Senator Hauschild talks variety of issues relevant to Cook County residents in WTIP interview
Minnesota State Sen. Grant Hauschild represents Cook County and a large section of northern Minnesota at the Capitol in St. Paul.
He was in Cook County this week to meet with local leaders and community members and discuss a variety of topics, including housing, childcare, Minnesota’s regulatory branches of government, healthcare, and other topics relevant to the local community.
WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Hauschild Oct. 27. Listen to the full interview in the audio shared at the bottom of the text.
The following is a transcript of their conversation, which aired live on WTIP’s Daybreak program.
Joe Friedrichs (JF): Let’s start with housing. That was discussed yesterday at length and you made a site visit to what is called the Switchback Village multifamily housing project have been led by the Housing Redevelopment Authority, the HRA, and Jason Hale. The state passes a billion dollars in the most recent legislative session toward housing, and there’s a lot of energy toward improving the housing situation in rural Minnesota, and that includes Cook County. Let’s start with the site visit and local housing, the HRA, what you’re hearing from Jason Hale, and are we on the right track?
Grant Hauschild (GH): Well, I think the hire of Jason Hale in this community was really critical. He knows this stuff. And he has some really exciting projects on the horizon. Housing is the number one issue I hear about all across the district, we are in a crisis, really. And it reverberates across a lot of issues from employers settling in the region to families, you know, moving up here, there’s so many facets to it. But it seems like with these projects are moving in the right direction. With the state funding that we passed, I was really, really adamant that we had specific money dedicated for greater Minnesota workforce housing, which is going to be accessible to Cook County. And I know that a lot of our rural communities have capacity issues, right, you don’t have the same staff that a place like Bloomington or Edina might have. And so we gave some specific money to the Northland Foundation to help with capacity on accessing that housing money here in the Northland. And so that was about a million dollars to them to really help places like Grand Marais and Cook County access a lot of that money that’s coming down the pike is that happening is some of these projects that you saw and talk with Jason Hale about is that money coming from the capital and this funding you’re talking about? You know, I think we’re still working on that. And that’s one of my biggest concerns. It’s really, I won’t say easy, but it’s you can write all the legislation you want, at the end of the day, you need the government to work and need these agencies to have the capacity to really get this money out the door. And so that’s something that I’m really going to be focused on this next session is how are we making sure that our agencies who are getting this fresh, you know, amount of funding can have the ability to really get it out where it’s needed most.
JF: What’s the gap? Why is that a struggle?
GH: Because we’ve never given the housing agency, a billion dollars, you know, usually it’s been a couple 10 million 50 million, all the sudden, they’re dealing with a lot of new programs all at once. And there’s a lot of need. And so they want to make sure that they have an objective process for getting that money out. And we got to make sure and follow that process. But it’s that balancing act of having a strong objective process versus expediting the funding out the door.
JF: You led a discussion roundtable discussion at the hospital on Thursday morning. And yesterday morning, talked about Minnesota’s regulatory branches of government. And that could include things like the MPCA, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency down to things like Minnesota Housing, and so forth. And the idea that maybe okay, like you’re suggesting we can pass money and legislation all we want, right, but if it isn’t functioning, then what’s the point and we heard from our hospital administrator, the clinic CEO, Kate Surbaugh at Sawtooth Mountain Clinic, the sheriff, Jason Hale, but sometimes that isn’t happening? Yes. What are you going to do about that?
GH: That’s why I launched by Northland Strong Initiative, because I want to have these conversations on the ground with the people that really deal with these issues every day, to figure out what it is we need to change to make things easier. And so part of my Northland Strong Initiative is this thing called a state that works kind of the unofficial slogan of Minnesota, and it feels a little bit like we’re moving away from that, like things are getting more complex, more regulatory, a little bit more difficult. And so I want to explore opportunities to really, you know, make things easier for rural areas. And so that discussion was really insightful for me, figuring out how we might, you know, make some fixes.
JF: Is that because it’s possible that government is becoming too big in Minnesota, and that’s part of the challenge? It’s arising with more money and more regulation… it’s tying things up? It should be smoother and more efficient?
GH: I think that could certainly be part of it. You know, I think it’s also a workforce challenge issue, just like anywhere else. We are struggling to hire the staff at the government level to be able to administer these programs. And then we’re also facing unique challenges in this modern era. Are we have an aging baby boomer population, we have a housing crisis where the market is not meeting, the sort of private sector demand that’s needed. So government is often asked and demanded by the community to really step in a place that we haven’t necessarily been as involved in, in the past. And so I really am open to exploring those opportunities. But I want to make sure that we do it right, and that we create public-private partnerships where they make sense.
JF: All right, well, let’s talk about something that ties in with housing… Yesterday Cook County Assessor Bob Thompson spoke with you about tax classification for properties and simplifying the tax code. This is something that I’ve spoken with the assessor about. It’s complicated. Sounds like this was new information for you. And it will be in potentially in the upcoming legislative session, Department of Revenue and some other people involved simplifying the tax code for property in Minnesota. Is that going to happen? Or what do you think about that?
GH: I’m on the tax committee. And I think that’s definitely something we should explore. I’m always open to ways that we can simplify things. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Certainly there are going to be folks that feel like no, this impacts me more than you know somebody else. And so we just have to explore it. I know that the commissioner of revenue, Paul Marquardt, who’s is somebody that I look up to who knows the tax code in and out, he’s a former representative from Dilworth. He’s been exploring this for a very long time. And I would imagine that he will be coming to the tax committees and presenting some ideas on this. So I am very open to, to looking at this anything we can do to simplify certainly a win. But it’s the devils in the details,
JF: And some of those details mean more property tax dollars, stay in Cook County stay local,
GH: Which would be great. I would love for us to explore ways, especially for our more rural counties to be able to get more money. In the Tax Committee this last year, I passed a bill that gave more money for public land management to places like Cook County a huge influx of funding, as well as county program aid, which was a big increase a historic increase to our rural counties like cook. So definitely opportunities for us to keep money local. And I’m all about exploring those opportunities.
JF: Let’s transition into a merger of these two topics: mental health services, as well as law enforcement. And that intersection has been discussed at the Capitol and so forth came up yesterday. Grand Portage chair Bob Deschampe saying, ‘let’s start with mental health services and cut down on the law enforcement side of it by addressing the need of mental health services before people end up in jail and in the courts’ and so forth. What can be done to support more mental health services in Cook County Grand Portage across Minnesota?
GH: What I love about Chairman Bobby Deschampe is that he really cuts through the noise and says it how it is. And you know, we have this long discussion about all these different needs in Cook County, and believe me, they are serious needs. But the chairman really stepped in there at the end and said, you know, we really have to address mental health there are there are severe needs when it comes to things like mental health, when it comes to addiction when it comes to housing, I’m extrapolating here, but I mean, there are core challenges that we are facing. And sometimes it’s great to talk about future projects. But at the end of the day, if we’re not addressing core issues that are impacting our communities, we’re really missing the boat here. And so I thought that was really telling. And I completely agree. And when we talk about mental health, I want to make sure again, that it’s not just Metro centric, how are we addressing the mental health crisis in rural communities, where we’re seeing this really, really increase? And then at our tribal nations as well, like Grand Portage? So I think we will definitely be looking at mental health over the coming sessions. It’s a complicated issue, just like anything else, but how do we get additional funding and services to some of our rural areas? That’s going to be an issue that I’m looking at.
JF: What are some ways? You we’ve made reference now that just throwing money at things doesn’t always necessarily work. And so what are some ways that you can address mental health?
GH: I think we have to incentivize mental health services in in our rural clinics and rural areas. Maybe it’s a tax credit, maybe it’s some sort of incentive to get staff to, you know, provide those services. We also have telemedicine that is really, really increasing. So how do we get those technologies so that a psychiatrist from somewhere else can tap into places like Grand Portage and Grand Marais to provide mental health services? And then, you know, at the end of the day, some of this is not government, right? I mean, how are we as a society coming together more socializing more? I think you guys have something really special going on here. I see the community just come together and be this very like community centric. place. So I’m hopeful for that when I see it, but we sometimes have to look away from our phones, look away from technology, get out of our, you know, shells and get out more. It’s not going to solve it. But I mean, we have to explore all options.
JF: You, (Chair Deschampe), and Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen went to the Coast Guard station now shuttered Coast Guard station, you have spoken publicly extensively about the funding for two boats, one for the Sheriff’s Department, one for Grand Portage. And this, you’ve made reference to the need for watercraft support and having a presence on Lake Superior, in particular, a marine unit so that people can be helped when they’re in distress. There was an incident this week that the sheriff’s reference on Tuesday night where a boat caught fire by the Suzy islands, not far from Grand Portage. Why was this a such an issue for you to get this funny $300,000 and support this?
GH: Yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, safety is of utmost concern to communities. And I was really, you know, dismayed when the Feds pulled out the station here. So I got to work right away, advocating at the federal level with Senator Klobuchar, who’s been working on this as well. She’s been in communication with the with the Coast Guard. But at the end of the day, we had a gap. And so this last session, we worked through and got almost $4 million, both the 300,000 unit you talked about for emergency preparedness, but also for purchasing boats. And I just want to applaud the sheriff and the Chairman, on partnering together to create this first in the nation partnership for addressing this need. I really think it could be a model. But at the end of the day, we’re going to have to provide some ongoing funding for this. I know that they’re exploring that at the federal level. And I’m certainly open to it at the state level. But it’s a grave concern. We saw what happened with teenagers in Silver Bay earlier this summer. And then what happened on Tuesday, there is clearly a need and tourism is only increasing. So how do we make sure that that the big lake is safe that that’s the big concern,
JF: It’s possible that the Big Lake simply isn’t safe. And you made a reference to that, yesterday during the roundtable at the hospital that even if the Coast Guard had been in place, the situation with the teens and Silver Bay, it was essentially an outcome that couldn’t have been altered in that way. So the Coast Guard shut down for their reasons. And that was largely they weren’t engaging in enough response call. So now the turning the table on that to sort of say, well, we need this here, because there’s the situations that come up. It’s a complicated balance, it seems like?
GH: You never know what’s going to happen. Right? And yes, you’re absolutely right. We don’t know what would have been different in Silver Bay, we don’t know what would have been different on Tuesday had a you know, an official Coast Guard been here. What we do know is that there are emergency situations happening all the time. And so making sure that we have the best preparedness in our region is important to me. And I’m always going to think about our region. First, I’m always going to advocate for our region first to make sure we have the best safety, the best funding the best things we need. And so we’ll keep pushing. And again, I really think this gap fill that we did at the state level with the sheriff and in the Grand Portage Band is truly just an incredible innovation that they’ve come up with. And I’m excited to see it get to work.
JF: And that’s not without its own complications. The sheriff made reference to the fact that he will have to figure out how to staff this marine unit if in fact it comes to fruition. That’s was that part of this discussion, as you’re rolling out the money for this?
GH: Exactly. That’s kind of what I’m getting at with the with the ongoing funding. And the sheriff had mentioned that they’re exploring that at the federal level, getting some support. And I really think that’s where the onus is, frankly, given that it did get pulled out at the federal level. We should hopefully get support from our federal delegation on this. But I’m also going to explore it at the state level. So I’ll be in constant contact with the chairman and the sheriff on this issue, continuing to explore what we need to help provide support in this area. But you’re absolutely right. These things are not easy. And there’s certainly going to be workforce challenges just like there is across the state
JF: Is there any plan that the boats could also have a multipurpose so that they’re not just stationary for the other 300 and plus days of the year that they aren’t involved in an active rescue and so forth? I heard the sheriff mentioned that. Seth Moore from Grand Portage a wildlife biologist went to look at some of the boats could they be multipurpose is that the plan?
GH: That’s what they were describing. Maybe some inland work, some inland lakes, some other some other things and then also they were talking about bringing classes coming and seeing the boats kind of making it almost a I mean, for lack of a better term like a tourism or like an opportunity for folks to see them So I think that’s kind of a cool idea. I think it’s a very iconic place in Grand Marais. And so how do we explore those opportunities to really kind of make people see up front, like what this work is what they do, and see those opportunities. So yeah, I think I would challenge them definitely to find ways to use these resources as efficiently and effectively as possible.
JF: For things like wildlife research and so forth?
GH: Yeah, that would be interesting. Yeah, I think that would be a great way of using them.
JF: Dave Seaton from Hungry Jack Outfitters was at the roundtable discussion talking about search and rescue. I know in St. Louis County, one of the state’s most robust a search and rescue the St. Louis County rescue squad, allocates for funding and has a number of revenue streams to support one of the state’s and nation’s most robust search and rescue units. The Cook County Gunflint Trail seemed a little more… still kind of grassroots effort. Is there any way to support them more than as a Dave Seaton was suggesting?
GH: Yeah, it was a super interesting conversation. You know, there was there was the comment made that it could there be charges for sort of the long the rescues that take a long time, is there is there a way that we could have some sort of fee associated with that to make up for some of the costs? I think that’s interesting. I’m certainly open to exploring state, you know, state side what funding formulas are made for search and rescue, where we could help in more rural areas? Because it’s different, right? I mean, doing search and rescue in these remote areas in the Boundary Waters and the Gunflint Trail and all these different places is vastly different than it is in somewhere near the metro or even like a Brainerd Lakes area where it’s a little bit more suburbanized. So I think absolutely, we could explore that. And I just I also just want to thank the folks that do that work, because I know that it’s extremely challenging, and the pay is not what it should be. And so yes, we definitely have a gap here and something to explore.
JF: How about ambulance and medical staff? We’ve had our North Shore Health ambulance crew on the airwaves recently, just last week during our membership drive and focusing on the staffing shortage from 2022. It’s improved a little bit here locally. I know you were on the Iron Range This week talking about paramedics and ambulance crews. What can be done to continue to support that?
GH: Yeah, absolutely. So we had a roundtable in Breitung Township on EMS services. There are so many challenges, we have communities going frankly bankrupt on funding their ambulance, we have ambulance directors, not making nearly the wages they need to in order to keep up a workforce. And so I think we’re going to explore a couple of different things. How do we? How do we change the ESM, RB regulatory structure to make our service areas different? These are service areas that were created decades ago that maybe don’t fit with the modern world right now. So how do we explore that? We also need to think about the reimbursement rates at the federal level. Again, I know that’s a federal issue, but it’s something I can advocate for, because that is the biggest gap in funding. And then the other thing we can do is figure out, you know, something like an Innovation Zone, how do we create opportunities where maybe it’s not always an ambulance that goes out maybe it’s a different kind of vehicle gets on site provides emergency care, and then if an ambulance is needed to come drive and bring them, transport them to a hospital, we can certainly do that. But I you know, trying to think of these innovative ways to reduce costs, but also make sure that when minutes and seconds matter, we’re getting somebody with the expertise needed to help save a life. So those are some of the, you know, kind of the regulatory side, the funding side, and then just some of the innovative ideas, kind of looking at it holistically. And I’m challenging, and I’ll say this publicly, I am challenging our leadership and the governor to create a task force on EMS services and ambulance because it is such a dire situation in our region. And I’m very hopeful that a debt of special select committee or a task force will be created on this and I will absolutely be a leader on that.
JF: Another topic that surfaced during the roundtable was copper nickel mining on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness. And we’ve heard from Paula Maccabee from water legacy in the past on W tip about the fact that the regulatory agencies are broken and they essentially can’t be part of the discussion. You often referenced this let the process unfold similar rhetoric to what Tom Bakk and Rob Ecklund have said in the past on WTIP, but let’s let the agencies do what they do. And then we can make an informed decision. When we hear from Paula, that doesn’t work. And we’ve talked about Minnesota as regulatory agencies. Do you have faith that the state can make accurate decisions as twin metals and regards to other start to look more at the state level?
GH: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I have to trust the experts that do this work every day to inform me. As a policymaker whether or not something can be done safely, I am not a refinery expert. I’m not a mining expert. I’m not a fire expert. But we have a state government set up in a way that we have experts that do these regulatory evaluations. And I have to be able to trust that process. That’s not to say that I can’t provide some transparency, that I can’t dig in and learn more and challenge them on what they’re doing. But at the end of the day, we have to have a process that’s objective. What terrifies me is that mining becomes a political football game. And we elect a president based on our opinion on mining, because then it becomes less objective, and it becomes simply political. And that’s not good for anybody. If these decisions are made politically, then we all lose. I’d rather be objective scientific and figured out and if it can’t happen, then that’s, you know, then that’s the decision. But at the end of the day, I want it to be objective.
JF: Okay, so you would have faith that the MPCA, the DNR, and others can make a fair and balanced and accurate decisions about things like copper nickel mining?
GH: I do. Yeah, I do.
JF: This is your first term, this is your first year in the legislature. We shouldn’t overlook that. And you were all over the state news, because you were often a deciding vote in the state senate. And how long is the term?
GH: Four years
JF: So next year, you’ll have probably a different sense of what you’re doing when you get started at the session. And you’re headed to Ely in November on the Northland Strong tour looking at youngest and wisest families in Ely and young people, innovators and entrepreneurs, there’s a scene happening there.
GH: There is. And it’s all about supporting strong families, right. What can we do when it comes to childcare? What can we do when it comes to making sure that our nursing homes and services for some of our oldest residents are supported because our population is aging? So I want to look at it holistically from youngest to wisest, what are we doing in our rural communities to make sure that that folks are provided for that folks are moving to our communities to start families. And that’s all about education. It’s about childcare. It’s about housing. It’s about elder care, long term care. There’s a lot of issues, but I’m looking forward to exploring it.
JF: And just lastly, Senator, when you’re here in Grand Marais yesterday, you’re meeting with a lot of the people that you presumably hear from on a regular basis, people from the tourism side of things, housing, health care, a lot of the same people. But how do you stay in touch with the voters and the people who aren’t at these roundtables? And maybe aren’t at the chamber gala, and so forth, but make up the vast majority of the community… How are you being in touch with them?
GH: Well, I do everything I can to be present in the community. I will go to local coffee shops, I will when I’m in town, I’ll visit businesses, I’ll do tours of different industries and areas. And then you know, frankly, because the district is so big, oftentimes, it’s a lot of phone calls, it’s a lot of emails. You know, I tried to be as accessible as possible. And that’s really, I guess, going back. That’s why I started this Northland Strong Initiative as well, because the district is so big. I want to make sure that I’m efficient and effective with my outreach and exploring the biggest challenges that I’m hearing from constituents, bringing together stakeholders that work on those issues, and figuring out what my policy agenda is that’s going to be most effective for our region. That’s how I find I can be most effective. But I am always exploring opportunities to connect with constituents and have done town halls, roundtables and all sorts of business visits. So it’s been really great and you’re absolutely right. I am always getting around the district down and trying to be everywhere I can.