Reading the news and living in Duluth lately has been an eye-opening experience. As a life-long Duluthian, I now realize just how complacent I have been to what is going on around me. But now, the more I look and the more I see, the more I cannot believe what is happening to my city. I can’t help but wonder how this happened. How did we get here? Who actually wanted to be where we are? I honestly don’t know a single person who woke up and said, “yeah, I’ll vote for this.” So, what the hell happened?
Duluth’s decline has been steady but fast. It likely started out with some very well-intentioned people. “Let’s help the homeless,” they said. Shortly after taking office, Mayor Larson passed the “Homeless Bill of Rights”, the first city in the state to do so, and vowed to end homelessness in Duluth. Instead of ending homelessness, it made the problem far worse and greatly increased the number of homeless people on our streets. Now Duluth has the highest homeless rate outside of the metro. Who voted for this? Who actually wants more homeless people urinating in doorways and defecating in the streets?
“Let’s help the addicted,” they said. The Duluth Human Rights Commission got involved and made sure we opened up methadone clinics in our community and the city changed policing tactics to target the dealers instead of the users. Now we have used needles littering our parks and endangering our children. Our emergency rooms are now overwhelmed with overdoses that have reached an epidemic level. The addicted are still addicted, yet now our children are put more at risk. Who voted for this? Who actually wants to be actively supporting drug users and risking our children accidentally picking up a used needle?
“Let’s help the mentally ill,” they said. Mayor Larson said that they won’t be “policing” mental health and instead will be taking a stance of “supporting and encouraging increased mental health.” Now we have naked men running through the sewers and crazed men wielding machetes while swinging from fire escapes. Now all of our treatment facilities are over capacity and those experiencing a mental health emergency have to go to other communities for help. The mental health crisis has reached a point that some people have to wait months to see a mental health professional. Who voted for this? Who wants a city that cannot provide the necessary mental health services we need?
“Let’s help the poor,” they said. Mayor Larson allowed panhandling on our city streets, turned a blind eye to so much crime in our community, and ignored the needs of businesses in our community. Now we have panhandlers accosting people on the streets for money, some of the highest crime rates in the state, and a shockingly high unemployment rate. Who voted for this? Who wants to have lawlessness drive our businesses away?
We keep trying to help people but it only seems to make the problem worse. Who voted for this? All of this has led to a crime rate that is higher than 80% of the country, and roads so bad that they might as well be dirt, all being “paid for” with insane tax rates. We have the worst roads, the worst crime rate, and the worst taxes in the state. It’s no wonder why Duluthians are voting with their feet and our population is declining. What people and businesses really want are smooth roads, low crime, and low taxes. If you have those three things people stay. But that isn’t what Duluth is doing. Duluth hasn’t attempted to fix any of those problems. So, who voted for higher crime, higher taxes, and crappy roads?
Since I don’t know a single person in my life that actually voted for any of these things I decided to try and figure out just who did vote for these things. Turns out almost nobody did. Duluth’s voter turnout has been abysmal for years and the most recent election is no different. In the last mayoral election, roughly 1/3 of eligible voters actually showed up to vote. Of that 1/3 of voters, 2/3 of them voted for Mayor Larson. In a city of 70,000, 13,000 people cast their vote for Mayor Larson. Those are the people who voted for the conditions we find ourselves in. To turn that around, next to nobody voted for this crap. Nobody wants more homeless people, more drug addicts, more beggars, more criminals, and more mentally ill people running the streets. Duluth voters have become so disenfranchised that they have literally stopped showing up to the polls. Duluthians no longer believe that their voice matters and have begun voting with their feet and leaving our once-great community. This is no longer the “silent majority” but instead is actually the missing majority. When the majority of your voters simply stop showing up to the polls, your community has problems. What the hell happened?
In every level of local government, we have representatives that cater to every special interest group and nothing else. Name the progressive cause and Duluth will be the first in line to do it no matter what the voters say. The city council and the mayor tried to remove the word “chief” from city job titles despite the fact that literally zero people were offended by it. But they had to do it because it’s the next progressive cause. The school board just voted to remove school resource officers from Duluth schools, despite the fact that just last year those very same officers responded to a very real threat in our schools and kept everybody safe. But getting rid of police is the next progressive cause so they had to do it. More disturbingly, this has been going on for much longer than Mayor Larson’s tenure. Think back to the late ’90s when the state wanted to create a WWII memorial park, at no cost to the city, but the then city council caved to an aggressive anti-military group to stop the park from being created in the bayfront. The council had a special election and less than 8,000 people showed up to vote for or against that park. Even in 1998, the missing majority didn’t show up to vote.
So, what can we do? We can show up and vote. If you’re pissed off about how our city is being run and the condition in which we find it, show up and vote. Vote out these people that have ignored the people of Duluth for far too long. Don’t just vote in Presidential Elections, don’t just vote in Congressional elections, but make sure you show up and vote in local elections. Duluth is one community that has important city elections in odd years opposite of national elections. Make sure you show up and vote there. You can also contact your city councilor and school board representative and urge them to move city and school board elections to be on even years in conjunction with Presidential and Congressional elections. Doing this will help increase voter turnout in city elections and be just one step in getting the city to start listening to the missing majority once again.