DFL Chairman addresses regional issues during Park Rapids visit

What do you think are the biggest issues that need to be addressed in and around Hubbard County?

Support the economy and employment. There are still a lot of people concerned about the pandemic and the impact it has had on businesses and main streets. People are also concerned about the Delta variant and the impact it will have on reopening schools this fall.

Much progress has been made in the past eight months to help support local governments and communities with the US bailout, and now the Biden infrastructure plan is giving people hope and helping them get out of this pandemic.

What is your take on mask requirements in schools?

It is a very controversial debate across the country. Minnesota has left it up to each school district to make the best possible decision with the information it has.

My personal opinion is that we must be as vigilant as at the start of this pandemic. We are clearly not yet out of the woods, as our children by and large have not yet been vaccinated. I hope people, whether or not there is a mask mandate in place, recognize that we still need to practice good social distancing and mask ourselves. It is the most responsible thing we can do for members of our community, especially those with weakened immune systems and children too young to be vaccinated. I think people need to think about the impact of this virus not only on their own families but on other members of the community, to take it seriously and make sure that we are doing our part. Unfortunately, given how quickly the virus mutates, we’re not going to be okay until people are fully immunized. This is the challenge.

How can the state cope with the labor shortage and other problems facing businesses?

It is a problem everywhere. Businesses are struggling to fill jobs. Part of the challenge is that there are people who don’t want to work because of concerns about the coronavirus. Some don’t want to be on the front lines. Others cannot work because they are immunocompromised. Others try to reinvent work during this time and want to work remotely. As the pandemic emerges, more and more people will enter the workforce.

There is no doubt that the economy is changing. More and more people are shopping online which is definitely having an impact on brick and mortar. More and more small business owners understand that if they are to be competitive and thrive, they need both an online and in-person presence.

What infrastructure needs will be met in this region?

We are excited about the bipartite agreement. It is the biggest infrastructure bill ever passed in our country’s history. It invests in the infrastructure of tomorrow while repairing the infrastructure of yesterday. It will invest in bridges and roads, wastewater treatment plants, clean energy, electric vehicles, modernization of public transport options and broadband.

I think of this through the prism of the rural electrification that took place in the 1920s and 1930s in this country. It has helped to rejuvenate small American towns and main streets. Without it, many parts of the country would have been left behind.

With this infrastructure package, high speed internet is going to be provided to every corner of our state. This is an exciting development that should bring more jobs to the communities here and will allow people who work in different industries to stay in greater Minnesota.

Because more and more people can work remotely, it is possible to reinvent the workforce. But that requires good broadband access. We need to build this infrastructure that will drive economic development in places like Hubbard County and help diversify and broaden the tax base.

When will better broadband reach this region?

As soon as this infrastructure bill is enacted, I think the money will start to flow to communities. I don’t know the exact timeline for this, but I think the money will flow fast like with the US bailout. There is a great disparity in Internet service in Greater Minnesota as some ISPs have invested their own money in fiber optic and high speed Internet capabilities and others have not. This funding will help equalize that by providing money to businesses that can then access it through grants to provide higher speeds and have the capacity to do so, be it fiber optic or cellular service. There are a lot of pockets in the state where you walk five miles one way or the other and whether or not you get high speed internet access. This is what we need to fix now, so it’s not that patchwork, but wherever you live you will get the same level of service. It is also a question of fairness. A lot of people are being left behind. Their work or their education is impacted by the fact that they do not have access to high speed Internet. We have a responsibility to fix this problem. It’s an important part of the infrastructure plan and will allow people in rural America to start thriving again.

What do you think of the wild rice lawsuit affected by the Enbridge Line 3 project?

We must not only honor the Indigenous Nations of this state and the treaty rights they possess, but we must also understand why this is a way of life issue for the First Peoples of this country and of this state. I don’t want to comment on line 3 in particular. But we all know that water is very important, not only to the native communities of this state, but to the people of Minnesota who have a deep connection to water.

As we work through the complexities of things like pipelines and mining, we must recognize the different perspectives and opinions that are rooted in traditions and a way of life. There are no easy answers, but it is important to recognize that this is a significant issue for indigenous tribes across the state who deeply value natural resources.

How is racial inequalities in the state dealt with?

We have a moral responsibility to ensure that every child, regardless of race or ethnicity or place of residence, has access to the same quality of education. We know there is a huge success gap in this state. There are a lot of colored children who are being left behind. We have to sort it out. Part of how we approach this problem is having the infrastructure to support these schools and broadband is one of them. Another element is the human infrastructure to recruit good teachers and provide funds to these school districts so that they have teachers who look like the students they serve and the resources to provide a quality education for every student. There are a lot of investments that need to be made to ensure that every child is set up to be successful, regardless of where they live and what their ethnicity.

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