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Our View: Lobbying blitz continues 'building bridges'

It'll never not be an odd thing, that late-winter moment every year when hundreds of community leaders from Duluth and across St. Louis County pile into cars, travel en masse for two and a half hours, and then reassemble to talk about the Northland's needs.

But the annual chamber-led citizen-lobbying blitz to St. Paul — the first of its kind in the state and still the largest — also will never not be needed, those who organize and participate insist year after year.

The 22nd Duluth and St. Louis County at the Capitol event opens today with lobbying teams from Northeastern Minnesota fanning out throughout the Capitol legislative office buildings to advocate for hosts of Northland-critical issues. Hundreds will gather in the evening for a home show-style grand reception in downtown St. Paul. The two-day event concludes with a legislative breakfast Thursday; Gov. Tim Walz is among the scheduled featured speakers.

"Your voice really matters. It matters to me," Rep. Liz Olson of western Duluth's House District 7B said at last year's legislative breakfast, held inside the InterContinental St. Paul Riverfront Hotel. "It matters to legislators on both sides of the aisle to have a big powerful presence from Duluth. ... We don't do this work alone in the House or the Senate. We really do it as a team — with all of you. That's why this is so important."

"It sends such a terrific message when we're all here, ... (when) we unite around the issues that are important for all of us, when we get good things done for the residents of Northeastern Minnesota," Mayor Emily Larson said at the breakfast last March. "This event is really special."

The issues around which this year's participants plan to unite are many. At the risk of not presenting a focused message, at least 15 matters are mentioned and detailed in the glossy program produced in advance of the event. They include state authorization for a half-percent sales tax for street repairs in Duluth; state funding for the proposed $800 million Vision Northland Essential Health expansion; state funds for the proposed three-phase $152 million St. Luke's medical campus overhaul; bonding money for continued seawall repairs behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center; money from the state to address the opioid crisis across St. Louis County, to treat substance-use disorders, and to improve child-protection efforts; the renewal of a "provider tax" for Minnesotans whose health needs are covered by Medical Assistance, MinnesotaCare, and other public health programs; support to continue expanding broadband deeper into rural Minnesota, including to help improve rural medical care; maintenance money for the University of Minnesota, includings its campus in Duluth; $4.3 million to renovate 35,000 square feet of teaching space at A.B. Anderson Hall at UMD; and more.

"Our community and our state face some really big challenges, and that's why we're here," Rep. Olson said. "You here telling your stories ... (is) building bridges between Duluth and legislators. We're showing what ties us together and also what makes us unique."

Put that way, the annual late-winter event hardly seems odd at all — and never more needed.