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Take it from 'unemployed' hardware man Mark Murdock: Jobs hot issue for legislature

Mark Murdock stopped by the office-he had a couple minutes while he was loafing about town. We talked about jobs, and joblessness. The year 2009 finished with an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent in Minnesota.

"And now, I am one of those 7.2 percent," laughed the freshman legislator; a Republican who serves East Otter Tail in St. Paul.

"Well, actually, I'm employed by you-the taxpayer," said Murdock, who just sold his Perham Ace Hardware store to his son and daughter-in-law, Nick and Katie, right after the new year. So, Murdock's semi-retirement job is as a lawmaker.

Of course, political wisecrackers would immediately question whether "legislator" really qualifies as gainful employment.

Murdock has 27 years in the hardware business, 14 of those in Perham. Now, he's about to become something of an authority on jobs and unemployment. He was just named to a state level panel on employment. It will be a formidable assignment-especially with the state facing a deficit of well over $1 billion.

In Otter Tail County alone, unemployment levels peaked at 10.8 percent-a year ago to this month, in January of 2009.

"We've come back a long way in Otter Tail, to be at 6.9 percent...We're more fortunate than most counties, with Barrel O' Fun and Tuffy's expanding, and other stable business and industry," said Murdock.

But it is still frightening to think that unemployment went from 6 percent in 2006 to nearly 11 percent last year.

Statewide, 2006 ended with 4.3 percent unemployment; and peaked at about 8.9 percent in March of 2009.

Otter Tail area residents have a golden opportunity to speak with Murdock, as well as State Sen. Dan Skogen and District 10A Representative Bud Nornes, when they conduct a tour of Senate District 10. You should get a well-rounded political perspective, as Skogen is a Democrat and Murdock and Nornes are Republicans.

The meetings are open to the public and conducted in a casual setting. The intent is to hear the public's thoughts, concerns and ideas prior to the 2010 legislative session, which begins February 4.

"We need to focus on helping people get back to work and must re-think state spending to avoid facing repeated budget deficits," said Murdock in a prepared release. "This session's bonding bill is going to be a hot topic we can discuss. We expect some legislators to be pushing a spending package in the billion-dollar range, while the Governor probably will propose something roughly one-third that size."

Here is a schedule of the town hall meetings:

Saturday, January 23

Staples: The Spot Café (116 2nd Ave. NE) - 8 a.m.

Wadena: Boondocks Café (201 Jefferson St. S.) - 9:30 a.m.

Sebeka: J's Family Restaurant 11 a.m.

Menahga: Cottage House Café (119 Main St. W.) - 12:30 p.m.

New York Mills: Creamery Restaurant-2 p.m.

Perham: The Wild Goose (935 Jenny Avenue) - 3:30 p.m.

Henning: McKanes Restaurant (602 2nd St.) - 5 p.m.