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Commentary: Working for progress and people of Minnesota

In the wake of last year's dramatic and surprising presidential election, there's a lot of uncertainty about what the new year will bring.

Given the political earthquake we experienced in 2016, I'll refrain from making any predictions about what this year's political environment might be like. Instead, I'll make this promise: No matter what the new administration brings, and no matter how divisive Washington may be, I'll always put our state first — and I'll never stop fighting to deliver for Minnesota.

It's no secret I disagreed with pretty much everything Donald Trump said during his campaign and, like many Minnesotans, I found some of his rhetoric downright offensive. But he will be our president. And while we can't yet say what he'll do when he takes office later this month, I can say I'm going to keep doing my job the same way I always have, working to make progress for the people of Minnesota wherever I can.

For example, the president-elect has signaled an interest in working on infrastructure, and while I'm concerned about whether his approach to the issue reflects the best interests of working people (and not merely the profit motives of big corporations), I'm hopeful we may be able to get some important local projects underway.

Health care is another issue of concern as we look ahead to the new administration. I'm prepared to fight back if and when the new president attempts to wipe out the progress we made in the Affordable Care Act to protect people with pre-existing conditions, to slow the growth in health care costs, and to bring the best of Minnesota's own health care innovations to the rest of the country. I'll stand my ground if Republicans try to end the Medicare guarantee or slash Medicaid or take coverage away from millions of people.

But, I'm also ready to find common ground with colleagues of both parties on ways to continue improving our health care system.

Believe it or not, that common ground does exist.

For example, in December, the 21st Century Cures Act—a bipartisan compromise that contained support for potentially life-saving medical research as well as a number of other provisions I've been working to get done for a long time—was signed into law.

One such provision stems from what I learned on my 28-city rural health tour last year. Our rural communities face a series of unique health care challenges, none more serious than the epidemic of opioid abuse. I always have believed there's nothing partisan about this issue, and the progress we made in this bill is proof. Thanks to the support of Democrats and Republicans alike, we were able to secure more than $1 billion to combat opioid abuse in communities across the country.

The Cures law also includes a comprehensive measure I wrote to improve how our criminal justice system treats people with mental illness. My measure includes ideas that I heard from communities all across Minnesota about how to reduce the number of people who wind up in jail when they should be receiving treatment: it funds mental health courts and diversion programs (which can help people who get in trouble with the law receive counseling and rehabilitation instead of jail time), and it supports training for law enforcement professionals so they can respond to mental health crises safely and effectively.

To be sure, there's lots more work to be done—not just on infrastructure, health care, and criminal justice, but across the board. And we need to do everything we can to improve our economy so that every family in Minnesota can build some real financial security. And, of course, we need to do all this in a Washington where progress never has come easily.

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