If my name sounds familiar, you might remember me as “the news lady.” I spent years listening to you and sharing your successes and struggles on the nightly news. I’ve left that career behind, but my passion for helping our families navigate a world through difficult times remains stronger than ever.

My husband Gary Kovanen and I live in Moose Lake where we were fortunate to build a home and raise our family. Two paychecks allowed us to build a life together and enjoy the benefits of a small, vibrant community. My great concern is the next generation won’t have that opportunity unless we all work together. That’s why I’m campaigning to become your next state senator to represent Carlton, Pine, and portions of Kanabec and St. Louis counties.

I meet a lot of people on the campaign trail. I think about the success of a young miner I met who went back to college in Cloquet after a layoff to train for a new career to support his family. I also think about the farmers I’ve met. One is paying 40% of his income for health insurance and copays. Another described his reluctance to seek medical care unless an injury was life-threatening, for fear of bankruptcy. We must do better.

My campaign’s mission statement is simple: “People come first.” It means I’ll do my best to be here for your families, and I’ll put your needs before corporate profits. Our shared values will be critical in the years ahead as we rebuild in a post COVID-19 world, and there are a lot of people eager to help us rebuild. I’m pretty proud of my endorsements by the AFL-CIO, MAPE, AFSCME, the Teamsters, Education Minnesota, the Minnesota Nurses Association, Carlton County Central Labor Body, SMART-TD Minnesota, and the Land Stewardship Action Fund.

I’ll work with lawmakers to ensure access to affordable health care for our families, living wages, and the right to organize and to bargain collectively. We must also work to fully fund our public schools and critical projects aimed at addressing our crumbling roads, bridges, and community infrastructure — including funds to expand broadband to get our children connected with the world and attract new businesses to our district.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

My priorities also include supporting our small businesses. Whether they’re located on our main streets, on the outskirts of town, or outside the city limits, our small businesses are the backbone of our economy and deserve a fair shake.

As your senator, I’ll work with you to address climate change and to protect our air and water by expanding sustainable farming practices and the move toward a green energy economy. Together, we will build a district and state where all are welcome and free to exercise our rights to marry who we love, raise a family, and thrive — safe from violence in the home and on the street by continuing to partner with and support our local social services and our first responders who have sworn to protect and serve the communities in our district.

It’s no secret our local, county, and state governments will face difficult decisions due to budget deficits caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our biggest challenge will be maintaining public services to the standards we rely upon to thrive as communities. Before decisions are made, it will be essential for us to build consensus, regardless of political affiliations. The health, safety, and economic success of our families must not rest upon the mercy of political winds. Whether we identify as Democrats, Republicans, or independents, we all value the benefits of our way of life in our towns and rural communities. This is our common ground. This is the ground where we will build a better Minnesota for everyone.

Our communities are more than a pit stop on a super highway to something better. We deserve better. Together we will build back better. As your next state senator, I look forward to working with you and being your voice in St. Paul as we build a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.

I’m Michelle Lee, the DFL- and labor-endorsed candidate for Senate District 11. I hope I’ve earned your vote.

Michelle Lee of Moose Lake is the DFL candidate for Minnesota Senate District 11. She is challenging Republican Sen. Jason Rarick in the Nov. 3 election. She wrote this at the invitation of the News Tribune Opinion page.