Our View/Endorsement: Duluth can make history by backing Bergstrom for state Senate
Duluth voters have a rare opportunity in the Nov. 3 election: By casting ballots for Donna Bergstrom, a member of the Red Lake Nation, they can elect the first American Indian woman in the Minnesota state Senate.
“Wouldn’t that be something for Duluth to boast about?” Bergstrom asked at a candidate forum conducted virtually last week and hosted by the News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.
It would be. But for Minnesota Senate District 7, which covers Duluth, Bergstrom is the best bet for the electorate, yes, for her heritage, but for a lot of other strong reasons, too.
She’s a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marines, where she served for more than 20 years as an intelligence officer. She held company command in Panama for two of those years. She has political experience and is well known and respected statewide after running for Minnesota lieutenant governor in 2018 and after working as a U.S. Senate staff liaison. She has worked for the state of Minnesota as a guardian ad litem, a court-appointed advocate for children in custody and other court proceedings. She also has worked in the Center for American Indian Resources clinic in Duluth. (In 2014, she was a member of the News Tribune Editorial Board.)
With a background enviable to any candidate or politician, Bergstrom’s deep knowledge of the issues, reasonableness, smarts, and well-placed focus make her ready to go to work immediately for Duluth, taking over for Sen. Erik Simonson, who was ousted in the August primary.
“I stand for common sense,” Bergstrom said. “I’m the right voice right now. I support … family-supporting jobs (and) ways to get our economy moving. And, honestly, I’m a testament to the American dream. I wouldn't be here if it wasn’t for the wisdom of my elders, if they hadn’t chosen the paths that they did.”
Minnesota has paths to choose as the state emerges from COVID-19. “What we need to do is prioritize,” Bergstrom said, “and if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority.”
Education can come first, she said, in particular eliminating the achievement gap. Minnesota is among the worst in graduating American Indian students. We ranked fifth from the bottom among all the states in 2016. Graduating every student is particularly important now, Bergstrom said, with the need for workers post-pandemic.
“I think that we need to focus also on our elder care. It is just a tragedy to see what has happened in our elder care facilities (during the pandemic),” she said.
Asked about the state’s budget deficit, billions deep after a healthy surplus pre-COVID, Bergstrom was quick to point to Enbridge’s Line 3 Replacement Project and its promise to boost the state’s bottom line. The pipeline is held up in court, however, challenged by the administration of Gov. Tim Walz — in spite of votes of approval by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
Unlike her opponent, Bergstrom supports following the environmental review and permitting processes for copper nickel mining in Northeastern Minnesota.
“As an Ojibwe person, you know we are very closely aligned with our celestials,” she said. “These are resources that we need for our critical infrastructure if we’re going to move forward. … We live here in Northeastern Minnesota. We have abundant resources, and we know how to use and harvest our resources and protect our environment. I am firmly in the belief that we can do both. We can have the harvesting of these resources and a safe environment.”
Bergstrom’s opponent, Duluth lawyer Jennifer McEwen, supports her DFL Party’s call for a moratorium on copper-nickel mining, regardless of any company’s ability to demonstrate it can operate safely. Such a moratorium would disregard state processes Minnesotans long have agreed to follow.
“This type of mining would be madness right now,” said McEwen, a plaintiff's attorney and former public defender, judicial law clerk, and president of the board of the Damiano Center.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for strong leadership and effective fighters, particularly for regions outside of the Twin Cities. Look no further than the push for better internet access as proof. The state has set a goal to bring broadband to all homes by 2026. The Twin Cities area is already at 98% of that mark while the rest of the state is at 76%, Bergstrom pointed out at the candidate forum.
“Again, it’s metro, metro, metro,” she said. “How do we get our greater Minnesota on the map? That’s why (it’s so important) having a strong voice in the Minnesota state senate, which I will provide.”
With her connections around the state, Marine Corps training, political savvy, and, yes, Ojibwe heritage, Bergstrom can be the leader Duluth needs and can count on in the state Senate. For so many reasons, she deserves Duluthians’ support in the Nov. 3 election.
ABOUT THIS ENDORSEMENT: This endorsement editorial was determined solely by and written by the News Tribune Editorial Board. Editorial Board Citizen Representative Jim Peterson did not participate in any way, however, as he works in the same law firm as candidate Jennifer McEwen.