Road trip! When you hear those words thoughts of “let the good times roll” might run through your mind.
While we have no doubt that Minnesota House members enjoyed themselves at times while traveling across southern Minnesota last week, we know that face-to-face meetings with manufacturers, medical professionals, farmers and average citizens generated tough conversations about the realities state residents face.
Lawmakers visited the Hormel meat-packing plant in Austin, toured Mayo Clinic aka Destination Medical Center and talked about education, the court system, environmental issues and taxes in the Winona area — Caledonia, Harmony, Preston and Rushford Village. The final stop was Prairie Island Indian Community.
The House hasn’t held such a mini session since Arne Carlson was governor; the 1997 trip was to western Minnesota and focused on issues pertinent to the era and area.
Primary goals this time: gain fresh perspective and break away from partisan labels.
"It seems like whenever we get on a bus and we get out of St. Paul, suddenly we're not Democrats and Republicans anymore, we're legislators on a road trip. And there's something really positive about that," said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park.
Partisanship did rear its head before trip, naturally. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he wasn’t sure why House representatives were hitting the road. In his words: “We have other processes to build information, committee hearings, etc.”
He seems to have missed two key points.
One, there’s a big difference between only hearing about something and also seeing the reality of it.
Two, most people don’t have ready access to legislators beyond their own. Even people living in the suburbs struggle to visit the Capitol.
Lawmakers return Feb. 11 to St. Paul for the 2020 legislative session. Before that they will have numerous committee meetings, of course, but between now and then we hope representatives dwell on the bigger, greater Minnesota perspective, give careful thought to what they learned in their mini session and connect with their constituents at home in meaningful ways. The 2020 session — and the state — will be better and more productive for it.