Candidate's View: Listening to Minnesotans key to getting things done
In January, I spent my first weekend as U.S. senator in Duluth and on the Iron Range, doing what I've always done: listening to Minnesotans and then going to work on their behalf.
In Duluth, I heard from scores of people concerned about fast-rising health care costs, the state's opioid crisis, and pension shortfalls that threaten to rob thousands of Minnesotans of a secure retirement.
The next day on the Iron Range, I heard from steelworkers hit hard by unfair foreign steel imports and local leaders about the need to expand rural broadband services.
In the nine months since, I have led more than 110 meetings and events in communities across Minnesota, and my staff and I have visited all 87 counties. I've taken what I've learned to Washington, D.C., where I've taken on big issues and worked across the aisle to solve problems and get things done for Minnesota.
I worked with Republicans and Democrats to help write legislation that recently was signed into law to expand career and skills training and apprenticeship opportunities to help people build careers and get good-paying jobs.
I worked across the aisle to pass a Senate Farm Bill that includes several key provisions I authored and championed that will expand broadband services to rural communities, increase our nation's use of renewable energy, and help returning veterans get started in farming.
I also helped write provisions in a major bill to address the nation's opioid crisis that the president likely will sign into law soon.
As I travel the state, the No. 1 issue I hear about from Minnesotans is the cost of health care, especially the cost of prescription drugs. That's why my first bill took aim at the large drug companies which have worked to keep lower-priced generics off the market. And it's why I later introduced a more comprehensive bill aimed at addressing the cost of prescription drugs, which I first announced while meeting with local residents, health experts, and care providers in downtown Duluth.
I also took a leadership role on the Senate Rural Health Caucus to help Minnesota's rural providers and residents deal with the unique health care challenges they face. During the recent Farm Bill debate, I pushed to include a bipartisan measure to create a rural health liaison whose job would be to focus federal health efforts on the needs of rural America.
Not everyone wants or needs to go to a four-year college to succeed. I've seen innovative partnerships among Minnesota businesses and technical colleges that give students the skills they need to build good-paying careers. That's why I worked with Republicans and Democrats to help write a bill to increase resources for community and technical education. And it's why I was pleased when President Donald Trump signed it into law this summer.
In contrast, my opponent, while claiming to support more vocational training, actually sided with her party leaders in the Minnesota Legislature to cut funding for critical workforce-training programs.
Almost every Minnesota community has been touched by the opioid crisis. In St. Louis County alone, opioid overdoses killed more than 120 people between 2011 and 2016. Minnesota law enforcement, health care, and recovery experts have told me that the growing crisis demands an urgent infusion of resources and new strategies.
In response to the opioids crisis, I helped write bipartisan legislation that likely will be signed into law soon. It will bring $1.5 billion in funding for states, tribes, and communities to bolster their prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts. The opioids bill also includes a provision that Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and I wrote to expand mental health services in schools and communities.
I also supported efforts to charge the same prescription drug companies that helped create the crisis a "penny-a-pill" to help fund prevention and treatment options.
In contrast, my opponent was one of only six state senators to vote against bipartisan legislation to hold opioid manufacturers accountable and require them to help pay for treatment programs.
I'm running for the U.S. Senate this year because I want to continue going to work every day to solve problems and create opportunities for families, businesses, and communities across our state.
Tina Smith of St. Paul was appointed in December by Gov. Mark Dayton to represent Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. She replaced fellow Democrat Sen. Al Franken, who resigned. She wrote this at the invitation of the News Tribune Opinion page. Election Day is Nov. 6.