Coleman stops on the way to 'opener'

Park Rapids Mayor Nancy Carroll welcomed the former mayor of St. Paul to the city Friday afternoon. US Sen. Norm Coleman drew an audience at the North Country Museum of Arts on his way to the Governor's Fishing Opener on Leech Lake last weekend. ...

Park Rapids Mayor Nancy Carroll welcomed the former mayor of St. Paul to the city Friday afternoon.

US Sen. Norm Coleman drew an audience at the North Country Museum of Arts on his way to the Governor's Fishing Opener on Leech Lake last weekend.

Responding to Carroll's introduction, the Republican senator said he wishes there were more former mayors in the US Senate. There may be a difference in scale, but mayors are all trying to build community, a place of opportunity for young people to come back to, he said.

Coleman identified health care, jobs, public safety and education as key to creating vital communities.

Addressing Tanya Miller's speech class who came to watch a "pro," Coleman spoke about the world of global competition students are facing. When he was in Mexico, government officials were complaining about the impact of low-wage jobs in China and when he visited China, they complained about low-wage jobs in Vietnam, Coleman said.


"America can't be about low-wage jobs. It's about smarter kids, entrepreneurs, better trained workers."

Acknowledging the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, co-hosts of the reception at the arts museum, Coleman talked about Park Rapids as a beautiful community and a place to have fun.

Coleman also gave some advice as the community undertakes the downtown visioning process, mentioning especially the charm of center street parking. "As you're planning for the future," he said, "keep that signature piece."

Involving the community in the vision is key, he continued. As mayor of St. Paul, he said, riverfront development succeeded because of work "neighborhood by neighborhood" to give residents a say in what they thought should happen.

"It would not have happened if the vision was just mine," Coleman said.

Minnesota will host a national political convention at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, built through a public-private partnership as part of St. Paul's plan, Coleman continued. Whether Republican or Democrat, he said, the convention will be important for Minnesota with 14,000 press credentials issued to news media worldwide.

'Working together'

"If you watch the Senate on C-Span, you might think all we do is argue," Coleman continued, addressing students again. Actually, he said, the senators are airing different perspectives to solve problems.


Coleman said he and Minnesota's Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar, serve on the ag committee and vote the same most of the time because they share concerns for the state's agriculture industry, including forestry.

Explaining differences between the US House and Senate, he said the House requires a simple majority to pass a bill, but the Senate requires 60 votes. "We have to get on it or it doesn't happen. We are forced to work together," he said.

For example, Coleman said there is consensus among senators that the US has to get away from its addiction to foreign oil and do something about health insurance for everyone.

"We are trying to find common ground," Coleman said.

Acknowledging the arts museum setting, Coleman wrapped up, saying he co-chairs the Senate Arts Caucus with Sen. Ted Kennedy and appreciates the art, music and other cultural amenities that "appeal to the angels in us."

Audience questions

The senator fielded questions and comments from the audience, before leaving to buy his fishing license.

Carroll asked Coleman about the Rural Renaissance Act, a bill he recently reintroduced and now believes may succeed.


Communities have tremendous infrastructure needs without the tax capacity to pay for them, he explained. At the same time, infrastructure is vital for economic development. Infrastructure, he added, isn't just sewer and water. It's broadband access to the Internet, too.

The Rural Renaissance Act would allow the federal government to issue bonds, give tax credits to corporations to buy them and make the proceeds available in the form of no-interest loans to local units of government, rural electric cooperatives and others for projects.

The federal government's only other bonding is done for renewable energy and it has been a very successful program, Coleman said.

In the past, the Rural Renaissance Act failed to pass, but Coleman said this time the bill has city support. "I'm very optimistic it will pass this year," Coleman said.

Daryl Bessler, Hubbard County Social Services director, expressed concern about possible loss of federal funding for targeted case management.

Coleman replied he is aware of what's happening and the cuts are an example of "unintended consequences." Other states don't do as good a job as Minnesota managing the money for this program so it was put on the chopping block. Cuts haven't been implemented yet, so Coleman said there is still an opportunity to interpret the rules in a way that doesn't result in a cut in service delivery.

Coleman said he also has introduced legislation to correct a measure related to child support.

Tougher questions


Student Nick Bolton asked why Coleman voted against a bill that included money for Katrina victims, health care for veterans, ag disaster assistance and other important funding programs.

Coleman said while the bill contained many "good things" he wanted to see funded, it also included a timeline for troop withdrawal from Iraq.

While insisting he doesn't agree with the President about policy in Iraq on every count, Coleman said his April trip to visit Minnesota troops and the country's leaders gave him new insight.

"There is no doubt in my mind, a timeline would put troops at risk," Coleman said, adding their lives are more important than anything."

Coleman said he wants to see benchmarks to hold Iraqis accountable and for the Iraqi government to move more quickly toward power sharing and reconciliation.

"We need to work aggressively to stop sectarian violence," Coleman said.

Judi Nelson took the opportunity to thank Coleman for supporting the troops, including her son who recently finished his tour of duty in Iraq.

Coleman also was asked to state his view on global warming.


"It's a real issue," Coleman said, "but it is legitimate to ask the question how what we do will impact people's daily lives."

The senator said he believes signing onto the Kyoto Protocol, limiting greenhouse gas emissions, would drive up the cost of living and eliminate jobs.

Instead, he said, "We need a firm commitment to CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards and renewable energy," Coleman said.

Coleman also said he sees solutions in supporting nuclear energy. If France can produce its energy needs from nuclear plants, so can the US, he said. "They're not braver than Americans."

Oil independence is a global security issue, Coleman concluded. "The balance the country needs to achieve in responding to global warming is in finding ways not to impact jobs and those on fixed incomes."

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