DFL Chair speaks to regional issues during Park Rapids visit

When DFL Chairman Ken Martin visited the Park Rapids area Tuesday, he discussed issues relevant to Hubbard County and the surrounding area in an interview with the Enterprise.

Ken Martin.jpg
DFL Chair Ken Martin

What do you think are the biggest issues that need to be addressed in Hubbard county and the surrounding area?

Supporting the economy and jobs. There are still a lot of folks concerned about the pandemic and the impact it has had on businesses and main streets. Folks are also concerned with the Delta variant and the impact that’s going to have on schools reopening this fall.

There has been a lot of progress made in the past eight months in helping to support local governments and communities with the American Rescue Plan, and now the Biden infrastructure plan is giving people hope and help to get out of this pandemic.


What is your view on mask requirements in schools?

It is a hotly contested debate around the country. Minnesota has left it up to each school district to make the best decision they can with the information they have.

My personal opinion is that we have to be just as vigilant as we were at the beginning of this pandemic. We are clearly not out of the woods yet, given that by and large our children aren’t vaccinated yet. I hope that people, whether or not there’s a mask mandate in place, recognize that we still need to practice good social distance and mask up. That’s the most responsible thing we can do for people in our community, particularly those who have weakened immune systems and children too young to be vaccinated. I think folks need to be thoughtful about how this virus is impacting not just their own families but others in the community, to take it seriously and make sure we’re doing our part. Unfortunately, given how rapidly the virus is mutating, we’re not going to get out of this until people are completely vaccinated. That’s the challenge.

How can the state address the labor shortage and other issues businesses are facing?

It’s an issue everywhere. Businesses are finding it hard to fill jobs. Part of the challenge is that there are people who don’t want to work because of concerns over the coronavirus. Some don’t want to be on the front lines. Others can’t work because they are immunocompromised. Others are trying to reimagine work during this time and want to work remotely. As we come out of this pandemic, there will be more people coming into the workforce.

There’s no doubt that the economy is changing. More people are shopping online, and that is definitely impacting the brick and mortar. More small business owners are understanding that if they are going to compete and thrive they need both an online and an in-person presence.


What infrastructure needs will be addressed in this region?

We’re excited about the bi-partisan deal. It’s the largest infrastructure bill ever to pass in our country’s history. It is investing in the infrastructure of tomorrow while repairing the infrastructure of yesterday. It’s going to invest in bridges and roads, wastewater treatment plants, clean energy, electric vehicles, upgrading public transportation options and broadband.

I think of this through the lens of rural electrification that happened in the 1920s and 1930s in this country. It helped rejuvenate small town America and main streets. Without that, a lot of parts of the country would have been left behind.

Thanks to this infrastructure package, high-speed internet is going to be provided to every corner of our state. That’s an exciting development that should bring more jobs to communities here and that will allow people who work in different industries to stay in greater Minnesota.

Because more people are able to work remotely, there’s an opportunity to reimagine the workforce. But that requires good broadband access. We need to build that infrastructure that will result in economic development in places like Hubbard County and help diversify and expand the tax base.

When will better broadband reach this region?

As soon as this infrastructure bill is signed into law I think the money is going to start flowing out to communities. I don’t know the exact timeline for that but I think money will move quickly like with the American Rescue Plan. There is a great disparity in internet services in greater Minnesota because some internet providers have invested their own money in fiber optics and high speed internet capacities and others have not. This funding will help equalize that by providing money to companies who can then access it through grants to provide higher speeds and have the capability to do that, whether fiber optics or cell service. There are a lot of pockets in the state where you go five miles in one direction or the other and you are getting high-speed internet or not. That’s what we have to fix right now so it’s not this patchwork but wherever you live you will get the same level of service. This is an equity issue as well. A lot of people are being left behind. Their job or their schooling is being impacted by the fact that they don’t have access to high speed internet. We have a responsibility to address that. It’s a huge part of the infrastructure plan and will allow people in rural America to start to prosper again.


What are your thoughts on the lawsuit on behalf of wild rice being impacted by the Enbridge Line 3 project?

We need to not only honor the Native nations in this state and the treaty rights that they have, but we also need to understand how this is a way of life issue for the First Peoples of this country and state. I don’t want to comment on Line 3 in particular. But we all know that water is very important, not just to the Native communities in this state, but to Minnesotans who have a deep connection to water.

As we work through the complexities of things like pipelines and mining, we need to acknowledge the different perspectives and opinions out there that are rooted in traditions and a way of life. There are no easy answers, but it is important to acknowledge that this is an important issue for Native tribes throughout the state that deeply value natural resources.

How are racial inequities in the state being addressed?

We have a moral responsibility to make sure every kid, regardless of their racial or ethnic background or where they live, has access to the same quality of education. We know there’s a huge achievement gap in this state. There are a lot of kids of color who are being left behind. We have to address that. Part of how we address that is having the infrastructure to support these schools and broadband is one piece of that. Another piece is the human infrastructure of getting good teachers hired and providing funding to these school districts so they have teachers who look like the students they are serving and the resources to provide a quality education to each and every student. There are a lot of investments that need to be made to assure every child is set up for success regardless of where they live and their ethnic background.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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