ANALYSIS: Rob Ecklund wins 3A race


A map of the precinct results of the Dec. 8, 2015 special election in House District 3A in far Northeastern Minnesota. Ecklunds base of support in Koochiching and Northern St. Louis County are clearly seen, as is the tepid DFL turnout in Cook County. (Chris Saunders for

Rob Ecklund

Rob Ecklund

Rob Ecklund was elected State Representative for Minnesota House District 3A Tuesday by a wide margin. The Koochiching County Commissioner and Boise Cascade union paper worker earned 64 percent of the vote to Republican Roger Skraba’s 19 percent and independent Kelsey Johnson’s 16 percent.

Ecklund carried 80 of 83 precincts, losing a pair of small townships to Skraba and Johnson’s home precinct of Gnesen to the third party candidate. Though he fell short of his predecessor David Dill’s 65.5 percent total from 2014, he easily exceeded the DFL party index of about 56 percent.

None of this is particularly surprising. This result is what I and others predicted after Rob Ecklund won the much more challenging DFL primary back in September, where nonferrous mining supporters and opponents were engaged in an internal DFL proxy fight between Ecklund and Tofte businessman Bill Hansen.

So, does Ecklund’s win mean that the House of Representatives and Iron Range delegation is the same as before?

Not entirely.

For one thing, Rob Ecklund has been tagged as “conservative” by some because of his support for PolyMet and other mining projects. And while his support for these projects does put him on one side of that debate, I would argue that Ecklund’s background as a Steelworkers local president and union man is much more important to his ethos than fighting environmentalists, per se. On labor and workforce issue, he’ll be a true liberal. He’s more liberal than Dill was on social issues and health care. And even though he supports mining, he seems genuine in his desire to support efforts to diversify northern Minnesota’s economy.

Now, that doesn’t mean Hansen supporters disappointed with the result of the primary are satisfied. They’ll continue to be engaged in debate and will disagree with Ecklund at times, as they did with Dill. But it would have been the same for Hansen had he been elected. There are two parts to the Northeastern Minnesota DFL coalition: liberal/environmental and labor/mining. Both are important. Both are powerful. As long as they stay together the DFL will win. If the coalition disintegrates Republicans will have an opportunity to win.

So what happened last night?

In essence, a slightly more liberal representative was elected to a district that — at first blush — seems like a DFL stronghold, but is actually a tinder box of geographic, economic and ideological change. And Rob Ecklund is poised to hold that district for at least a few more cycles. For the DFL party this is a best-case scenario, even if parts of the DFL coalition are disappointed.

Change is slow. In fact, the economic conditions surrounding global commodities prices are moving much faster than the political wheels of the mining debate. I would posit that all this fuss is over an issue that will could be nullified by economics, not politics. And in that event, those who would support a robust role for the state in ensuring economic relief would prefer Rob Ecklund to the likely alternatives.


  1. You raise a very good point that Ecklund is less conservative than Dill was, and in that regard, Ecklund is, in my opinion, an improvement.

    For example, during the minimum wage debate, Dill personally told me he opposed raising the minimum wage. (“There’s no appetite for that at the Capitol”, Dill said, which was his standard line when he didn’t support something but didn’t want to own it. Apparently not, because it passed.) I find it less likely that a good union man like Ecklund would have taken the same position.

  2. However, your use of the term “liberal” is inaccurate. Economically, Ecklund isn’t more liberal; he’s more progressive. Despite its widespread misuse in the US, technically and in the rest of the world a person who is economically liberal “supports the ideological belief in organizing the economy on individualist lines, such that the greatest possible number of economic decisions are made by private individuals and not by collective institutions.” (Wikipedia)

    In contrast, as a union man, Ecklund believes in collective action to better our economic conditions, including a role for the state in guaranteeing a social safety net, job safety, etc. That is progressivism.

    Socially, Ecklund is at least potentially more liberal than Dill – who was pro-life and dodged the gay marriage votes – if for no reason other than that the Steelworker’s constitution supports civil rights, including LGBT and women’s rights. However, whether Ecklund lives up to the steelworkers constitution is another matter.

  3. Agree with the suggestion that “the economic conditions surrounding global commodities prices are moving much faster than the political wheels of the mining debate.” It’s a massive if not the determinative factor in the short term. But do disagree with any suggestion – not that you’ve necessarily made it – that the “fuss”/discussion about the longer term is therefore not useful. Perhaps makes it more necessary than ever.

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