REGIONAL— Hundreds of North Country residents turned out to precinct caucuses on Tuesday to have their say in the selection of their party’s candidates and the creation of their party’s …
REGIONAL— Hundreds of North Country residents turned out to precinct caucuses on Tuesday to have their say in the selection of their party’s candidates and the creation of their party’s platform.
First District Congressman Tim Walz proved the top vote-getter statewide in the DFL’s non-binding gubernatorial straw poll, but State Auditor Rebecca Otto won handily in northern St. Louis, Lake, and Cook counties, where the future of copper-nickel mining in the region has become a sharp point of division within the party. Otto, who has expressed her opposition to copper-nickel mining, won easily in the Eighth Congressional District, and finished second statewide.
Leah Phifer, who is challenging Eighth District Congressman Rick Nolan for the party’s endorsement, also did well, collecting the lion’s share of delegates in most caucuses in northern St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties, which make up much of the Third Senate District.
With 72 percent of precincts reporting, more than 27,000 DFL votes had been recorded on Tuesday, suggesting final caucus turnout could top 30,000.
On the GOP side, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson was the top voter-getter, although recent moves by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who appears poised to enter the race, are likely to reshape the endorsement battle on the Republican side.
About 11,000 Republicans turned out for their caucuses on Tuesday, far below their 2010 turnout of nearly 20,000.
Local DFL results
Only scattered local results were available as of presstime. Caucus-goers in Ely picked Otto by a large margin in the gubernatorial poll. Out of 55 ballots, Otto received 28 votes, or 51 percent, followed by 13 uncommitted ballots and eight votes for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. The few remaining votes were split among the other five candidates.
In Tower, Otto and Erin Murphy won six votes apiece, with one for Walz. Otto topped the field in Cook, with 18 votes, to 15 for Coleman and eight for Walz. Otto won a majority in Vermilion Lake Township, with four votes to two for Walz, while Coleman and Otto won two apiece in Embarrass, with one for Walz and two uncommitted.
Otto did well across the Third Senate District. Preliminary results show she won just over 50 percent of the vote districtwide in the six-candidate field.
While the caucus attendees did not have to declare their preference in the Eighth District congressional race, it appears that Phifer won a clear majority of the delegates locally who will move on to their senate district and congressional conventions later this winter.
Tuesday’s balloting did thin the field on the DFL side. Rep. Paul Thissen, of Minneapolis, announced that he was dropping out of the race after finishing last in the straw poll.
Ely debates mining
As usual, the debate over copper-nickel mining drew center stage in Ely, where caucus-goers debated a number of mining resolutions. Former County Commissioner Mike Forsman spoke in favor of a resolution in support of mining, as long as environmental regulations were followed.
“If you look at the state of Minnesota versus any- where else in the entire world, we have some of the toughest laws and toughest reviews and we are constantly under the microscope when we are looking at our reviews of mining,” said Forsman.
Ray Marsnik also spoke in favor of the resolution, noting the high number of people employed in the taconite industry when all the plants are operating. “Minnesota has extremely high standards in place for environmental protection and rigorous, thorough regulation agencies staffed by professionals who are tasked with enforcing those standards,” he said.
But Betty Firth questioned that claim. “Those very rigorous regulations are not enforced, and there has been ongoing violation of them even in the taconite industry and copper-nickel mining would be much more egregious than that,” she said. “There is no place on the planet where it has been done without extreme, toxic pollution.”
In the end, the resolution was voted down 32-16.
A resolution calling on the Department of the Interior to prohibit mining on federal land within the Rainy River watershed, fared better, passing 27-18. A second resolution, stating that “the DFL finds unacceptable copper-nickel sulfide mining in the state of Minnesota,” also won easy approval at the caucus, even as it generated some debate.
Anne Koskinen said she was opposed to standing against mining. “It is something that keeps us together,” she said.
Carol Orban spoke in support of the resolution. “I think we would be making a really big mistake if we allowed this huge Chilean corporation to take our resources and leave behind toxic pollution.”
The Ely caucus approved the resolution by a 34-16 vote.
Resolutions approved at the precinct level move on for consideration by larger senate and congressional district conventions before moving on to the state conventions. Both parties will hold their state conventions June 1-3. DFLers will meet in Rochester, while Republicans will convene in Duluth.