the 2012 race.

Eric Langness

“I was actually working as part of the campaign the night before filing closed,” said Langness.

That ended up being Vandeveer’s last night as a candidate. The next day, Langness came upon a Minnesota Public Radio article announcing Vandeveer’s withdrawal. When his attempts to reach the senator were unsuccessful, Langness checked with the state and found that no Republican had filed. He hurried to St. Paul hours before the deadline.

“I knew that we needed a name on the ballot at the absolute minimum,” he said, speaking for the Republican Party. “I did not know if I would be running a campaign or not. I knew I had a couple days to decide whether to pull my name off that ballot.”

He spent those days pondering whether to run and eventually decided to keep his hat in the ring.

“I kind of looked at my professional history and it matches very well with the issues of today,” he said. “What I’m hearing on the campaign trail and what I knew even before I started campaigning was that jobs, education and health care are the top three priorities for Minnesotans….I’ve got a pretty wide range in those three areas and I think that expertise will really help me at the Capitol.”

The 34-year-old points to his background in career services as experience in the jobs sector. His time as an x-ray and ultrasound technician and later in health care management shows a strong history in that field, he said. And Langness feels his service on the Forest Lake School Board and several other boards including the Educational Cooperative Service Unit of the Metropolitan Twin Cities Area demonstrates his passion for education.

Housley’s web site features those same three topics as key issues, and Langness feels his platform is essentially identical to that of his opponent.

“Her position, I don’t disagree with any piece of it,” he said. “What I do disagree with is that the front of her website says that she’s the candidate with experience. From what I know of Karin, she is the wife of an NHL hockey player and she sells houses to the so-called ‘1 percent.’ I don’t know how that experience is [related to] jobs, education or health care. So I think I’m the better candidate standing up for the issues of today.”

Langness feels he is more electable than Housley based on his background both in business and as an elected official.

“I’ve served in office and won an election,” he said, noting that Housley spent over $80,000 and lost a race against incumbent state Sen. Katie Sieben in District 57 in 2010, the same year in which Republicans carried both House seats in that district.

“I look at that and go, ‘How did she screw this up?’,” Langness said. “It scares me that she doesn’t have the right message and the branding that the GOP is looking for.”

Langness also feels he is better equipped to match up in debates with Bunn, whom he said knows the issues inside and out.

It appeared that Langness had missed the deadlines for several campaign filings as the documents were not available this week in state records online. However, an administrator with the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board on Monday said the omissions were due to a processing error and that the state had indeed received them. The filings were posted by Monday afternoon.

Langness spent several terms as the deputy chair for Senate District 52 and is currently the vice chair for the Sixth Congressional District. The longtime party delegate lost his re-election bid for school board in 2009 and also lost a primary for Washington County Board in 2008.

Housley touts electability

Housley had long been gearing up for a rematch with Sieben after losing by 600 votes and less than 1 percent in 2010. Then redistricting hit this February and she learned that St. Mary’s Point would be pulled away from most of its current district neighbors and lodged as the southernmost town of the new District 39.

Karin Housley

“I know I would’ve won [a rematch with Sieben], so that day, Feb. 21, was sadder to me than losing 0the election in 2010,” Housley said.

The presence of Vandeveer and the prospect of Sen. Ted Lillie of Lake Elmo coming in from current District 56 left the real estate business owner without hope of running in her new district. Housley toyed with the idea of relocating in order to run against Sieben but chose instead to put her political aspirations on hold.

“I had almost thrown all my signs away and just said ‘Okay, this is what God wants for me, no political career,’” she said.

Then came word of the last-minute opening in District 39, a region with which Housley said she is much more familiar. Her business is based out of Stillwater, as is her Saturday morning talk show on AM 1220 KLBB. Like Langness, she raced to the Capitol upon hearing from a friend in the state legislature of Vandeveer’s pending retirement.

Housley, a native of South St. Paul, said she was recruited by the GOP for the 2010 campaign but has devoted herself to politics since. She had previously kept a finger on the pulse of the issues, which she saw play out firsthand through her work as a Realtor. A decade ago, Housley said, homeowners would share happy tales of dreams fulfilled.

“Now I sit down and I say, ‘How many mortgage payments are you behind?’ You look at the bigger picture and one or the other had lost their jobs,” she said. “Our state just isn’t business friendly.”

The 48-year-old also has a deep interest in education. Her husband, Phil, spent 21 years in the National Hockey League, which required the family to move frequently. Their oldest of four children spent time in 12 schools by the time she reached ninth grade.

Housley staunchly opposes Langness’s view on electability, arguing that she is far more qualified to take on Bunn, her fellow Lake Elmo Rotary Club member.

“There’s no way Eric Langness can beat Julie Bunn,” Housley said. “He doesn’t have the name recognition and he hasn’t raised the funds. If you really want to beat Julie Bunn, I am the only candidate who can do that.”

The former television news producer has produced a war chest of over $16,000 since June while Langness has raised less than $1,000.

Housley feels the state government needs to be run more like a business and would benefit from fresh faces and ideas.

“I might be naive in thinking it, but I really think I could make a difference at the Capitol, just because I’m not there to be a career politician,” she said. “I want to get in there, bring my leadership qualities and my business savvy and get some things done.”