Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It’s December in Minnesota; we made it through our first big snowstorm of the winter and can very likely look forward to a white Christmas! I hope you have had safe travels and were able to enjoy time with friends and family during last week’s Thanksgiving holiday. This is always a busy time of year, and Christmas will be here before we know it. Here’s a brief update from my travels around the district and from St. Paul.
In the interim period between sessions, legislators have an opportunity to travel their districts and take opportunities to visit other districts. In November, Senator Paul Anderson from Plymouth accompanied Minnesota Chamber of Commerce staff on a visit to the Grand Rapids/Cohasset area for a workforce tour. Senator Eichorn and I joined the group to tour ICC Engineering and visit with engineering students as well as touring Minnesota Diversified Industries at their Cohasset site.
I'm pictured here with Senators Paul Anderson, Justin Eichorn, and Peter McDermott, CEO of MDI.
After touring all four corners of the state during September and October, in November, the House Capital Investment Committee concentrated on Twin Cities-based project proposals. One of the most memorable tours took place 80 feet under the streets of downtown Minneapolis where Mayor Frey took us on an inspection of a stormwater tunnel that has been in use since 1882! Now that the tours are complete, legislators will prioritize and pare $5 billion in requests into a bonding bill that can pass both the House and Senate by the end of the 2020 session.
Pictured here nearly 100 feet below the streets of downtown Minneapolis.
Because I was on a bonding tour, I missed the ribbon cutting for Lake Country Power’s beautiful new service center in Cohasset. But thanks to Lake Country Power’s Mike Birkeland, I received my own tour and introduction to the facility and staff. This 17,000 square foot center is state of the art and allows for expanded meeting space as well as indoor storage and in-house maintenance of expensive equipment. It is a great addition to the Cohasset industrial park.
I'm pictured here with Lake Country Power's Mike Birkeland outside the company's new building in Cohasset.
The weekend preceding Veterans Day provided numerous opportunities to observe and honor our veterans who have served this country so well. I was invited to speak at the Northland Community School program in Remer on Friday, November 8th which is entirely organized by student leaders. On Saturday, I got to see the grand opening of the new veterans exhibit at the Itasca Historical Society (IHS) Museum and, on Sunday, I joined the IHS and many from the community at the Timberlake Lodge to meet and hear from former legislator and wounded warrior John Kriesel. Outstanding weekend!
Pictured here with former legislator and wounded warrior John Kriesel.
Having spent the bulk of my career in community and economic development, I enjoy opportunities to meet and work with practitioners in this field. The past month has provided numerous such opportunities. In November, economic developers and their business clients celebrated the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Entrepreneur Fund by holding fun events around the district. I participated in the Grand Rapids celebration held at Rapids Brewing on November 19th. The Fund is an award-winning Duluth-based organization with offices across the region that provides technical and financial assistance to growing businesses in Northern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin.
I'm pictured here with Entrepreneur Fund President and CEO Shawn Wellnitz.
The Iron Range Economic Alliance is a coalition of economic developers from throughout the Taconite Relief Area that meets regularly to better equip their communities and the region for development opportunities. On November 20th, I was invited to provide a legislative update to the group at their meeting in Eveleth.
Yesterday, I spoke briefly to the Minnesota Chamber’s Women in Business during a legislative breakfast event held at the offices of the Mall of America. There was a record attendance this year with well over 300 businesswomen attending this annual event. The eleven young businesswomen at my table were full of questions about our work at the legislature and engaged me in lively table discussion.
It was great to meet and speak with so many businesswomen at yesterday's event!
Back in St. Paul, it's been 145 days since Deputy Commissioners Chuck Johnson and Claire Wilson abruptly resigned without explanation, kicking off a series of revelations of staff shakeups, financial mismanagement, whistleblower retaliation, and more at the Department of Human Services (DHS).
On Monday this week, House Democrats finally held their first public hearing on the issues that have plagued DHS this summer and fall.
At the hearing, DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead testified that no one has been disciplined for over $100 million in taxpayer dollars that have incorrectly been paid out by DHS. Further, Commissioner Harpstead was reluctant to endorse calls by House Republicans and Governor Walz for a forensic audit of all DHS spending.
The forensic audit would help give lawmakers and the agency a deeper understanding of where inefficiencies are occurring and ways to streamline services and save taxpayers money.
Commissioner Harpstead also revealed late in the hearing that the investigation into former DHS Inspector General Carolyn Ham had concluded. Ms. Ham was re-assigned to General Counsel's office after being put on paid administrative leave and will continue in that role. The Commissioner declined to discuss the findings of the investigation, simply stating that the matter was concluded.
It’s disappointing that we didn’t receive more answers or clarity from the Commissioner at Monday’s hearing and I look forward to continuing to work on the issues at DHS this coming session.
In the coming weeks, I will be meeting with local officials regarding their legislative priorities in preparation for 2020. I am interested in your priorities too and encourage you to contact me at any time.
Have a great week,