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Kelliher campaigns in Bemidji, focuses on state's economy, education, health care

image DFL-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Margaret Anderson Kelliher and state Rep. John Persell get a tour of the Headwaters Science Center from Laddie Elwell, the executive director, Wednesday afternoon. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Among snakes and giant bubbles and a flapping owl, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher shared her goals for Minnesota.

Kelliher, the DFL endorsee for governor, paired a Wednesday press conference with a tour of Headwaters Science Center. Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, and Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, joined the press conference.

Kelliher called the Science Center tour "fantastic" and said it would be great for the area to have a new facility.

"That is why in the Legislature, we passed the planning money for this (in the 2010 Legislative session)," she said. "We were very, very disappointed when Gov. (Tim) Pawlenty vetoed that money, because I can see what a difference it makes in kids' lives to be here learning about science and having that exposure."

Kelliher said her plans for education include putting more money into science and math education across the state.

"I met a lot of great young leaders here today who are going to be terrific leaders in their community," she said."

Kelliher spoke to 6- and 7-year-old kids who were learning about ladybugs, and she donned a special glove to hold a great horned owl.

"Wow - very cool," she said as Chris Tolman showed her how to get the owl to spread its swings. "That's an experience I've never had."

Kelliher said young people can do great work in the state.

"I learned that in 4-H, how community work is so important, being involved in your community, with caring adults like Laddie (Elwell, executive director of the Science Center) to help guide you."

New follower

Rebecca Matheney, 9½, who was enjoying the exhibits, quickly warmed up to Kelliher, who would be the state's first female governor.

"I think it's great to have a woman as governor," Rebecca said. "I think she's going to do a great job. I'm really proud."

Rebecca, a student at Horace May Elementary School, scored a "Margaret for Governor" pin and stayed for the press conference.

"Being a mom - I have a 16-year-old and a 4-year-old - I have a lot I can talk to kids about," Kelliher said, noting that she bonded with Rebecca over books. "I made a couple of suggestions to her, and suddenly she's asking questions in the press conference."

Rebecca asked her, "What kinds of places are you going to help when you're governor?"

Kelliher replied that she would help the whole state, including rural Minnesota, so everyone would have equitable access to education, health care and public safety.

"My budget will be focused on jobs, both creating more jobs and improving our economy here in Minnesota," she said.

"We've had a jobs alarm sounding in this state for eight years and we've had a governor who rolls over and hits the snooze button," Kelliher said. "We need a governor who is a middle-class Minnesotan, someone who grew up hard-working on a farm, who is going to wake up every day and go to work on behalf of Minnesotans, who's going to be a fighter for them and their families. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to fight for you and your family and make sure that we have the jobs that we need."

Kelliher said four things would help turn off that jobs alarm:

- Bringing federal money home to Minnesota.

This would include Medical Assistance funding to cover the entire General Assistance medical care population, which would provide health care to 20,000 more Minnesotans. In Bemidji, it would bring $5 million into health care facilities.

- Investment in infrastructure in sites such as Headwaters Science Center.

Kelliher plans two large capital investment bills in 2011 and 2012 that would create 50,000 jobs in four years.

"I would hope that this project will resubmit at that time and that we will be able to move forward together."

- Help for small businesses.

Her goal as governor would be a 7 percent increase in small business per year, with 14,000 more jobs created.

"Lots of people have good ideas, but they can't access the capital and they're not always having the technical assistance," Kelliher said.

- A good and strong economy, based on great education in the state.

The state needs to invest more in early childhood education, from birth to 5 years, which would cut costs later in remedial education, health care and corrections, she said.

Kelliher called for recommitment to higher education, pointing out how vital Bemidji State University is to the area.

A fair, equitable school funding formula for the entire state is also needed, she said.

Chris Leinen, director of business services, for the Bemidji School District, noted that the Bemidji School District covers 800 square miles but the funding mechanism has little to do with the actual costs of the services provided.

"Some schools are forced to take dollars out of the classrooms to make up for shortfalls," he said.

DFL endorsement

Lorraine Cecil, a political activist for nearly 44 years, came out in support of Kelliher.

"I'm a supporter of the endorsement system," Cecil said, noting that primaries are expensive and divisive. "I think we should be putting our energy into the opposition, not beating up on each other. ... I despise primaries. All that waste of money and good will."

Cecil, 81, has been active with the DFL party since 1966, holding party offices in Beltrami County, the 7th Congressional District and the state.

"I've just been at this forever," she said. "To me, it's a form of public service. If more people would do it, we'd all be better off."

Kelliher's partners in the press conference were pleased with her commitment to the Science Center.

"I was so happy to see all the young people here ... our future leaders, our future Laddie Ewells," Sailer said to Kelliher. "We need to help move it forward and help fund (the Science Center). I'm so glad to hear that's a priority of yours. It's been Laddie's priority for many years."

"There are some really exciting opportunities, and the Science Center could be a hub of those opportunities," Olson said.

"My daughter and grandkids come down here with regularity," Persell said. "We really want to push this and we thank you for bringing that up again, Margaret. We've got a strong team to work for education and health care and this Science Center is part of that educational process."

With Kelliher, "We're going to make this state work again," Persell said. "Margaret is good at building a team and doing what needs to be done."

As Kelliher prepared to hit the road for a stop in Mahnomen, Elwell asked her for a hug and said she always liked hiring "farm kids."

"Maybe that should be the motto," Kelliher said. "Hire a farm kid to do the job."