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Plaid Power: Bemidji lobbying contingent visits St. Paul

About 50 Bemidjians took part Wednesday in the seventh annual Bemidji Day at the Capitol, which included a visit with Gov. Mark Dayton in the Governor's Reception Room inside the Capitol. Bethany Wesley |pioneer photo

ST. PAUL - Gov. Mark Dayton was warned before he signed a 75th birthday card for Paul Bunyan that the 4-foot-long pencil wouldn't work well inside.

"There's a lot of things that don't work inside the Capitol," Dayton retorted, seemingly joking.

Wednesday marked the seventh annual Bemidji Day at the Capitol, which featured 50-some Bemidjians traversing the grounds of the Capitol and State Office Building wearing their trademark red-and-black plaid.

Dayton marked the day by signing the Paul Bunyan birthday card and a certificate in honor of the statue's 75th birthday this year. At his request, Lori Paris, the president of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, explained the history of Paul and Babe, mentioning that Paul Bunyan himself was modeled after the then-mayor by tripling his dimensions.

"It's a good thing Dave (Larson) wasn't mayor then," quipped Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, referencing the current Bemidji mayor, who stand over 6 feet tall.

Most of those who took part in the annual lobbying day rode down on the Bemidji Bus Line bus, leaving the Lake Bemidji waterfront just after 6 a.m. Others met the contingent at the Capitol.

Most of those who took part in the daylong trip were repeat one-day lobbyists. But there were a few, such as Lorrie Richardson, who were first-timers.

Richardson said she decided to get involved because of the current opportunities facing communities, including the MAGIC Act, which aims to allow Minnesota counties to try innovative ideas before enacting them while also increasing the accountability.

Following a 30-minute meeting with Reps. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, and Tom Tillberry, DFL-Fridley, Richardson said she was encouraged to hear that other counties supported the initiative.

"We shouldn't be legislated to death," she said.

Emily Olson, the vice president of the Bemidji High School Student Council, said she made her second straight trip to the Capitol because she wanted to again take part. Whereas last year she was a little unsure how the day would go in small groups with adults, rather than keeping the high school students all together, Olson said she was looking forward to doing that again.

"I really like being with the adults. It was fun to sit and listen to them, to hear what they had to say," she said.

This year's Capitol agenda had fewer meetings with individual legislators, about 50, but instead featured appointments with Brenda Cassellius, Department of Education commissioner; Paul Moe, Department of Employment and Economic Development deputy commissioner; and Myron Frans, the Department of Revenue commissioner.

Welcoming the Bemidji contingent to the Capitol were Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, and Carlson.

Persell was invited to speak first, which, he noted happily, bucked a trend with lawmakers, who usually yield the floor first to senators.

Both Carlson and Persell said the annual Bemidji Day at the Capitol resonates with legislators.

"They look forward to this," Persell said.

"It's incredible how much of an impact you have had," Carlson said.