Mining diversification just became  more difficult for Range lawmakers

Outgoing State Sen. Erik Simonson is pictured with Duluth Mayor Emily Larson in 2018  giving a legislative update. He is the last state lawmaker from Duluth to support nonferrous mining.


Sen. Tom Bakk is simply tired and angry about fighting the good fight in the Legislature in defense of mining.

Sen. David Tomassoni is just as resolved to his starring role in “Groundhog Day,” battling the anti-mining forces over and over again in St. Paul.

The two state legislators’ frustrations boiled over once again following results of August’s primary election, where a Duluth ally on mining issues was defeated.

Incumbent Erik Simonson was handily defeated by attorney Jen McEwen, who garnered 74 percent of the vote. 

McEwen built her margin on environmental issues, including opposition to copper/nickel mining.

Simonson had strong labor support and the backing of Gov. Tim Walz.

McEwen said her victory symbolizes more than a DFL intra-party win. It’s a win for a national Progressive movement.

“We’re part of something much larger than just this campaign,” McEwen said in a message to supporters following the primary.

“We really are part of a larger movement. And this movement is across the country, and tonight it is across Minnesota. And what that movement represents is a shift in our politics toward caring for one another,” McEwen continued.

“Northeastern Minnesota, with our resource-based economy and heavy reliance on fossil fuels, is placed particularly at risk by the climate crisis. We need to begin working together now to plan and implement the transition to the clean-energy future that will sustain our regional economy. This starts with stopping investments into carbon-based industries such as new pipelines, and building our regional economy through investing in clean energy.”

Bakk and Tomassoni will once again trek to St. Paul in January to fight for mining, along with other members of the Iron Range legislative delegation.

But it doesn’t get any easier.

“Where do these people think goods come from? Everything comes from the ground,” Bakk said. 

“Do they think food is grown by Cub Foods?” 

Bakk added, “And everything comes from steel. This is crazy.”

The longtime state senator from Cook said he is very disappointed that Simonson was defeated.

“It’s a terrible loss for the region,” he said.

Tomassoni, of Chisholm, echoed his fellow senator’s sentiment.

“We’re gonna miss him greatly,” he said of Simonson. “He has been a really good legislator.”

But Tomassoni said he believes the current lawmakers can hold the line against any anti-mining efforts.

The District 6 lawmaker has been in the Senate since 2001, and prior to that served in the House from 1993 to 2001.

“We’ve been doing it since I’ve been here and will just have to continue doing so,” he said.