Range’s icy disposition toward Twin Cities pushes rightward swing

Rob Farnsworth

PHOTO: Farnsworth for Senate

I know some readers might miss my election night liveblogs, but I was quite relieved to be free of that job this year.

For one thing, St. Louis and Itasca county results didn’t really start coming in until midnight. Most races weren’t really known until 3. I slept through all of that, woke up Wednesday morning, and got the news all at once. Bad for clicks, good for health.

For another, I already sensed that Republicans were going to win most of the close races on the Iron Range. I was surprised that Grant Hauschild won Senate District 3 for the DFL, but also that DFLer Rob Ecklund lost to Roger Skraba in House 3A — by just 15 votes, no less. Most elections have at least a few surprises.

Despite the DFL losing three Northeastern Minnesota seats, they still kept the State House. Meantime, Hauschild’s win essentially meant they gained a seat over the previous two Range senators who had already left the DFL to become independent members who caucused with the GOP. Thus, in another surprise, the DFL won the State Senate, too.

Redistricting after population growth in the Twin Cities Metro area fueled a lot of gains for the DFL, along with strength in regional centers like Duluth, Rochester and Moorhead, where they did very well in Tuesday’s election.

Nevertheless, Republicans turned in a commanding performance on the Range.

I’ve been on the radio and television this week talking about the significance of this election in Iron Range politics. Today, I have a new column in the Minnesota Reformer exploring some of the deeper issues under the rightward swing of the Mesabi Range.

People still talk about mining as a major issue here. And there are big things happening that will affect mining jobs, to be sure. But it doesn’t really seem like that’s the main reason Republicans won. Like an underground peat fire, there’s smoldering you don’t see, and it can flare up quick. That happened in many parts of the Range on Nov. 8.

Here’s a taste:

For 20 long years, candidates have been subjected to a sort of litmus test on their support for copper-nickel mining projects here that are probably decades from reality. Republicans have used this issue well — first to drive a wedge in the DFL coalition and last Tuesday to finally cleave that old log in two.

But when candidates who say and do and wholeheartedly believe all the right things when it comes to supporting mining still lose, what gives? It could be that regions like this, deprived of the economic growth seen elsewhere in the state, have become like a negatively-charged magnet, always pushing against and away from the Twin Cities.

It’s true that the state’s metro region could better understand the Iron Range, but I can guarantee that metro residents spend a lot less time thinking, talking and seething about the Range than the other way around.

There’s a lot more to it. I’m not a Twin Cities apologist. I just think we Iron Rangers could accomplish quite a lot more if we worried less about cultural and economic shifts out of our control and more about the world we create right here. The piece is called, “Iron Range, seething at the Twin Cities, continues right turn.” You can read it today at the Minnesota Reformer.


  1. Absolutely and we on the range are sick of people in the metro making of all our decisions. They don’t have a clue what it’s like up here now. Everything is suddenly raised due to inflation but everything is already high priced up here because “it costs to bring everything up here”. So now it’s a double whammy. With Biden fighting against anything mining or oil in the states, it doesn’t help. It’s sad and frustrating for us up here. I’m not hating on any party but it has come to a point that one party stopped working for “us”.

  2. Fred Schumacher says

    The Iron Range has the big head, and this election marks the death knell of the Range as a political power in Minnesota. You might as well order the tombstone now. At one time, the larger population and union membership of the Range provided the DFL votes to put it into the majority in St. Paul. That’s no longer the case, and by voting Republican, the Range has now become a minor actor in the GOP’s southern and western base.

    What did Bakk and Tomasonni get for their switch to the Republican caucus? Nothing. Gazelka did not stay awake Tuesday night worrying about how the Range would vote. What do the Twin Cities think about the Range? As a great philosopher once said, “frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn.” My wife was a professor at MSU-Mankato for 12 years. Most of her students had never even heard of the Range, let alone have any opinion of it. Americans think Minnesota is Siberia, but Minnesotans know it’s the Arrowhead that is Siberia, a place where the climate is frigid and jobs are few.

    Mining and forestry, the vaunted two of the three legs of northern economics only supply 3% of the jobs in the 8th Congressional District, a place that once elected giants, like Jim Oberstar, who could get results whether in the majority or minority, and now reelects a Republican back bencher who has no impact in Congress. And the MN 3rd District, larger in area than 9 states, has elected a Republican whose notoriety comes from having stolen a porta potty from the Forest Service. Meanwhile, Rob Ecklund, a legislator of the quality of Oberstar, would be a committee chair in a DFL dominated state legislature. Welcome to irrelevance.

    The Northland’s Republican switch is easy to explain. To paraphrase James Carville, it’s the Big Sort, stupid. That Metro area that outstate residents love to hate, is the economic and cultural driver of Minnesota, and is where most of their children live. Iron Rangers did help elect the DFL majority, but they weren’t living on the Range when they did so. I’m sure Angie Craig is very thankful of the DFL voting Rangers who moved into her district. So when an area loses its young, loses population, what happens? The risk takers, the ones who are comfortable taking a chance living in an area they are not familiar with, are the ones who leave and tend to vote liberal. Those who won’t change, stay home and vote conservative. That’s the case all across the country. Emptying out rural areas vote Republican, and cities go Democratic, no matter red state or blue state.

    When we moved to the Orr area 31 years ago, there were two full school buses operating on the rural Greaney/Silverdale run. Today there is a partially filled mini bus. Most of the kids who rode on those buses in the past, including my own, no longer live here, and my son who lives in Burnsville voted for Angie Craig. I don’t know about the Range, which has all the appeal of Butte, Montana, but the Arrowhead, and especially Duluth, Ely and the North Shore, will increase in population as Climate Change refugees move north, bringing their jobs with them. It’s sad though, that the area most resistant to immigrants, the Range, was settled and built by immigrants only a few generations ago.

    • This all pretty much rings true. I tend to look at West Virginia for the future of the Range. Vote stupid, be thought stupid… Still, my (very small) involvement in the opposition to Tom M’s coal plant scam–willingly enough funded by Metro legislators from what I saw–taught me to doubt generalities about any part of Minnesota.

  3. Steve Chesney says

    I agree with Fred S. The era of the Range as the tail that wags the Twin Cities DFL dog is over. Now they compete with the “rocks and cows’ part of the state.

    The story of the change from blue to red is on the Range is now old news. Expect fewer regional and national journalists at Range diners in future.

    I don’t enjoy this. Another part of “my” Minnesota is fading.

  4. One key fact.

    In almost every state with one or more large metro areas the residents of the rest of the state — “Greater,” “Upstate,” “Downstate,” “Outstate,” the “Valley,” the “East or North or West or South,” or “Rural” — firmly believe that their tax dollars are being sent to the metro area and spent on feckless residents of the “city,” In almost every state, that is wrong. It is certainly wrong everywhere in the Midwest, including Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and in California, New York, Massachusetts, Arizona, Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington.

    In reality, in every case, the Metro areas pay a larger percentage of taxes and collect a smaller share of state spending than their non-metro neighbors.

    That is particularly true in Minnesota. The Metro area here pays about 65% of the state tax burden, but collects about 55% of the spending. Greater Minnesota pays about 35% of taxes and collects about 45% of spending. That amounts to between $4 billion and $5 billion that the Metro is giving to Greater Minnesota as a subsidy out of their taxes. Say thank you. Minneapolis in particular has an unbalanced ledger: they send about 3.5 times as much money to the state as they get back in spending and aid.

    There are very good reasons for that. As Willie Sutton would say, the Metro is where the money is. A very large percentage of the productivity of the state in manufacturing, goods, services, recreation, and sales is located in the Metro area. Incomes are higher. Land is worth more. That, to put it simply, is why so many people live there, and why our kids move there. Again, in numbers, the average Metro area resident pays about $2800 in state taxes a year. The average Greater MN resident pays $1000. That’s the way the economy works.

    This is getting worse instead of better. Population is dwindling in Greater MN in general and the Range in particular. Trends in ownership and productivity, most based on use of larger and larger individual machines and on management housed in distant places, are destroying jobs while keeping production as high or higher than ever. We can look forward to farms and mines that run primarily on remote controlled and robotic machines with tiny numbers of actual people working here. In the end, if the three currently proposed non-ferrous mines were to open, they would probably employ fewer people than were laid off in our latest iron mine closures and furloughs. The people will just leave. Many government costs — roads and bridges, water and sewer, operation of buildings for schools and governments — will continue to cost the same to keep running even if they are half-empty or rarely used, so the imbalance between government money spent and government money collected will get worse.

    Meanwhile, rather than hating on the Twin Cities, we taxpayers up here should be sending them a nice thank you note for paying for a good share of our costs of government, schools, and infrastructure.
    To steal a quip from the ag industry, don’t criticize the Metro with your mouth full. They probably paid for that burger.

    • Everyone sees the world tinted based on the perspective of the local “world” they live in. There are many of these local “worlds” throughout the state of Minnesota. The people see the problems that they face in their local “world” and seek policies and laws to improve these problems. I don’t hate anyone in the Metro or Outstate for trying to come up with a solution for the problems that they face. However, the solution for one local problem should not be a state-wide solution if that solution creates new problem(s) for a different locality within the state.

      • Not suggesting that the financial subsidy should mean the Metro should take over Range decision making, just trying to debunk a myth that our taxes are going to “those people” in the Cities when the reality is 180 degrees different.

        Got to be careful about the George Wallace argument that “we locals know what’s best for our area” though. Reality is sometimes yes, sometimes no.

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