ROCHESTER — The DFL convention’s most controversial moment came Saturday during debate over an obscurely worded mining provision in the party’s proposed 91-point platform.
The proposed provision, which ultimately failed, would have supported strict controls on mining companies in Northeast Minnesota that want to extract copper and nickel from the mineral-rich area.
The issue provides no better example of the political rift between many labor-friendly Iron Rangers and metro-area environmentalists.
Rep. Carly Melin, who represents the Iron Range, and other delegates tried to kill the platform proposal even before it was up for a convention-wide vote.
“We just wanted to send a very clear message that the DFL has always supported mining,” the Hibbing DFLer said in an interview.
Ranger delegates offered a stark warning: If the provision, known as “sulfide mining” to some, made it into the platform, it would be election fodder for Republicans in the 8th Congressional District and could disrupt DFL efforts to unseat incumbent Rep. Chip Cravaack.
“Now is not the time to be causing problems within our party, within the DFL,” Melin told a group of delegates during an impromptu meeting off the convention floor. “I am terrified that if this gets in the DFL platform, it is going to become a wedge issue. Chip Cravaack and every other Republican out there are going to go out and say that the DFL doesn’t support mining, and we can’t have that right now.”
“It’ll be the whole race. It’ll be the whole race, I guarantee it,” added another Iron Ranger, Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm.
Melin urged convention delegates to reject the provision, and her arguments ultimately proved successful.
But there was lively debate in support of the measure on the floor, as well.
“We support mining. We want to see it done responsibly with public dialogue,” said Anna Cook, a Duluth resident.
“I’m here fighting for the life of my family and my lands,” she said. “No one has paid me to be here today. I am not an expert. I am a citizen who believes with all my heart that we have the right to engage in meaningful dialogue.”
DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said before the vote that he was waiting to stand behind the final outcome.
“Obviously, the Republicans are going to try to spin it either way,” he said. “The fact that we even had the debate, they’ll try to say we’re anti-mining, but there’s a lot of pro-mining DFLers and there are a lot of folks who are pro-environment in this party, and we celebrate them all.”