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Homeland Security chair praises Twin Ports

In an event that seemed to blur the worlds of campaigning and legislating, a federal lawmaker stopped in Duluth on Wednesday to discuss port and border security in the Northland.

Several border, port and first response agencies gathered Wednesday at the Public Safety Building in Duluth. Rep. Michael McCaul, of Texas and the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he came at the request of St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber. From left at the head table were Commissioner Beth Olson, Commissioner Keith Nelson, Rep. McCaul, Commissioner Stauber, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken and Duluth Fire Chief Dennis Edwards. Brady Slater / bslater@duluthnews.com
Several border, port and first response agencies gathered Wednesday at the Public Safety Building in Duluth. Rep. Michael McCaul, of Texas and the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he came at the request of St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber. From left at the head table were Commissioner Beth Olson, Commissioner Keith Nelson, Rep. McCaul, Commissioner Stauber, Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken and Duluth Fire Chief Dennis Edwards. Brady Slater / bslater@duluthnews.com

In an event that seemed to blur the worlds of campaigning and legislating, a federal lawmaker stopped in Duluth on Wednesday to discuss port and border security in the Northland.

Rep. Michael McCaul, of Texas, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, met with almost two dozen St. Louis County lawmakers and leaders of first-response agencies about a number of issues.

McCaul said he came at the request of St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber, who is himself running to become a congressman this November as the GOP-endorsed candidate to replace the retiring Rep. Rick Nolan.

Stauber, of Hermantown, sat at the head of the table in the Public Safety Building, where he mediated the hourlong conversation - only the final portion of which was open to the media due to the possibility of officials sharing sensitive information, said Dana Kazel, spokeswoman for St. Louis County.

"It's important to bring (McCaul) here, to our inland-most port," Stauber said.

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It was the chairman's first visit to a Great Lakes port. He admitted to spending much of the time in his chairman's role focused on terrorist threats posed by ISIS and Al-Qaeda and securing places such as coastal ports and the Mexican border.

"We talk about our southern borders but we also need to look at our northern border," McCaul said.

While the event had the appearance of a considerable flex of campaign muscle from Stauber, the resulting conversations unfolded in earnest with topics ranging from Great Lakes ports funding to the opioid crisis and port security. The Twin Ports is seeing more cargo containers coming to Duluth by train and leaving by boat.

More containers, said St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson, "brings a whole new set of problems."

Cargo containers are sealed when in transit, explained Duluth Seaway Port Authority spokesperson Adele Yorde after the meeting. Since most of the containers are transported into Duluth from Canadian National Railway, the container cargoes first encounter U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Canadian border. Border Patrol agents maintain the right to open and inspect any container once it reaches Duluth - and they do so on occasion, Yorde said.

At one point, St. Louis County Commissioner Beth Olson asked McCaul about human trafficking - a problem locally, she explained, especially in the time before "Native American women voiced their frustrations" about the exploitative treatment, sometimes on lake freighters, of their sisters, mothers and daughters.

"It's modern-day slavery in our lifetime," McCaul said. "We need more prosecutions to go after not the victims but the guys making the money."

Following the roundtable, McCaul took questions about refinery safety in the wake of the Husky refinery explosions and fire in Superior in late April.

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"I come from a state that's had its share of refinery explosions - that has to be a priority for the U.S.," he said.

The congressman also comes from a state with one of the most recent school shootings, with 10 victims killed in Sante Fe earlier this month.

McCaul, who has an A+ rating with the NRA and has taken their campaign contributions for several years, failed to address gun reform. The Republican lawmaker did take issue with video games and what he described as their ability to desensitize young people to killing.
He called school shootings "a cultural, societal issue" that Congress was working to address.
"You don't know when it's going to happen again," McCaul said, recommending that the United States work to "harden soft targets" that are the country's schools.

All in all, McCaul praised the amount of collaboration between the agencies in the Twin Ports. After the meeting he was scheduled to tour the local harbor aboard a U.S. Coast Guard boat.

Said McCaul of the Twin Ports, "You've got it working."

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