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Tina Smith: Fighting for the priorities of Minnesotans

Guest Column by Tina Smith
 
Since the beginning of the year, I have had the honor of representing Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. 
 
While I may be new to the Senate, I’m not new to Minnesota. My husband, Archie, and I raised a family here. I worked for General Mills, started my own business, and worked in the non-profit world. And as lieutenant governor, I spent years listening to Minnesotans and learning what makes our state tick.
 
Minnesota is home to so many creative, strong and resilient people. They work at world-renowned health care facilities, teach at top-notch schools that prepare our workforce to be the best in the country, run family farms and agribusinesses, start innovative businesses and live in diverse communities that come together to solve problems and support their neighbors. They’re the reason for Minnesota’s high quality of life.
 
But even though Minnesota’s economy is doing well, tens of thousands of families still struggle to pay health care costs, afford college or prepare for a secure retirement. And many Minnesotans worry that their concerns are simply being ignored.
 
My job is to give a voice to and be a fierce advocate for all Minnesotans. I’ll look for common ground and bipartisan compromise on important issues everywhere I can, but I won’t be afraid to fight back when Minnesota’s interests are threatened.
 

Meeting Minnesotans in communities across the state

Since Jan. 3, I’ve visited every corner of the state and met with hundreds of local officials and community leaders. I’ve visited farms, businesses and schools, and met with families who are concerned about the cost of medical care and prescription drugs. These meetings will always guide me as I make decisions on behalf of Minnesota.
 
Because the nation’s skills gap is a real problem for many employers, I held my very first meeting at Wyoming Machine, a successful sheet metal manufacturer in Stacy. There, I heard how difficult it is for Minnesota businesses to find trained workers to fill the thousands of good-paying, high-skilled job openings in our state.  As a member of the Senate Education Committee, I’m encouraging local schools and businesses to work together to prepare students for the high-skilled jobs in our 21st century economy.
 
In meetings in Mankato, Kasota, Ada and the Twin Cities, I met with dozens of farmers, farm leaders and agribusinesses about how important agriculture is to our state’s economy. I got a firsthand understanding of the tens of thousands of diverse jobs that farming creates when I sat at the kitchen table of one Minnesota farmer and heard about his solar energy operation. I pushed hard for a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, where I’ll push Minnesota’s priorities as Congress debates a new five-year federal farm bill.
 
Minnesota’s opioid crisis has already devastated thousands of families and brought untold heartbreak to almost everyone it has touched. In St. Paul, one mother told me about her son, who became addicted to opioid painkillers prescribed to him after a surgery. That addiction led him to heroin, and led his family on a wrenching and expensive recovery journey that has included five relapses.  That’s why I was pleased the recently-passed bipartisan budget included $6 billion to fight opioids and to provide treatment for those who need it.  And it’s why I back legislation to require big pharmaceutical companies to fund solutions to the epidemic they helped create.  I also support a measure to help Minnesota’s tribal communities address the crisis.
 
Because maintaining access to quality health care in rural Minnesota is a priority for me, I pushed for a leadership position on the Senate Rural Health Caucus.  In a recent meeting in Fergus Falls with rural health experts and hospital CEOs, I heard how important rural health facilities are to keeping communities strong.  I’ve taken their message back to my colleagues in Congress and will work to ensure our 1.2 million rural residents have access to the health care services they need.
 
With mining being so important to the economic well-being of Minnesota’s Iron Range communities, I met with steelworkers in Virginia and promised to fight to end the unfair foreign steel imports that have stolen too many jobs and sapped economic vitality from the region. I’ve pushed the Trump administration to act quickly to get this job done, and we’re making progress.
 
As a member of the Senate Health Committee, I’ll always remember the desperate single mother I met in Rochester because she didn’t know where else to turn to get help paying for the expensive care she needs to treat a debilitating brain disease. She works as a health researcher and lives with her 9-year-old daughter just a few minutes from the Mayo Clinic, which provides the best health care in the world.   
 
After each trip home to Minnesota, I realize how much work still remains to be done on behalf of our state.  As long as I’m senator, I’ll keep listening to Minnesotans, and I’ll continue to be a fierce advocate for their priorities.
 
Tina Smith, DFL-Minnesota, is a U.S. senator.
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