Republican State Sen. Carrie Ruud is a hunter, angler, kayaker, accomplished snowshoe racer, cyclist, hiker, inline skater and runner.
Appointed three times to lead the Republican-controlled Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee, she has championed outdoors causes ranging from walleyes and whitetails to parks and trails. She fought the Department of Natural Resources on certain issues but has supported the agency on others. Inside her own caucus, she sticks up for her ideals even when they don't conform to the establishment.
In an interview with the Star Tribune, the "common-sense conservative'' from Breezy Point explained the sour politics of why she's leaving at the end of her term. She also reflected on some of her conservation successes, governors she has worked beside, what's stopping the state from getting tough on chronic wasting disease and what it was like to grovel for the privilege of carrying to fulfillment this year's $159 million outdoors heritage bill. Ruud's answers were edited for length and clarity.
Q: Why did you drop your bid for re-election?
A: The boundaries of my district changed and I was paired against fellow Republican Sen. Justin Eichorn of Grand Rapids. We both wanted the seat. I didn't want to leave the Senate, but the party endorsed him for the upcoming 2022 election. Several other women in the Senate also are leaving after being paired in the same district against a male lawmaker in the same party. Maybe that's not happenstance and it seems odd to me … but we've gone backwards in Minnesota. (Ruud is past president of the National Foundation of Women Legislators).
Q: Who in 2023 will lead the Senate on environment and natural resource issues?
A: I see a very big void. (Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria, who chairs the Senate's Environment and Natural Resource Finance Committee, also will be gone, bound for retirement.) It's unclear who would want my committee, and I don't think the Republicans should take it for granted that we will retain the majority. The culture in the Senate is not conducive to me staying. It's a culture that's not very kind to environmental issues. Priorities have changed. My work space has grown really small. No one in leadership talks enough about the environment. No one is asking: How can we enhance the outdoors? Legislators this year changed the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund bill to substitute projects that weren't vetted. That conversation needs to change. It's a lot of pork for people's own districts and they need to stop that.
Q: In 2018 you were honored by Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails as Legislator of the Year. What's your favorite accomplishment in that realm?
A: When I was mayor of Breezy Point, a group of us took a bus to Miner's Mountain near Crosby and put our heads together. We now have Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, with miles and miles of bike trails including a brand new trail adapted for riders with disabilities. It's so amazing. I rank it up there with my involvement in shepherding Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage legislation. It revitalized the Crosby-Ironton community to where 28 new businesses have opened, including a major grocery store. I can't take credit but am so honored to be a part of the collaboration between state, county and Iron Range partners.
Q: What other works highlight your legislative career?
A: Protecting the integrity of the Legacy Amendment and the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council grant making process. That's what makes me most proud. In the beginning everyone wanted their own little projects. But we made it what's best for Minnesota versus I need pork for my district. It's important to follow the recommendations made by the Outdoor Heritage Council because they scrutinize grant proposals all year long. By the time the recommendations come to my committee, they've been truly vetted. I saw this year's Legacy bill to the end. It will provide $159 million for 2023 outdoor conservation and restoration projects as recommended by the council.
Other highlights were teaming up with former state Sen. Gen Olson of the Twin Cities to introduce the first aquatic invasive species bill. Funding the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center. Steering grant money to help launch high school trap shooting. Creating and overhauling a program to address the conflict between livestock farmers and wolves who prey on herds. Introducing "blaze pink'' as a safety apparel option for deer hunters. Increasing hunting and fishing license fees wanted by the DNR. Increasing penalties for trespassing by snowmobilers. Exchanging School Trust Lands to expand the Sax-Zim Bog bird watching area. Fighting for fish bait dealers to import golden shiner minnows from Arkansas. DNR blocked it but is now researching ways to boost in-state minnow production. Steadily funding Soil and Water Conservation Districts to keep land and water projects alive in every Minnesota county.
Q: Much of your legislative work got hung up this year. What happened?
A: I pushed to lower the statewide walleye bag limit from six to four — something my caucus voted in favor of four or five times. But I couldn't get a hearing for the bill in the State Government Committee. I repeated my request for a hearing every day. I finally let it be known that I was torqued — that a bill to create a state fossil was getting more consideration than a bill to protect the state fish.
Party leaders didn't see my behavior as appropriate. They also didn't approve of my stance to take action to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease in whitetail deer. We need to do something, but we have a group in our caucus that denies CWD is a problem.
I also ticked off party leaders by fighting for the full return of "lottery in lieu'' monies won in 2000 for hunting, fishing, parks and trails. My bill would have fully restored the dedicated account and I objected to a Republican-led attempt to take $1 million from the fund and give it to a big sports group.
None of that sat well with leaders and I had to grovel, making apologies, for the privilege of guiding the Lessard-Sams bill to passage. I couldn't not stay with that amazing piece of legislation.
Q: Three different governors were in power during your time at the Capitol. Who did you like best for the good of the outdoors?
A: Mark Dayton. He was so accessible. I had his cell phone number. I could leave him a message if I had a concern or needed help. I remember seeing him take a verbal beating at a public appearance he made in Milaca when people were angry with the Mille Lacs walleye situation. He stood there and listened and didn't get mad. He talked to people and from that day on I garnered a lot of respect for him.
He realized we need change in our agricultural policies for the sake of the environment. Looking back at his clean-water buffer strip initiative, I think it's made a difference.
Governor Pawlenty promoted use of the environment. He started the governor's deer opener tradition. He also deserves credit for adding a state park on Lake Vermilion.
I don't think the current governor has paid much attention to the environment.
Q: What's next for you after you finish your term?
A: I know I'm going to fail at retirement. When I do, I'm somehow going to follow my passion into the environment.