REGIONAL— For decades, she was the face of the local nightly news on KBJR television in Duluth. Now, Michelle Lee is setting her sights on Congress. Lee, who recently retired from broadcasting, …
REGIONAL— For decades, she was the face of the local nightly news on KBJR television in Duluth. Now, Michelle Lee is setting her sights on Congress. Lee, who recently retired from broadcasting, announced her candidacy for the DFL nomination for the Eighth District congressional seat this past Sunday, at the Fond du Lac Tribal Community College.
In a statement announcing her run, the veteran journalist said her depth of knowledge about the issues she covered during her career has been her primary motivation to seek political office.
“For years, I had a front-row seat to the issues of the Eighth District and the decisions made locally, statewide and nationally that impacted the residents of this region,” said Lee. “I had to keep my feelings about the decisions and their impact to myself. That was then. This is now.”
Lee said she has immersed herself in the issues confronting the Eighth District and began taking steps towards a political career, having attended political training through Wellstone Action and other leadership forums. “It’s infectious,” she said, as she talked with others who attended those trainings and were considering running for office themselves.
Lee said she’s been a DFLer as long as she could vote, so her party affiliation is no surprise to those who knew her outside her role as a journalist.
In her announcement speech, Lee laid out a broadly progressive platform reminiscent of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, including adoption of a Medicare-for-all, single-payer health insurance system, and free public university tuition.
“We should be swinging open the doors to technical and community colleges, to prepare our young people for the future,” she said. “There are going to be a lot of jobs out there with the retirement of the baby boomers.” But right now, she said, the high cost of college is saddling the next generation with crushing debt. “They aren’t having babies, they aren’t buying houses,” she said. “They’re frozen in time.”
Lee joins three other candidates already in the race, including Leah Phifer, Kirsten Hagen Kennedy, and Joe Radinovich, and she is the first DFL candidate to acknowledge definitively that she would oppose the opening of copper-nickel mines in the region.
Lee said other candidates have tried to “thread the needle” on the issue, but she won’t do that. “It is essential that we separate copper-nickel mining from taconite mining,” she said. “Based on scientific evidence and the history of similar mines I am not convinced that this new-to-Minnesota mining can be done safely without threatening our fresh water, which is our most important strategic reserve.”
Lee said the two types of mining are much different, but have gotten lumped together in many people’s minds. “And that’s not fair,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to choose between being an environmentalist or being a miner.”
At the same time, Lee said she is a strong supporter of taconite mining and would work to grow the industry and create new opportunities in the sector.
Since leaving broadcasting, Lee has been a frequent online contributor, sharing her opinions on social media and her personal blog. “I intend to put action behind my words,” she said. “I believe I have proven I am someone people can trust to tell the truth. There is so much at stake. I believe we can solve our problems together, forging a future that sets divisive politics aside with solutions that will benefit us all.”
Lee and her husband Gary Kovanen have been married for 36 years. The couple resides in Moose Lake. They have one son, Fred, who is married and lives in Duluth.