Michelle Lee seeks DFL nomination in MN-8

Michelle Lee

On Feb. 15, former Duluth TV news anchor Michelle Lee joined a growing list of candidates for Congress in Minnesota’s Eighth District.

Lee, who retired from KBJR-TV last year, represents a familiar face with an increasingly political voice in a wide open race to succeed Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan.

Democracy is a messy, frustrating and downright complicated thing and historically its governance has been left up to men. It is imperative that our government reflects the people it serves. We all become engaged in the process and that begins at the grassroots. Whether it is healthcare for every American, a living wage or equality we must join forces to highlight and fight for the issues that unite us.

I believe women are in a unique position to be the change. After decades in the workforce I realize how privileged I have been to have the opportunity to balance a career and family. That opportunity was created by the women who came before me. It is my responsibility to carry that forward for future generations of women.

As a journalist I felt it was my responsibility to sit on the fence observing and reporting as the world turned impartially and without judgement. My current goal is to take what I have learned and learn a heck of a lot more to be a part of the change.

Lee wastes no time articulating her position on controversial new copper-nickel mining proposals in Northeastern Minnesota. Her entire position makes for interesting reading.

Many potential candidates in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District are working to thread the needle on the divisive issue of proposed copper nickel mining in the northern half of the 8th Congressional District. I want to be upfront with you on this issue that is threatening to pull our party apart at its seams.

If a candidate tells you they support copper-nickel mining and promise they will fight to protect our environment they are playing to emotions and nobody wins.

It is essential that we separate iron ore mining from copper-nickel mining.

For more than 30 years I have had a front row seat as the 8th District fought many battles of economic survival. Many of those battles have been fueled by the boom or bust economy of iron mining.

I have seen the uncertainly and fear in the eyes of a young miner standing in line at union headquarters, holding the hand of his little boy. Another young miner I met lost his job during a shutdown. He shared with me how opportunities at the Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College gave him new tools to seek a new career and remain in the 8th District.

I will not attempt to thread the needle on the question of copper-nickel mining.

Based on scientific evidence and the history of similar mines I am not convinced this new-to-Minnesota mining can be done safely without threatening our fresh water, which is our most important strategic reserve. I cannot support a process that could saddle future generations and taxpayers with the burdens tied to a bad bet.

I do support efforts to maintain and grow our iron ore mining and taconite industry.

I am a strong supporter of unions. My son and daughter-in-law are union members. My 92 year old mother owes her health and security to a 49’ers pension.

I am willing to talk about hard truths and work to unite our friends and neighbors on the important issues we face throughout the 8th District, the least of which is the graying of our population and the flight of our young people.

Together we must work to create good paying, sustainable jobs on the range and across the District. We do that by supporting small businesses to help them grow into large, sustainable businesses.

Single-payer health care and and a strong rural health care system are also among my top priorities.

The 8th District of Minnesota is a complex battleground, targeted by both major political parties and special interests. But, I believe my experience in public life has demonstrated I’m someone you can trust to tell you the truth..and someone who will speak truth to power.

I know you believe we need to solve our problems together, not through divisive politics where someone has to lose so others can win.

Lee carries something that no announced candidate in this race has so far: widespread name recognition and a generally positive perception. People know her because they invited her into their home every night at 10 for thirty years. No one’s hit her with negative ads or mailers. Until now she’s never asked anyone for money or votes. Lee has talked to people in the district for an entire career without making any significant enemies.

She is, however, a political neophyte. Can she translate her name recognition into grassroots support? She’s running to the left, but in an interesting way. In an election where the winner of the DFL primary might have only 25-30 percent, Lee is right there in the mix.

Read more about the MN-8 race at my special coverage page.


  1. I don’t see her as being too serious a candidate. Her celebrity doesn’t touch a great deal of the modern 8th district and it is a crowded DFL field.

  2. Michelle – you read and occasionally comment on this blog – correct? Anything you want to add to Aaron’s write-up?
    I appreciate that you are not trying to skirt both sides of the issue like some of the other DFL candidates. I’m not sure what you mean by “scientific evidence” being out there that this type of mining can’t be done safely. To me, this type of mining can be done safely. The issue comes down to trust that it will be done safely or fear that it won’t be done safely.

  3. I happen to believe that non-ferrous mining WILL be done, so the question facing us is not whether it will happen, but how we will, as Gray Camp says, make sure it is done safely. Unfortunately, from Reserve Mining on, MN has a pretty poor record of environmental safety on mining issues, with a tendency to plunge ahead rather than take care, and a philosophy that it is easier to deal with failures after the fact than before.

    We also have to face the fact that we are dealing with large international businesses with a record of terrible performance in environmental safety and, in fact, worker safety. Glencore and Antofagasta are engaged in making the least costly approach that they can get approved, as many people would suggest they should be in a capitalist system, with the government having the role of pushback and control, not the businesses. If you doubt that, just cast your mind back to the first Polymet proposal, which was vetoed by the EPA and the courts after being approved by Minnesota regulators, and which Polymet management subsequently admitted was inadequate, and required an entirely new technical and engineering approach.

    That said, it is my opinion that we need to do the following:

    1.) Stick to the existing pollution limits. These were derived independently from any commercial considerations and at a time when the current storm of political controversy did not exist.
    2.) Create an independent, well equipped and staffed scientific monitoring agency to do continuous monitoring to make certain that the limits are obeyed and the fail safes are maintained and functioning. This should be a state agency financed by fees for mining. The Mount Polley disaster in Canada has shown the foolishness of delegating this responsibility to the companies themselves or to “independent” entities hired by them.
    3.) Demand that the mining companies provide financial guarantees, backed by sound independent insurance or banking firms as insurance or bonding, that can cover the costs of dealing with leaks and other setbacks to safety, with the costs of shutting down and maintaining safety for the indefinite future after shutdown, and with potential costs of a major disaster, either through catastrophic failure of systems or through chronic malfunction. This is particularly true of Polymet, since its financial structure is designed to protect its parent company from any financial liability from pollution and system failure.
    4.) Before we turn the first shovel, we need a good cost-benefit analysis. So far, economic studies have focused just on the benefits, which are in fact significant. They have ignored potential costs, including to the tourist industry, to people and businesses living and operating downstream from the mines, and to the potential future development of downstream areas in the event of partial or total safety failures.

    To do less, in my opinion, would be irresponsible to taxpayers both current and future, to our children, and to the people whose lives are invested in the Northland. We cannot allow ourselves to be just one more backward group of people taken advantage of by these large international companies because we are fixated on the shiny promise of relatively short run money.

  4. Nolan at least pays tribute to the more conservative ideas and values of his constituency. Things like gun control, base metal mining, single payer health insurance, and so on. He’s trying to thread the needle and has hung on by the skin of his teeth.

    Michelle only has name recognition in the local Duluth TV market, north of Hinkley and east of Deer River at best. Think about it. Do you know who reads the news on KSTP? I don’t.

    Michelle has come out very early and very strongly in favor of the national Democratic talking points. It will be very hard for her to backtrack and thread the needle when reality sets in.

    Her positions may set well with the northern suburbs, where she has no name recognition, and the state DFL establishment, but will be a hard sell in NE Minnesota even with her name recognition here.

    I also suspect that her positions also align with the two declared candidates from the northern suburbs, diluting her message there.

    She has a tough hill to climb.

    • I am surprised to see you describing single payer as a conservative value. If conservatives start endorsing that, it would be departure indeed. A welcome departure for many of us.

      Nolan has strongly supported non-ferrous mining.

      His position on gun control is very similar to Lee’s, with support for personal rights to own and use guns, a personal history of use of guns, but with calls for various controls on certain issues, for example assault weapons and universal background checks applied to all sales. He was rated very poorly by the NRA throughout his career.

      Nolan actually has been one of the most left wing congressmen, consistently rated more progressive than all except five or six others. His non-ferrous mining position is a glaring exception to most of his other positions, which pretty much are in line with or to the left of national Democratic positions.

      As far as I can see, neither of the two candidates from the far northern suburbs are espousing positions much similar to Lee’s, except in the most generic DFL way. Phifer is trying to portray herself as a gun enthusiast, and her position on mining is pretty standard support of the process of approval of non-ferrous mining by the state, with the caveat that she opposes efforts to depart from due process that Nolan sponsored. Kennedy has stated that she is a stronger supporter of non-ferrous mining than Phifer, and describes herself as closer to Nolan’s position. That presumably means due process in Minnesota regulatory agencies but allowing cancellation of due process by congressional intervention. I don’t see anything so far from Kennedy on guns.

      As of now, there are no candidates in either party with much recognition beyond the hard core of their party, since all of the potential big names, as Aaron noted, have taken a pass. I would venture a guess that Metsa, Anderson, Radinovich, Phifer, and Stauber all would be greeted by the question “who?” from at least 90% of the voting public in CD8. Most people in Duluth probably would mix up Anderson and Stauber with other Andersons and Staubers, if they had any idea. Radinovich is probably best known in Minneapolis, and probably not all that well known there. So having about 200,000 people in the district know who you are and have a starting impression that you are a nice person is a big head start.

      Of course, as you say, it is going to be what she does with that start that will count.

  5. I didn’t say whether Nolan was for or against those issues, just that his constituency takes a more conservative line on them than the standard Democrat talking points. I did not imply that advocating for single payer healthcare is a conservative value, just that the standard Democrat position is more liberal than Nolan’s constituency.

    She took a pretty strong position against base metal mining in the statement Aaron quoted above. Also one for “health care for all”. I admit that I read something into Aaron’s column about gun control that wasn’t there. Still your statement pretty much aligns with what I expected.

  6. David Gray says:

    Nolan did make a point of having his picture taken with guns though. More people saw that than his voting record.

    • Democrats who represent rural constituencies always make a point of posing with guns. Phifer already has a picture on her website posing with a gun, and also writes about her love of sporting clays as a pastime. I would predict that pretty soon there will be pictures of all of the DFL candidates with their guns, including Lee. The biggest comedy scene of that kind of thing was John Kerry posing with a shotgun during the 2004 campaign, looking like someone had dumped a dead skunk on his plate.

      The GOP equivalent is having pictures with black people. They all do that too. I suspect that some people could make a decent living being the black person available for a picture with GOP candidates. Trump had an actual single black guy who followed him around during the 2016 campaign and stood in the group behind him for pictures. Always the same guy, from Scranton to Phoenix and everywhere in between. I assume he rode around on the jet.

      As you say, very few people actually check out the candidate’s voting record in detail. Image is everything.

  7. Tony Lourey is telling party leaders he is not going to run.

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