Support the Timberjay by making a donation.

Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

The DFL crackup

Years of divisive politics over the environment coming home to roost


Is the DFL headed for a crackup in the Eighth District? That appears increasingly likely as the divide within the party, particularly over the issue of sulfide mining, has become too vast and too personal for the current crop of political leaders to hope to bridge.

On one side is the party’s blue collar base, centered on the union-heavy Iron Range, long a bastion of DFL strength. Many members of local trade unions and steelworkers, unhappy with the direction of the Democratic Party nationally, abandoned their DFL roots in November, in support of Donald Trump. Enough of them split their tickets to give Eighth District Congressman Nolan another razor-thin victory over Republican Stewart Mills.

But now, it’s another important DFL constituency that looks ready to walk— progressives concerned about environmental protection and climate change, who make up a significant percentage of the party faithful.

Like union voters used to be, these are folks who the DFL in the Eighth has counted on for years to staff phone banks, door-knock, donate money, and spread the word to friends and neighbors. These are folks who helped get Nolan over the finish line the last three election cycles.

Yet as Leah Phifer discovered during her just-concluded listening tour across the district, Nolan’s recent steps to advance sulfide mining in the Boundary Waters watershed and his support of controversial oil sands-related pipelines, have left many on the party’s green flank ready to jump ship. It’s no secret that Nolan has backed such projects for years, and most party progressives were willing to weigh his record in totality, which is progressive on many other issues.

Yet his recent alignment with some of the Republican Party’s most radical anti-environment and anti-public lands members of Congress has left Nolan incongruously positioned to the right of the Trump administration on the environment— a spot on the political spectrum pretty close to the cliff’s edge. Among Nolan’s new friends is Rep. Paul Gosar, of Arizona, who Nolan brought on a tour of the Iron Range this past June. Gosar recently told news reporters that he believes the Nazis who marched in Charlottesville were organized by an Obama operative and funded by George Soros, who he called a “jew” who turned his own people over to the Nazis. This is fact-free, Alex Jones-style conspiracy mongering at its worst. Even Gosar’s own brother called on the congressman to apologize. Nolan may see such political allies as useful, but it’s left many progressive DFLers questioning his judgment, and unwilling to back him in 2018. It’s left Phifer worried that Nolan is little more than a dead man walking, and it’s prompted her to challenge Nolan for the party’s endorsement, she says in hopes of keeping the Eighth in the Democratic column.

Phifer’s concerns are widely held. The D.C.-based Cook Political Report lists Minnesota’s Eighth as one of the ten Democratic seats most at risk in 2018, and that analysis likely fails to account for the growing rebellion from the party’s progressive wing.

There are many factors contributing to the DFL’s fading prospects in the Eighth, including a decision by the party nationally to throw its support behind a growing professional and entrepreneurial class that has benefitted from globalization and other changes in the economy, without adequately considering the impact to the nation’s blue collar workforce. At the same time, party leaders have focused on social issues and identity politics, at the expense of the traditional economic message that used to resonate with working class voters.

But political leaders in the district have added to the party’s woes. Wise politicians, like the late Paul Wellstone, recognized that the district’s blue collar workforce and environmentalists have plenty in common, and that any differences could be bridged with the right leadership and policies. Unfortunately, too many politicians in the region have, for years, failed to heed Wellstone’s advice and have been content to drive a wedge between the party’s disparate constituencies, casting those with environmental concerns as little more than villains out to destroy the region’s economy. It’s nonsense, but it plays well in certain crowds and politicians are usually eager to please. We’ve argued in these pages for years that this “us vs. them” rhetoric would eventually be harmful to the party’s interests. It appears “eventually” may have finally arrived.


10 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment
Steve Jacobson

Marshall - you can say it's mining vs. environment but in realty I believe the voting will be environment vs. good paying jobs. Ms. Phifer will not win going against mining/jobs and promoting saving the boundary waters. Not saying she is wrong but will say she will loose unless she finds another format to promote. Her only other hope is that she takes away enough votes, even though not enough to win allows another candidate to win. But it surely will not be because of the pro environment platform.

Friday, October 20, 2017

There is other good paying jobs that are sustainable: Over the last year, the state added 2,893 jobs in the clean energy industry for a total of 57,351 jobs, according to a new report from the nonprofit group Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, an industry-led nonprofit group. That's nearly four times faster than the overall job growth rate in Minnesota — and evidence that the state should keep up the momentum, officials said in a news conference at the State Capitol. This does not even include another 40,000 jobs created for construction.

Also Twin Mines in their own document report-nobody elses said only about 1/3 of the people hired may be from the area.

Yes short term gain wins many times.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The democrats will not win a seat on the Range if a middle of the road conservative runs. Let’s see: wild rice? Or mine closures, multi- millions of dollars spent by industry and cities to control ‘sulfide’? No other state even has sulfide limits. Left- wing gone wild, to a sorry demise. We have just recovered from a layoff and the progressives want to waste time on wild rice? Foolish people. The rice is just fine.

Friday, October 20, 2017
Steve Jacobson

I just read and article from the Star Tribune that promoted that there were 6000 total jobs in the green energy job market in Minnesota. I'm guessing that the 57,000 jobs is nation wide. Green energy jobs are good but let's face it they will most likely have to move out of the area go get these jobs because as of now the solar manufacturing business has been less than sustainable on the Iron Range. I know of three iron rangers that got their education in the windmill business and they quit and got jobs at Minntac,. They liked the work but were out of town full time and only came home on weekends. In the early eighties I lived the life of a worker that left Sunday afternoon and came home late Friday evening. I would wish that life style on my worst enemies. (Maybe except Reid and Becky)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Clean energy Economy Minnesota on Thursday released a new report from Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs that finds that Minnesota now has 57,351 total clean energy jobs.. These do include supporting jobs.

In the last 12 months, Minnesota’s clean energy industry grew by 5.3 percent, adding 2,893 jobs — 3.8 times faster than overall job growth in the state. Despite the rapid growth that has already occurred, clean energy technology continues to present a significant opportunity for business and job growth.

Nation wide solar and wind there is 476,000 jobs as of 2017.

Saturday, October 21, 2017
Steve Jacobson

This reminds me of when I finished my post high school education in electrical/electronics. The school was under pressure to have a high job related placement record. One of the guys in my class got a job at Team Electronics making about $5.00/hour in the Virginia Mall. The school recorded it as a job related placement. I know I'm dating myself but if anyone remembers Team sold stereos and radios. I can only imagine what jobs they are counting to get 57,000 people working in green energy. Maybe someone drives by a windmill every day on their way to work.

Monday, October 23, 2017
Lee Peterson

"waste time on wild rice? Foolish people. The rice is just fine." hardrockminer needs to know that there are people who value wild rice. There are, if fact, other states that have sulfate standards for water. But, Minnesota has wild rice. That's a blessing, and it needs to be protected. The sensitivity of wild rice to sulfate=sulfide taken in by the wild rice roots is a science that is proven. Briefly, I believe that the MPCA is trying to recognize all of the variables involved and then move forward to protect the wild rice. I believe the wild rice needs to be protected. To skew that to a jobs vs. rice issue is a trick right out of an old industry playbook.

Does anyone else remember the industry howl when the new Clean Air Act required that the taconite plants clean up their belching smokestacks with scrubbers and other technology to make the air that we breathe around here cleaner and safer? That was almost 40 years ago. The mines survived, the air is healthier for us, and the snow stays white. Remember?

People need to do a little critical thinking, and not immediately fall for every line that is fed to them.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A example of the past: Is it any different now. The company said they couldn't make a profit if they had to dump on land. No concern for the health of the lake or people.

People visit Lake Superior to feel the power of nature or the peace of a quiet walk on the beach. But Lake Superior was once a battleground. Reserve Mining Company used to dump its waste rock into the lake. Tons of sediment poured into the lake every day. For 25 years, the water near the plant was gray-green and muddy. Duluth's drinking water, 50 miles away, was contaminated with a fiber that caused cancer. A court ultimately forced Reserve to stop the dumping, laying down the principle that the government can force industry to clean up its pollution.

Monday, October 23, 2017
Kelly Dahl

This is a very astute analysis of the political landscape. The sad thing is that many of us will walk away from the DFL over the absolute refusal of some to realize that clean water affects all of us; our homes, farms wells, lakes and rivers. While the mantra is mining drives the economy and therefore one must not question any mining project, the truth is that sulfide mining benefits some (primarily foreign billionaires in the case of Twin Metals) , but jeopardizes everything else for the vast majority. Those of us who are rightfully concerned about clean water and natural resources are pro-union partners; those who support unions even though they would personally benefit from cheap goods produced by low wage workers. We support higher taxes because we know that is necessary to support and sustain our neighbors in the region even though we do not personally benefit. We do so for the greater good and sense of community. Now, those concerned for our environment are vilified and will seek and independent route. The end result will be a political realignment either leaving the union households on the Range in an anti-union environment under Republican rule or, more likely, irrelevant as fast growing urban areas who care about pollution look elsewhere for political partners. In either case the Range will suffer and its leaders have long failed all of us as this inevitability is on the immediate horizon.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Lee Peterson

If you're interested in learning more about copper mining and clean water, there will be a program, "Wonder List With Bill Weir" on CNN at 8pm tonight (Saturday). It concerns a potential copper mine in Alaska. Maybe it will raise the level of the discussion a little bit. We're not alone in this.

Saturday, October 28, 2017