Rebecca Otto responds to Iron Range critics

Iron Range newsState Auditor Rebecca Otto was on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range this week responding to criticism over her executive council vote against new nonferrous or sulfide mining leases on state-controlled land.

The Mesabi Daily News has led a drumbeat of criticism that coincides with an anonymous “Dump Otto” campaign based on the eastern Iron Range. That campaign appears to originate from within a network of pro-mining advocates in the region.

Yesterday, Rebecca Otto toured the Range on a damage-control mission in a DFL-leaning region often crucial to the electoral fate of statewide DFL officials. She explained to an audience in Ely, one of the communities most embroiled in this debate, that her vote was in keeping with the taxpayer watchdog role of her office. Otto fears that without proper protections written into these agreements taxpayers could get stuck with costs in the future after mining is complete.

The Dump Otto crowd is pushing the fact that Otto sent out a fund raising letter after her vote which appeared to be seeking contributions from mining opponents.

A politician voting and then seeking money? Shocking.  I’m sure a pro-mining politician would never do that.

Here’s the story from WDIO:

Bear in mind that the executive council (a panel that includes the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor and attorney general) voted 4-1 to grant the leases. Rebecca Otto’s lone vote did not in any way prevent anything from happening.

I’ve argued, and continue to argue, that Range political operators pushing this Dump Otto business are pursuing a stupid and self-defeating strategy. Take the win. Wait for PolyMet’s EIS, which is the only actual news event that matters at this point. (That’s really all Otto was saying; until we have the EIS we don’t know long term costs or the scope of financial assurances needed).

Know when to quit. Know when to build bridges to win tougher votes in the future.

Demographics do not now favor the political power of the Iron Range. Our population is dropping, as are DFL margins of victory. We are perilously close to obscurity, held together only by a political tradition that insists on our relevance. Mining could stanch our decline, but it is unlikely to rebuild our population on its own. We should work on a strategy of attraction rather than a policy of bullying people who oppose or even question locally-popular issues.

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