COLUMN: We who sail the seas set the course

This is my weekly column which ran in the Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. The column ran a day early because I was told that the large volume of letters to the editor regarding the House 5B special election pushed me off the Sunday page. That’s great, because the Saturday paper is where all the action is anyway. Saturdays and print edition newspapers. The two go together like peanut butter and … regular butter. Is it Feb. 15 yet?

We who sail the seas set the course
By Aaron J. Brown

Like many of you, I was just about spent on politics after the November election. This time I’ll quit for good, I said. I’ve said it before. Yet, once again, when the drums beat and the trumpets sound I am right back in the thick of it. We all have our political convictions. Even those with no such convictions remain completely convinced. (“Don’t vote; you’ll only encourage them.”)

It has taken a few mighty collisions between youthful idealism and the hard rocks of reality, but I have finally learned that elections do not solve problems. Not on their own, they don’t. Oh, elections have consequences, to be sure, but they often act more like weather than medicine. The actions of those who survive the storm, or use its mighty winds to sail, are far more important.

Here on the Iron Range the voters of House District 5B will have a unique opportunity to influence the weather in the upcoming special election, with a DFL primary on Feb. 1 and a general election on Feb. 15. As you might know, State Rep. Tony Sertich resigned more than a week ago to become Gov. Mark Dayton’s commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation agency. Both Sertich’s transition into that job and the special election to fill his former 5B seat will influence this region’s future.

Nevertheless, these events provide no guarantee that anything specific will occur. Elections provide a temporary thrill for the most self-convinced, perhaps the loudest among our community. It’s a mandate, they scream. And they will lose their breath and hunker down on the deck of our ship at sea. It is raining. It is snowing. How do we stop that? Do we find a use for all this water or try to repel it? Probably a little bit of both. Political science is an arcane art of mathematical observation, nothing like walking and talking at the same time.

Indeed, the actions of everyday citizens, the readers, the voters, the people living and dying on the Iron Range, matter much as the person who wins this election. Our leaders, for better and worse, reflect our true nature as a people. What they do is often at least as important as how they vote. What they do is so often determined by what we do, what we build and defend in our own communities.

This is a special election, and it really is special. Open seats don’t appear very often on the Iron Range, where acquiring political seniority is a key strategy. Furthermore, this particular election features many good candidates, both in the Feb. 1 DFL primary and in the Feb. 15 general election, where Republican Paul Jacobson and IP candidate Cynthia Kafut Hagen await the DFL primary winner.

Among the DFLers, Shelley Robinson is an active, dedicated, compassionate member of the community. Carly Melin represents a new generation of Iron Range ideas and energy. Jeff Kletscher combines the experience of a small town mayor with that of a teacher and small business owner. Ray Pierce Jr. offers a voice to a lot of people outside politics, who know him as a millwright and country music personality. John Spanish, of course, is part of the long history of DFL politics on the Iron Range.

The differences among these seven candidates might be great on the issues, but they share the desire to represent our ship as it sails the choppy waters of the 21st century. The next representative may move the rudder, but let us not forget that big ships need big crews. We all have a role in the future of this region. We should welcome this exciting and mercifully short exercise in politics, for it is the people who sail the seas of democracy.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and community college instructor from the Iron Range. Read more at his blog or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”


  1. Any chance we elect a business person not a politician? We need new blood.

  2. I am continually impressed by the insights you share here. Thank you for your refreshing take on things!

  3. You’d think after 40 years of failed DFL policies that destroyed the Range, we might want to sail with different captains of the ship. How about tax incentives to come here rather than tax burdens? How about a solid pay for employees that doesn’t include non sustainable pension packages? How about someone that’ll fight the EPA and DNR to get permits to mine rather than side with the “trees before people” green weenies. How about someone that understands it’s the parents responsibility to make sure his/her child does well in school not the states. DFL’ers throwing tax payers money at the many problems of the Range hasn’t worked. I know that’s a news flash for many. Personal responsibility and accountability just might work, how about we try it?

  4. I agree with you Aaron.

    We need to remember that we are electing representitives. They are supposed to represent us. Frequently people like to blame politicians, the government, etc for problems with our society. Remember WE are our society. Tell these elected people how to represent you.

    Most of the problems that government has are the same problems that people have. How many people complain about government debit but have a ton of their own credit card debit. People gripe about health care issues while they eat glazed dounuts and drink soda. How many people that worry about our failing public infastructure have a roof that needs new shingles.

    Make good choices with your personal life and then tell your representitivs to do the same. To use Aarons analogy, the captain needs a good crew.


  5. Wow common sense approach. It might work. There’s 3 of us now it’s a start. K Edwards

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