Austin contingent travels to Capitol
By Heather J. Carlson
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate Chambers may seem an unlikely place for Austin’s legendary luncheon meat, Spam. But on Tuesday, it was all the rage.
In honor of Spam Day at the Capitol, Austin DFL Sen. Dan Sparks helped dole out Spam singles in the Senate’s reception room next to the Senate floor. Turns out, Spam’s a big hit.
"They are out there begging for more," Sparks said.
For this day, Spam stood for Special People from Austin Minnesota. About 40 Austin residents traveled by bus to the Capitol for the chance to meet with local lawmakers, see the legislature in action and get a closer look at the historic Capitol.
Among those making the trek was the Rev. Mary-Francis Jones. Clad in a Spam T-shirt and hat, Jones said she spent most of her life working for the federal government and was not allowed to be involved in politics. Now the 77-year-old retired Episcopal deacon says that while she "can’t catch up for a lifetime" of not being politically active, she is going to do her best.
Miss Minnesota Angie McDermott was among the Austinites making the trek. McDermott, who now works for Austin’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, used to offer sightseeing tours of Lake Superior, so she was fully prepared for the bus ride to the Capitol, offering up fun Minnesota facts. The trip is also a chance to educate others about Austin.
"It’s not just the home of Spam. There’s lots to offer," McDemott said.
During the visit, McDemott donned her crown and Miss Minnesota sash, stood on the Capitol steps and sang "Star Spangled Banner."
Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, helped organize the event, working with the Mower County Senior Center. Sporting Spam earrings, Poppe told the crowd members they are visiting the Capitol at a time when lawmakers are struggling to come up with a budget solution. She said reaching that solution with so many lawmakers can be difficult.
"Every one of us represents our own constituents. We have our own ideas about how we’d like to see things move along, and the minute somebody raises something and says, ‘Isn’t this a great idea? Wouldn’t we all want to support this?’ there will be a lineup of people that will say ‘no,’" she said.
Participants did pepper lawmakers with a wide range questions on topics, including taxes, flood mitigation and gambling. For many, most of the day was sent soaking in the storied history of Minnesota’s Capitol. While standing under the Capitol’s soaring dome, Jerry Mohrfeld said he loves making the trek to St. Paul.
He added, "I enjoy coming up here. It’s such a beautiful building."