Below is a column by Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson and Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz. They both serve on the Board of Directors for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. As of Nov. 17, this column has appeared in the Star Tribune, Rochester Post-Bulletin, Grand Forks Herald, Owatonna People’s Press, Winona Daily News and Mesabi Daily News.
When writing out thank-you cards following the election, Minnesota House Republicans had better include Greater Minnesota on their list.
There is no doubt that the Republicans owe their majority to rural Minnesota. Of the 11 seats they picked up last week, 10 are from outside the metro area. In fact, the majority of the House Republicans—who now hold a 72-62 majority—hail from Greater Minnesota districts.
The flip of control of the House was dramatic, but not particularly surprising. The Republicans campaigned on the notion that Minnesotans want balance in their government and the promise of a renewed focus on Greater Minnesota. Last week, newly elected Majority Leader Rep. Joyce Peppin reiterated this point: “Our goal is going to be to represent all of the people of Minnesota. We’re not going to leave Greater Minnesota behind as has been done in the last couple years,” she said. “There’s a lot more of Minnesota than just Minneapolis and St. Paul.”
The question now is: Will they deliver on their promise?
Newly elected House leaders and Gov. Dayton have expressed a desire to compromise, and we hope the leaders of the DFL-controlled Senate will follow suit. If the political gridlock that plagues national politics continues at the state level, Minnesota lawmakers should be wary of getting too comfortable in their positions. However, if they demonstrate a real willingness to reach across the aisle—as they promised again and again on the campaign trail—they may be able to keep their seats for a long time.
Certainly, there are many issues that lend well to finding common ground, and House Republicans have an extraordinary opportunity to be the voice for Greater Minnesota during the next two years. There are several needs that are unique to Greater Minnesota, and we expect House Republicans to take the lead on these issues.
For example, the economic development needs of Greater Minnesota differ from those of the metro area. Minneapolis, St. Paul and most of the surrounding suburbs have reliable access to fast, high-quality broadband, while rural parts of the state lag far behind. The legislature began to address this issue last session by devoting $20 million to funding broadband infrastructure. This is a good start, but more resources are needed, in both the underserved and unserved parts of the state, to bring our businesses and communities up to speed.
Greater Minnesota also has unique needs in terms of workforce training and housing. Many rural communities are fortunate to be home to successful manufacturers and other businesses. However, employers are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain skilled workers to fill job openings. We need a flexible, employer-driven job training program that allows employers the opportunity to train new and current workers in the method that works best for each particular job.
In addition to the struggle to hire and retain skilled workers, there is also the issue of finding them somewhere to live. A lack of workforce housing has emerged as one of the top issues facing rural communities. There simply aren’t enough units available to house the workers needed to fill the vast number of job openings. Affordable housing has long been emphasized as a statewide need, now it is time for lawmakers to add workforce housing to that discussion.
Increased attention to economic development is not the only thing that will make our communities stronger. For decades Local Government Aid has been has been a bedrock program for Greater Minnesota communities. In recent years the LGA program has seen reform and increased funding, and we look forward to working with the new House majority to continue this commitment to the program.
Republicans won the House majority based on their promise to be leaders for Greater Minnesota. If they are to keep that promise, they need to show a commitment to working with the Senate and Gov. Dayton to make strategic investments that will benefit Greater Minnesota. The Republicans campaigned on helping Greater Minnesota communities and we hope they will take advantage of this unique opportunity to deliver on that promise.