We all know Duluth is struggling and needs to change. This was obvious long before COVID-19 and has to do with the unfriendly economic environment created by DFL policies in Duluth and Minnesota. Despite being the most beautiful city in the Midwest, Duluth's wealth hasn't grown in 40 years. Our schools graduate many students, but we have too few good-paying union jobs to keep them here.
And now the COVID-19 pandemic is crippling our economy. Thousands of Duluth's citizens have been laid off in the medical and tourism industries. The Verso paper mill is shut down partly due to conditions put on industry by DFL policies. And our port, literally the heart of Duluth and our District 7B, is down a third in shipments.
We have to diversify our economy. In contrast to the DFL, I will strongly support mining, timber, and the shipping industries. I will support unions and the benefits they give to rebuilding our economy.
I will work, in a bipartisan manner, to get the state government to open up the economy and to start encouraging people to get on with their lives and community.
We all know we must use every COVID-19 precaution that we can to protect our elders and our compromised populations, but further lockdowns need to stop. They are not sustainable.
Many of you will recall I was elected for eight years to the Duluth School Board and how I brought rational thought, transparency, and accountability to government. I was also the champion of equity and diversity and of bringing quality instruction to all students. K12 schools are the second-largest item in the Minnesota state budget; my expertise in schools is sorely needed in St. Paul.
Despite the very low number of COVID-19 cases in Duluth and the reality that children are virtually unaffected, there is little in-person instruction taking place. Talk to parents and you will know the negative impact, both academically and socially, this is having on our next generation — and also the economic and mental toll it places on parents. This is particularly troubling to disadvantaged families and single-parent households, many now doing the lion's share of educating their children, even if they never intended to be home schooling.
When elected, I will work to reopen schools; COVID-19 cases are not going away any time soon, and the resulting educational disruption must be dealt with. If schools are no longer able (for whatever reason) to provide quality education, we must start the serious discussion on alternatives and whether parents should now be given a choice, and any accompanying money, to educate their children.
I look forward to representing Duluth. Duluth is an amazing place. We have beautiful architecture, an amazing environment, Lake Superior, and an economic history that was, and still is, paramount in the continuation of our modern society. We are the most beautiful city in the Midwest. We have four universities and tech colleges, two world-class medical centers, and the world's largest inland port. We share all this with a formerly robust tourism industry.
Not long ago I was a DFLer, but the DFL no longer reflects Duluth and greater Minnesota's values. It has lost its namesakes: farmers and labor. I pride myself in bridging these gaps, and I will take pride in again giving Duluth’s working men and women a strong voice in St. Paul and reversing the economic stagnation and pessimism gripping our beautiful city and state.
Art Johnston is the Republican candidate for Minnesota House District 7B in western Duluth, challenging DFL Rep. Liz Olson in the Nov. 3 election. He wrote this at the invitation of the News Tribune Opinion page.