Two years ago in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District race, mining and the economy — and who was better for both — played a central role in the Rick Nolan-Stewart Mills rematch. Fast-forward to today and the changed political climate, the Joe Radinovich-Pete Stauber race is drawing from the same well.
In their first debate last week and afterward, the Republican Stauber and Democrat Radinovich sparred over their stances on future copper-nickel developments. At one point, Stauber accused his opponent of doing a “Texas two-step” on the subject and that he was more concerned about politics.
Their differences aren’t dissimilar to 2016 when opponents launched ads saying Nolan, the incumbent Democrat, was using mining support as a political tool, and that Republicans were the party that would ultimately support the industry.
“I will not play politics with the lives and families of the miners and the Iron Range,” Stauber said. “We will do what’s right, always. They know they can count on me.”
Radinovich said he’s supported mining to his own political detriment at times, a position he’s somewhat familiar with after running Nolan’s campaign in 2016 when Resolution 54, an anti-copper nickel stance, was weighed by the DFL. It was ultimately defeated in the wake of the 2016 election.
Among the Democrats that sought the primary nod in August, supporting mining wasn’t a common thread. Michelle Lee, who finished second to Radinovich in the nomination vote, was firmly against the PolyMet and Twin Metals projects. That has created for Radinovich the same needle to thread in the 8th District — the Iron Range voters and the environmental voters who could turn to Independent Ray “Skip” Sandman — which he said he hopes to also persuade through issues of healthcare and social security.
“The rule of government is to fairly evaluate those projects and my position has been consistent with that,” Radinovich said. “We’ve forgone organizations because of their stance on copper nickel mining. We have to have these materials in order to do a number of things in the 21st Century.”
Both candidates said the state and federal regulations must be met to permit a copper nickel project. Where they starkly differ is in opinion of the recent Trump administration decision to rescind a mining ban in the Superior National Forest near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Stauber fully supported the action and lobbied President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for it during meetings in Duluth earlier this year. He also said his attendance and speeches at four rallies and public hearings on mining issues further display his support for the industry.
“That was one of the biggest assaults on our way of life,” Stauber said of the land withdrawal by the Obama administration, calling it a political move. “When I met with Vice President Pence and President Trump, under no certain terms I told them it was wrong to put a mining ban on. I was proud to see President Trump stand up for the miners in our community.”
Radinovich agreed the Obama era withdrawal was politically motivated, but said Trump rescinding it made the issue a “political football.” The original withdrawal in January 2017 called for a two-year study to consider a 20-year ban, and it was expected after Trump’s election in 2016 that the administration would let the study period expire before cancelling the withdrawal. Radinovich said by not letting the science and research do the work for them, the administration is keeping the issue open for more scrutiny.
“You can’t just unilaterally do that and inject your politics into it,” he said. “Tactically, it’s short-sided and you just put a big target on it. I think the Trump administration would have been able to reverse it. Both Secretary [Ryan] Zinke and Secretary [Sonny] Perdue said in their confirmation hearings that they would keep it going. If that were the case, it would have made it a lot harder for the anti-miners.”