Former legislator aims to make a difference at FDLTCCBill Hilty may have retired from the state legislature, but he is still working on energy and environmental issues — only at a more local level, specifically Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.
By: Jana Peterson and Ellen Perrault, Pine Journal
Bill Hilty may have retired from the state legislature, but he is still working on energy and environmental issues — only at a more local level.
As the new sustainability program coordinator for Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, Hilty is working to help make the college as environmentally responsible as possible, to reduce its “carbon footprint.” At the same time, he’s trying to jumpstart FDLTCC’s previous plans to offer a degree in sustainability.
It’s been a relatively simple transition for the former state representative. Even before he finished his 16th year in the legislature, Hilty was already participating in a “green team” group at FDLTCC. The group is still in existence, but members changed the name to the Alliance for Sustainable Transition.
It doesn’t really have the same ring, but Hilty said the new name is more accurate.
“We realized ‘green’ wasn’t enough to cause sustainability to come about,” Hilty said. “Being environmentally responsible is a good thing, but if your goal is to create a sustainable culture and economy, it involves a lot more than that.”
He should know.
When the Democratic Farmer Labor party was last in the majority (before this term), Hilty was chair of the Energy Policy Finance Committee and was a member of the joint House and Senate Legislative Energy Commission, which worked to assess and formulate the state’s long-term goals regarding energy issues.
“Energy and environmental issues, those were major focuses for me,” he said.
Old and new worlds converged Saturday in a dinner at FDLTCC honoring Hilty for his 16 years of service at the legislature. Even with icy roads, the amphitheater at the college was crowded with members of the political class from all over the state.
Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Cloquet), who took over the majority of Hilty’s district after redistricting and the 2012 election, was the evening’s emcee. He kicked off the speakers by introducing FDLTCC President Larry Anderson. Anderson said it was amazing how much Hilty accomplished during his time in the House and said he is glad Hilty has joined the staff.
Speaker of the House Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) said he was pleased to be there on his own behalf as well as to represent the many colleagues who had served with Hilty. In his first session away from the Capitol, Thissen said Hilty and his wife are deeply missed.
“Most legislators come into office and they want to make a difference and leave a legacy,” Thissen said. “Bill did. He and others in the room, including the lieutenant governor, changed the way we think about the environment. And he inspired so many legislators to take up his mantel.
“I personally thank you for all you taught me about how to be a great legislator for the state of Minnesota,” he added.
Former Sen. Becky Lourey reminisced about one of the first times she saw Hilty in the late ’80s. He was mad and leaving a meeting, so Lourey went after him. She told him she could tell he had something to say and that he wasn’t leaving until he told her. By the end of the conversation, he was her campaign manager for her second campaign to the Minnesota House.
When it came time to run for the Minnesota Senate, Lourey said she couldn’t run and give up her fight for health care in the House until they had the right candidate. Lourey said in his response to her, Hilty — who is known for his thoughtful speech — reminded her of her favorite character, Eeyore.
“I suppose … I’ll have … to run … for the House,” Lourey quoted Hilty.
“And here we are!” she said.
The soft spoken Hilty said Saturday that life after political office isn’t any less hectic.
“My wife teases that the only difference between my being a legislator and now is that I don’t have a legislative assistant anymore,” Hilty said.
When he isn’t working part-time at FDLTCC, Hilty works on the 120 acres of land that he and his wife, Laurie, own outside of Finlayson.
“I have a 16-year backlog of things at home that I’m working on,” he said.