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Superior Days set for February

A smaller delegation is making plans to head to Madison to lobby state officials.

The Wisconsin State Capitol building in Madison.
A delegation of Douglas County residents plans to head to Madison for Superior Days.
Vijay Kumar Koulampet - Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
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For nearly two years, Superior Days has been on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizers say they will hit the road again and head to the Capitol in February for the annual citizen lobbying effort in Madison, now in its 37th year.

“We’ve got issues here that aren’t being addressed, and they need to be,” said Douglas County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert, co-chairman of Superior Days.

Among the issues the delegation is hoping to address with Wisconsin legislators are Medicaid reimbursement rates, tuition reciprocity and increasing the sales tax by 0.5% to pay for roads.

“If we had a half-percent increase in sales tax in Douglas County, that’s $5 million,” Liebaert said. “We wouldn’t have to borrow money for our highways.”

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Issues such as tax reciprocity with Minnesota, retaining graduates, medical license reciprocity, broadband and the federal infrastructure bill will be discussed with state agencies.

“It’s something of a smaller affair,” said Superior Mayor Jim Paine, co-chairman of the grassroots lobbying effort. “We’re pretty determined to go … we’re going to do as close to the traditional lobbying as we can.”

Paine said the delegation will be smaller than in years past, and students won’t participate in the effort planned for Feb. 22-23. However, he said in addition to the lobbying legislators, delegates will meet with agency staff and hold the annual banquet with state officials.

“The goal is to minimize the risks, but we’ve now missed two planned Superior Days trips down to Madison, so we’re pretty committed to getting down there in February,” Paine said.

Last year, Superior Days was canceled because of the pandemic.

“We did a virtual one last spring,” Liebaert said. “It was well received by the people we talked to, but we didn’t accomplish anything out of it.”

Last fall, delegates had hoped to make the trip, but case numbers from the delta variant started to rise and Superior Days was canceled again.

Paine said with data coming out about the omicron variant that suggests it’s less severe, he’s hoping to have a delegation of up to 50 dedicated, vaccinated residents make the trip this year. The goal is for Superior Days to still be citizen-based and driven.

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“We’ve been gone for a while, and part of the power is that we are physically in the Capitol meeting people and that it’s a citizen-run effort,” Paine said. “I can drive down to Madison any time I want to as a representative, but representatives in Madison need to actually hear from the citizens of Superior about the issues that they care about.”

Unlike past years, Liebaert said participants from Ashland, Bayfield and Iron counties haven’t been invited to participate to reduce the risk as the virus continues to spread.

The agenda is focused on Douglas County, the mayor said.

“Obviously, we’re late in the legislative calendar in a nonbudget year,” Paine said. “That always leads to limited legislative success. But on the other hand, the governor has his full budget ahead of him, so we usually look for a lot more agency wins in an off-year like this.”

Liebaert said canceling again would make it harder to come back.

“If you don’t keep going down, putting it in front of them, don’t be surprised they don’t listen to it ever,” Liebaert said. “The more we can go down, lobby for different things that we need, and face them one-on-one, that’s pretty important. That’s how it gets done.”

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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As reported by Douglas County Circuit Court.