The talk of the Iron Range political universe is the possibility of former State Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Pike Township) returning to politics with a run for St. Louis County Commissioner. Incumbent Mike Forsman of Ely is retiring, leaving an open seat in a county board district that is bigger than most legislative districts (and most other counties, for that matter).
Christina Hujanen, who lost to the four term veteran Forsman by about 14 points in her first run for office four years ago, has already announced another bid for the seat. She’d be considered a strong candidate, if it weren’t for the specter of the Iron Range’s most recognizable name hovering over the race.
Rukavina currently works in the district office of U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8), but is not shy in admitting he misses the political action of being elected to serve. With his legislative seat safely in the hands of his chosen successor, Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia), Rukavina must look closer to home for opportunities to run. Friends and associates of Rukavina have been talking openly about his consideration of this race.
Though some might consider county board a step down for Rukavina, St. Louis County is an enormous entity and District Four is a political fiefdom even larger than Rukavina’s old legislative district. District 4’s most populous city is Ely, which tells you how rural it is, too.
What would be the big issue in an election involving Tom Rukavina? Same as in an legislative election: mining. St. Louis County District 4 is where all of the controversial proposed copper/nickel mine sites are located, of which Rukavina has been among the most strident supporters. Forsman was a mining supporter and reliable vote for pro-mining resolutions on the county board.
Rukavina has had many public spats with St. Louis County officials over the years, including an on-again, off-again feud with Sixth District commissioner Keith Nelson, so the prospect for fireworks on a county board that includes Tom Rukavina is quite high.
Arguably, the county board has little role in permitting and certainly no role in financing future mining projects, but nevertheless I’d expect a proxy fight over mining to dominate a Tom Rukavina-Christina Hujanen race.
(I should add that I’m not aware that Hujanen has ever expressed any anti-mining views; it’s just that’s the theatrical narrative that will develop in this farce we call 21st century Iron Range politics).
Rukavina would be favored in a run for this office, but with the volatility of the mining issue and his personal political style the race would still be worth watching.