WASHINGTON – As Minnesota lawmakers headed to President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address Tuesday, they didn’t come alone.
The annual speech is more than a chance to hear a president lay out policies and proposals for the upcoming year — it’s a chance to bring a plus-one. So the delegation packed the visitor galleries with friends, family or symbolic guests invited to make a statement of their own.
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar put focus on the opioid epidemic. Her guest Tuesday was Shelly Elkington of Montevideo, whose 26-year-old daughter Casey Jo Schulte died of an overdose after a painful struggle with addiction to the medicine she’d been prescribed to treat the pain of her Crohn’s disease.
“We are losing a generation to this epidemic, we are losing our future nurses, doctors, teachers, artists, leaders, moms and dads,” Elkington said in a statement before the speech.
Newly appointed Democratic Sen. Tina Smith invited her husband, Archie Smith, to her first State of the Union. Rep. Jason Lewis, who worked in radio before winning election to Congress as a Republican, invited an unnamed friend from his radio days, his office said.
Republican Rep. Tom Emmer, who has worked for the past year to reverse a proposed Obama-era moratorium on mining near the Boundary Waters, brought an Iron Ranger to the Hill. Ely City Council Member Dan Forsman was highlighted in a recent New York Times story about the clash between miners and environmentalists.
Forsman made headlines in Ely after the 2016 election when he posted a taunting message on a pro-Clinton “Pantsuit Nation” social site, suggesting suicide as an option for its members.
This will be the last State of the Union address for Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, who is running for governor rather than seeking another term. His guest was Ted Suss, a retired school superintendent and former state representative from southwestern Minnesota. Suss is the county president of the Farmers Union and board chairman of Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails.
Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat who signed on as a cosponsor to an impeachment resolution against the president on Monday, came to the speech dressed in black — in solidarity, she said, with the women who had accused Trump of sexual harassment. Her guest was a friend from her days as a state lawmaker, state Sen. Richard Cohen, who resigned in protest from his post on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities last year.