August in Minnesota: What I learned across the state

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Every August, when Congress takes its annual break from legislating, I get the opportunity to come home for several weeks and really hear what's on the minds of Minnesotans.

This fall, with so many important issues like the budget, health care, hurricane relief, and tax reform awaiting action in Congress, the time I spent at home hearing from people in communities across the state was especially important.

My meetings with teachers, small business owners, health providers, and farmers, as well as with people on the front lines of the opioid crisis and renewable energy development will help me press Minnesota priorities in upcoming Senate debates.

As a member of the Senate Education Committee, I was pleased to help several hundred teachers and staff kick off the new school year in St. Cloud. I told them that their work educating our children — while often difficult — is critically important to our society and our nation's future. To make their jobs easier, I'll continue to push for more resources for our schools, for things like mental health services for students, expanding STEM education, and helping schools partner with local employers to give students an opportunity to pursue a variety of career pathways.

In Rochester, I met with area officials to discuss their efforts to combat the opioid crisis, which they told me is "overwhelming" in their community. One mother told me the heartbreaking story of how her daughter, a smart, active, beautiful 23-year-old, couldn't break her addiction to heroin, which took her life in 2012. President Trump has called this crisis a national emergency, and I'll push him to provide the resources necessary to help Minnesota families and communities deal with this crisis.

As co-chair of the Senate Rural Health Caucus, I travelled to Winona, where I heard about the innovative ways Winona Health is addressing the special challenges rural health providers face in providing care to people in their community. They've been recognized many times for the innovative way they've cut emergency visits by 85 percent, and have addressed the opioid problem in their community. One woman I met told me how the "health coach" provided by the facility's Community Care Network has made all the difference in her life. Our state does health care very well, and this was another example of an innovative provider using all of its resources to provide quality care.

In Grand Marais, I had the opportunity to sit down with local small business owners to discuss a variety of issues, including the tax reform package that may be taken up in Congress this year. I'm going to push for a bipartisan process that helps middle class families and small businesses. It can't simply be a tax cut for those at the top who have already seen most of the gains in our society.

As a member of both the Energy, and the Indian Affairs committees, I was impressed by the renewable energy efforts on the Fond du Lac Reservation near Cloquet. Their impressive solar energy project has not only cut the Band's reliance on fossil fuels by 46 percent, but also provided jobs and economic development on the reservation. They are a good example of how renewable energy can help our state and our nation combat climate change.

As I prepare for the upcoming federal Farm Bill debate, I got the chance to visit the Hmong American Farmers Association farm near Coates, where I toured the operation. Later, I heard about unique needs and challenges these farmers face in cooperatively managing the farm. That same day, I celebrated "National Farmers' Market Week" by visiting the South St. Paul Farmers' market, where I got to meet with local vendors about federal policies that affect them. As the Farm bill debate begins, I plan to promote Minnesota's nation-leading renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts by once again taking a leadership role in writing the energy section of the bill. With farm prices remaining low, I will also push to strengthen the farm safety net to give our producers the tools they need to get through hard times.

While I travel many hundreds of miles in August, I always love the several days I get to spend each year at the Minnesota State Fair. With almost 2 million people attending this year, it's the one time that "the state comes to me." This year at my booth, I got to meet people from across Minnesota and hear a variety of views about issues.

I also got to celebrate the fair's "Military Appreciation Day" with Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General Richard Nash, where we discussed my provision that secured expanded GI benefits for Minnesota Guard members who served active duty and were put in harm's way that President Trump recently signed into law.

One of the best parts of this year's fair was the one day I attended with my daughter Thomasin, our son-in-law Brody, and two of our three grandchildren. I got to ride the big slide with them and show them the animals.

August is always a great time to be in Minnesota, and I plan to take what I learned from Minnesotans this year and bring it back to the nation's capital to inform my work on behalf of our state.