The Bemidji plaid roamed the halls of the State Capitol in St. Paul on Wednesday, spreading far and wide to visit as many of the 201 Minnesota legislators as they could. It was the fourth annual trip down to St. Paul in a bus loaded with citizen lobbyists.
The atmosphere was different this year -- there was no single, overriding issue that drew all to lobby in one voice as in past years. That issue, of course, had been the Bemidji Regional Event Center, first for $3 million in planning and design funds and then for $20 million in bonding for construction and authority to use the city's half-cent sales tax for event construction. The lobbying and hard work paid off, as the 2008 Legislature granted the community's wishes.
This year, the Bemidji delegation was armed with more than a dozen issues of importance to the community, from hospital reimbursement rates, to keeping more state foresters in the woods, to support of all-day every-day kindergarten, to again asking for $2 million to complete the transaction between the Bemidji School District, Bemidji State University and the BSU Foundation in the purchase and demolition of the old high school.
But participants were asked not to push too hard -- as the state faces a stiff budget deficit and anyone asking for money without suggesting to cut someone else isn't going to get anywhere. The Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce's theme was "Protecting and creating jobs for northern Minnesota," and the Bemidji delegations were asked by the Chamber to simply thank each legislator for their support of Bemidji's event center initiative and invite them to the April 3 groundbreaking.
Such and effort -- and the legion of plaid-clad northmen and women -- keeps Bemidji at the top of the mind of state policy makers. And that's a good thing.
Bemidji Chamber President Lori Paris, in reacting to the day in an e-mail to participants, said: "You were all awesome and are great Bemidji advocates. We had another impressionable year at the Capitol."
By putting Bemidji issues in an easy-to-reference pamphlet and reemphasizing them during the annual trips plant the seeds for future success.
Perhaps the only disappointment in Wednesday's Capital Day was the apparent lack of interest from legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle who in the past have made time to address the delegation at noontime. Granted, many of them make regular trips to Bemidji, but their interest in a community's leaders taking a day off to make their collective community's views known in the Capitol need recognizing, and we didn't get it. But there's always next year, isn't there?