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Carlson settles in as District 4 senator

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, uses a conference room outside his State Capitol office to brief a Bemidji Day at the Capitol delegation about issues the Senate is working on and to answer questions. It's Carlson's first term in the Capitol. Pioneer Photo/ Brad Swenson

ST. PAUL -- Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, has been appointed to the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board, the Iron Range's economic development fund.

The announcement came Tuesday, as Carlson was hosting a Bemidji delegation to the State Capitol for Bemidji Day at the Capitol.

"There's a lot for me to learn," Carlson said in an interview. "I know that the IRRB has been around for 50 or 60 years. The mission is how do we diversity. Maybe the taconite runs out at some point, how do we diversify and rehabilitate this area, and use all of our resources in such a way that e don't have these towns drying up after taconite goes away."

A production tax on taconite fuels the IRRRB, which makes decisions on economic development projects, tourism and recreational opportunities. The board is bipartisan, with both parties appointing legislators to it.

Last month, Gov. Mark Dayton appointed former House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, as IRRRB executive director.

"I'm thrilled to be a part of it and see what I can add to the board, the perspective I might bring that we end up creating more and more jobs and making our economy better in northern Minnesota," Carlson said.

The IRRRB is limited in scope to the area of northeast Minnesota where there is mining. At one point, Republicans sought to disband the IRRRB and send the taconite tax to the state's general fund.

"Until I get into it, I really just try to go in with an open mind," Carlson said. "My open mind tells me its there to make sure we can grow some jobs and have prosperity in that attitude, and that's the attitude I'm going in with.

"If I find out after a year that this is really stupid, I'll be vocal about it," he added. "But I want to go with an open mind and say what can we do?"?

Carlson said he wants to focus on forestry issues, that what can help northeastern Minnesota may also help north-central Minnesota.

"At the end of my days, and they say there goes the silviculture senator, that would be great," he said. "I really feel that's an area, at least in our area of the country, hasn't been really well represented. "That might be the single-most important thing I can do."

It's a bipartisan job, he says, adding he will need the help of Democratic Sens. Tom Bakk of Cook and Tom Saxhaug of Grand Rapids. "They have a lot of trees in their districts and we have the same interests in how do we utilize that resource in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner, and utilize that resource for our people."

He also plans to work closely with District 2's Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook. Carlson serves with Skoe and Saxhaug on the Senate Environment Committee.

"I just want to work with people with a common goal." Carlson said. "Our common goal has to be how do we increase jobs."

The Senate on Thursday passed a $930 million budget cut bill that includes deep cuts in Local Government Aid to cities, but Carlson said it only maintains the 2010 level of LGA after former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unallotments.

"As I talked to the cities in Senate District 4, they were all planning on that," he said. "That's what they based their budgets on, they knew there was no way in the world it was going to be any better than it was last year."

But Carlson said he wants to protect LGA from further cuts, and has drawn a line in the sand.

"My focus will be to work with my leadership and say, whatever you do, we can't cut it anymore," he said. "In my mind, that's where the line is drawn."

Some of things Carlson is working on is a bill to allow the sale of some DNR lands and properties, worth several million dollars in total, a bill for Ultima Bank in Bemidji, a bill for Bemidji Aviation to alleviate a freight carrying tax that will give Minnesota a more competitive advantage with Wisconsin.

He's also working with Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, to allow northern spearing on Cass Lake. It was approved last year as part of an omnibus fishing bill, which was vetoed by Pawlenty for other sections.

Carlson has also authored a bill to streamline environmental agencies in the permitting process.

Earlier Tuesday, Carlson met with Bemidji State University President Richard Hanson, who recently put out a plan to solve a $5 million budget deficit that includes men's track and field and the Theater Department.

"I have had well over 100 e-mails on that," Carlson said. "There's nothing I can do about that. It's a local issue and I'm a local control guy."

Perhaps it's good that colleges focus on the programs that gain enrollment and in which they do well, Carlson said, such as industrial technology and criminal justice at BSU.