Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Stauber headlines Ely area legislative session

Keith Vandervort
Posted 11/29/18

ELY —History was made in Ely this week. For the first time in the 20-year history of an annual area legislative gathering, an elected member of Congress was in attendance.

Pete Stauber, …

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Stauber headlines Ely area legislative session

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ELY —History was made in Ely this week. For the first time in the 20-year history of an annual area legislative gathering, an elected member of Congress was in attendance.

Pete Stauber, newly-elected to represent Minnesota’s Eighth District, found time between orientation sessions in Washington, D.C., on Monday to participate in the Ely Area Community Economic Development Joint Powers Board legislative session at the Grand Ely Lodge.

The board is a collaboration of local governments, including the cities of Ely and Winton, ISD 696, and the townships of Fall Lake and Morse.

Stauber joined state legislators Tom Bakk and Rob Ecklund, newly-elected St. Louis County District 4 Commissioner Paul MacDonald, congressional aides and representatives of other area agencies in a wide-ranging discussion on issues that impact the economy of the Ely-area community.

Stauber reminded the audience of about 75 people that on the day he announced his candidacy for Congress in his hometown of Hermantown, he immediately drove to Ely to tell local residents of his intentions to leave the St. Louis County Board and head to the nation’s Capitol.

“Rural America, rural Minnesota matters,” he said. He congratulated MacDonald, saying he wished him success.

Stauber said his victory in the congressional race over Democrat Joe Radinovich humbled him as he looks forward to serving his constituents in the expansive Eighth District.

His first orientation session in Washington last week was of a bipartisan nature, and intended to encourage new members to focus on the interests and both their districts and the country as a whole. He complimented the new Democratic members of Congress as “great people with great vision.”

According to Stauber, as much as 67 percent of the legislation introduced in the 115th Congress was bipartisan. “That’s what we’re looking for. We need that and more,” he said.

Stauber returns to Washington next week for another orientation session, including locating his office, and getting appointed to committees. “For me, it just makes sense to advocate for being a part of the Natural Resources committee,” Stauber said. “I look forward to a healthy discussion, on the Republican side, on why I should be on that committee, with all the natural resources we have in the Eighth District.”

He is also lobbying to be a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure committee. “There is going to be, I believe, a bipartisan bill put forth in Congress on our transportation needs,” he said. “I think I have a strong lobby to be on that committee. We have truck and rail. We have an international airport. We have the city of Duluth Harbor and the Seaway Port Authority. We have the most-inland port in the country. I look forward to lobbying for those economic drivers and pushing forward so we have great-paying jobs, etc.”

Stauber said he is in the midst of hiring as many as 18 staff members and four part-timers. His new chief of staff, Desiree Westby Koetzle, is a fourth-generation Iron Ranger and native of Virginia. “She understands the district. That is critically important for me to have someone who grew up in this district,” he said.

Koetzle, who was a senior advisor to Stauber’s campaign, previously served as Deputy Chief of Staff to U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, who lost his re-election bid in Minnesota’s Third District. Koetzle and her husband have two sons.

“I look forward to finding ways we can help rural America,” Stauber said. “Driving up here today, I told my staff member as we passed through these small communities, that these places matter. Ely and the townships matter. I am so looking forward to making sure that those in Washington understand what a township is, and what a privilege it is to serve on a town board. They have to know what a county commissioner does.”

He lauded his time serving as a commissioner for St. Louis County. “I certainly learned a lot. I learned to work with my fellow commissioners. Instead of just looking for that perfect piece of legislation, why can’t we all agree on just very good legislation,” he said.

Minnesota politics

State Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-I-Falls, said he is looking forward to next year’s Minnesota legislative session. “The Democrats took back control of the house this year and I think it will lead to some exciting times for us,” he said. “I’ve always heard that it is fun to serve in the majority, so we’ll find out.”

Ecklund was appointed chair of the Veterans Finance and Policy committee. “The good part is they added the finance part to it, so it matches up with the Senate committee a little better,” he said. “I have to do a lot of homework coming into the session, but I’m excited for it.”

He praised state Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. “He is always looking out for northern Minnesota when we get down to the nitty-gritty at the end. I think we form a good partnership down there,” he said. “I learned how to play the ropes a little bit, and I look forward to doing good things for northeast Minnesota.”

Sen. Bakk described a “pretty coarse” election cycle in 2018, in discussing the proliferation of negative political advertising. “It is pretty frustrating for a guy who has to run a campaign. With all the money in politics today, candidates have lost control of the message,” he said. “Messaging is all coming from outside groups. No one knows who they are or where their money comes from. Negative ads will work as long as you let them, and that’s why people are running them, because the public still listens to them and believes them.”

He warned that until voters tune out the negative ads and start listening to the candidates, the current course of elections will continue. “My challenge to you is to be wary of all the negative ads and the inaccuracies in them,” Bakk said. “I have to believe that this too shall pass, and someday we will get back to a point where the candidates control the message. We’re talking about the 2020 election already and we don’t even have the (winners) from 2018 sworn in yet.”

While the DFL reclaimed control of the House, state senators were not up for re-election this year, which leaves the Senate under a narrow 34-33 Republican majority, with Bakk as minority leader.

Paul Gazelka remains the majority leader in the state Senate. “He grew up in Virginia and was a Blue Devil basketball player,” Bakk said. “He’s a good guy. We’ve done a pretty good job of working together. He doesn’t always listen to me when he should.”

Bakk described last year’s Minnesota legislative session as “a disaster and total collapse of leadership.” Even-numbered years are non-budget years and nothing “really has to happen” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s what happened. We all agreed that we were going to do something about the opioid problem, school safety, and elder abuse, but none of that happened.”

Bakk said that the Republican majority underestimated the governor, which proved a significant mistake after he followed through on a threat to veto a major piece of legislation. “I told them on the floor that we should send it back to conference on the last night and fix it up so we could get the governor’s signature, and I lost 34-33 to send it back. What I told them would happen did happen. The session totally fell apart,” he said. “And now we have to start over.”

Looking ahead to working with Minnesota’s newly-elected governor, Tim Walz, Bakk said his advice to him is to build an administration with geographic balance. “I felt very often in the Dayton administration that Minneapolis was the center of the universe. I’m very, very concerned about the attitude in rural Minnesota that Democrats don’t care. I know that’s not true, but sometimes perceptions become reality. Tim Walz is a rural guy, and I think we’re going to see more emphasis on rural Minnesota out of his administration, and I am looking forward to that.”

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