When I was asked to meet President Donald Trump on the tarmac on Wednesday when Air Force One landed in Duluth, I was honored. I don’t care who you are, or who the president is — a handshake, a picture and 90 seconds to chat with the POTUS is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I often carry a coin in my pocket that gives me strength of spirit when I need to make tough decisions as a leader. One side is a picture of a warrior wearing the armor of God: the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, etc. The other side is emblazoned with the scripture of Ephesians 6:10-12, which encourages us to wear the armor of God, “for we wrestle not against flesh and blood,” but against powerful, dark, spiritual forces we cannot conquer alone. When I put my hand in my pocket, I’m reminded of those wise biblical words, and they ground me. When I met President Trump, I gave him the coin.

Before I knew it, the president had invited me and Eighth District congressional candidate Pete Stauber to ride with him in the presidential motorcade. We had 20 uninterrupted minutes with the president on the way to the next event, a roundtable discussion on mining and jobs.

The topics we discussed in the car were wide-ranging, including the nuclear disarmament of North Korea and the complexities of securing our border while also demonstrating compassion for families who cross illegally. He had just signed an executive order allowing parents to stay with their children while the parents await trial.

But it surprised me how attentive he was to the issues that affect Minnesotans’ daily lives. He peppered Commissioner Stauber and me with questions about his administration’s economic policies, wanting to know whether they had worked to create jobs in our state. He asked if people were better off than they were two years ago.

By all accounts, the U.S. economy is stronger than it’s been in decades, and we told him it’s true in Minnesota, too. A recent CNBC headline bragged, “The US economy suddenly looks like it’s unstoppable,” citing projected GDP growth of 4.8 percent, record optimism among manufacturers and the lowest unemployment rate in 18 years. Commissioner Stauber and I told him the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, combined with tax cuts we implemented at the state level, are clearly working for workers and families in Minnesota.

I would have been exceedingly grateful to have this uninterrupted time to talk with any president about our wonderful state, but I was impressed with how attentively President Trump listened. He really seemed to care about our people. I got the sense this trip wasn’t about getting headlines or watching a stadium fill up with enthusiastic supporters. It was about giving Minnesotans access to the highest levels of their government, and I was proud to play my small part in representing this great state.

Five or six times during the drive, President Trump looked out the window to take in the crowds swarming the route, and said simply with a smile, “Look at all the great people.”

I couldn’t have said it any better.


Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, is the Minnesota Senate majority leader.