By Adelle Whitefoot
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith made her first public appearance in Minnesota as a senator Friday in Duluth, meeting with community members and leaders and outlining a priority of advocating for economic opportunity for all.
“Today was my first official day in Minnesota since getting sworn in,” she said. “I wanted to come to this part of Minnesota first because it is so important to me. Everywhere I’m going I want to talk to people about what I believe is the most important thing because when I’m in Washington, I’m going to be a fierce advocate for Minnesotans and advocate for economic opportunity and fairness for everybody in this state, not just some people in this state.”
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson hosted the meet-and-greet Friday, two days after Smith, a former lieutenant governor, was sworn in to fill the Senate seat vacated when Sen. Al Franken resigned. Larson has worked with Smith for several years and said she believes Smith will be great for the state of Minnesota.
“It has been a very difficult time for Minnesota as we have experienced change in an office that we really heavily rely on,” Larson said. “I couldn’t be happier or more proud of our state that we get the wonderful representation from Tina.”
People packed into Hoops Brewing in Canal Park to hear Smith speak and for a chance to meet and talk to her about what’s important to them. Christina St. Germaine of Duluth was among those who were able to get some time with Smith.
“We need to protect working families and I believe Tina supports that,” St. Germaine said. “She supports the working family and the people less fortunate, and that’s what we need to get back to in this country. We need to look out for one another.”
St. Germaine is a member of AFSCME Local 1092. She said she came out to see Smith because she’s a female, Democratic U.S. senator, and she believes they share the same values.
“I think given what has happened in this country, we need to make sure that women are represented and have a voice,” St. Germaine said.
First days as senator
Smith said she never anticipated or expected to find herself in the position of U.S. senator, but promises to be “the best United States senator that I can be so I can really hit the ground running.” With the help of Franken’s staff, that’s exactly what she plans on doing.
“The first decision that I made was to keep much of Sen. Al Franken’s staff in the Senate, which is very important because they are staff that is respected on both sides of the aisle, and it will allow me to then be able to really go to work right off the bat,” Smith said.
And the next thing she plans on focusing on when she heads back to Washington next week?
“Some of the basic things you have to do, like figuring out where I’m going to live when I’m in Washington, D.C., and learning about the Senate and how the Senate works,” she said.
Smith said Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Rick Nolan have been helpful with teaching her the ropes and giving her good advice.
“It’s great to have good advice, but of course I have to figure out how to do this job in my own way using my own best judgement,” she said.
Smith is staying in Northeastern Minnesota on Saturday, with several stops planned. She is scheduled to meet Saturday morning in Duluth with local retirees whose pensions are at risk, then meet with Steelworkers in Eveleth to discuss mining and steel industry issues. She’s also set to present a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol to Hibbing Fire Chief Erik Jankila, in honor of retired Hibbing Fire Capt. Steven Gillitzer, who died in a Dec. 26 fire along with his wife and two of his grandsons; Gillitzer rescued another grandson and died while attempting to save the others.
Smith also will meet with local officials in Mountain Iron to discuss the expansion of rural broadband service.