Harry's Gang: Town Hall events draw vocal crowds

 

June 23, 2023



I sure learned a lot at the two town hall meetings I held in Moose Lake and Scanlon earlier this month. The big issues, such as abortion rights, gun restrictions and taxes were not the top priority for most people. No, much of the discussion revolved around trains, lunch, and jails. (There were a few conspiracy theories bantered about, but that was mostly just for fun.)

That passenger train line we are about to build from Minneapolis to Duluth sure drew the ire of conservatives and liberals both. The legislature allocated about $195 million, with the rest to be paid with federal funds.

“Skepticism” was the best way to describe the mood of detractors. Most felt the train would never meet projections, and that the expense and inconvenience would doom the train. I like the idea of rail transportation, but unless this is the beginning of a long-term, comprehensive plan to rebuild passenger rail infrastructure in America, I have my doubts. I used to be supportive until a few years ago, when I discovered the train will stop in Superior before heading to Duluth. The extra time that will take has made me lukewarm to the project. As with many things passed this last Legislative session, time will tell.

The next-biggest issue was school lunch. This was a surprise for me. I didn’t think providing breakfast and lunch for school children would draw such controversy, but it did.

I support the idea, though, as did nearly half the attendees. Many children already receive free or reduced lunch through a federal program, so this plan simply extends food security to all children, just like we did during the pandemic. It’s basic, to me, that children attending our schools for seven and more hours a day should get fed while they’re there. I suspect the outrage will die down after a few years.

Funding for the new Carlton County jail was on people’s minds, too. The state has condemned our jail, and the new jail and justice center is under construction now. The last Legislature included $24 million for our jail, but that bill was defeated in the closing moments of the session, in what appeared to be an attempt to make Gov. Tim Walz look bad before his re-election.

It didn’t work, so the 2023 Legislature took up bonding. Because construction had already begun, the justice center no longer qualified for bonding dollars, but there were other funding opportunities, including grants or cash payments instead of bonding. It went right down to the wire and required some assistance from politicians outside the county, but in the end, the state found $10 million for the jail’s new women’s program. $10 million is better than nothing, I guess.

I have quite a bit of experience in moderating forums between liberals and conservatives, and that sure came in handy when the conspiracy theories started to fly. I enjoy that craziness, much like I enjoy a good National Enquirer or Weekly World News at the grocery store checkout. There was one guy who seemed to think all we needed to do to reduce gas prices was to re-elect our last president. He had the statistics ready (gas was $1.84 for a short period of time in 2020, as the pandemic hit; now it’s higher) but wasn’t able to provide any evidence of a correlation with who was in the Oval Office. When I asked him if we learned our lesson from Mussolini, who became popular with the Italian people by making the trains run on time but used the distraction to make himself a dictator, he changed the subject.

Doesn’t that sound like a fun way to spend an evening? I hope to hold town hall forums more often. Maybe you’ll join us next time.

Pete Radosevich is the publisher of the Pine Knot News community newspaper and an attorney in Esko who hosts the cable access talk show Harry’s Gang on CAT-7. His opinions are his own. Contact him at [email protected].

 
 

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