Critical of what she described as a lack of leadership from incumbent U.S. Senator Al Franken and boasting of her own strong Minnesota roots, Minnesota State Sen. Julianne Ortman announced her entry into the U.S. Senate race Saturday in Waconia.
Ortman, R-Chanhassen, made the announcement in front of dozens of supporters at City Square Park. She has two known challengers thus far for the Republican nomination to oppose Franken, who is expected to run for re-election. Mike McFadden, a business executive from Sunfish Lake, and Anoka State Rep. Jim Abeler have already announced their candidacies.
“I don’t need to tell you something is very wrong in Washington, and we can’t wait six years to get to the heart of the problem,” Ortman told her supporters. “We have a United States senator that for the last five years has ducked the most important issues facing our nation. … This is our time as voters in Minnesota to say we expect more in Washington and from our United States senate. We need more Minnesota in Washington, and less Washington in Minnesota.”
Ortman has served Carver County in the Minnesota senate since 2002. The mother of four is the former Deputy Majority Leader and the chairwoman of the Taxes Committee.
Ortman deflected questions about her fellow Republican challengers and a potential primary race, saying instead that her focus is on defeating Franken in a Nov. 4, 2014, election. However, she did say that she believes her political experience makes her the best Republican candidate and sets her apart from McFadden, who received the backing of former U.S. senators Norm Coleman and Rod Grams just a day before Ortman’s announcement.
“I have great experience for working in Washington,” Ortman said. “I know that Mr. McFadden has not had any public service. I think making that transition to Washington is not necessarily an easy thing, but I’m ready and prepared to do it.”
Most of Ortman’s focus on Saturday, though, was on contrasting herself with Franken, a former comedian, writer, actor and talk show host who spent much of his life living outside the state before moving back to Minnesota in 2005 to run for senate. Ortman took several subtle and not-so-subtle jabs at Franken’s background in her speech to supporters, and later emphasized her Minnesota roots to reporters as well.
“I think primarily, people want to elect somebody who has a stronger connection to Minnesota,” she said. “My service in the senate, the fact I grew up here, raised my family here — that strong connection is real.”
Ortman also contrasted her own “ordinary” background both with Franken’s celebrity status and with fellow Republican challenger McFadden’s background as co-CEO of Lazard Middle Market, a financial advisory company in Minneapolis. She told her supporters that “we don’t need any more disinterested millionaires in the senate” or “celebrities who think it’s their job to sit back and watch and provide comedic commentary.”
“There’s nothing really special about me,” Ortman, an attorney, told reporters afterward. “I’m a mom, I live in Chanhassen, I work hard everyday. (My husband) Ray and I are struggling to pay our bills, support our children and pay for college, which is enormous. I think that’s just like everybody else out there. I think that’s what we need is a stronger voice for regular, ordinary Minnesotans.”
Ortman was also critical of the federal government and the role Franken has played since taking office in 2009. She complained of out-of-control spending, a sluggish economy and high unemployment. She was also critical of Franken’s role in passing Obamacare, and his not doing more to insist on further investigation into the recent murder of U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya. She also criticized Franken, the chairman of a senate subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, regarding the National Security Agency’s controversial collection of private e-mail and phone data.
“You would think that the chair of the senate privacy committee would be the first to alert us to this alarming invasion of our privacy, but for 5 years, he has remained silent,” she said. “We have a $17 trillion national debt, and I haven’t seen any leadership from him. I think honestly, there were very low expectations for him, and I’m not sure he’s even met them.”
DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin issued a statement just moments after Ortman announced her candidacy, critical of her record on taxes in Minnesota.
“Wall Street and big corporations are getting their wish in Julianne Ortman,” Martin’s statement said. “Minnesotans won’t forget that it was Ortman who led the charge to cut property taxes for big corporations while raising property taxes for middle-class families.”
Ortman denied those claims, saying Martin needs to “get his facts straight” and that “property taxes went down after the Republican tax bill for all the residential property owners in Minnesota.”
Ortman made her announcement on Saturday flanked by her husband Ray on one side and her sons, William and Sam on the other. Ortman and her husband also have a daughter in Alaska and a son in the military, currently stationed in California. She said her son in the Army was a big factor in her decision to run for senate, and his experiences have helped her learn a great deal about the U.S. military.
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]