For Minnesotans to thrive, elected officials must build bridges

By Ken Martin
Guest Columnist

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis. At that time, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar summed up the sorrow and surprise of the event: “A bridge in America shouldn’t just fall down.”
The bridge collapse will forever be a part of the lives of the victims and the families and friends who lost loved ones. The survivors’ stories are a tribute to their perseverance to rebuild their lives. It is difficult to find the words to comfort those who lost people they loved to this tragedy.
But through this tragedy, we saw first responders, leaders and the community at their best. There was no hesitation, no pause in helping people trapped by the bridge, cleaning up the wreckage and taking steps toward ensuring this didn’t happen again in Minnesota.
At the state level, the Legislature quickly created a Joint Committee to Investigate the Bridge Collapse. Members came from both the Minnesota House of Representatives and Minnesota Senate as well as the DFL and Republicans parities. The Committee reviewed decisions made by the Minnesota Department of Transportation related to the collapse.
When the 2008 Legislative Session got underway in February, the push began for a gas tax to improve bridges throughout the state. When the bill arrived on his desk, Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the funding, calling it “unnecessary.” The former governor’s action led to a historic veto override when eight Republicans legislators, six from the House and two from the Senate, joined with DFLers to push through the much-needed safety improvements. While the Senators did not feel partisan push back for their votes, the penalty to the House members was swift and extreme. The Republican House members lost leadership positions, endorsements for reelection and were publicly shamed by the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.
This is important history to review in light of the return at the State Capitol of gridlock to pay for improvements of the state’s infrastructure. During the 2008 Legislative Session in addition to lawmakers from both parties coming together to find a solution to the state’s aging bridges, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, whose members include Minnesota’s largest employers, and labor unions came together to support the funding increase. The power of these two groups, who often find themselves on opposite ends of issues, joining forces made a real difference. With 13,000 bridges in Minnesota and funding for their repair lagging leaving their safety is in question, we need these two groups to again come together to make their power at the Capitol felt.
This anniversary is also a time to call out the rise in partisan rhetoric. This isn’t about us or them – this is about Minnesotans who want to cross bridges and never question returning home to their loved ones. Let’s call on elected officials to build bridges, both real and metaphorically, so all Minnesotans can thrive.

Ken Martin is chairman of the Minnesota DFL party