Bittersweet Goodbyes

“Approaching the first portage, we could hear the roar of the rapids, we landed high above so as not to be sucked into the current. What a good feeling to throw on the packs and slog down the trail, and what a joy to see those rapids again and to hear their rushing through the gorge.”

Sigurd Olson

The Singing Wilderness

For those who have never been on a Boundary Waters canoe trip, they don’t know the joy of leaving the troubles of life behind as you arrive at that first portage. It’s like a deep sigh of relief as you leave the noise of the modern world behind with a sense of exhilaration and anticipation of the wilderness solitude ahead. The only other sensation in life that has ever come close to that of my first portage on a wilderness trip for me is arriving home after the Legislature has adjourned Sine Die. Done for the session, what a sign of relief.  For us Capitol regulars, the cajoling and rushing through the halls of the marble Capitol have come to the end and a more peaceful pace of life awaits.

The end of a legislative session has one significant difference from the beginning of a canoe trip, and that is the goodbyes that are permanent for some of our legislative friends. The tradition of the legislative session is that retiring legislators are given an opportunity to give a short speech after adjournment Sine Die. It is an odd paradox to feel pride in the service of some of your good friends but to also feeling sad to see them enter the distinguished position of a former public servant.

Due to redistricting there were several retirements and many legislators who are seeking higher office. Therefore, the list of retirement speeches was long because as of now as many as 36 legislators are leaving the House and Senate. There may be more announcements in the next few weeks. For the conservation community there are three leaders we are definitely going to miss.

Rep. Bill Hilty (DFL-Finlayson) is a rock solid advocate for our great outdoors and is directly responsible for Minnesota being a leader in renewable energy. Every time you hear a coal power plant reducing emissions or see a windmill being erected on the prairie, think of Bill Hilty. He is like a father figure to many in the Legislature and he practices what he preaches. Bill and his wife Laurie installed solar panels on their 120 acre farm, “Chez Hilty”, that provides almost all the power for their residence. Bill’s leadership on energy issues will be missed but he has laid a great foundation for future generations.

Rep. Kate Knuth (DFL-New Brighton) unfortunately is leaving the House, being put in the same district with a more senior legislator as a result of redistricting.  Knuth has only served three terms but has distinguished herself as a rising star on environment and energy issues. What distinguishes Knuth is that she is extremely smart. She studies at places like the University of Chicago, Oxford and the University of Oslo on a Fulbright scholarship. Fortunately for this slower lobbyist, she was always very patient and down-to-earth. We are confident she will stay engaged for several years in defending our great outdoors and we look forward with excitement to see what direction her leadership skills will take her.

Finally, Sen. Keith Langseth (DFL-Glyndon) is known to many in the conservation area as a champion of the Red River Valley. As a cattle farmer he was not always on our side of the issues, but he has played a significant positive role in conservation funding over the years worth noting. As a former chair of the Capital Investments Committee he played a role in securing bonding dollars for conservation projects. During his tenure as chair over 20% of the funding from the bills went towards protecting our great outdoors. A lot of these dollars of course went to the Red River Valley for flood control, but those who worked in the area recognized a large portion of the dollars were dedicated to restoring wetlands as opposed to just building dikes. Because of his balanced leadership on the Red River Valley, a major flyway for waterfowl will see meaningful increases in wildlife habitat. At age 75 he is taking his cowboy boots home to his beloved Red River Valley as a distinguished former State Senator.

The next session will see many new faces and new challenges. Conservation Minnesota will be working with the new legislators to develop future leaders in the area of conservation. As we leave the session behind, we want to extend a big thanks to Rep. Hilty, Rep. Knuth and Sen. Langseth for their dedicated service. For now though, I can’t wait to see that first portage.

About John Tuma

John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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