REGIONAL— The seemingly intractable DFL divide over sulfide mining reared its head again this week as state party leaders attempted to quell a rebellion, of sorts, among the elected leadership of the party’s Seventh District executive committee, based in Duluth.
At an emergency meeting held in Duluth on Monday, party officials narrowly convinced the committee to rescind a resolution expressing the committee’s refusal to back DFL-endorsed Senate candidates Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar over their recent legislation to enact the PolyMet land exchange. That action set aside four ongoing lawsuits that questioned whether the exchange met the standards of federal law.
The senate district’s executive committee had backed the resolution 20-0, with two abstentions, earlier in the month, but the action prompted a rebuke from members of the Duluth Central Labor Body and top party officials, who charged that the committee was acting in violation of the party’s constitution.
Jo Haberman, a Duluth party activist who serves on the DFL State Central Committee, said DFLers that she’s heard from were “aghast” at the recent actions of Smith and Klobuchar, which they view as a threat to the way of life of many Duluth residents as well as the local economy.
“That’s the thing, people really feel like these politicians are serving the multinational corporations, not the people of Duluth,” said Haberman, who supported the resolution.
DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said that the Duluth residents have a right to express their opinions as individuals, but that they have an obligation to support DFL-endorsed candidates when speaking in their capacity as party officials.
Some on the committee have taken Martin’s view as a threat that they could be dismissed from their party positions, but Martin said he’s issued no such threats. He said he had simply explained the obligations that every duly-elected party officer has to support endorsed candidates.
Haberman noted that the Seventh District DFL convention, held earlier this year, had overwhelmingly backed a resolution opposing sulfide mining. A similar resolution received 58 percent of the vote at the DFL state convention last month, which was just short of the 60 percent margin necessary for adoption.
“We have strong voices on both sides of this issue,” said Martin, who said he believes the supporters of the resolution are well-intentioned. “They’re trying to bring attention to the issue. There are a lot of ways they can do that, but they can’t do it this way.”
In the end, several members of the executive committee appeared to agree, as eight of the 20 who originally backed the resolution agreed to rescind it at the end of two hours of discussion of the issue at Tuesday’s emergency meeting. Haberman said the party had to bring in some other higher-level officials to achieve their 16-12 vote to rescind.
Trouble for Smith?
While the intra-party rebellion was stemmed for now, it remains unclear how Smith’s actions on PolyMet, which angered many in her party, will affect her primary contest with law professor and government ethicist Richard Painter. Painter, a former Republican who worked for the George W. Bush administration, has been a frequent guest on cable news as a critic of President Trump. He has mounted a progressive challenge to Smith, and is a firm opponent of sulfide mining. Painter has criticized Smith for her financial ties to medical device firms as well as for major campaign contributions from top executives with PolyMet, calling her “among the most financially conflicted in the Senate.”
Smith was appointed to the Senate by Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this year in replacement of Al Franken, who resigned over sexual harassment allegations, but she has never sought high political office in the past, making her something of a wild card for the party.