Radinovich describes give and take with urban lawmakers

CROSBY - Outstate legislators aren't as numerous at the state Capitol as they once were and Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, said the urban/rural lawmaker relationship is one that involves give and take.

Representative Joe Radinovich, House District 10B, talks from a coffee shop in Crosby recently about his plans for the next session. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
Representative Joe Radinovich, House District 10B, talks from a coffee shop in Crosby recently about his plans for the next session. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls

CROSBY - Outstate legislators aren't as numerous at the state Capitol as they once were and Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, said the urban/rural lawmaker relationship is one that involves give and take.

Sipping a cup of coffee at Mixed Company in downtown Crosby earlier this month, he compared the balancing act to his own relationship with a younger brother during their teen years. There was a time he could physically impose his will on his younger brother but when the brother grew up Radinovich realized "a different approach is needed."

Outstate lawmakers no longer have the numbers to power through all of their preferred legislation, but instead must negotiate with their metropolitan area colleagues.

"It's simply a matter of numbers," he said.

The first-term lawmaker said state representatives from rural districts have to point out the differing perspectives and needs of their constituents.


Rural school districts, for example, don't have the taxing capacity for school district needs that an affluent suburb has, Radinovich said. These are points he tries to bring to the forefront of Capitol debates as he works to make sure outstate Minnesotans have a voice that's "present in the negotiating rooms when the final package is worked out."

He said his Twin Cities colleagues don't turn a deaf ear to the plight of Minnesotans outside of their own district.
"They're not hard-hearted," he said.

Radinovich, 28, is a former union official and a Crosby-Ironton High School graduate who later studied at Macalester College. Now a full-time legislator, he won his seat by a little more than 1 percent, or 323 votes, in 2012. This year's House District 10B race against former Aitkin County Commissioner Dale Lueck is a rematch of that nail-biter.

In an April 4 letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, Radinovich asked the panel to encourage Enbridge Inc. to chose existing corridors and an alternate route to the company's preferred one. He suggested a path that would not go through Crow Wing and Aitkin counties. Radinovich cited the critical economic and environmental niche which the lakes and rivers near Enbridge's preferred route serve.

"I'm not opposed to the pipeline," he said.

He does have concerns about Enbridge's preferred route's possible impact on the upper Mississippi River basin, and in particular the Big Sandy Lake watershed in his district.

The state representative said regulatory agencies should consider all relevant factors before making a decision and those include ecological concerns.

"We do have an obligation to get this right," he said.


Choosing a new route would cost Enbridge more money, Radinovich acknowledges. However, he indicated he has other interests that take priority over that.

"An oil company is not my primary concern," Radinovich said.

Describing his record as that of a moderate on energy issues, Radinovich said he has fought for exemptions from renewable energy rules for paper mills and taconite plants. He also said he's insisted that rural electrical cooperatives' needs are met when it comes to net metering. Rural electrical cooperatives, he said, serve more sparsely populated areas than utilities in the Twin Cities and require the use of more infrastructure.

One problem on the horizon he addressed was that transportation funding sources such as the gas tax are on a downward trend and roads are getting more expensive to construct. He said legislators and other stakeholders will have to have a conversation about how transportation infrastructure costs can be funded.

State transportation policies have a different impact on people who live in sparsely populated areas, he noted.

"Out here in rural Minnesota, we have a lot more miles to drive," Radinovich said.

Yet, he said, traffic congestion problems in the Twin Cities adversely affect outstate businesses that are trying to get their goods through or to the metropolitan area.

"That's a problem for commerce up here."


A law from the last legislative session froze tuition and Radinovich supports the DFL caucus position to extend that freeze for another two years. It's necessary, he said, in order to keep the promise often made to young students that if they work hard in school they can improve their lives. Student debt, he said, now rivals home mortgages as economic burdens.

"It's (tuition) practically doubled in the last 20 years."

Radinovich praised the efforts of Central Lakes College, Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids and other community colleges to provide students with skills that meet local workforce demands.

"I think our area is well served (by those schools)," he said.

On the health care coverage front, he approved of MNsure's positive aspects while acknowledging "the website wasn't very good."

The positive points included a cap on out-of-pocket expenditures, the assurance that people couldn't be rejected for insurance because of pre-existing conditions, the ability to keep children on their parents' insurance until age 26.

"Where there are problems, let's work together to fix them," Radinovich said.

Health care insurance rates may go up for some, he said, but the same occurrence happens with other services and products.


"The price of milk increases every year," he said.

The goal, he said, should be to see that price increases more accurately reflect the costs and are not prompted by administrative costs. Minnesota is first or second in the nation both in terms of having the lowest rates and in terms of having the lowest number of uninsured, Radinovich said.

Another advantage of a system, in which close to 95 or 96 percent of the population are covered by insurance, is that fewer people will show up in costly emergency rooms without coverage.

"That cost (of uninsured patients) gets passed on to somebody else," he said.

Addressing the topic of a healthy economy in outstate areas, Radinovich said that everyone is looking at "landing the big fish," a manufacturing concern that offers high-paying jobs, but a focus on basic business amenities can also be helpful. Both large and small businesses, he said, look for communities with good schools, reliable transportation and technical infrastructure. He supports border to border broadband. Radinovich said the most likely entrepreneur to start up a business in a small town is someone who grew up there and wants to return for the lifestyle advantages. However, that person is going to want basic technical functions such as high speed Internet in the schools.

He said state help with expanding Brainerd water service to the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport could open up a Highway 210 business corridor.

During the 2014 campaign for House District 10B considerable outside money has been spent criticizing both of the candidates. Radinovich said the negative ads become like white noise at a certain stage yet people often don't differentiate or realize those messages aren't coming from the candidates themselves.

"A lot of the nasty attacks weren't coming from him (Lueck)," he said.


The lawmaker said he's worked hard to get his own message out to people by conducting 35 town hall meetings.

His main criticism of the outside ads is that they're often out of context.

He emphasizes the Legislature made necessary decisions to raise taxes on Minnesota's top earners in order to rectify the results of a previous decade in which there were eight projected deficits and two government shutdowns that were settled by shifting money from education and making substantial cuts to health and human services programs.

He also praised the Legislature's successful efforts to secure an approximate 5 percent wage hike for home health care workers and nursing home workers who care for the state's elderly.

One of the biggest misapprehensions people might gain from those advertisements is that he single-handedly brought Obamacare to Minnesota.

"I don't know Barack Obama," Radinovich said.

MIKE O'ROURKE may be reached at 855-5860 or . Follow on Twitter at .

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