This need to distance to help slow the spread of COVID-19 has to be particularly difficult for Rep. Liz Olson. In four years in the Minnesota House, the DFL representative from Duluth has distinguished herself by hosting town halls and by reaching out, regularly, to hear from and engage with her House District 7B constituents in central and western Duluth.
While they can’t connect with her in person right now, eligible voters can support Olson in the Nov. 3 election — just like they did, overwhelmingly, when electing her in 2016 (with 71% of the vote) and re-electing her two years ago (with an even better 72% of the vote).
“With the COVID crisis and racial unrest, we’re really living in challenging times. So it’s important to have leaders that can deliver and can work collaboratively to meet the challenges of the moment. I’ve proven that I’ve been able to do that,” Olson said at a legislative candidate forum on Sept. 22 held virtually as a pandemic precaution and co-hosted by the News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.
Her continued goal, Olson said, is “cutting through the noise of today, the divisiveness, and really working to make sure that our community’s voice is heard at the Capitol, so that we can have results back home, like infrastructure projects that benefit all of us.”
To get results, Olson, a DFLer, joined a bipartisan civility caucus shortly after being elected, and she supported legislation to cut the partisan chaos that has marred the ends of legislative sessions in recent years. She helped secure bonding dollars, this year for seawall repairs, Depot improvements, and more in Duluth, and two years ago for the Duluth Steam Plant conversion project, post-flood fixes at Lake Superior Zoo, and more. She authored one bill to address the alarming number of elder-abuse cases in Minnesota care facilities and another to increase fees on the manufacturers and distributors of opioids to raise money for addiction prevention and treatment. And she worked to secure a new sales tax to fix Duluth’s streets and to bring home nearly $100 million for infrastructure improvements in the Duluth Medical District.
In 2018, Olson’s leadership skills led to her election as House majority whip, where she plays a central role in prioritizing and guiding legislation in the nation's only divided Legislature.
“When I was first elected … the DFL was not in control, and I was a first-term member in a deep minority. That is not generally a good outlook for getting your bills passed. But I learned that in order to get anything done, I had to work really closely with my Republican colleagues in the Senate and in the House. And I did,” Olson said. “That said, there are fundamental differences around (the parties’) values, and at times we have to draw the line and say, ‘You know, this is what we believe Minnesotans want from us,’ and we do fight for those things, too.”
In 2021, the Legislature — with Olson, following her reelection — will be fighting for a pandemic-related economic recovery and to close a multibillion-dollar state budget deficit.
“We can’t cut our way out of the crisis we’re in; I think if we go down to St. Paul with a cuts-only mentality, we’re going to make it worse,” Olson said. “There are opportunities that will present themselves, and we need to do both (cutting and finding new revenue sources), and it will be tough. We’ll have to make really difficult decisions … to balance in a way that doesn’t shortchange our future.”
Olson’s Republican challenger is Art Johnston, who served eight oft-contentious years on the Duluth School Board. He promises to give Duluth a stronger voice at the Capitol.
“I’ll work to open the economy. The COVID restrictions are not sustainable. We have to go on with our lives. This cannot be a partisan issue,” he said at the forum. “I’ll work to bring good-paying union jobs to Duluth, including supporting mining, timber, and shipping. … The DFL no longer reflects Duluth and greater Minnesota values.”
Olson certainly does and can be supported in her bid for a third term.
“It’s important to have leaders who are willing not just to see the problems of today but to see ways we can solve them and ways we can do that together,” Olson said. “We don’t do this work alone. We do it together.”
ABOUT THIS ENDORSEMENT: This endorsement was determined solely by and was written by the News Tribune Editorial Board.