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Smith highlights child care during campaign stop

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith stopped in Stewartville Tuesday to highlight her legislation to address the state’s child-care shortage even as her Republican challenger, Karin Housley, was fending off questions about a decade-old social media post that compared Michelle Obama to a chimpanzee.

“We need more civility in politics, and I think everybody deserves to be treated with respect,” Smith said when asked about the comments. “I am just going to be focused on keeping a positive message the last 21 days” of the campaign.

Smith was appointed to the Senate seat last December after Democrat Al Franken resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct. The midterm elections on Nov. 6 include the special election between Smith and Housley, the winner of which will serve out the remaining two years of the term.

Smith paid a visit to Sprouts Childcare & Early Education Center, the city’s first stand-alone care center with a maximum capacity of 99 children.

During Smith’s tour of the 7,500-square-foot facility, owner Krystal Campbell described the city’s chronic shortage for day-care slots. She related how one Stewartville parent now enrolled at Sprouts had to drive to north Rochester to drop off her children at day care, only to drive back to Stewartville to work.

To help make Sprouts a reality, the city of Stewartville and other local agencies provided gap financing and tax abatement. Krystal and her husband, Patrick Campbell, also borrowed more than $1 million, said Stewartville Mayor Jimmie John King.

King said day care is a pressing economic development issue for the city. He noted how a couple of Stewartville businesses with plans to expand struggle to find employees due to the lack of day-care slots. One survey showed a day-care deficit of 110 slots in Stewartville. Sprouts will go a long way toward closing that deficit, he added.

Smith held 13 roundtable sessions across the state, in communities with day-care shortages before introducing legislation that would fund and assist child-care facilities.

Smith said her bill would support “great local solutions” like Sprouts.

“In my view, you don’t need somebody in Washington, D.C., telling you what to do,” Smith said. Her bill would assist people who want to build or expand their daycare facilities as well as offer help in the training and recruiting of teachers and educators.

“There’s a lot more to this than somebody who’s just baby-sitting a child,” Smith said.

Smith’s visit to Stewartville came a day after her opponent, Housley, came under fire for a string of comments on Facebook that compared Michelle Obama to a chimpanzee. Her campaign said the quotes were being taken out of context.

Housley’s comments, first reported by The Huffington Post, took the then-first lady to task for failing to “at least stand up straight.” After referencing a Ronald Reagan movie that features a chimpanzee, Housley’s post continued: “I think even that chimp stood up straighter than Michelle. Uh-oh, someone is going to make a comment.”

Housley made the posts long before running for statewide office against Smith or the state Senate seat she’s held since 2013.

Housley’s campaign spokesman Jake Schneider accused Smith’s campaign of “using an out-of-context Facebook post from 10 years ago to manufacture outrage.”

“This is what the radical left does when they are losing — they attack Republicans so they don’t have to come up with solutions to the problems Minnesotans are facing,” Schneider said.

Smith was also in Cannon Falls to discuss her efforts to expand the nation’s use of ethanol and to emphasize the need to pass a final Farm Bill.

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