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Our view: Lobbying blitz ends with call for continued advocacy

ST. PAUL -- After visiting Duluth and St. Louis County at least a dozen times in the last year, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith was able to say Thursday morning, "You have something special going on in Northeastern Minnesota. You have this incredib...

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Cameron Cardow/Cagle Cartoons

ST. PAUL - After visiting Duluth and St. Louis County at least a dozen times in the last year, Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith was able to say Thursday morning, "You have something special going on in Northeastern Minnesota. You have this incredible leadership both in the private sector and in the public sector. You have strong community assets. You have innovation and entrepreneurial activity happening everywhere in the county. You have great higher educational institutions. And you have fantastic public schools. And you come together in strong common cause that gives you strength in numbers that is palpable and that you can feel in the Capitol."

But we can build on those assets - and the state can help, the lieutenant governor further said as the keynote speaker at a legislative breakfast that wrapped up the two-day Duluth and St. Louis County at the Capitol lobbying event, a gathering that was as much a pep rally and a call to continue advocating for our needs as it was a legislative update.

(Highlighted insights of the session so far included that a bonding bill won't happen before a tax bill gets signed and that if there's a transportation bill it'll include one-time money from the state's general fund. Also, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook used a profanity to describe the education bill.)

The state can work with Northeastern Minnesota to build on our assets in four ways, the lieutenant governor said: by investing in people, including through public schools and higher education; by investing in research and good ideas, like the proposed science building at the University of Minnesota Duluth and the economic development work of APEX; by improving our connections - things like roads, bridges, broadband, regional airports and our port; and by investing in public places, amenities and infrastructure through a robust bonding bill.

The Duluth area's priorities for bonding this year - like last year, when a bill didn't get done - are well known. They include modernizing the steam plant in Canal Park, building a wellness center in Hermantown and bolstering child-protection work.

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"If we can figure out how to partner in those four areas, I am convinced that you will be even stronger - and we will be even stronger as a state," Smith said.

Building our relationships with state leaders is a big part of the Duluth and St. Louis County lobbying event, which, in its 20th year, is the longest-running such event in Minnesota. It's hosted annually by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

"I always tell people, 'Do not underestimate the value of having a relationship with your local legislators," House Speaker Kurt Daudt said, also at the breakfast. "You never want the first time that your legislator meets you to be the day that you show up in their office asking for something. It always goes a little better if you have a friendly relationship first.

"(Lawmakers) kind of feel like we're on an island down here (in St. Paul)," Daudt also said. "While we enjoy each other's company, there's nothing better than if somebody comes from home and wants to talk to us about what's going on."

"It is fun to see how many people come to support Northeastern Minnesota," St. Louis County Commissioner Frank Jewell said to the about 300 who gathered for the breakfast inside a hotel banquet hall within view of the Mississippi River; including the reception and lobbying the day before, as many as 500 were estimated to have participated this year. "When we come to support St. Louis County and Duluth, we also are supporting a range of things that happen from Duluth up the shore and up into the Iron Range, all those wonderful activities that are the assets that the lieutenant governor talked about. Those community assets are really (what makes our region) a great place to live, to raise a family and to start a business."

"Keep it up," Duluth Mayor Emily Larson urged of the advocacy for those things that are important to our corner of the state. "It's really important that we continue the conversation about what we need as a city and as a county, and whether it's your project which you're advocating for and you're pushing - and that's really important - equally important is that we support each other and everyone else's projects. ... We are stronger when we work together. And we need one another."

Message delivered - for the 20th straight year.

Encouragingly, a 21st Duluth and St. Louis County at the Capitol lobbying blitz already is being planned.

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