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Our View: Resist divide, focus on all Minnesotans’ needs

Last fall, Republicans snatched away 10 rural Minnesota House seats, flipping party control and shifting St. Paul's focus. This legislative session was supposed to be all about outstate Minnesota -- or greater Minnesota or nonmetro Minnesota or w...

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Steve Lindstrom / for the News Tribune

Last fall, Republicans snatched away 10 rural Minnesota House seats, flipping party control and shifting St. Paul’s focus. This legislative session was supposed to be all about outstate Minnesota - or greater Minnesota or nonmetro Minnesota or whatever anyone chooses to call those parts of our state beyond the Twin Cities.
Five weeks in, however, the results are mixed at best. Proposals aren’t jibing with the advertised theme. Duluth and others are watching the fate of their local government aid as closely as ever. And some sensibly are calling for unity in the face of an us-vs.-them, metro-vs.-nonmetro climate.
So if Duluth or anyone else outside the 494/694 was hoping to cash in on this supposed new direction, it seems clear they’ll be smarter digging in and getting along instead.
The two-year budget proposed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton the last week of January certainly didn’t reflect any sort of outstate favoritism. Dayton did mention nonmetro Minnesota several times, but a split with the Twin Cities certainly wasn’t apparent.
DFL Rep. Erik Simonson of Duluth isn’t seeing a “greater Minnesota” focus as much as an emphasis on “rural Minnesota.”
“While the messaging still touts a focus on rural Minnesota, the bills brought forward by the GOP indicate differently,” Simonson told the News Tribune Opinion page. “As an example, you would have been hard-pressed to find a candidate, either GOP or Democrat, that was not in support of investing new dollars into transportation this year. It was a primary topic of any Minnesota campaign. The House GOP has softened, offering a bill that spends less money on roads and bridges in greater Minnesota than the Democrats spent on the same during the last two years.
“I believe, having been there, that during the last two years we truly focused on one Minnesota - and that means governing with the idea in mind that we cannot afford to divide our state,” Simonson said. “We still have a few months to go, but the initial momentum does not seem focused on either greater or rural Minnesota or the ‘true one Minnesota,’ as I like to call it.”
On the Senate side, however, Duluth’s Roger Reinert, also a DFLer, said a focus shift is obvious to him.
“There is clearly a greater Minnesota emphasis in the House,” Reinert told the Opinion page. “The new majority campaigned on that theme and appears to be following through.
“In the Senate, the needs of greater Minnesota have already been a priority. Powerful committees like health and human services, taxes, and bonding are all chaired by greater Minnesota members. In addition, our majority leader (Tom Bakk of Cook) is also from greater Minnesota,” Reinert continued. “The focus in both bodies is important. With the last census, for the first time in state history, a majority of Minnesota’s population and, therefore, a majority of the Legislature, is now from the 11-county metro area.”
In addition to local government aid, nonmetro issues receiving attention this session include transportation; agriculture, including reimbursing farmers who lose livestock to wolves; elderly care; keeping college tuition affordable (rural residents generally are poorer than those in the Twin Cities); expanding high-speed Internet (Dayton proposed $30 million but estimates put the need at more than $200 million); rail safety; reducing the dropout rate among American Indians; and state parks and forests, most of which are outside the Twin Cities.
That’s quite a list. And no matter what anyone’s touted focus may be, the very real needs of Minnesotans - all Minnesotans - leave little room for political games.

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