Bipartisan recognition

In an era of intense partisanship, two local senators who reached across the aisle recently accepted three joint awards in three weeks.

Sens. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, and John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, received the Outstanding Community Partners Award from the Spring Lake Park-based nonprofit Rise, the Legislator of the Year Award from the Minnesota Association of Resources for Recovery and Chemical Health, and the Legislative Champion Award from Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

Abeler serves as the chair of the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee, where Hoffman is the ranking Democrat, and the awards stemmed from their work on bills related to human services.

“We have a history of working together on these human services matters, because we just think that these should not be political, and so we’ve engaged heavily, and we’re trying to work on the work,” Abeler said.

Lynn Noren, president of Rise, said that during the COVID-19 lockdowns in Minnesota, the organization was forced to shut down its day services for people with disabilities, which meant it lost a lot of revenue. Abeler and Hoffman fought to get “retention payments” for groups like Rise to help ensure services would still be available after the pandemic.

“Because Sen. Abeler and Sen. Hoffman had made such a significant difference to not only our organization but all organizations that support people with disabilities in the community this past year and a half, we wanted to recognize their leadership,” Noren said.

She added that the two senators “work so fabulously together, and they take the time to really understand the needs of organizations like Rise and how they can best represent us at the Capitol.”

The Minnesota Association of Resources for Recovery and Chemical Health, also known as MARRCH, and Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge both recognized Abeler and Hoffman for supporting addiction treatment and recovery programs in the state.

“We are grateful that Minnesota’s Legislative Leaders understand Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery, view it as a true bi-partisan issue and continue to advocate and work toward the betterment of our prevention-treatment-recovery communities,” Amy Dellwo, MARRCH Board president-elect, said in a statement. “One of the hallmarks of these two Senators is their willingness to take the input from stakeholders. They have assembled numerous listening sessions and workgroups outside of the hearing room to give the public a chance to have their voice heard.”

Gina Evans, advocacy director for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, said the senators were instrumental in passage of an overdue increase in the reimbursement rate the state pays providers of addiction treatment and recovery services.

“Having the two of them reach across the aisle on such an important issue just really speaks to a spirit of unity that we would really love to see more of in our Legislature this year,” Evans said.

The two north metro senators certainly don’t agree on everything. But in spite of stark differences on issues such as tax policy, it’s not uncommon for Abeler and Hoffman to work together on topics they do agree on. Their names often appear as joint authors of bills, along with other local senators.

Hoffman said he’s been friends with Abeler for more than 20 years and they don’t personalize policy.

“I think there’s a mutual respect, a mutual trust there that you don’t see in politics anymore,” Hoffman said.

He said it’s amazing what can happen when you “set your egos outside in that hallway and really focus on what’s important.”

Abeler said it means a lot to him that three organizations recognized their joint efforts, “if only to show by example that the parties can actually work together and help real people with real problems in a time when it seems that the parties are incapable of working together at all.”