Candid Talk with Lieutenant Governor Flanagan  

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Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan made a special visit to Duluth on Thursday to tour the historic Duluth Armory Arts and Music Center. The lieutenant governor stopped by the WDIO studio to have a candid discussion about some of the real issues that residents in the Northland are facing, including the opioid crisis, housing and infrastructure.

Lieutenant Governor Flanagan sat down with WDIO Assistant News Director Alexandra Buie.

  1. The Duluth Armory is a historic building that has sat vacant for many years. Next summer, construction is set to begin with a Grand Opening expected in the fall of 2025. This is a $47 million project. Why has it taken so long to get funding for the renovation?

“This is going to be a gem in Duluth, and I think it sort of harkens back to when Buddy Holly played there and, you know, Bob Hope and Liberace like this was a destination. And it can be that again,” Lt.-Gov. Flanagan said. “It should be a place for arts and culture. I’m excited about all of that. The food that will also be part of this, the space and will be a destination for folks.”

The lieutenant governor said there were some delays in passing of bonding bills, but in the last legislative session they were able to make “incredible investments in Duluth and all across the state.”

“Part of the reason why it got done this time is because you have amazing legislators who are representing this community. We also have a trifecta of folks who are ready to get it done. And we should also work towards a bonding bill for next year as well. Every year should be a bonding year because investments in our communities and the vitality of our communities and the future of our communities should be something that, you know, as a state we do every year,” she said.

The Minnesota legislature contributed $4.5-million dollars toward renovating the Duluth armory this last session.

  1. In the last legislature sessnion, there was some money passed for housing. We have a serious lack of affordable housing in Duluth and across Northern Minnesota. What do you think needs to be done to bring down the cost of housing, and make it a more affordable place to live?

“So affordability of housing is very personal to me. I grew up in the community where I was raised of St Louis Park because of a Section Eight housing voucher. So I understand, you know, this this issue for so many families in Duluth and across the state,” Lt.-Gov. Flanagan said. “We passed $1.6 billion in investments for housing. And it’s a full spectrum. It’s from our relatives who are experiencing homelessness and need emergency shelter all the way to first time homebuyers. I wouldn’t call it a Band-Aid. I would call it a down payment. We went big so that people can go home and we will continue to invest on this.”

Lt.-Gov. Flanagan says that this is a foundation that we can continue to build upon.

“It’s more than we’ve ever invested before, but we know that we’re making up for, you know, for lost time and investments that weren’t made in the past. But I can tell you, the advocates here, the folks who are engaged in affordability of housing and meeting the needs of our relatives experiencing homelessness here in Duluth, they get it. They’re incredible advocates. And we know that they’re going to keep coming back and asking for more. And they should.”

  1. As a citizen of the white Earth nation, our native communities across the state look to you as a voice at the Capitol. Recent data shows that Native American communities, specifically in Minnesota have nearly five times higher drug overdose death rates than white Minnesotans. While the native population only makes up less than 5% of the state’s overall demographic. What can be done?

Lt. Gov. Flanagan says there is something that can be done, and the state is doing it.

“I want to say that data is unacceptable and I think we are now in a moment where we’ve got that data and now we can focus on solutions. Every native person I know is impacted by the opioid crisis. Either we know someone who battles addiction, we have battled addiction, or we have lost someone to an overdose. And so I know that people are counting on us to get this right,” she said.

Flanagan says the state has invested over $200 million in funding for the opioid crisis, for prevention, recovery and treatment.

She says it is “Grounded in traditional healing, grounded in culturally relevant programing specifically for our community. And one of the things that we’ve been really intentional about is to say that the urban native community needs to be brought in.”

She says there are community members who are advisors on the Opioid Advisory Committee, and the law says the 11 native nations who share their geography with the state of Minnesota must be consulted.

“Tribal governments must be our partners in addressing this crisis. And so I am hopeful for what is possible. And I have to say it also makes a difference that we have a native caucus and we have Native people in both the House and the Senate. Representative Kozlowski is incredible and has been a real leader in this area as well. So Duluth is well-served, I hope, by myself, but also by Representative Kozlowski with that perspective from the native community,” Flanagan said.

  1. The conversation is growing around the Northern Lights Express, the passenger train that will connect Duluth to the Twin Cities. It’s exciting to have another option for a quick trip, however the discussion revolves around affordability for a family. 20% of the cost of the entire project was approved by the legislature in May. Is there any more funding that could be pushed forward to help make this more affordable for people?

“The $185 million that the state invested, I think that’s a good investment. I also am appreciative that 80% of the cost will be covered by the federal government. This is an investment worth making,” Lt.-Gov. Flanagan said.

Regarding affordability for families, Flanagan pointed out that her family car when she was young, would not have been able to make the trip. She says we need to look at this option for families who are not able to get to the Twin Cities from Duluth.

“Connecting these regions. I think matters overall to the economy for opportunities for employment and for jobs. But it’s certainly something that we can take a look at that ticket price. You know, I want families to be able to have lots of options for transportation… It’s important space that we want to make sure is accessible to all Minnesotans.”