What is clout worth?

The Iron Range is losing clout, we’re told. The GOP takeover of the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate has relegated its DFL legislative delegation to the minority, unseating scads of chairmen. Chip Cravaack’s unlikely victory over Congressman Jim Oberstar, an Iron Range political legend, ends Oberstar’s long run as senior Democrat on transportation issues and a source of federal funding for any number of projects.

Nevertheless, the solution to these woes isn’t as simple as regaining DFL majorities. Nor is the issue that we’ve lost clout on the Iron Range, though we have. The issue is that we already were losing clout, a little each year, each decade, and that the puffed up leadership positions of our local leaders were good for some hollow legislative victories, but weren’t fundamentally changing our trajectory. And I’m saying this as someone who firmly believes in the “Minnesota Miracle,” bold public investment in making the entire state healthy and economically and educationally competitive. I’m saying this as someone who has reliably voted DFL since I could vote.

Clout is good for winning funds for big projects, which are sometimes good and sometimes not. Clout can pave roads. Clout can preserve funding models that keep cash-strapped schools treading water for two years, or five, no more than eight or nine. All of this has value. But missing from this discussion is what clout won’t do, and hasn’t for a generation on the Iron Range.

Clout won’t inspire young people to stay on the Iron Range. In fact, political clout is nothing but turnoff for young people who are hungry to make their own name, advancing their own ideas. A right-winger who wants to start a business and a left-winger who wants to sell art are driven by the same goals: to kick ass. Nor should it be forgotten that the people who are really affected by any given public policy are the working poor, who struggle each day to figure out a world that has never considered them important. Who cares about politics and chairmanships when you’re working nights with kids at home? Just going back to school for a better job is such a major step, a challenge people of better means face only through rare personal risk, that this business of “clout” is of no practical importance. Not really. Not on the street.

We need a message, an attitude, an apolitical call to arms that inspires people to again believe in the Iron Range, northern Minnesota, for all this place’s true value and charms, none of which relate whatsoever to “clout.” This is a good place to live and work. Here we build new clout. A real world of possibilities.


  1. Well said, Aaron. The Iron Range is a fabulous place with great history and great possibility. The essential question that I have is how exactly do we unite the pockets of people across the Iron Range who are reinvigorating the region? There are organizations and individuals scattered about who all seem to be trying for the same thing (combing creativity and a love for the sense of place on the Range into a viable economic future), yet are too scattered to make much of an impact.

  2. I sense you’re truly interested in making the Range “better” Aaron…like it used to be.

    Let’s understand why it once was.
    And it wasn’t because we had high taxes, large government or unending government programs… quite the contrary. (an aside – back in the “good ole days”, an issue like the Canisteo pit flooding would have been taken care of years ago, not by government, but by business. Contrast that to how well government is handling the pit issue currently).

    What then brought prosperity to Minnesota, to the Range? Entrepreneurs!

    Entrepreneurs like Henry Sibley, Weyerhaeuser, Tom Walker, H.C. Akeley – all early loggers who created the industry which supplied lumber to build the Upper Midwest. This created jobs, lots of jobs. Oh…the Walker Art Center came later, not first.

    The loggers also supplied pulp to build Minnesota’s paper industry…built by entrepreneurs like West, McGill, Smyth, Brown, Bigelow and Reif. More jobs created, more nice schools built. Oh..the Reif Center came later, not first.

    The denuding of two thirds of Minnesota of white pine opened the opportunity for farming…which created the largest flour milling & boxed food operations in the U.S. All built by entrepreneurs like Will Cargill, Charles Pillsbury and others. More jobs created, more nice libraries built.

    All these industries created the need for railroads built by James Hill (unlike the NorthStar choo-choo from the Twins Stadium to Big Lake which wasn’t built based on need…but by a government driven boondoggle). Oh….the Hill library came later, not first. More jobs created.

    At the same time, the Merritt brothers, Henry Oliver and Rockefellers drove investment in Minnesota’s iron ranges. This created lots of jobs, and more grand city halls were built.

    All this and not to mention McKnight (3M), Norris (Control Data), Rand (Remington Rand), Paulucci (Jeno’s), etc….and the huge banking business. All these business men created many, many jobs. Along came more wealth, more schools, more civic centers and arenas.

    I think you get the point. Individuals taking risk are what build businesses. Businesses are what create jobs. Businesses create wealth. With wealth comes nice schools, comes good teachers, comes an educated society, comes nice city halls…comes the internet to all.

    What role should citizens / government play to bring risk takers back into the area to build businesses and therefore create jobs and wealth?

    Create a favorable “risk taking” environment. Talk to existing business owners. Talk to potential business creators. Ask them what they want. Woo them. Tell ‘em you want them to stay. Tell them you want them to come. Show them why. Love them…You do this and the existing ones will stay and the new, young ones with exciting ideas will come flocking in…Ask all your friends, your students, your buddy Anzelc to do the same.

    On the contrary, treat them badly and watch ‘em leave and go elsewhere…along with the wealth, nice streets and schools they built and were supporting.

    Just my experienced thoughts…

  3. I think we’re in agreement on this. The one thing that seems different now then at those previous times in history is that people have more choices about where to live. That makes things like good schools and reasonably attractive communities more important on the front end. It would be a factor, among others, I would consider if I was looking for a place to do business from scratch. But thanks for your thoughts on this.

  4. Can’t help but to throw this in…published today in the Mesabi Daily News…

    Landlords of 8th District said we want new renter

    Published: Saturday, November 20, 2010 12:47 AM CST

    One week has passed, and Jimbo has yet to congratulate Cravaack. How small, petulant, and entitled this man must be.

    Jim Oberstar finally met a candidate who could beat him, and he has yet to come up with a polite way to deal with his adversary. Jim and his supporters have forgotten that Oberstar was here to work for us. Not us for him.

    …what an ungratful **shole.

  5. The Range needs more risk taking entrepreneurs with support from our elected officials. The old worn out line “union good, company bad” that I’ve heard up here for 25 years is done. How we are not raising cain about the copper mining being held up by Fed EPA and State tree huggers is mind boggling. We need to grow our industries and understand “the times they are a-changing”. Let’s encourage money from anywhere that’ll stimulate our area and show the state that we’re hard working, industrious people. We’re perceived as left wing union nuts that won’t work unless AFL/CIO gives us the okay by most of the state. That’s not us.

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