Guest Column: Bringing office to Minnesota is critical

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Guest Column, By Tina Smith

When I arrived in the U.S. Senate in January, I knew I had a lot of work to do and a very short time to do it.

Tina Smith

I had been appointed to an open Senate seat that did not come with the usual six-year term. In fact, knowing my term would last just a matter of months, I had to quickly get out to Washington, D.C., get up to speed on the Senate and its procedures, and, most importantly, prepare to be a fierce advocate for the people and communities across Minnesota.

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And the best way to do that — the best way to be an effective advocate — is to listen to what people are saying. And I mean really listen. I believe that’s the way to learn what’s happening in their lives and understand how you can help.

That is the entire point of this work — helping people improve their own lives. When I became lieutenant governor, I made Minnesotans’ living rooms my office. And I spent as much time as I could just talking with people about their lives. I’ve continued that in the Senate.

In my first five months in this job, I’ve held more than 90 official meetings and events across the state on issues like the rising cost of health care, how to address the opioid crisis and the need for mental health services in our schools. 

Senate business keeps me in Washington for much of the week, and that means I’m here in Minnesota mostly on weekends. But I still want to hear from as many Minnesotans as possible.

So I’ve also sent my staff out across the state, where they’ve led more than 80 meetings and discussions with Minnesotans on issues like the difficulties veterans face getting their benefits or the child care shortage.

Here’s one example: Because agriculture is so important to jobs and our state’s economy, I have held meetings with farmers and farm leaders, as well as experts on energy, nutrition, conservation and trade, to understand Minnesota’s priorities for the 2018 farm bill. When I can’t be there myself, I’ve asked my staff to meet with people in every corner of the state — and they’ve now held more than 20 of these ag outreach meetings.

What I learned from all these meetings — both the ones I’ve led myself as well as the ones my staff has attended on my behalf — is what I’ve pushed for in the Senate Agriculture Committee as we work on the farm bill in the coming days and weeks.

My constituent services staff and I also have been to more than 30 Minnesota communities to let Minnesotans know I will go to bat for them when they need help with the often daunting process of working with a large and bureaucratic federal agency.  We have brought my Senate office to Minnesotans, and we’ve been able to sit down with hundreds of residents and begin working — and often solve — problems like getting their veterans, Social Security and Medicare benefits, getting a tax problem addressed or securing a passport.

The way I’ve always seen it, if you really listen to people, you’ll find that everybody has a story worth hearing. Everybody has a problem worth working to solve. And, when it comes to making big decisions as a community, everybody deserves a seat at the table. So whether I have the chance to talk with you in person or whether a member of my team meets with you while I’m in D.C., know this: You can count on me to be your voice in Washington.

Tina Smith is a DFL U.S. senator from Minnesota.