BY GABE LICHT
WASHINGTON, DC When Delano City Councilman Jason Franzen learned about the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference in Washington, DC, he asked to attend the event on behalf of the city.
The request was granted, and Franzen spent March 5-9 in the nation’s capitol.
During the convention, much of the conversation centered around issues affecting larger cities, but Franzen found a conversation about highway funding relevant to Delano.
“They were explaining the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act, which provides new funding for roads,” Franzen said. “The complication is earmarks have gone away, and we have grants instead. Writing and getting grants is important.”
With the opportunity to speak to staff from the offices of Rep. Tom Emmer, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Sen. Al Franken, Franzen continued the conversation about highways specifically Highway 12.
“I mentioned the Highway 12 Safety Coalition and how bad the conditions are on Highway 12,” Franzen said. “It directly affects Delano . . . We can’t even set goals without breaking them almost instantly. How many people have to die before the state and federal governments put it in gear?”
League of Cities conference attendees also discussed increasing access to broadband in small towns and rural areas.
“We spent a lot of time talking about bringing broadband to rural areas,” Franzen said. “Everyone agreed it was a way to bring economic development to small towns and revitalize them.”
Before Franzen left for DC, Independence Mayor Marvin Johnson had encouraged him to get involved with the National League of Cities Small Cities Council or steering committee.
Franzen took that advice and met the mayor of Grand Junction, CO, in the process.
“There were a few lonely hearts like myself, including the mayor of Grand Junction, CO, who noticed the overemphasis on larger cities, and too progressive of a lean,” Franzen said.
He spoke out about that disconnect, which included a focus on transit over roads.
“I remember talking to the steering committee chair and National League of Cities president,” Franzen said. “I took him aside and tried to be polite and told him, ‘If you want to be relevant to a Republican Congress, you need to hit the middle, or you’ll just get ignored, just as much as the Heritage Foundation gets ignored by the left’ . . . I think because I kept things polite, he liked it.”
One thing he did agree with the National League of Cities about was a push for sales tax on items sold online.
Franzen attended a number of seminars, a Celebrate Diversity Breakfast, and a mixer with Franken and Klobuchar.
“I asked Franken about the garbage digester (proposed for Delano), which he was enthused about,” Franzen said. “Franken was funny. Even if I politically disagree, it was funny. He has a dry sense of humor.”
Franzen invited Franken, Klobuchar, and Emmer to visit Delano once the digester is operational, and they all showed interest. He also asked them to write a letter in support of the project to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Franzen was originally scheduled to have an appointment with Franken, but was trumped by Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chair of the Housing and Health and Human Services Committee. Instead, Franzen spoke with Franken’s legislative assistant Adam Schiff.
Franzen discussed mental health issues with staff from all three legislators’ offices.
“In Wright County, there’s not enough beds for people who are in inpatient mental heath care,” Franzen said. “There was an intensive treatment center in Annandale that closed in 2015, which creates a hole.”
He asked for more mental health funding, as well as changes to the Affordable Care Act.
“You’re seeing deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid as a result of the ACA,” Franzen said. “You’re seeing the hollowing out of programs to pay for it, longer wait times, and noticeably lower reimbursements for providers . . . I’m not making judgment on the ACA, but there needs to be sustainable funding.”
Staff members he talked to didn’t disagree, he said.
“I think it was one of those things where the answer is bigger than the question,” Franzen said.
Another subject Franzen broached was obesity, which 68 percent of 7,000 respondents in Wright County said was a moderate to serious problem.
“What I did to key in with Delano, I said if it comes up to have grants for parks, that we could tie in with fighting obesity, I talked about Landscape Structures at length,” Franzen said. “I described what they do and what they have . . . I focused on their exercise equipment. I described how it’s set up within a certain distance of where kids are so parents can see them while they use the equipment. All three liked that part, and how federal funding could work with parks and move the debate on obesity.”
Franzen said he wasn’t as nervous as he thought he would be while talking to legislators, and he was well-received.
“I thought I’d be really cross-examined or nailed on something they didn’t like,” Franzen said. “They were very receptive.”
In addition to attending the National League of Cities event and speaking to Minnesota delegates, Franzen talked to an official about bringing a passport office to Delano.
He also contacted other legislators about issues affecting Poland.
“The Russians are a pain in the neck in eastern Europe,” Franzen said. “The Baltic states are being harassed by Russia . . . One of the great concerns of the Poles is, because they’re at the edge of eastern Europe, if the Russians want to punish them, can NATO respond quickly enough?”
Franzen left a message with Sen. Jeff Sessions’ office and was able to land a 20-minute meeting with Pete Landrum, Sessions’ senior military advisor.
“I said, ‘I think the US should put troops in eastern Europe,’” Franzen said. “It was like he was impressed I said it. Not everyone knows what I’m talking about. They are aware. He was going to Brussels the next week to talk about this very thing.”
Franzen also talked to Sen. Richard Shelby, who serves on the Defense Committee, Homeland Security Committee, and the Subcommittee of National Security and International Trade and Finance. Though Franzen only had five minutes, he used it to make his case for more support for Poland, which he called the US’s No. 2 ally.
Franzen also listened to three meetings of the Armed Service Committee, which includes senators like John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Angus King, of Maine.
“I was impressed with some things Angus King said,” Franzen said. “He said the US is in the worst strategic situation it’s been in 46 years. That includes 9-11. That was a Democrat saying that.”
Franzen said he was impressed with the ease of access to such meetings.
He even had the chance to shake McCain’s hand, and get a photo taken with him.
A trip to DC wouldn’t be complete without site-seeing. Franzen took a bus tour of the city at night, passing by the White House, Capitol Hill, the Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial. He was also able to visit the Iwojima Memorial, tour the Capitol, and see a part of the Library of Congress.
Overall, he felt the trip was worthwhile.
“I like to get out of the box,” Franzen said. “I feel you can do a better job by being exposed to diverse things.”