Earlier this week the U.S. House passed two bills to support northern Minnesota and its future mining prospects.
Congressman Rick Nolan’s PolyMet land exchange bill easily cruised through the lower chamber of Congress with little resistance, and stands a chance to survive in the Senate. Congressman Tom Emmer’s bill to reverse a 234,000 acre land withdrawal similarly passed — albeit with a tougher path — by a vote of 216-204.
Passage of the bills, regardless their outcomes in the Senate, prove one thing: The Iron Range has harnessed its former strength in numbers into a smaller group of unified fighters for the region’s way of life.
A decade ago, the Range would have combated the land withdrawal and PolyMet opposition in the Minnesota Legislature. With higher populations in all the Range cities, it boasted a strong voice in St. Paul that could sway fellow politicians as easily as the Twin Cities politicians do now.
That clout isn’t the same now.
But through several organized and grassroots campaigns, the Iron Range has unified in a way that broadens its power beyond the Legislature to the local level.
Take, for instance, Fight For Mining Minnesota and Up North Jobs. They are self-starting activists for the Range and mining jobs that have gained local following and notoriety for their quick action on issues. The same can be said for Jobs for Minnesotans — a more organized and very effective group of labor, community and business leaders. Their strength also lies in mobilizing quickly and getting their message out to large groups of like-minded thinkers and the media.
Years ago, the Iron Range didn’t need these groups. But they do now as population and political power shrink, and threaten to shrink more if the state redistricts with the next census.
Their work is evident with the passage of these two bills in the House. Their representatives worked the halls and worked the phones to help Nolan and Emmer — and more importantly help the Iron Range.
The region may never be the political powerhouse it was in decades past, but the Iron Range is a prideful place that took the time to fight for what it wanted. And what it wanted — in the case of these bills — was a chance to wake up every morning, go to work at a well-paying job, put food on the table and wake up to do it all over again the next day.
As a result, and as seen by the vote on Nolan’s PolyMet land exchange bill, it was the Iron Range that made opposition to PolyMet an unpopular political opinion.
Only two House members — U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison, both of the Twin Cities — voted against the legislation.
Both senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, have already backed it. The governor is behind it, as were congressmen Collin Peterson and Tim Walz – both Democrats, and one running for governor in 2018.
The work of these groups, in conjunction with the work by Nolan, Emmer and Walz on the PolyMet legislation should not go unnoticed.
They are the future advocacy for the Iron Range way of life, and if this week is any prelude to how they will wield that power in unity — it will be a long road for anyone that opposes the Range and its mining future.