A trip to Norway has reinforced Keith Ellison's support for a bill that would create a Cabinet-level Department of Peace.
The Democratic congressman, who represents Minnesota's Fifth District with its strong Norwegian heritage, spent last week in the Scandinavian country to learn about peace and justice issues. The trip was paid for by the House Financial Services Committee, on which he sits.
In an interview from Oslo last week, Ellison said he would reemphasize the importance of the bill, authored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.
"This trip ... helps me to see that is an important part of legislation that I'll push with renewed energy and vigor," Ellison said. "I intend to continue to organize community around peaceful resolution of conflict."
During a forum about the trip Ellison held at Augsburg College on Monday, he said of the war in Iraq: "This conflict could have been avoided if we had a stronger cultural connection to peace. It's not just the will, but the skill to make peace."
Lois Quam, a member of the Norwegian American Foundation's board who was named 2005 Norwegian American of the Year, said she suggested that Ellison go to Norway because of his interest in the peace process. Quam joined Ellison on the trip, as did Augsburg College's Frankie Shackelford, a professor of Norwegian, and Jeremy Wells, vice president of Institutional Advancement.
Ellison's schedule included meetings with the director of the International Peace Research Institute, the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said Monday that he and Oslo Center officials had discussed the possibility of opening a Minnesota branch of the organization.
"I learned quite a bit about how Norway, through the government and through NGOs, has really helped to promote peace," Ellison said. "It really has shown how if we can make peace in various areas of the world, it's a lot less expensive in terms of lives and treasure."
Climate a shared concern
Norway and Minnesota have committed to researching renewable energies, and as a country with a large polar region that also is a major oil producer, Norway is uniquely positioned to study climate change.
"This oil-rich nation has not sacrificed its commitment to renewable energy," Ellison said.
He met with the dean of Norwegian University of Life Sciences, which is collaborating with the University of Minnesota to develop climate change solutions. Rolf Hansen, Minneapolis' consul general from Norway, said reversing climate change is a high priority in his country.
"Norway has regularly hosted Americans -- congressmen and senators -- to the islands to the north of Norway, where you can really see climate change," Hansen said.
Ellison said he wants to return to the northern regions of the country to witness conditions for himself.
Appeals for consulate
In a move that miffed many of Minnesota's 850,000 Norwegian-Americans, Norway announced this fall that the consulate office in Minneapolis would be downgraded to "honorary" status by this summer. The office serves the Upper Midwest in visas, permits and other paperwork.
Ellison said he appealed to Norwegian State Secretary Raymond Johansen in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a change of heart, but the switch is "pretty much a done deal."
"We'll just have to go out of our way to make sure we promote cultural exchange, educational exchange and promote business and trade relationships," Ellison said.
Former Vice President and Norwegian-American Walter Mondale will take the role of honorary consul general.
Nina Petersen-Perlman • 202-408-2723