Bemidji group to visit state Capitol Tuesday to lobby for local projects

About 90 Bemidji "lobbyists" will converge Tuesday on St. Paul to talk to lawmakers about a regional events center, trails and higher education facilities.

About 90 Bemidji "lobbyists" will converge Tuesday on St. Paul to talk to lawmakers about a regional events center, trails and higher education facilities.

"It's a pilgrimage," says Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, who carries the bills in the Minnesota House. "These community leaders are a very intelligent group of people who are going down for our projects and to advocate for Bemidji."

Two buses will roll out of the lakefront Tourist Information Center at 5:30 a.m. sharp, says Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lori Paris. The early risers will be treated to Dunn Bros. coffee and Raphael's pastries for the long ride to the State Capitol.

The lobbying group is split roughly into thirds, said Paris, with the Chamber of Commerce sponsoring the trip. A third are Chamber-enlisted business and professional people, a third city and county elected officials and staff, and a third educators and students.

The student list includes Bemidji State University, Northwest Technical College, Bemidji High School and Voyageurs charter school.


"This group is going down at exactly the right time for us," said Moe, who led a training session with Paris for participants Friday afternoon. "The timing couldn't be better."

All of the projects being pushed by Bemidji Day at the Capitol are requests for state bonding. The DFL-controlled Senate approved its state building projects bonding bill last week and the GOP House is now crafting its version. That bill is expected to be announced April 3.

With House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, wanting the House bill passed before the Easter break, then conferees from the House and Senate will start negotiating a final bonding bill with input from Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The Bemidji group, in team meetings with various legislators, will push Bemidji's requests for:

E $3 million in planning, design and site development funds for a regional events center in downtown Bemidji, with BSU's NCAA Division I hockey program as a major tenant.

E $2.5 million for the Paul Bunyan Trail, with $500,000 for an overpass bridge at Highway 197 and $2 million for state trail acquisition along the southeast shore of Lake Bemidji.

E $3.2 million in higher education requests, including $2 million for BSU to acquire the former Bemidji High School site, $700,000 for Sattgast Hall science addition and renovation design and $500,000 for Northwest Tech science and applied technology lab renovation, as part of a $5.14 million system wide request for such renovations.

"We need an articulate group to make the final push, and that's exactly what we need right now," Moe said.


The Bemidji group has been divided into 16 four- and five-member teams who will spend the day meeting with legislators to explain Bemidji's bonding projects, Paris said.

Of specific interest are members of both the Senate and House Capital Investment committees. Senate Finance, Higher Education and Environment, Agriculture and Economic Development Budget Division members will be visited, as well as members of the House Tourism, Higher Education Finance and Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Finance panels.

Appointments have either been made with the legislators, or the teams will drop in on them or pull them out of committees, Paris said.

Information about the Bemidji bonding projects will be left with them, as well as a new Bemidji pin, she said.

And the legislators will know Bemidji is in town, as each member will wear a Bemidji Woolen Mills' crafted sweater of Paul Bunyan red-and-black lumberjack plaid.

"Each team will have varied interests among them and will talk to the legislators about everything in the package," Paris said, as opposed to sending a group of educators to higher ed committees, or a trails team to an ag panel.

"We will also present a brochure explaining the demographics of Bemidji, and its grown as a regional center," she said.

Lawmaker visits are scheduled for the morning and afternoon. A Bemidji exhibit will be set up in the Capitol's Great Hall, and is the site between noon and 1 p.m. for legislative leaders to address the Bemidji group.


Senate Capital Investment Chairman Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, is one of those who has asked to address the group, Moe said. His committee last week did not recommend funding the regional events center proposal.

"We need legs with the events center," Moe said. It is in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's bonding bill. "But the Senate did fund a majority of our requests."

Invites to speak have been made to Sviggum, Pawlenty, House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, and Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna.

Tuesday, however, will be a hectic day as it is the deadline for non-finance bills to be passed out of either the Senate or House. It means most of the chambers' panels will be in session around the clock. Tuesday is also lobby day and rally for HousingMinnesota, Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless and Minnesota chapter of National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.

And Bemidji comes to St. Paul a day after Duluth, which will hold its Capitol day on Monday. Officials there are seeking $33.7 million for its college-hockey capable DECC, funding which the Senate also ignored.

"It's so hectic right now," said Moe, "but it's good to have Bemidji residents go down and talk about our projects. About 90 percent of the issues legislators already know about, but they just want to know what your position is and why."

Face-to-face contact with local residents can play an important role, he said.

Moe credited Paris with a well-organized lobby trip that should pay dividends. "Having such an organized effort makes my job and Sen. Ruud's job much easier."


Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, is carrying the Bemidji bills in the Senate.

"We want the legislators to know that we have the broad support of the people in Bemidji for these projects," Paris said. "We are determined to make our presence known."

Tuesday is the first Bemidji Day at the Capitol, and the bonding projects were chosen for lobbying emphasis. But Paris said the Chamber is considering annual trips to St. Paul, to present a unified front on a legislative agenda for the region.

"The level of organization will make these 90 people effective, not to mention how visible they will be with these great sweaters," Moe said.

The day ends with a reception for the Bemidji group and legislators at the Tavern on Grand in St. Paul, complete with walleye baskets, crab artichoke dip, stuffed mushrooms, chicken drummies and the like.

The group should return to Bemidji by 11:30 p.m.

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