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Our view: Lobbying event odd — except it works

This annual lobbying blitz known as Duluth and St. Louis County at the Capitol may sometimes seem odd. For two days every early spring, hundreds of community leaders from Duluth and Northeastern Minnesota pack their bags and their cars and travel...

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Cameron Cardow/Cagle Cartoons

This annual lobbying blitz known as Duluth and St. Louis County at the Capitol may sometimes seem odd. For two days every early spring, hundreds of community leaders from Duluth and Northeastern Minnesota pack their bags and their cars and travel 150 miles south to St. Paul - mostly to talk to each other.

Odd, except that they also talk to lawmakers and Minnesota officials from around the state.

Odd except that their very presence, in such large numbers, hardly goes unnoticed; instead it sends an unmistakable message that we're engaged here in the Northland, we're paying attention, we're serious about our partnerships with the state, and our needs will not be ignored. Imagine the message it'd send if we never ventured to the halls of state government.

It may seem odd, except that it can bring good news, like it did last week.

"(Northland) projects (are) broadly supported, and they've been supported because you guys have done a good job convincing people that these projects are important," House Speaker Kurt Daudt announced at the legislative breakfast Thursday that wrapped up this year's event. "The Duluth steam plant. We do have some money that we're looking at in the higher-ed bill for the University of Minnesota's Natural Resources and Research Institute. Funding for the Duluth emergency response team. We've got funding for Duluth airport improvements. We know those are important. The Carlton County airport hangar. And funding for the Duluth Children's Museum, the Great Lakes Aquarium and the Lake Superior Zoo. So there's a lot of funding for the Duluth area in these bills (currently being considered by the Legislature). We know how important Duluth is for our economy, for tourism, and for our general economy for the state of Minnesota. We very much appreciate all of the work that you all do. We really like seeing you when you come down to the Capitol."

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The lobbying event may sometimes seem odd, except that it's also effectively drawing the attention of leaders statewide.

"I love coming. To see so many friends. There's so much going on in Northeastern Minnesota and Duluth and St. Louis County, and you just get a chance to get a snapshot of all of the great things that are happening by being here," Lt. Gov. Tina Smith told the News Tribune Opinion page at a reception Wednesday evening in a riverfront St. Paul hotel that followed a full day of citizen lobbying up the hill at the Capitol. "This makes a huge difference."

"We all need each other," said Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-Cottage Grove, one of the non-Northland lawmakers attracted to the reception; you could tell them by the purple ribbons they wore with their name tags. "We need each other's help, so we'd better know each other. I look at Duluth, it might be two hours away from my home, but they're still our neighbors, and so is all of St. Louis County, whether you're in Hibbing or Virginia or Chisholm, we need everybody - including Kinney.

"What we need is, we need to make sure that our ports are thriving, we need to make sure that Duluth is doing well, because we can't have a city that's a city of the first class not do well in Minnesota," Schoen also said. "And the same thing goes for any regional center. St. Louis County is a pretty big area with some great industry and some great jobs but has really suffered some setbacks, (so) you try to come to these things when you get time. ... If you're from Greater Minnesota and you're mad at the metro, you'd better realize you can't live and you can't prosper without the metro. And if you're from the metro and you think that you're the only thing happening in the state, you're absolutely wrong."

Duluth and St. Louis County at the Capitol - now in its 20th year, the longest-running such event in the state - is an annual reminder of that.

So, really, not odd at all.

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