As election day rapidly approaches, mining and Medicare are lining up as the key issues in the race for 8th district congress between Rep Chip Cravaack and former Congressman Rick Nolan of the Cuyuna Range. But on the Iron Range of northeastern Minnesota, mining takes center stage and it is this issue that separates a Range native from a packsacker more than any other in the race.
Both candidates have voiced support for mining, but being pro-mining on the Iron Range is not as clear cut as one might think. Mining has created a classic love-hate relationship between Rangers and the mining companies; love the mining, but not the mining companies. It’s a nuance that most outsiders don’t get, and this is in fact the major difference between the candidates in the race for 8th district congress. Chip Cravaack’s determination to roll back rules and regulations in order to give mining companies free reign makes him a much hated ‘Company Man’, one who would likely have told Jim Oberstar’s dad to just shut up and vote the right way if he wanted to keep his job or fired Veda Ponikvar’s father for union organizing. In contrast, Rick Nolan’s commitment to protect workers and the environment makes him an ally of miners and is an extension of the common good that anchors the moralistic political culture of the Iron Range.
While Cravaack sees mining through the very narrow jobs-only lens typical of an outsider, Cuyuna Range native Nolan understands that mining is much more than that. Mining is a part of our culture and a source of pride; steel made from Iron Range red ore built a nation and won two world wars, and taconite continues to fuel the domestic steel industry. In addition, the taconite production tax is a major source of revenue for our cities, schools and counties, and state mineral leases generate millions of dollars for students throughout the state. Any candidate who hopes to carry the heavily DFL Mesabi Iron Range on election night must understand what mining really means to Rangers and be on the right side of the worker v company man nuance of the mining issue.
Rick Nolan’s pro-worker position on mining harkens back to the roots of the Iron Range, to the core of who we are, to the common good. Chip Cravaack’s company man position evokes bitter memories of oppression by the Steel Trust, of the bad old days when the mining companies were allowed to sacrifice worker safety and the environment for profit margins.
The choice Iron Rangers must make on November 6 is simple: Do we want to maintain the hard fought status quo of being equal partners with the mining companies or do we want to return to a time when the mining companies had the power to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted to whomever they wanted?
The Ranger or the Packsacker.
Seems like a pretty simple choice.