Door knocking in August. A few more miles on the car….and a few more miles on the feet. Hot and sweaty…plenty mosquitoes. Another night away from the family. Despite these and a few other inconveniences, I actually enjoy door knocking. It is a great opportunity to meet my constituents.
They come in all shapes and sizes. Answering the door, “Agnes” blushed and apologized because of the curlers in her hair. “Doreen,” in her pajamas, is ready to turn in for the night. After all, it’s 8:15 pm. There are a lot of dog owners…and even more dogs, barking and clawing at the chance to meet the candidate, nervously standing on the stoop separated only by the flimsy screen door. Nurses, teachers, grandfathers, single moms, plumbers, accountants, business owners, veterans, lawyers, farmers, and dads, and the rest of you. Thank you for politely listening and taking my literature. Thank you for sharing your issues and concerns. Thanks for asking a few questions. Thanks for the Twins update. Thanks for offering me a drink of water. “Have a good evening!”
Campaigns are too long. Too many dollars are raised and spent. But nothing beats a little face time with the voters. Over the next 80 some days, we will see you at the doorstep.
Gorman Lake is on the 2010 Impaired Waters list. Gorman Lake is part of the Cannon River watershed located in the southwest corner of Senate District 25. A constituent from the area contacted me a few weeks ago to express concerns about the lake and what can be done about it. I sat down with Beth Kallestad, executive director of the Cannon River Watershed Parnership to talk about Gorman Lake and other rivers, lakes, and streams in the area.
The Cannon River Watershed Partnership celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. It’s a great organization with dedicated workers and volunteers. The organization’s goal is to make the watershed that spans six counties from Dakota to Rice to Steel counties, “drinkable, fishable, and swimmable for everyone.” Gorman Lake experienced a manure spill in 2006 and the CRWP started monitoring the lake in 2007. The Minnesota Pollution Control agency and the DNR have also been studying the lake over the last several years, assessments being the first step, followed by a plan for implementation. Funding is always an issue. Clean Water Funds do not go directly to non-profits such as the CRWP. The organization must rely on government entities such as the Soil and Water Conservation district boards to apply for funds to be distributed at the local level. The CRWP works to bring together these and other agencies to use grant money to monitor waterways and implement best management practices.
Ultimately, we all need to take an interest in protecting and improving the water quality and natural systems of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. Passing the Legacy Amendment in 2008 showed that Minnesotan’s do have an interest in preserving our most precious resource, our water. Gorman Lake is just one of those lakes. We should all be interested in its success or failure.
This afternoon, I was fortunate to meet with several regional participants in a discussion regarding the Dan Patch Railroad corridor with the main question “where do we go from here?” Representative David Bly and Representative Alice Hausmann led the discussion, held at St. Olaf College. Over the last 3 years I have passed bills out of the Minnesota Senate which in effect would have removed the gag order placed in statute several years ago not allowing any appropriation of money to a Dan Patch study or planning. Opposition in the House killed the bill.
There are several challenges, but a well planned local approach from the ground up would offer the best chance to achieving alternative transit options to the Twin Cities. Two big challenges involve governance and funding. With the Met Council representing the 7 county metro area and MnDOT taking on much of the transportation planning for outstate Minnesota, the challenge lies in how to find common ground that ultimately leads to a workable statewide rail plan. The current statewide rail plan relies on existing rail and infrastructure, important given the difficulty in gaining additional right of way. That’s why the Dan Patch should be a part of the picture.
There are at least 17 separate funding sources in the Cedar Transit corridor. What funding sources would be available for the Dan Patch, should the statute be changed. Should we consider other routes? What is feasible? How does rail tie in with existing transportation hubs? Can existing bus service be expanded? What is the best mode of transportation for a given corridor? Can we get buy-in from cities and counties along the way? Groups like SCALE (Scott County Assoc. for Leadership and Efficiency) has already included the Dan Patch Line as part of their legislative priorities.
There will be other meetings planned, perhaps as early as August, to discuss the Dan Patch corridor and regional transportation options. We are encouraged by the renewed interest.
The past few weeks allowed me a chance to visit with several groups about a range of issues. The University of Minnesota College of Education and and Human Development held a forum in Northfield a few weeks ago with several educational leaders from the area in attendance. The discussion focused on quality teaching and how higher education must work diligently and directly with school districts to make sure high quality educators are the norm and not the exception. The college has a long range plan to improve teacher effectiveness by connecting ongoing research to teacher programs. The programs will focus on improving teacher support, strengthening curriculum, diversifying the teacher workforce, adaptive teaching, enhanced student teaching experiences, while measuring student progress. It seems like the right approach to “education reform” in an area that has received a lot of attention recently.
Last week I attended the Northfield Rotary Club meeting luncheon. Representative Bly talked about the recent legislative session and provided our thoughts on some of the budget issues that the state will face in the next biennium. It was a great meeting with a super bunch of local individuals who have our community’s best interests at heart.
This Saturday I will be attending a meeting in Waterville with the Waterville Lakes Association. They have some concerns about the DNR’s plans to possibly designate Lake Tetonka as a Muskie lake. The State DNR is considering several sites and are gathering feedback from local citizens about future plans. The Sportsmen’s Clubs, Darkhouse and Angling groups are also weighing in on the issue. The DNR will not make any final decisions until later this year, but are wanting to get the dialogue going this summer.
This past Tuesday, Representatives David Bly, Patti Fritz, and I visited with Rice County Commissioners and several other Rice county officials. It was a good meeting with an opportunity to hear the concerns of our county leaders who have some real concerns with the state budget and its effects on county services.
The point was made clearly by County Administrator Gary Weiers that County governments are finding it increasingly difficult to carry out the federal and state government’s business with continued cuts to County program aid. Without reducing the mandates, business as usual cannot continue. In 2010 State funding to Rice County was reduced by over $1.3 million. Revenue reductions without mandated reductions are a cost shift from state to local governments. This has a big effect on social services, our district courts, and the dozens of agencies and departments that allow local government work to for Rice County residents.
Paul Beaumaster, Rice County attorney, expressed concerns that reductions to the courts are impacting counties by attempting to shift costs for legal representation in certain cases. Lines have become blurred as to who should pay the real costs of our court system, the state or the county? Mark Shaw, director of Social services, expressed his concerns that severe budget cuts now will have long term implications later. Those people served by county services, even more during the recession, will have greater needs at greater taxpayer expense, unless they receive help now. With the state facing a $6-7 billion shortfall next biennium, we need to be talking about solutions now. The Representatives and I will be meeting with County officials throughout the district in the months to come.
It has been a busy stretch here the last few days. Yesterday morning I was on the road by 5:30am headed to Arlington for the Town and Country Farm Breakfast. Brad and Jackie Odenthal hosted a great event, serving eggs, sausage, fruit and pancakes. It was a pleasure to visit with the folks of the Arlington area. I didn’t have time to hear the polka band which was just beginning to warm up as I was on the road again by 7:30am headed for Marshall, Minnesota.
The American Legion Boys State is held in Marshall for the 4th straight year and I had the pleasure to speak to the 360 young men in attendance. Representative Ron Shimanski and I spoke about Minnesota Political parties and state government. I gave them my Civics lesson on the importance and responsibility of citizenship and fielded some great questions on several issues from these young leaders. It was exciting to once again be a part of Boys State having served as a Boys State Counselor for 10 years. It is a great program and I was honored to speak to the group. Director Mike Bredeck, the staff, and counselors do a great job with this program each and every year. Boys State recently celebrated 60 years in Minnesota.
Today I door knocked in Waterville. I enjoyed visiting with constituents on numerous issues including education, funding for nursing homes, and even the Minnesota Nurses Association strike. Tonight I will be headed to Cleveland for the Cherry Creek Days celebration parade beginning at 5:30pm.
This past Thursday I attended a meeting of the Highway 169 Corridor Coalition held in Belle Plaine. The mission of the group, which started a couple of years ago, is to bring attention to the needs of the corridor from Mankato in Blue Earth County to Bloomington and Edina in Hennepin County. In the spring of 2009, the U.S. Highway 169 Corridor Coalition was officially established to advocate for the corridor.
US-169 is a robust, multi-modal transportation corridor that is important to the state and the communities along the corridor. Challenges to its ongoing success include relieving congestion, especially near I-494, identifying US-169 as an important regional transit corridor, enhancements to important connections between rail, road, and transit within the corridor, safety, economic development along the route, and connecting the metro area to important SE Minnesota markets and businesses.
The coalition includes members from nearly all of the communities along the corridor and meetings include mayors, city council members, county engineers, county commissioners and administrators, Region 9 Development Commission representatives, and others with a vested interest in the corridor. On this particular evening, Senator Claire Robling, Representative Mike Beard, and I took questions about how we can cooperate in finding ways to move Hwy 169 projects and priorities forward. As legislators, we can assist with efforts to secure funding through federal dollars, the state general fund and bonding, county and city funding, and cooperative efforts between private and public entities at all levels.
There is great interest in the communities along the corridor to see projects completed. These projects include interchanges, bypasses, and reconfiguring of access and frontage roads. Cities like LeSueur see new upgrades such as the LeSueur Hill interchange as a way to promote economic development, increase employment, promote safety, connect the community, stabilize access to other highways, and support increased mobility along the corridor. Currently, as part of its efforts to ensure the continuing viability of US-169, the U.S. Highway 169 Corridor Coalition is building on extensive studies and plans that have already been completed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
To learn more about the coalition: http://www.us169corridorcoalition.com
This past week I spoke at a meeting of the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation along with Representative David Bly. A few days later I spoke at at a gathering of the New Prague Chamber of Commerce along with Representative Laura Brod. With a couple of dozen persons on hand, the topics focused on the recently completed legislative session and the outlook for the next session. Of course there were some concerns expressed about Local Government Aid cuts, rising property taxes, the next state budget, the overall economy, and the health of our downtown businesses.
The legislature did enact several enact several measures designed to improve our business climate. In addition to a $680 million capital investment bill, the House and Senate passed the Angel Investor Tax credit, equal to 25% of taxpayer’s investments in small Minnesota businesses involved in high-tech, bio science, and green manufacturing industries. The Historic structure rehabilitation tax credit (20% of the rehabilitation costs) designed to assist in upgrading historic buildings, was passed along with a Research and Development tax credit. This credit is designed to spur innovations within Minnesota companies by increasing the current 5% tax credit to a 10% tax credit. it also expands eligibility for the tax credit to partnerships and LLC’s, rather than just corporations.
The legislature also directed the Dept. of Employment and Economic development (DEED) to identify at risk businesses in the state and develop tools the state can use to retain and attract new businesses. It also creates a fast action economic response team that would work with at risk businesses to ensure they are utilizing state services and identify their needs to ensure they are being met. The response team would also assist out of state businesses looking to relocate in Minnesota. The Senate also passed a bill that was into law that prescribes DEED to raise private funds for the Office of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development and maintain a virtual network of resources that are available for new Minnesota business ventures and entrepreneurs.
Finally, the legislature passed a bill this session to fund a comparative study to look at the effects of state regulations on costs and delays in starting a small business in MN, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas as well as the typical costs that go along with businesses in retail, manufacturing, and services industries. The study will be conducted by a state higher education institution, and will serve as a guide for future lawmakers as they outline the state’s economic development strategy.
My mother passed away this past week. She was only 70 years old. I shared this message at her funeral. Friends and relatives asked that I share it on line.
Today we celebrate the life of Judy Ann Hiscocks Becker. She was our mother, aunt, sister, grandmother, and dear friend.
I want to start with a little story. It should be no surprise that this story comes from one of my favorite episodes of the Andy Griffith Show series, entitled “Opie the Birdman.´” If you were to ask me why it is my favorite, I am not sure I could tell you. There are funnier episodes, more touching episodes, and maybe even episodes that have a more powerful message. But this one is special. If you’ve seen it, you will probably agree.
The episode begins with Opie putting together a slingshot. Andy, Barney, and Opie are in the courthouse, and Barney is attempting to show Opie how to use the ancient weapon. Barney explains that such devices were used way back in biblical times, referring to David and Goliath, but Barney becomes confused when Opie asks where David got the rubber for the sling. Barney begins to say that David just cut up an old tire, but he stops himself in time. Andy, on the other hand, tells Opie to have fun with the slingshot but to be careful with it.
Opie promises his pa that he will be careful and goes on his way shooting at tin cans and other stuff. When he gets to his house, Opie hears a noise in the tree in the front yard and without hesitation, he shoots toward the noise. Opie watches in amazement as a little bird plunges to the ground. At first, he doesn’t’ want to believe what has happened. He begs for the bird to fly, pleads for it to fly, but all to no avail. Finally, he runs into the house sobbing. Later that evening, Andy confronts his son about the bird. Opie admits that he killed the bird but he didn’t mean to. He tells Andy that he is sorry. Andy responds by saying that being sorry is not the magic word that makes everything all right again. Actions bring consequences, and the bird that died was the mother. Three baby birds are now crying for their mother who is not coming back.
At this point Opie has a decision to make. He can wallow in his guilt, or he can do something to make the situation better. Although he cannot bring the mother bird back, he can do something for her babies. Opie takes it upon himself to care for the little birds and puts much effort into raising them the best he can. At the end of the show, Opie has to make the hard decision to let the birds go. He knows he has done everything he can to ensure that the birds will be all right, but he is still not sure he has done all the right things until he releases each bird. When the 3 birds are gone, Opie looks at the cage and comments how empty it looks. Andy agrees that the cage does seem empty, but he looks up, hears the birds singing, and with a big smile he points out how full the trees are. This tragic story had a wonderful ending.
We’ve lost our mother… And we need to find our way. We want everything to be right again. But that should be much easier, because mom taught us well.
She taught us independence…..and survival. When you are one of 11 children, raised on a farm with no indoor plumbing, you learn to survive.
She taught us about family. She loved her grandchildren. And she has the book, and at every Hiscocks picnic and golf tournament, she would write down the names and birthdates of all the new “branches” to the Hiscocks family tree.
She taught us how to laugh. There’s a quote next to her high school yearbook picture which says, “Laughing, giggling, smiling too. When you’re around Judy, you can’t be blue.” She had a wonderful sense of humor. I ran into a classmate at the Greenhouse yesterday. Offering her condolences, she said, “I liked your mother, she made me laugh.” She shared many a laugh with the Bonnie and the girls, the Peacocks, and each and every one of us.
She taught us how to cook. Well she taught Kim how to boil water. She taught us boys how to clean the house…….okay skip that.
She taught us how to relax, on a pontoon …on the deck…at Lake Jefferson…or at home in her chair watching the Young and the Restless, Survivor, or Dancing with the Stars…or over a cup of coffee with my sister Kim or whoever stopped by that morning.
She taught us patience…..necessary for a Game of Shang-Hai… and living with Mike.
She taught us how to work hard. That’s all she knew. She worked nearly all of her precious life. But she never complained. She actually liked her job. And she was a good employer. Some of her best friends were employees. They will miss her, too.
She taught us how to parent. Being a mom to a special needs child is not an easy task. But can you honestly think of 2 better people in all the world to raise our beloved Andy, than Mom and Mike? Raising Andy was truly her greatest accomplishment.
She taught us how to budget. She always said we don’t have a “pot to piss in” but when Tony went to the State tournament in Baseball she slipped $50 bucks in his luggage with a note saying “Hit a Home Run for Me” … and she found a way to send 3 kids to college.
She taught us to make good choices. Whenever we would leave the house or get into the car with someone else she would yell out the window, “Don’t be drinking and driving!” Which was her way of saying I love you.
She taught us how to dance… How to be humble…. How to cope… and how to forgive.
She taught us that it is okay to be a little ornery sometimes.
She taught us to be kind, to care for one another, and she taught us how to love.
And as we grow older, we begin to realize how we as humans have the ability to cope. Sometimes terrible things happen, and if we could foresee these events, we would say we could never handle them. However, they do happen, and we do handle them. We handle them by relying on our friends, our families, on God and on the fact that we are not permanent residents of this world. Sometimes the death of a loved one reminds us that this life is very short and that each day we are given should be treated as a great blessing. The realization that we are called to a higher standard and will answer for our lives one day. An opportunity to tell our loved ones how we feel about them. An adjustment of priorities. A realization of our destiny.
There is a rolodex of daily bible verses on my sister’s piano. I thought today’s verse (May 28) is especially fitting.
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. – Isaiah 40:31
That little brick house on North 9th street, no bigger than a bird cage, is empty now. But the trees and heaven seem much more alive. Thank you mom for teaching us all how to fly.
Mayberry excerpt by Joey Fann, “The Way Back to Mayberry, Lessons from a Simpler Time”
I was driving back to St. Paul yesterday afternoon heading to the Capitol, a place I had left only a few hours earlier, as the sun was rising in the east. The Twins game blared on the radio, our favorite nine well on their way to losing their third game in a row to the dreaded New York Yankees. Earlier in the morning, the Senate had just sent the Governor a 3rd balanced budget, uncertain if it would be the third rejected proposal in a row, for the Minnesota legislature.
Fast forward to Monday morning, just before 7am. The Senate will reconvene in about 30 minutes after an all night wait to get the final bill drafted ready to hand to the Governor. Surprisingly, a lot has changed in the last 24 hours. The Twins didn’t lose their 3rd game in a row. Jason Kubel hit a dramatic grand slam in the 8th inning sending them to a much needed win over the Bronx Bombers. And the Minnesota legislature avoided a strike out with another veto from Governor Pawlenty. The bill was crafted with some agreement on an early enrollment option for Medical Assistance, a few more cuts to health care and other areas, additional cost shifts including delayed aid payments to schools. The bill is not ideal. While there are no direct cuts to schools or nursing homes, it relies on too many budget balancing gimmicks, over use of borrowing, and direct and indirect cuts to essential services.
But the Governor’s signature on this bill will salvage the weekend; bring a close to the session, while essentially avoiding extra innings. Just as Twins fans found an unexpected glimmer of hope in the Big Apple, the Minnesota legislature found unexpected agreement with the Governor. It must be time for a break. Hey, I see the Yanks are in town next week.