When the governor catches fish, the opener is deemed a success

Our neighbors to the west did a nice job of hosting the opener for the governor and other dignitaries. Tower isn’t the biggest community but with the help of Fortune Bay and some good fishing on Vermilion, the event was a success.
The Governor’s Fishing Opener puts a bright media spotlight on the kickoff to the summer tourism season. Friday morning at Fortune Bay there were 19 live radio broadcasts taking place in the ballroom. The number of media folks was impressive.
That afternoon the governor and others travelled out to the new state park on Lake Vermilion to hold a groundbreaking also known as a media event.
On hand were Governor Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt, former Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, Congressman Rick Nolan, Bois Forte Tribal Council Chair Kevin Leecy and a multitude of DNR employees.
Before the event started there was a funny moment when perennial Republican legislative candidate Matt Matasich playfully barked at Bakk.
“U.S. Steel got this land for nothing and you guys paid them $20 million for it,” said Matasich.
“I thought it was $18 million,” said Bakk.
Bakk took the ribbing well and introduced Matasich to the state legislature’s top Republican Daudt. Bakk didn’t disagree that U.S. Steel was paid for the land and the discussion was short lived.
What was most interesting was having Pawlenty as one of the speakers. The former Republican governor, who made a short-lived run at the presidency in 2011, wasn’t known as a great friend to the Range, but he was deep in DFL territory Friday.
That’s as close as Pawlenty got to a request from then mayor of Ely Frank Salerno back in 2003. Pawlenty came to Ely for a quick tour at the behest of Ely economic developer Bill Henning.
While here Pawlenty toured the Revenue Building and was asked by Salerno if he would return to hold the Governor’s Fishing Opener in Ely before the end of his term.
“Within four years we should be able to get back up north,” said Pawlenty. “This would be a great place to do it.”
Ely last hosted a Governor’s Opener back in 1983 when Rudy Perpich was governor. Pawlenty wasn’t able to get Ely on the schedule during his time in office.
But we’ll give Pawlenty credit for coming to Tower long after he’s been out of office. It wasn’t nearly as surprising as his support for the Lake Vermilion State Park.
The issue came down to the final weekend of the 2010 legislative session and many political pundits had written off that a deal could be made.
U.S. Steel had already planned a major housing development for the 3,000 acres that would have created construction jobs, added to the tax base and not competed with other resorts on the lake for people looking to camp or rent cabins. A new hardware store and lumber yard was even built just outside of Tower, likely to cash in on contractors looking to cash in on the construction.
Yet in the waning hours of the session, a deal was struck and the money started to flow. Another $14 million was provided by the state in 2014, bringing the total to over $34 million. That’s a lot of money for a state park.
But Friday’s event was a love fest of sorts for the new park which could live up to all of the hype some day. So far, there’s just a new road that is much longer than it needed to be (paralleling 169 to keep the entrance further away from Ely), along with the beginning of a picnic area near the lake.
When the speeches were completed and the dirt was thrown into the air for the cameras to capture, there was a community picnic in downtown Tower that was well attended.
At midnight the fishing began, a tradition of sorts. But Dayton wasn’t up to going. His health is not up to par these days. Dayton walks with a cane and appears weak at times. Maybe he was saving his strength for end of the session negotiations.
When the fishing went into full swing Saturday morning, Lake Vermilion provided the bounty. The governor’s boat landed 35 walleyes (which were all released). The event was a success at that point for sure.
Saturday night was the wrap-up banquet which included Lt. Gov. Tina Smith accidentally thanking the wrong band for their help with the opener. Smith said Fond du Lac Band of Chippewa when she should’ve said Bois Forte Band of Chippewa.
In good fun, the next speaker got up and thanked Governor Ventura. And if that’s the worst thing that happened, the 2015 Governor’s Fishing Opener was a smashing success.