Sen. Tina Smith hasn’t been in the Senate long, but she’s already emerged as a champion for rural electric cooperatives and their members. 

In 2019, her second year in office, the Democrat worked with her Republican colleague, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, to lead Senate passage of the RURAL Act, which protected co-ops from the risk of losing their tax-exempt status when they accept government grants. 

Smith is now leading efforts to pass the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, which would save co-ops billions by allowing them to reprice Rural Utilities Service loans at lower interest rates. 

“Senator Smith believes in the cooperative approach and the important role rural electric cooperatives have in supporting their communities,” says Darrick Moe, president and CEO of the Minnesota Rural Electric Association. “She consistently takes time to work with us and listen to our concerns.” 

Smith was Minnesota’s lieutenant governor when she was appointed to the Senate in 2018 after former Sen. Al Franken resigned. She won a special election later in 2018, then won re-election in 2020 to a full term. 

“Senator Smith is one of the best friends that co-ops have in Washington,” says Tim Velde from Minnesota Valley Cooperative Light & Power, a member of the statewide association board. “She gets the challenges that rural communities face and wants to help us overcome those challenges.” 

Smith says that small towns and rural areas play a key role in America’s economic and social success. 

“If you travel in rural America as I have, you can learn a lot from the people about resilience in tough times and coming together to solve even the most difficult problems in unique and innovative ways,” she says. “Rural electric cooperatives and their members understand this and invest in the things that make rural areas prosper like economic development, expanding access to rural broadband, and recovering from weather disasters.”