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In appreciation: Rep. Huntley deserves thanks for decades of hard work, dedication

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It is with appreciation and gratitude that I join the chorus of voices saying thank-you and goodbye to Rep. Tom Huntley. Rep. Huntley served the Duluth area for an incredible 22 years before announcing his retirement in December.

Rep. Huntley always has held my respect. He is a man of science, of which there are far too few in elected office. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry at the University of Minnesota, and his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Iowa. He spent decades teaching other aspiring scientists at the University of Minnesota Duluth as a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology.

His leadership and service to the Duluth community has been unswerving, having also served on the Duluth City Council in the 1980s, as a commissioner on the Minnesota Seaway Port Authority of Duluth, and as president of the Seaway Port Authority, before being elected to the state House of Representatives in 1992.

As a representative, he is best known for his work as chairman of the Health, Human Services and Housing Finance Committee. He championed taking care of the most vulnerable among us and allowing people easier access to health care and more specialized care when needed.

Huntley is known for being honest and, at times, blunt, like when he told reporters that not giving full rate increases to home- and community-based caregivers last year was his “biggest failure.” This year, he turned that failure into a 5 percent increase for workers. He argued these caregivers are doing important and tough work that many of us would be unwilling to do, often for wages less than they would earn at a big-box retailer. Ultimately, both the House and Senate agreed with Huntley and voted to fund the 5 percent increase this year.

Listening to Rep. Huntley’s retirement remarks on the House floor, I was reminded just how eloquent he can be as he quoted poet Robert Frost and went out of his way to thank the Capitol staffers who truly make the place and process work. I also was reminded he has a great sense of humor. I will never forget the time he showed up on the House floor with the sleeve of his trademark blue blazer pinned up and wearing an eye patch — props for his tongue-in-cheek “North Shore Piracy Defense Act” amendment. Humor at the Capitol is not often found but much needed. Legislators could benefit more than most at being able to laugh at themselves.

Thank you, Rep. Huntley, for your decades of hard work and dedication to the people of Duluth. It was an honor to be your colleague.

Sen. Roger J. Reinert of Duluth represents District 7 in the Minnesota Senate.