Sign of the times: Why the 8th District could be on the verge of a political transition

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DULUTH, MN — Democratic Farmer-Labor. Three words that have united people from around the state of Minnesota for decades.

While the values of the party have kept it strong, its recently come face to face with a challenge – mining versus environment.

Aaron Brown wears many hats including one as an Iron Range author. He’s studied and covered this issue for years.

“Politically we see an argument, ‘Are you for or against the future of the Range?’ Well that’s not really an argument. That’s a political point.”

A political point that weighs heavy on voters like Mike Forsman.

A long-time DFLer and Ely resident, he said the party he joined in 1971 is different from the one today and he doesn’t feel represented.

The party has somewhat, in my opinion, lost some of its real start. It’s real start was with the farmers. It was called the DFL, the Farmer/Labor party.”

What he refers to as a shift in the party has made him feel like an outsider.

“You don’t really belong. Even though the party I started with, the party of John Kennedy, the party of Jim Oberstar, the party of people that were my heroes, I mean they really were.”

Issues like the second amendment and most recently copper-nickel mining have caused a rift within the party.

“Those voters have really struggled with whether they stick with the Democratic Party that includes labor, or whether they look at a Republican Party that promises them jobs through economic growth,” said Brown. “That is the selling point that the Republican Party has used. It has successfully won over, particularly on the issue of mining, a notable number of voters here in the 8th District.”

That rang true when Republican Pete Stauber became the Congressman-Elect from the 8th District. Only the second Republican to hold the seat in seven decades.

“I want to really keep this pro-jobs agenda going, making sure that the middle class is taken care of,” said Stauber.

As a young DFLer, Preston Waldvogel was quickly exposed to the mining debate.

“It is a really contentious issue, even at our club at UMD we have strong disagreements about it. My thoughts are that we should trust the experts at the DNR and EPA.”

While some democrats agree with the idea of responsible mining, Brown said the issue has been highly politicized, forcing candidates to essentially pick a side.

“You’ve gotta be for it as some kind of loyalty pledge and, you know, forsake all others in marriage vow terms. That creates this extremism, you know everybody trying to one up themselves ‘I’m more pro-mining than them,’ you know. That creates a dynamic where no one is even looking at the policy anymore. It’s all about the rhetoric,” said Brown.

In the last few years resolutions have been proposed within the DFL that have contributed to the divide.

Resolution 54 and Resolution 68 were presented in opposition to copper-nickel mining.
While both resolutions were voted down it was a red flag for Forsman.

“The resolutions have become more pointed, more jabbing. Like ‘we’re gonna get you guys.’ And the resolutions have become, in some way, not even well thought out, but emotional.”

Opposing positions on political issues are not uncommon within a political party, but Brown said the DFL needs to start the conversation on finding a solution that works across the party.

“So we have to figure out a way how to acknowledge the importance of mining in our world, in our economy, while diversifying our economy.”

While the midterm election has come to an end, these conversations are ongoing.

“What I would really like is that the party go back to what it was originally intended to be,” said Forsman. “The party with a large umbrella, the party that was tolerant of people that have different points of view.”

Waldvogel added, “We do have some disagreements on mining we do have some disagreements on guns, but overall we’re together and we just want to make the country the best we can.”

While the 8th District did have some shakeups this midterm election season, Minnesota stayed true to its democratic roots. Voters kept a Democrat in the Governor’s seat by electing Tim Walz. Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith also won elections keeping them in their U.S. Senate seats.

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DULUTH, MN — Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District has a long history as a DFL stronghold.

That changed on November 6th when Republican Pete Stauber turned the seat red after winning 14 of the 18 counties that make up the 8th District.

While Minnesota as a whole stayed blue, analysts say the 8th District seat turning red could be a sign of a transition in political views happening in the Northeastern part of the state. One of the reasons? The future of mining.

CBS 3 Duluth’s Kristen Vake digs into the topic Tuesday at 10.

Kristen Vake

Kristen Vake

Anchor, Reporter

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