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Democrats, Republicans build a bridge

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opinion Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Any story that has Minnesota's Democratic governor and senator teaming up with Wisconsin's Republican governor as well as Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., to pass a contentious law is worth following.

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And that's exactly the case with the U.S. House vote Thursday to build a new bridge across the St. Croix River near Stillwater, Minn.

A longer-brewing controversy, a more unlikely cast and a more dramatic outcome would be hard to imagine. Couple all that with an upbeat lesson about the power of bipartisanship, and you've got a classic Washington tale.

Stillwater sits on the river northeast of St. Paul. A once-rural community, it's now home to many thousands of Twin Cities commuters, as is the Wisconsin area on the far side of the St. Croix.

The current bridge was built in 1931, feeds into downtown Stillwater and is entirely inadequate. Traffic often backs up for miles, and it has done so for decades: Minnesota proposed replacing the bridge as far back as 1970.

But there's an issue: In 1972, the St. Croix won a national designation as a wild and scenic river. That limits the nature and scope of bridge construction.

And ever since, the sides have squared off, with bridge builders on one side and various groups (including the National Park Service and the Sierra Club) on the other. At one point, designers even considered building a tunnel beneath the St. Croix, but that option proved wildly expensive.

Enter the bipartisan quartet mentioned above, who rank among the key players in recent years.

A revised plan for a four-lane freeway bridge included modifications to satisfy some key conservation concerns. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., came out strongly in favor of the plan, and her position among Senate Democrats carried weight.

Last year, she and Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki testified in favor of the bridge before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

More recently, Klobuchar helped write the bill that authorizes the new river crossing, then led the way to winning its unanimous approval in the Senate.

The House path was rockier, and that's where both Bachmann and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton come in. Bachmann, who represents Stillwater, also approved the new plan, but was busy for most of last year running for president. Then Dayton -- a plan supporter himself, along with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker -- upped the ante, saying Congress had to approve by March 15 or Minnesota would use the bridge funds for other projects.

The schedule gave Bachmann little time. She could speed up the process, but to do so she'd have to win a two-thirds majority. The plan's most vocal critic, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., didn't think it could happen: "It's doubtful this flawed bill will pass the House on the governor's timeline," she said as recently as last week.

On Thursday, the U.S. House voted 339-80 to approve.

"We gotta give her credit," a reporter for City Pages, a Twin Cities alternative newspaper, wrote afterward.

"Michele Bachmann got it done."

Kudos to both Klobuchar and Bachmann for proving so adept at a classic Washington skill: the power to persuade. It's no small task to build coalitions across the aisle; but the project was right, and as City Pages put it, the congresswomen got it done. It's an impressive and landmark achievement. -- Tom Dennis for the Grand Forks Herald

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