By Justin Dahlheimer, First National Bank of Osakis president
Every federal election season I cannot help but feel unrepresented by our national politicians and the national news. Politics at that level has become nothing more than finger-pointing. We are being conditioned to expect all or nothing, win or lose mentality that does not move people forward in unison to solve the issues we face.
In many ways, federal election seasons deflate the momentum that state and local governments make in tackling the problems that affect our everyday lives. I want to use my space in this column to remind readers, and members of our communities, that we need to celebrate what we have accomplished and stay committed to working together, regardless of political affiliation, to produce a future we all have a stake in.
Despite the challenges that COVID-19 has posed, rural communities are positioned to add jobs, add residents and sustain our vibrant futures. The changes we made to limit our contact have reemphasized that small is beautiful, plentiful, reactive, and sustainable during times of need. You found there were many different local businesses that have toilet paper (and a lot of other great products at competitive prices). You have seen demonstrations of going above and beyond to both serve our citizens and support our businesses through a time of need. You have seen creativity in how we have come together to hold events that honor the people we care about (graduation ceremonies were fantastic). We realized there were many different ways to get things accomplished and maybe even tuned into a zoom meeting or two you would not have made in person. With a new appreciation for the ability to work from anywhere, people retreated to our “lake life,” from the congestion and political unrest of the metro areas.
As you consider your options during this upcoming election, please hold our candidates accountable to the needs that are specific to our rural communities, and not the hot-button issue of the moment. We lack health care solutions that are affordable for small businesses and self-employed, which prevents people from being entrepreneurs and taking chances at starting that business that grows into our next important employer. We need affordable childcare options that enable our workforce to be fully utilized. We need more of our tax dollars flowing into our communities in forms of investments that protect our natural resources, expand our infrastructure (like fiber broadband), and enhance our public amenities with parks and recreation that is available for all to enjoy. We need housing options that are affordable and promote local ownership in our communities. We need more discretion to come to creative solutions that customize our education and training to our community workforce needs, not prescriptive programs designed by metro-area bureaucrats.
Finally, our meme culture needs to stay out of politics. You cannot distill complex issues down to an easily shared photo on your favorite social media platform. When we make the issues too simple, they do not encourage a conversation, an understanding, and an opportunity for compromise – the ingredients necessary for the type of change that benefits us all.
After you cast your ballot this fall, please continue your pursuit of meaningful change. Attend a meeting, join an organization, get to know your local officials, volunteer, and maybe even run for a local office, board or council in a future election. In our rural communities, we have persisted because of our ability to work together. Let’s keep it that way.
Osakis Voices is a rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.