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Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, introduced Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak during a December fundraiser at her home to kick off her campaign for the 2010 election. Olson endorsed Rybak's bid for the Democratic endorsement for governor Monday. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

Olson endorses Rybak for governor

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Senate District 4 and inner Minneapolis are much alike, one reason why Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, endorsed Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak's gubernatorial bid on Monday.

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She joined six other legislators at a State Capitol news conference Monday to endorse Rybak's bid for the Democratic endorsement for governor.

"Any of these contenders would be wonderful governors," Olson said of the slew of Democrats seeking to succeed Gov. Tim Pawlenty, "but I just feel that R.T. is the strongest candidate and I am particularly impressed with his appreciation of some of the issues we're facing in rural Minnesota."

Those issues include funding disparities in funding education and health care, plus the need for state Local Government Aid.

Olson was joined by Sens. Yvonne Prettner Solon of Duluth, Jim Carlson of Eagan, Kevin Dahle of Northfield, Kathy Sheran of Mankato and John Doll of Burnsville, and Rep. Tina Liebling of Rochester.

"The support of these key legislators from every part of Minnesota is both an honor and a validation of our success in building a statewide campaign," Rybak said. 

"They share with me the need a single, unifying vision that creates opportunity for every part of Minnesota. I've already learned a lot from these smart, hard-working legislators and look forward to working with them to get results for Minnesotans."

"There are a lot more commonalities than people would think," the Bemidji Democrat said. "He was at the hospital (North Country Regional Hospital) with me, and he seemed to grasp the point of how we almost have our reimbursement aligned in a way to be the opposite of what they need to be able to provide health care in rural Minnesota."

Rural Minnesota hospitals get lower reimbursements for public subsidy patients than metro area hospitals, but rural hospitals have to pay more to attract physicians to the area, she said.

"He's also very informed about the seasonal recreational issue and he's committed to try to help us," Olson said. Northern Minnesota loses a lot of property taxes for schools as owners of season recreational cabins pay property taxes to the state, not local school districts.

Nearly all northern senators had previously given support for Sen. Tom Bakk's gubernatorial bid. Bakk, DFL-Cook, a week ago dropped out of the race. Olson, however, hadn't made an endorsement, but did have Rybak at her Dec. 29 fundraiser at her home.

"I have a lot of respect for Tom and I like him personally and I think he's a great leader," Olson said. "He's been very honest with people about the financial difficulties that we have, and I think he's really trying to look toward the longer term, in terms of getting our budget back on track."

But Olson believes the Bemidji area has more in common with Minneapolis than with other areas of northern Minnesota.

"There are some things where my district is perhaps a little bit different than some of the northern districts around me," she said. "Particularly with regard to environmental issues. People in my district on both sides of the aisle tend to be very concerned about the environment and are very concerned about clean water and those kinds of issues."

Rybak is a two-term mayor who likes to say he took the city out of near-bankruptcy without compromising central core services.

"I'm also impressed that he really seems to understand the picture of areas outside the metro being not all the same," Olson said. "Some people from the metro area seem to think it's like the metro and everything else that isn't metro, as if we were all the same when we have very different parts of the state."

Understanding that, and that each region is of equal importance is key, she said, and a help in determining what each region needs to be successful.

"It's important that the person who represents us has that appropriate mindset, in my opinion," Olson said. "R.T. has shown that he can make tough decisions when it's necessary and not jeopardize public safety. He's actually been able to reduce crime."

Rybak also has a sensitively for American Indian issues, having worked with urban American Indian programs in Minneapolis, Olson said.

"It does seem that R.T. has a real special interest in making sure not just that American Indian communities are given the same opportunities that anyone else is given around our state," she said, "but also really recognizing the value of American Indian heritage and the tribes particularly in our state as being a part of our culture and valuing that culture."

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