Duluth Days is social event and serious business

Last Monday, a well mixed group of Duluthians and St. Louis County residents loaded onto a bus destined for St. Paul. Some riders came armed with a set agenda, others merely their curiosity.

Last Monday, a well mixed group of Duluthians and St. Louis County residents loaded onto a bus destined for St. Paul. Some riders came armed with a set agenda, others merely their curiosity.

A realtor handed out candy bars to potential first time homeowners, while County Commissioner Steve O'Neil chatted with a Vietnam vet. A few representatives from the University of Minnesota's student government talked about housing issues, and Chamber of Commerce members swapped business cards and ideas.

They were all on their way to Duluth and St. Louis County Days at the State Capitol.

As the bus pulled up to the steps of the looming capitol building, many of the riders appeared to be slightly intimidated. A representative from the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce held a sign high above her head for the bus riders to follow, but they quickly lost her as she scurried into the suit-clad crowd.

Duluth officials, business owners, private citizens and company representatives came down to take care of business.


The day began with more than 160 people meeting personally with state legislators, discussing issues that they felt both personally and passionately about.

Andy Peterson, director of public policy for the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the northern Minnesotans to the capitol and told them that it was the public faces, not the 13 professional lobbyists, who would be making the difference for their area.

Some of the key items that were being presented for funding from the bonding bill included improvements to the St. Louis County Court House, new construction at the DECC, additions to both Lake Superior College and UMD, affordable housing initiatives, rehabilitation of the Aerial Lift Bridge and port development assistance.

For one small group of Duluthians, the issues at hand included improvements to Duluth's sanitary sewer overflow storage and the addition of a sports and health center to UMD.

Former professional lobbyist John Heino led this small group through the underground tunnels of the capitol and into the offices of Duluth, Iron Range and greater Minnesota representatives.

Once in the office, the individuals pleaded their causes -- some with great success and others to no avail.

In the office of Senator David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, Sean Bell and Carl Bryan, both UMD students, received an agreeable response to their UMD student sports and rec center request.

"That may be something we can look at for next year," Tomassoni said.


In other offices, though, the rec center did not sit well.

"I'm gonna give it to you straight," said Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia. "I have my priorities, and those priorities are with the Iron Rangers."

After the brick wall experience with Rukavina, Bryan was disappointed but inspired.

"The best way to persuade someone is to find out their objections," said Bryan.

Later on, when the group stopped for a soda, the conversation turned to the public's role in government and politics.

Lee Prinkkila has had a lot of experience down at the capitol, and he stressed how important it is for the public to communicate with legislators.

Prinkkila said, "We (the public) are not holding up our end of the republic if at the end of a politician's term we simply say you did a good job or a bad job."

Isobel Rapaich agreed with Prinkkila. "When I come down here for Duluth, people say, 'Why go? Nobody listens.' Well, if nobody goes then there will be no one to listen to."


Rapaich, Prinkkila and Heino agreed they were excited to see the young men from UMD in the group. They all said they could help return Minnesota and the country to a more gracious time in politics.

After the day of lobbying, the group joined nearly 500 other Duluth and St. Louis County residents and nearly 75 legislators at the grand reception.

The reception showcased the various industries, businesses, recreational activities, colleges and dining establishments that Duluth offers.

City Councilor Jim Stauber said that northeastern Minnesota tends to be forgotten about when it comes to state money.

"This reception is a chance for the legislators to see what we have to offer and to meet some of the everyday people who play a key role in Duluth and St. Louis County," Stauber said.

Bonding bills aside, the day at the capitol was a social event where people had a chance to network, make new connections and see old friends.

That night, the bus ride back to Duluth was a lot more relaxed and not as hushed. People laughed and joked, and some even made arrangements to meet later. The realtor handed out what was left of her candy bars as the bus crested the hill and rolled down into the sparkling port town.

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