Moorhead lawmaker takes the lead on Vikings stadium challenge
ST. PAUL - The most visible legislator in stadium discussions is one who lives nowhere near where a facility would be built.
Still, Rep. Morrie Lanning of Moorhead said the project is so important to the state that he is glad to be part of the process.
The lawmaker, in office nine years after a 22-year run as Moorhead mayor, is in many news stories about the move to build a stadium for the Minnesota Vikings and a variety of other uses. Lanning said he does not seek publicity, but accepts it.
"I'm OK with that because this is an important issue, an issue that needs to get resolved," the Republican said.
But why would a legislator who lives four hours away from where a stadium would be built want to tackle such a project?
"Anyone who has followed my mayoral career knows that I like to solve problems, I like to get things done for my community and my state, and this is a challenge," Lanning said.
And, he said, his Fargo-Moorhead community has an example of the importance of a multi-purpose facility.
"Yes, the Fargodome is home to (North Dakota State University) Bison football, but the Fargodome has enabled us to have quality of life experiences in the metro area that would not be possible if you didn't have a facility like that," Lanning said. "The list of activities has been endless."
The state needs a similar opportunity, he said, now that the Metrodome in Minneapolis appears to be at the end of its useful life.
Leaders of both parties say Lanning and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, are doing a good job leading the effort.
"I think Rep. Lanning and Sen. Rosen are the real heroes in this endeavor," Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said. "They have persevered with what seems to me to be very little support from their leadership or their caucuses."
The job is tough, Dayton added. "It is like pushing the boulder up the mountain."
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, praised Lanning's devotion to the stadium issue, at a time when others are traveling the state promoting government reform and budget changes.
"The stadium is not top of mind for them," Zellers said. "It is not one, two or three, where it is to Morrie."
Attention Lanning has received comes after Zellers originally passed him over for a major committee appointment when Republicans took control of the House this year. After a chairman-designate quit, Zellers gave Lanning the State Government Committee, which when added to a pensions committee he runs, gave Lanning a full schedule even before he became the stadium bill chief author.
"That's not the only thing I am doing," Lanning said of stadium work. "There is a perception that I have actually spent more time on this than I have. I have been very much involved in pension issues, state government finance-related issues, flooding issues, a whole gamut of things. But what gets the most visibility is the stadium."
Reporters have easy access to Lanning, more so than anyone else involved in the stadium debate.
His approach has gained him lots of ink and air time.
"There may be a lesson to be learned by some people on how they approach issues," he said. "I think the approach I have used may be the best way to do it."
Lanning, retired from Concordia College in Moorhead, toyed with the idea of running for governor in 2010. He said he did not tackle the stadium issue to score political points.
"I am not trying to build a political career here," Lanning said. "I am trying to solve a problem for the state of Minnesota. Let the chips fall where they may."
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.