It's time for the year in review, and we've found that it's difficult to rank the important stories that BSP posted about in the past twelve months. In alphabetical order, the top news from the Bluestem:
DM& E loan denial and sale
Though there are now some who wish to deny the importance of the conflict betweeen the DM & E railroad and the Rochester Coalition in the 2006 election, it was a key factor in the Rochester area. Critics of the proposed $2.3 billion loan felt vindicated on February 26, when Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph H. Boardman today denied the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan application from the Dakota, Minnesota, & Eastern (DM&E) railroad, concluding it posed an unacceptably high risk to federal taxpayers.
Rumors soon spread that the railroad was up for sale, and by June those rumors were confirmed. The Canadian Pacific announced its purchase agreement on September 5. The sale is subject to federal review, and the Post Bulletin recently reported Feds plan DM&E sale decision by September.
Farm Bill meetings and passage
In the recent past, getting a new Farm Bill through the House and the Senate in one session was unheard of, but with the appointment of Collin Peterson to the chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee, al that changed.
Love it or hate it, the House version of the Farm Bill was passed by the end of July, and after goading by Klobuchar and Coleman, the Senate version was passed this month. Now it's conference committee time, and the finished legislation should hit President Bush's desk early next year.
Congressman Walz was appointed to the House Ag Committee, and conducted 14 listening sessions all over the district to find out what residents wanted in the legislation. Everybody must be eating Powdermilk Biscuits, because no one was shy about asking for what he or she wanted. Overall, First District farmers and their representative organizations seem happy with the new Farm Bill.
Flooding in Southeastern Minnesota
We'd just gone down to a public town hall meeting in LaCrescent on a rainy weekday when tragedy struck the area that weekend. A deluge swept away homes, businesses, roads, bridges and railways and killed seven people. Walz stayed home rather than going on a long-planned congressional trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. A wise decision, given the extensive damage to the region.
The resulting rescue, relief and recovery efforts give testimony to the spirit of Southeastern Minnesotans and the hands from around the country who helped them. Rushford became a symbol for the region and is slowly coming back together again. Our flood posts can be found here.
Unlike the state's other 2007 disaster--the collapse of the I35 bridge--the flood was the subject of a special session. In the following months, cities and counties have had to tussle with the Pawlenty administration to get what the Legislature intended. Walz, Klobuchar and Coleman have had to goad FEMA on various occasions.
Like both U.S. Senators, Walz earned high marks for his response to the disaster, with his staff working long, hard hours too help facilitate relief and recovery efforts.
The August flood waters may have marked the worst of times in the First. The hands-down feel good story was the return this summer of the Red Bulls from an extended deployment in Iraq. Every small town greeted its returning warriors with parades and family gatherings; later, the soldiers were recognized again in more formal thank-yous and picnics. The Beyond the Yellow Ribbon re-entry program helped Guard members and their familes re-integrate.
What can we say? Welcome home everybody!
Read our coverage here. The consequences of the ICE raids in December 2006 lingered throughout the new year, while cities, churches, counties, employers and citizens struggled with and debated the issue. One GOP challenger took up with the Minutemen, a subject of much consideration for the blogosphere.
Iraq War deaths
Four service members with First District ties died in Iraq: Tony Hebert, of Lake City, Rachael Hugo, with family in Rochester, Jacob Thompson, of North Mankato and John J. Tobiason, of Hayfield. We remember them and thank them for their ultimate sacrifice in the service of our nation.
No doubt about it, renewable energy is hot in Southern Minnesota. The district is the fifth largest producer of wind energy in the nation, new biofuels plants are going up, and innovative projects like the Madelia Model are in the planning stages.
Town hall meetings
Congressman Walz held dozens of public meetings thoughout the district. Topics covered included the Farm Bill, the Iraq War, seniors issues, health care, small business aid, flood recovery, education, veterans, global warming, and more.
Perhaps the most impressive were the four unscripted Iraq War Town Hall meetings where crowds turned out to express their frustration with the conflict and the Economic Summit in this summer in Austin, which pooled the talents of everyone from the CEO of the Mayo Clinic to the heads of farm organizations.