How Iron Range political drama helps no one

"Skink: No Surrender" is Carl Hiassen's latest novel involving the character Clinton Tyree, aka Skink, a former Florida governor who goes mad trying to stop corruption and lives out his days in the forest, helping people time to time.

“Skink: No Surrender” is Carl Hiassen’s latest novel involving the character Clinton Tyree, aka Skink, a former Florida governor who goes mad trying to stop corruption and lives out his days in the forest, helping people time to time.

In his daily “Morning Take” newsletter on Monday, March 28, Blois Olson offered this editorial about the way Iron Range politics disproportionately dominates state political priorities:

Minnesota politics can’t seem to ever avoid drama when it comes to the Iron Range. In 2016, the emotions and angles are more complex than a Tolstoy novel but some days it seems more like Hiassen. First is the issue of unemployment benefits and the jockeying and gamesmanship to pass them for the past six months. The oxygen it sucked in talks of special session and leading to a two-bill signing by Gov. Mark Dayton last week, after he delayed his out of town family trip to sign the bill, could have given many other serious issues more attention. Add to the drama, the Legislative Auditors report on the IRRRB and Gov. Dayton’s pre-emptive “veto” of the Twin Metals mining effort and the Rangers aren’t sure who they love or who they don’t. Now you have former friends of Dayton like Rep. Joe Begich bashing him, and editorials in the Ely Echo calling on Dayton to resign. It’s getting hot on the Iron Range. The Easter break could have been a good reality show had Dayton travelled to the Range to hold a town hall meeting. Nonetheless, its an election year and while the GOP has hopes of making inroads on Range votes, the idea of the entire range shifting R is unlikely – perhaps a small shift in a select House seat. From now until the end of session, lets remember there are more areas in Minnesota geographical and policy that deserve attention. The media should cover them, and legislators and the Governor should tune into them.

The comparison to a Carl Hiassen story is apt. I picked up Hiassen’s writing in high school. I think I’ve remained professionally satisfied here on my native Iron Range mostly because of the sheer abundance of writing material, a small, cold version of Hiassen’s Florida.

I’m not pointing out Olson’s take to mention my love of the work of Carl Hiassen (that is merely a bonus). Rather, I’d argue this shows us that the state could quite quickly lose patience with the demands of the Iron Range and its seemingly (though not really) unsolvable political problems.

We are inches away from the DFL’s largest voting blocks in the Twin Cities and even Duluth along with suburban Republicans joining forces to collectively stop caring about the relatively small number of votes available on the Range. We might argue that this has already happened. The 2020 census and 2022 redistricting could be the final blow to modern Iron Range political relevance.

That’s all the more reason to advance reform and economic development from within, before our available resources and influence are gone.


  1. Independant says

    Do you think the Union members and their leadership on the Iron Range will finally realize that the DFL in Minnesota laughs at them behind closed doors while back slapping their metrocentric supporters. Wake up, they don’t support you or what you do for a living! That means you Building Trades and Steelworkers.

  2. Now hold on. I don’t have much time for a drawn out discussion here, but I don’t think anyone’s laughing. It’s not some conspiracy. The mining issue is complicated and people disagree about it. You hold your view. Others hold different views. If you think Dayton’s wrong about Twin Metals, then fine. But who tried to put “right to work” on the ballot a few years ago? Wasn’t the DFL. Who’s defending prevailing wage, and pension protections?

    Again, people can vote however they want. I don’t care. But this simplistic “The governor won’t give public land to one specific developer for some reason so I’m going to vote out everyone” is just tiresome. Go ahead. But don’t pretend you’re ushering in some grand renaissance for trade unionism.

  3. Independant says

    I understand where you are coming from but the issues of right to work legislation and prevailing wage don’t amount to a pile of spit without any projects to build. If they are not built because the watchdog groups like the DNR, MPCA and others determine they will not be safe to operate than fine but to single handedly not let that process take place is ridiculous and can only be to appease his environmental extremist supporters. I absolutely don’t believe there is a conspiracy with Dayton, he would have to be smart enough to try and hide the fact that he is screwing Iron Range union members for it to be a conspiracy.

  4. You know what? You and your preceding generations have destroyed enough of our land and left nothing but holes and piles from Grand Rapids to Ely with no foresight as to what a useless mess you’re leaving. What about a plan to restore the mess you’ve made before planning another?

    • Independant says

      Aitkin, if you are referring to a mine reclamation plan, those are mandatory for all modern mining projects before they can begin. Also don’t be so righteous unless you are traveling from Grand Rapids to Ely exclusively on horseback. I just caught some nice trout the other weekend with a preceding and later generation of my family on a beautifully reclaimed crystal clear mine pit lake surrounded by towering norway pines the other weekend just down the road from my house, lovely.

      • Yes, I am referring to the useless wasted land mining has left behind. You can disguise it any way you wish and pretend it’s a beautiful playground. Put on your boots and climb to the top! Look at the next one from there. Look at the hole full of red colored fish you say are so swell. Then try and remember what this looked like before you wrecked it. How the land could have been used for homes, towns and businesses If you ask me what you should be doing while you’re laid off? Put it back the way it was!!!!

        • Independant says

          If I ever get laid off I’ll look into that. The rainbow trout we catch in the pit lakes do have a nice pink coloring down their sides but I am pretty sure they are supposed to look that way.

  5. I am very much in agreement with Olson. Tired of range politics distorting public policy in the entire state. Tired of the relentless sense of entitlement. Tired of attacks on environmental regulatory programs. Tired of buffoons from the Range having leadership position in the DFL. Tired of the relentless corruption–or whatever it is–of the IRRRB. Of course, I’m only one insignificant person but eventually more and more people are likely to feel this way, and the Range as a proportion of population, economic output, and so on can’t sustain, and should not sustain, the political clout used as it is.
    Aaron Brown bangs the drum constantly for economic diversification. He’s right, obviously.

  6. Here I go, wasting my time. The idea that Minnesota government isn’t “friendly to mining” is as if saying a pimp doesn’t support prostitution. It is written as obligation into state statutes, and the state subsidizes it in many ways, including research. Now, to the realities of “reclamation.” An actual definition might require the project not to disrupt existing watersheds or for the land to be returned to some proximate ecological equivalent. None of this has, or will happen. It is merely dressing up ecological nightmares. The entire northern part of the St. Louis watershed is physically altered, some of it forever. For the pristine mine pit lakes filled with pristine water and shimmering trout, one might actually have to do some research as it is a subject that is “disappeared.” For example, the lake in Ely. The pit lakes ratio of surface area to depth does not allow for adequate turnover and oxygen exchange, so the deep areas become filled with hydrogen sulfide from decaying matter. They are dead zones, unless there are bacteria evolved to take advantage. That particular lake also absorbs stormwater pollution from the city, so the near surface is tainted with abundant chloride and all of modern chemistry that modern life requires. The fish actually live in a narrow band between these two wondrous zones of reclamation and require constant stocking. The landscape is surrouned by numerous invasive species, including imported wonders such as caragana, the thorns hoped to prevent wanderers from trespassing. Most pit lakes will end up like this…as hydrogen sulfide filled pools draining into altered watersheds.

    • Yes, a lot of waters are clear because they can’t support life. That doesn’t make them “pristine,” unfortunately.

    • Independent says

      I wonder how we were catching those splake 12″ off of the bottom of the pit lake in the “dead zone”. Maybe they are actually zombie trout or maybe hybrid splake are an invasive species to some…

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