Stewart Mills offers surprising analysis on mining

Stewart Mills

When Stewart Mills announced he would not make another run for Congress in Minnesota’s Eighth District this year, he offered decidedly sharp words for the Republican political establishment.

Now it appears that Mills found a new occupation: blogger. Mills writes a new blog called Outstate, which reports on a blend of national and state political issues from a conservative point of view. He describes it as the first step in the launch of a multi-media project.

Here’s where the surprise comes. One of Mills’ recent posts (“A friendly heads up to Minnesota Republicans”) provides a remarkable observation about mining politics in the Eighth District.

Mills still supports copper nickel mining. If Iron Rangers want to mine copper, he’s got no problem with that. But in his estimation, the issue has become overblown in the region’s politics. Mills says conservatives and liberals alike would be wise to realize there could be blowback if it doesn’t go well.

Here’s Mills:

In the early part of the 2014 election cycle at a meeting of potential convention delegates in Pine County, Minnesota, I was listening to Republican candidates for Governor give passionate and animated speeches in support of copper-nickel mining. Waiting my turn to speak, I studied the room. Half the audience was confused, a quarter of the audience folded their arms and gave disapproving facial expressions, and the remaining 25% was earnestly trying to figure out how it applied to them. This was only one county away from the Iron Range, but their speeches might have well been in Klingon.

Mills said many people he knew approached him during his political appearances at hunters’ suppers and fishing events. These were conservative people disinclined to vote for Democrats. Nevertheless, they didn’t want to foul up Northern Minnesota waters, especially wetlands that provided habitat for ducks or lakes that supported trophy fish.

Further, Mills argues that the number of votes that are “gettable” for Republicans on the Iron Range lags behind the number of votes that could be lost if things go wrong.

Mills again:

Now that I have turned the corner on political life and have assumed the mantle of a political and policy commentator, I have shifted to a more objective viewpoint. I still maintain it should ultimately be left up to the Iron Rangers themselves to decide, but as water flows so do opinions and political constituencies. The political reality is it’s not a local issue as there are many real downstream stake holders, and many more voluntary stake holders who are conservationists, environmentalist, outdoorsmen, or even concerned folks who visited the Boundary Waters once upon a time.

While I am certain that the narrative of Republicans being of a singular mind on copper-nickel mining on Minnesota’s Iron Range and Democrats being irreconcilably divided is untrue. I also am certain that there are many more single-issue voters amongst the Democrat environmentalists than there are amongst the Republican conservationists. For Republican leaning voters outside the Iron Range, it isn’t presently a “top five issue”, but for a lot of Democrat leaning voters, it is. However, as the various Republican leaning conservation groups discuss the potential risks of sulfuric acid entering watersheds because of copper-nickel mining, strong opinions are growing with right leaning voters as folks in greater Minnesota are asking themselves whether they would want copper-nickel mining upstream from them. Except for those solely representing Iron Range communities, Republican or Democrat, championing copper-nickel mining has become an increasingly politically risky thing to do.

This brings me to an issue I’ve raised many times. Most notably, I made this observation after Rebecca Otto easily fended off a mining-related challenge during her 2014 re-election campaign for State Auditor. Is it possible that the Iron Range political fixation on this one issue amid a sea of potentially important issues only serves to isolate the region? Whether the Range elects Democrats or Republicans, the fate of this region seems tied to our ability to develop a sustainable economy. What if the projects don’t happen for a long time? Or if they fail to generate a sustainable economy? What if Duluth and the rest of the region move on without us?

Then we have isolated ourselves. The Iron Range becomes an oddity increasingly easy for both Democrats and Republicans to ignore, too divided among ourselves to marshal political action. Our citizens become frustrated and seek new leadership. What if redistricting reduces the Iron Range to a single Senate district in 2022? What then of the power so carefully cultivated by pro-mining interests today?

Stew Mills is telling Republicans to be careful. It would seem logical for Democrats, especially those running for Congress this year against a well-financed GOP challenger, to do the same.

Meantime, and I would never in the lifespan of a thousand stars have expected to type these words, but I found Stewart Mills’s blog worth reading. He brings a conservative perspective to what appears to be honest, if sometimes clunky, analysis of issues and news events. If candidate Mills avoided the unfriendly press, blogger Mills speaks freely.

UPDATE: Mills informs me that his blog is not a part-time endeavor, but the first step in a multi-media business endeavor. I’ve updated the post accordingly.


  1. Julie Stroeve says

    so, a question…are the voters seeking a sustainable economy where people on the Range can find livable wage work? if that’s the case then maybe copper-nickel mining and it’s inherent risks to air, water, and animals isn’t the way to go. instead, if resources were allocated to infrastructure building, repair, and long-term maintenance and high-speed internet accessibility, etc. would copper-nickel mining then become less attractive? there’s support on both sides of the aisle to keep the Boundary Waters and surrounding areas pristine now and for future generations.

  2. Very interesting. Maybe Mills is a lot smarter and more thoughtful than he’s seemed?
    I’ve only been watching MN politics for 11 years and there is plenty I don’t get. But there is this deep-seated supposition that “the DFL can’t win without the range.” In practice this has disastrous consequences: Every legislative session gives us weaker environmental protections and a less credible DFL. And, arguably, a less credible labor movement. Inevitably, people are starting to figure out that this supposition, however grounded in state political history, is no longer valid. There simply aren’t enough Rangers to hold the state hostage politically much longer. And they aren’t reliable DFL voters anyway. The times they are a changing….

  3. Bill Hansen says

    The copper/nickel mining is a politically losing issue. It’s an ever shrinking minority position trying to drag the majority into submission at the expense of the issues that really matter. This is ultimately a symptom of the corrupting influence of money in our politics. It’s time to show this exploitive industry the door and get to work building a sustainable, dignified economy for northeastern Minnesota. Your point about isolation is well taken.

    Remember when a gay marriage ban and voter ID were a sure bet politically? Minnesota was too smart for those issues and is too smart for weak economic development plus perpetual pollution.

    • I’m interested…give some details on the “sustainable, dignified economy” you speak of.

      • Uncle Forest says

        There are many options and examples for a sustainable, dignified economy: value-added wood products (think LP’s smart side product), bio-refineries, small manufacturing, local food production, and tech businesses, to name a few. There are also some ways to increase the dignity and wages of folks in the tourist industry, notably through union organizing and through better business models (“fair trade” tourism, for lack of a better word.) I don’t claim to have all the answers, but they are out there, and I see the beginnings of many of them already emerging.

        • That’s a start Uncle Forest, pick one you have a passion for and run with it. Ideas themselves are nothing but neurological flatulence.

    • Doug Luthanen says

      Minnesotans are too smart to want honest election? Wow.

  4. MarcusInMN says

    It’s not so surprising. Many conservative politicians are secretly smart, but have to play stupid to court their voting base. That’s what happens when a major political party aligns itself with ignorance.

    • David Gray says

      Of course the least educated and rational elements of our population form the voter base of the Democratic Party.

      • Interestingly, no longer true. Once was, but not anymore.

        “Rational” tends to be an ad hominem argument, but education is easily measured. And by 2016, the more highly educated you were the more likely to vote Democrat. The people with lower levels of education tend to be GOP if they are white but Dems if they are minorities. Since there are a lot more white people, the overall numbers are that lower educated people tend to vote GOP.

        In fact, famously, Trump won his key electoral states by turning out large number of white people with low levels of education who had not voted for at least the last two elections, while he got killed among people with the highest levels of education.

        • Doesn’t speak highly of the product our colleges/universities are are putting out in recent years…I think Hillary has used this as one of her reason for losing.

          Way too much emphasis on campuses on PC stuff, safe spaces, shutting down open dialogue, co-ed toilets, what’s hate speech, what’s not, proposals to “forgive” colleges loans, tearing down historic statues, renaming lakes, repatriations, etc.

          Time to re-emphasis the reason for going to college or vocational school is to learn a talent so as to get a job….to add value to society, pull our own weight.

          • Actually, scientific and technical people, including engineers, tend to vote Democratic in higher percentages than people from other fields of training. You can listen to only so many Flat Earth speeches before you start to seriously question if any of the speakers should be allowed to touch the controls. Tech people also are trained to analyze and depend on facts and data, and are consequently less impressed with empty slogans and cable news blather, and more willing to read all the way to the end of presentations and be careful about the obvious biases of writers. All of the tech hotbeds vote Democratic with numbers that resemble Duluth.

            And the smart boys and girls are way more interested in the percentage of a school’s grads who get offers from the skyrocketing companies doing exciting work than in whether Fox News is blowing up a story that has nothing to do with the quality of education and more to do with the prejudices of old white men. If your granddaughter gets a scholarship to Stanford or MIT, tell her to go and not worry about possible trans people in the bathroom. She’ll thank you when she signs for six figures at her first job out of school.

        • David Gray says

          Not surprisingly you miss and misread the point. The Democratic base is uneducated but Democrats sweep up among the very highly educated.

          • The Democrats base is a mix of minorities, women, young people, and well educated people — not just the very highly educated, but even those with basic college degrees.

            Again, that did not used to be the case. Prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Vietnam War, the Dems tended to be mostly, as you suggest, a blue collar party. But the “Southern Strategy” and Cold War military issues moved a majority of blue collar white men, and usually their wives with them, into the GOP column over a number of years.

            And prior to the Bush II presidency, the Obama presidency, and now the Trump presidency the GOP was dominated by white collar, more well to do people. Although there are still many of them in the GOP, the numbers have switched except among people over 60. Better educated professionals tend to vote Dem. It is very easy to see this when you look at the electoral maps. The red is in the areas dominated by blue collar people, the blue in the areas where well educated people with technical and professional backgrounds are concentrated.

            You can look it up. Likelihood of voting Democratic increases at each step up in education. It is in fact the GOP base that is now the less educated, and the GOP depends on people with low levels of education in rural areas, in the South, in the Mountain States, and on the Great Plains for their base. This does not mean they are bad or stupid people, or that they are not, as you say, “rational.” It means what it says: they have lower levels of education, a measurable fact both on geographic mapping and on exit and other polling.

            You are still thinking of the GOP and Democrats of the past, not the present. And you may also be thinking of Minnesota, which is lagging somewhat in this trend, especially in Twin Cities suburbs. However the trend lines point in exactly the same direction as the rest of the country.

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