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Local View: Protect local democracy, local control

As small-business owners in Duluth, we are engaged in what is going on in our community. We know that the best way to make this city a better place for our families, our employees, and our customers is at a local level — right here in Duluth.

However, we are concerned about the corporate power grab in St. Paul right now in the form of the many "preemption" bills that propose to take away our voice as small businesses at a local level.

We call on Gov. Mark Dayton to block the effort to stifle the voices of small businesses and local communities in Minnesota by vetoing any bills that take away local control.

For decades, corporate lobbyists have claimed that all we business owners care about is fewer regulations and fewer taxes. In fact, small businesses care about our community much more than that. We care about our families and our employees. We care about the environment and the health of future generations. We care about creating strong, sustainable local economies where we can make the most difference.

For example, right now, the Duluth City Council is working on creating an ordinance that would make sure all workers could stay home when they or their kids are sick. Councilors are working on another ordinance to ban plastic bags to keep our streets and lake cleaner.

We support those initiatives and want to play a role in making sure those policies make sense. In our shops, we see and have relationships with our local elected officials, and that's where our voice begins.

If any preemption bills pass, it'll be that much harder for us as small businesses to participate in creating and passing laws that impact our communities. The farther you get out from St. Paul, the harder it is for us to participate at the state level. Instead, corporate lobbyists will continue to speak for us, misrepresenting our interests and pushing one-size-fits-all approaches to complex issues.

The work we as small business owners do, along with our city officials, should not be disqualified; it should be embraced and learned from. And to take away our local control of things is nothing other than an intrusion.

The state government does not always know what works best for every city and county and should not take a top-down approach to lawmaking. Local communities need the authority to create and tailor laws and regulations to better take into account individual cities' values and needs.

Jeff Schmidt is owner of Lizzards Art Gallery and Framing in Duluth. Eric Faust is owner of the Duluth Coffee Company. And Elizabeth Spehar is owner of the Snooty Fox Tea Shop in Duluth. They all contributed to this commentary, working with its lead writer, Corinne Horowitz, the state director of the Main Street Alliance of Minnesota (