VIRGINIA — A resolution putting the DFL on the record against mining is back on the party’s agenda during a Central Committee meeting Saturday in Lakeview.
Implications of passing Resolution 54 are wide ranging, and could severely damage the DFL stronghold on the Iron Range and northeastern Minnesota with the governor’s race looming in 2018. More urgently, the resolution could create a deep rift between Range DFLers and the party as a whole, jeopardizing a historically close-knit allegiance with the region.
As Resolution 54 reads, it would , “Oppose sulfide ore mining, which is significantly different from taconite mining, poses unacceptable environmental risks, threatens multiple watersheds (Lake Superior, BWCA/VNP, Mississippi) and should not be allowed in the sulfur-bearing rock of Minnesota.’’
The environmental caucus in the Twin Cities said it intends the resolution to stand against nonferrous copper-nickel mining, but mining supporters are quick to point out all rock mined on the Range, including taconite, is sulfur-bearing rock.
Range DFLers are planning to staunchly oppose the resolution in Lakeview, saying a vote for the issue is a vote against the region’s way of life.
“This isn’t a political issue, it’s a way of life issue for us,” said Aurora City Councilor Dave Lislegard, who was a delegate at the state convention where it was originally delayed. “As a labor Democrat, I truly hope the party doesn’t take a position against the Iron Range.”
State Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, helped beat back the issue twice already this year.
At the state party convention in June, the DFL kicked it down the road to the Central Committee in August, where it again delayed a vote until after the Nov. 8 election.
A little more than a month later, Resolution 54 is alive again.
“My hope is that common sense prevails and we don’t adopt a resolution that isolates what people here, who are good Democrats, have done, Metsa said.
Range DFLers are hoping results of the Nov. 8 election serve as a wake-up call to the environmental caucus and DFL Chairman Ken Martin.
Democrats across Minnesota watched more seats turn red in the House and lost control of the Senate to Republicans. Equally as concerning was the way the Iron Range turned more Republican with President-elect Donald Trump performing very well in the mining precincts.
With issues like Resolution 54 continually finding their way on the party’s potential platform, voters in rural Minnesotans sent a resounding message that the Twin Cities don’t represent the entire state anymore.
“It was an issue that people were paying attention to,” Metsa said of the campaign trail. “This one is very concerning for us to watch.”
Metsa, along with Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm” and Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, won re-election bids in November, but saw an average eight-point drop from 2012 and 2014, despite Mesta and Bakk facing repeat challengers from previous races.
Congressman Rick Nolan, DFL-Crosby, who won by 1.3 percent in 2014, was re-elected by a 0.56 percent margin. Nolan’s congressional bid was cited in August when the DFL Central Committee delayed Resolution 54 for the second time.
But Nolan, a strong supporter of Iron Range mining, out-performed his DFL cohorts and Trump by nearly double-digit points in most precincts. That wasn’t lost on Range DFLers, who said they supported Nolan for supporting their way of life.
DFL Chairman Ken Martin also finds himself on the hot seat in rural Minnesota.
In August, Martin told the Star Tribune that the party didn’t “need the Iron Range to win statewide.” He changed his tune in a recent statement announcing he would run for another term as chairman.
“We also must renew our efforts in greater Minnesota with new initiatives to reach communities far from the metro,” Martin wrote. “If we are going to be a statewide party, then we need to organize statewide from the ground up.”
Martin was unavailable for comment Saturday as he was boarding a plane from Denver, he said in a text message to the Mesabi Daily News.
If Resolution 54 passes on Saturday, the fallout could be catastrophic for the DFL.
The race for the governor’s seat will heat up within the next year, and considering the ground lost by Democrats in 2016, an extreme stance against the Range way of life, fronted by the environmental caucus and Martin, could flip the region red.
It could also put Range DFLers face to face with the party, or their constituents.
“It’s been a hot-button political issue that got used this election cycle,” Metsa said. “I don’t know on the fallout or what there will be.”
He wants to see the region’s Democrats pull strength in numbers to override Resolution 54, especially if it’s passed Saturday. While the issue could find its way onto the party platform, Metsa added he’s unaware of any lawmaker that would bring it to St. Paul as an actual law against mining.
“We need participating in precinct caucuses, and we can introduce something reverse it,” he said. “It’s our party now, and we have to take the reigns on it.”
But other local DFLers see the fallout as potentially more damaging. It won’t be a case of the Iron Range leaving the DFL, but rather the DFL leaving the Iron Range and taking on a more radical, left approach.
Labor groups including steelworkers and building trades within the Range caucus are helping fight against Resolution 54, but they point to Martin’s comments about not needing the Iron Range and suggest a vote for it could mean the DFL doesn’t care about the Iron Range.
Some evidence of that line of thinking came the day after the General Election when the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy file a lawsuit against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency about U.S. Steel’s Minntac plant.
It has been one signal after another that the environmental wing is gaining stability in the DFL, could lead to a deeper fallout, Lislegard said.
“Yes, most definitely,” he said, “how can we support any organization that has a platform aimed to fight against our way life.”