Open legislative seat spurs Iron Range DFL primary

We sense many disturbances in the 2018 Iron Range political force. (Apologies. It is May the Fourth after all).

Setting aside the roaming Death Star of Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District race, the Mesabi Iron Range also stumbled into an open legislative seat in District 6B.

Current State Rep. Jason Metsa is running for the aforementioned Congressional seat. It’s been something of a cliche to call open seats on the Range “rare” but that hasn’t actually been the case recently. The idea of plunking someone into a safe DFL seat and aging them into seniority like a barrel of whiskey has given way to a much more volatile political situation.

Metsa’s been in the job just shy of six years. Neighboring District 6A has turned over three times since 2011. Each time, the DFL endorsement gives way to a competitive primary, usually involving a whisper campaign to determine which of the pro-mining candidates is the miningest of all. (“I heard he/she was seen eating a granola bar on a park bench. You know what THAT means.”)

Shaun Hainey

Shortly after Metsa announced he wouldn’t seek re-election to the legislature, Shaun Hainey announced he would seek the DFL endorsement. Hainey works in the St. Louis County assessors office. With little time to campaign, he was endorsed without opposition.

But soon after, rumblings of a primary grew. Sure enough, last week first term Aurora Mayor Dave Lislegard announced that he would also enter the race. In addition to 14 years on the Aurora city council, Lislegard works in business relations for Lakehead Construction, one of the largest construction firms in the region.

The very next day, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Iron Range building trades unions endorsed Lislegard.

Both candidates support PolyMet and Twin Metals, so this isn’t really a primary about mining. But I already sense that some would make this a race about who means it the most.

Hainey called me last week to talk about his race. He said he was entering the race to focus on education. He views his role as “making good places for people to live.” In other words, a holistic approach to quality of life on the Range, including mining and economic diversification.

Dave Lislegard

I haven’t talked to Lislegard yet, though I expect I will at some point. He stressed jobs in his opening statements to the press.

“I am a pro-labor, pro-business, pro-jobs DFLer,” Lislegard said in announcing his candidacy. “I have lived the difficult roller-coaster economy of the Range that has resulted in loss of jobs, population, security for workers and their families, and opportunities for our young people.

“We can do better, we must do better. And I believe I can make a positive difference for the people of the Iron Range at the State Capitol,” he added.

Fun fact, Lislegard played a miner in the 2005 film “North Country” starring Charlize Theron. He was laid off from LTV Steel when it closed in 2001 and went back to college for a bachelor’s degree in political science and communication.

Lislegard is the president of the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools (RAMS). He safely qualifies as an insider in the Range political scene, while Hainey seems more the outsider. Nevertheless, both of these candidates seem comfortable in their well-worn campaign shoes and this could be an interesting race.

More candidates could enter the 6B race before filing opens next month. Barring a GOP challenge, Republican Skeeter Tomczak of Eveleth, a military veteran who most recently challenged State Sen. David Tomassoni in 2016, will face the DFL primary winner next November.


  1. Kristin says

    I wonder if someday someone will figure out that jobs=corporate profits=money and start talking about profit profit profit!!! Money money money!!! Maybe we can discuss diverting public funds for corporate profit, including the public having to expend public funds to solve corporate pollution problems.

  2. Aaron, eating a granola bar, “You know what THAT means” made me lol this morning.

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