Congressional delegates bringing Miss America, border wall builder, pension advocate, CHIP recipient
The MonDak’s Congressional delegates have all brought guests for today’s State of the Union Address by President Donald Trump, and the choices reflect, in most cases, some of their legislative priorities for the coming year.
Guests of legislators generally get to attend a dinner at the Capitol, after which they attend the State of the Union, which is a joint session of Congress.
Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., is taking Tommy Fisher, President of Fisher Industries as his guest. Fisher’s Dickinson-based Fisher Sand & Gravel Co., is one of the six companies with a contract to develop a prototype for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, awarded by the U.S. Customs and Border Protections Agency.
“I am honored Tommy accepted my invitation to attend the State of the Union,” Cramer said. “As Congress develops comprehensive immigrant enforcement legislation, I am proud to know a North Dakota company is a finalist to construct the border wall between our nation and Mexico. Fisher’s reputation for quality construction will be an asset for the nation’s security and a great deal for the American taxpayer.”
Tommy is the eldest son of Gene Fisher, who started Fisher Sand & Gravel Co. began in 1952. He has expanded operations of the company beyond North Dakota, and it is one of the top sand and gravel companies in the nation. It employs about 1,200 people in heavy civil construction in 12 states, including North and South Dakota, Arizona, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Wyoming.
Fisher also owns two manufacturing businesses. First is General Steel and Supply Company, also started by Gene Fisher, which manufactures construction-related equipment in Dickinson, and supplies the United States and nine foreign countries. The other is Steel Girder LLC, which Fisher acquired in 2013. It manufactures large steel bridge girders and related products from a facility in Coolidge, Arizona.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., meanwhile, is taking Dennis Kooren, retired UPS driver from Fargo, as her guest. Heitkamp said he has been a leader in efforts to protect the pensions of North Dakota workers and retirees.
Kooren was a UPS driver in Fargo for 30 years, a job that requires lifting heavy packages often, some weighing more than 100 pounds. This took a toll on his body, and was a contributing factor in subsequent knee and shoulder surgeries.
Kooren is leading efforts in North Dakota and Washington to ensure 2,000 North Dakotans and 400,000 retirees nationwide who paid into Central States Pension Fund can keep the pensions they earned.
The Central States Pension Fund is a multi-employer fund that covered a range of fields, including trucking, UPS package delivery and grocery supply industries. It is insolvent, and has sought to reduce pension payments by up to 60 percent in some cases.
“When we took our jobs, we knew they would be hard on our bodies, but we also knew we’d be able to provide a good living for our families and earn a solid retirement,” Kooren said. “But now, through no fault of our own, those retirement savings could be ripped away, and I refuse to stand by without a fight, because this is just plain wrong.”
Heitkamp said she hoped meeting Kooren would motivate members of Congress to act to pass the Butch Lewis Act, which she helped write and introduce. It would provide financing to put failing pension plans back on solid ground, to ensure they meet their commitments to retirees today and workers in the future. It would also include protections to ensure the fund remains strong in the future.
“(Kooren) is selfless, determined, and honest in his effort to protect the retirees he is fighting for,” Heitkamp said. “If meeting him can’t motivate members of Congress to pass our bill to safeguard the retirements of hard-working pensioners who did everything right, I don’t know what can. Dennis is in this fight not just for himself, but because he cares so much about the hundreds of thousands of UPS drivers, grocery supply workers, and others who worked hard to pay the bills and earned their retirements for themselves and their families. He knows how they will be left in the cold if Congress doesn’t act, and Congress could learn a great deal from him.”
Heitkamp said if the Central States Teamsters Pension Plan and other pension plans are allowed to fail, not only will employers no longer be able to pay promised benefits, but there’s a risk that taxpayers would have to pay billions, because the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation has a $59 billion exposure and is projected to be insolvent by 2025.
The cost of backstopping PBGC is more than $101 billion over 20 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., meanwhile, is taking Miss America, Cara Mund.
“Cara made history becoming the first Miss North Dakota to be crowned Miss America,” Hoeven said. “She is a wonderful example of the bright young people we have in our state. Cara, who served as an intern in my office, has a long history of community and public service and has raised over $78,500 for the Make a Wish Foundation. She does a wonderful job representing North Dakota and our nation as Miss America, and we are glad she has accepted our invitation to the State of the Union.”
As Miss America, Cara is traveling the country, speaking on the importance of education and encouraging young women to use their voice to make an impact and become leaders. Mund grew up in Bismarck, and she is a graduate of Brown University, where she earned a degree in business, entrepreneurship and organizations. She served as an intern in Hoeven’s Washington, D.C. office from August to December 2016.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is taking 9-year-old Danielle (Dani) HIghley from Deer Lodge, Montana, who is one of the 24,000 Montana children who benefitted from the six-year reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“Dani and the other 24,000 Montana children who depend on CHIP are the reason I fought so hard for the longest reauthorization in the program’s history,” Daines said. “I couldn’t think of anyone better to bring as my one guest to the President’s State of the Union Address.”
The five counties with the most children in CHIP are Yellowstone, Flathead, Gallatin, Missoula and Cascade.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., meanwhile, is bringing the National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd, of Malta, Montana, a 20-year veteran of the Border Patrol.
“Brandon Judd has been on the front line securing our border and keeping Montanans safe,” Tester said. “He is a Montana boy who climbed the ranks from an agent on our northern border to the very top of the National Border Patrol Council. Brandon’s input will play a critical role as we work towards a tough, bipartisan solution to a stronger border.”
Tester said he is taking the lead on bipartisan border security negotiations in the Senate, and he has worked closely with Judd, who represents nearly 18,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents along America’s northern and southern borders.
“For the Border patrol Agents protecting our borders, Sen. Tester is one of the first calls we make in Washington when we need help,” Judd said. “Whether it is ensuring we have adequate manpower or the equipment we need to do our job he has been there for us more times than I can count. I especially want to thank him for inviting me to the State of the Union. It is truly an honor, and one that I was not expecting.”
Judd has been stationed in California, Arizona, Maine and Montana. His lives in Malta.
Tester, as the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security appropriations Subcommittee, has advocated for additional manpower, new technologies and upgraded port facilities for both the north and south borders. These provisions have also been endorsed by the National Border Patrol Council.