VIRGINIA — Incumbents and DFLers in Minnesota House and Senate seats across the Iron Range retained seats Tuesday night in largely-expected outcomes.
A silver lining for Republican challengers was found in the margins, which were down across the board from 2014 and 2012 for the Range Delegation and area DFLers. It’s a trend that statewide Republicans enjoyed, but one that could be damaging to the Democrats if it continues.
Control of the state House was retained by Republicans on Tuesday, who captured the Senate as the final races concluded Wednesday, stripping the DFL of four chairmen and costing Tom Bakk of Cook his majority leadership in the chamber.
“It was a bittersweet victory, said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who defeated Skeeter Tomczak with 63 percent of the vote. “That can have very, very serious consequences.”
Range DFLers did lose the District 5 Senate seat when Tom Saxhaug was narrowly defeated by Justin Eichorn. Republican challenger Sandy Layman also flipped House 5B from DFL incumbent Tom Anzelc.
Besides those two races, Range Democrats enjoyed sound victories throughout Tuesday. Incumbent Jason Metsa of Virginia won in House 6B with 60 percent of the vote, Bakk was re-elected in District 3 at 61 percent and Rob Ecklund took House 3A with 63 percent. Julie Sandstede also won Carly Melin’s open seat in House 6A with 59 percent.
“Voters sent a pretty clear and resounding message to politicians across the country,” Mesta said. “They want us to set partisanship aside, compromise and get our jobs done.”
A 2015 legislative session that failed to produce a bonding bill, tax bill and transportation bill played a role Tuesday, but locally an anti-mining resolution loomed as those DFL winners saw their margins fall from previous years.
Tomassoni, last elected in 2012, saw his margin fall the furthest — about 9 percent — after earning 72 percent of District 6 that year. Metsa’s support fell almost 4 percent from 2014 against the same opponent, Matt Matasich. Bakk’s support dipped by about 3 percent against a repeat challenger and Sandstede polled 10.5 percent lower than Melin in 2014.
Ecklund polled almost even compared to his special election last year, and was down only 2 percent from David Dill’s re-election campaign in 2014.
A series of events, Tomassoni said, have dug into the votes, the least of which being the mining resolution. He pointed to Gov. Mark Dayton’s stance on Twin Metals, the long delays in PolyMet and rampant steel dumping from China in 2015 that prompted thousands of layoffs in the mining industry.
“What you’re seeing in rural Minnesota is a statement that we live here too, and we want to be treated fairly,” Tomassoni said. “Our jobs and natural resources-based economy — the idea that the Twin Cities environmental movement wants to control it — isn’t playing well with the people that live here. It’s a strong message and needs to be addressed.”
Metsa agreed, saying the Range DFL needs to rally its efforts to beat back a potential party vote against hard rock mining this year.
A coalition of trades union leaders, Range legislators and 8th District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan helped delay Resolution 54 in August, which is seen as an on-record effort by the party against all mining on the Iron Range. DFL Chairman Ken Martin has expressed frustration with the resolution, but a growing movement in environmental circles of the party haven’t let the issue dissipate.
Tuesday was the first election cycle since Resolution 54 was resurfaced in August. State Democrats started to see the impact largely because, Mesta noted, it’s been hard to explain to longtime DFL voters why the environmental caucus resolution is still on the table.
“We need to send a strong message to our colleagues,” he said. “They’re [miners] proud of that work and we’re proud to represent it. If we got people locally, we could go a long ways in getting through the rhetoric. There’s a lot of facts that need to get out there.”