EVELETH — Entrenched in a tight re-election campaign, Congressman Rick Nolan picked up a critical local endorsement Friday.
United Steelworkers District 11 voted to back the incumbent Nolan at a rally in Eveleth, where workers recently returned to the job at United Taconite for the first time in a year.
That milestone, credited to Nolan’s efforts on the federal level to enforce tariffs on illegal steel dumping, played a central role in Friday’s endorsement.
Illegally imported steel ravaged the Iron Range economy and mining industry throughout most of 2015. It cause more than half of the area’s mines to sit idle at one point, laying off thousands of workers.
“I am damn proud — this is what the Iron Range is capable of,” said Lowell Carlson, president of USW Local 1938, representing workers at U.S. Steel’s Minntac. “Let’s support Rick like he supports us. We need him.”
Union leaders from
Range mines, paper mills and other industries spoke in support of Nolan, touting his recent work on the tariffs and other trade laws that helped reignite their industries.
The tipping point for the mining industry was when Nolan convinced President Barack Obama to send White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to northern Minnesota, in order to see first-hand the devastation of illegal steel dumping.
Union leaders said without Nolan, they wouldn’t be back to work. Sentiments have been echoed by Cliffs Natural Resources CEO Lourenco Goncalves, whose company owns and operates UTAC.
“Whenever an issues affects the working people, there’s no question Rick Nolan will be there for us,” said Brian Zarn, president of USW Local 6860 at UTAC. “So goes mining, so goes the Iron Range, and he’s earned the support of USW.”
Nolan credited the Steelworkers for helping him in the past two elections. The last of which was 2014, when Nolan edged current challenger Stewart Mills by 1.3 percent.
He spent only a small portion of his speech asking what Mills did for the Range during last year’s downturn.
The congressman focused primarily on his trade record and support for several mining projects in the area.
On Twin Metals, a point of contention between the incumbent and challenger, Nolan said he’s seen no evidence worthy of delaying the company’s exploration process.
Mills has gone after Nolan recently, saying his lack of effort on the Range forced Twin Metals to sue the federal government over federal leases.
But the most significant moment of Nolan’s speech may have been regarding U.S. Steel’s Keetac plant in Keewatin. The mine still sits idle after 18 months amid speculation it may not reopen.
Nolan said he’s spoken to U.S. Steel, which is keeping Keetac and Granite City in Illinois ready to go.
“They want to make sure what we made happen will hold up, and it will,” he said. “The people of Keetac will go back to work before we’re done.”