REGIONAL— State Rep. Jason Metsa is harkening back almost a century to make his case for a government that works for, rather than against, average Americans. The three-term legislator from Virginia …
REGIONAL— State Rep. Jason Metsa is harkening back almost a century to make his case for a government that works for, rather than against, average Americans. The three-term legislator from Virginia is touting his “Northern New Deal” as he makes the rounds of the Eighth District ahead of the Aug. 14 primary in his bid for the DFL nomination to replace Congressman Rick Nolan.
“For way too long, government has been serving the big corporations, and leaving working people to fend for themselves,” he said. “In the last 40 years, the average CEO pay has gone up 937 percent, while the wages of working people have barely budged. I’m committed to changing that,” he said.
Metsa has laid out his new deal in a series of policy papers that call for universal Medicare-for-all health insurance program, debt-free public college and university tuition, greater funding for skills retraining, and student debt relief. His 21st Century Jobs plan calls for a $15 minimum wage, investing in the rapidly-growing renewable energy economy and apprenticeship programs.
It’s part of a growing push by progressive Democrats around the country to advance a bold new vision for empowering people to reach their full potential. “This is absolutely intentional,” said Metsa. “The way our economy works right now is really unfair.”
During a recent series of community conversation that his campaign held throughout the district, Metsa said he heard broad support for a new deal from government. “Every single item in our platform we heard from people over and over again,” he said. “I think the people of this country are ready for a dramatic shift in our policies that really puts them first.”
Metsa noted that previous generations could pay for college tuition with summer jobs. “Right now, students have to work 20 years after college to pay for it,” he said. “That’s why we want a debt-free alternative.”
While the availability of jobs has long been an issue in many parts of the Eighth District, Metsa said a lack of skills among the existing workforce has become a problem for employers, and that’s where he sees a major role for investing in apprenticeships and other training programs to bridge the skills gap. Metsa cited a recent state study which found that 68 percent of employers indicated they were having difficulty finding workers with the needed skills. Metsa said diversification was also key to economic success in the region, and he cited the recent growth in the Heliene solar panel manufacturing facility in Mt. Iron as an example of the kind of investment that could help create new, good-paying jobs that can be sustainable long-term.
Metsa also touts expanded broadband access, which he says is likely to “unleash a new wave of creativity, innovation, and productivity in rural economies across the Eighth.”
On the controversial subject of copper-nickel mining, Metsa is a supporter of new mines.
“I’ve always supported mining because I support our miners,” he said. But Metsa also introduced a bill in St. Paul last session to put a production tax on copper-nickel mines. That tax currently only applies to taconite mines. Metsa’s measure never became law, but he said the need remains and said it’s something that could be considered on a national level. Metsa said he’d like to see some of the funds raised through a production tax go to support the Natural Resources Research Institute in Hermantown and its ongoing research on methods to reduce sulfate pollution, a common problem associated with mining.
At the same time, Metsa sponsored legislation backed by the mining industry to substantially weaken or eliminate the state’s strict sulfate standard to protect wild rice. That measure was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.
Like all of the DFL candidates in the Eighth, Metsa is well aware that Republican Donald Trump won the district by a wide margin in 2016. But Metsa believes that most voters were really voting for change. “When Donald Trump went out and promised that change, I don’t think they thought that meant bailing out Chinese telecoms,” said Metsa, referring to Trump’s unusual decision to allow ZTE, a massive Chinese telecom with a record of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea, back into the U.S. market.
Trump also campaigned on tax cuts for the middle class, notes Metsa, yet he signed a tax cut plan that sharply and permanently cut tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, while offering only modest and temporary tax cuts for average Americans.
“It was kind of like Robin Hood in reverse,” said Metsa. “I think we need to get back to focusing on tax cuts that would benefit families, such as helping with the cost of childcare or investing in college and education,” he said.
“People are excited about these kinds of ideas,” Metsa. “I think the people of this country are ready for a dramatic shift in our policies that really puts them first.”