The five candidates for the DFL endorsement for the Eighth District congressional seat took part in a candidates’ forum on March 17, in Hibbing. Here is a sampling of their answers to questions and comments from that forum, provided in the order in which the candidates spoke. Their answers are excerpted and slightly edited for clarity.
Question 1) What qualities or qualifications do you have that gives you the skills to turn ideas into bills and get them enacted into law?
Leah Phifer: “I’ve spent the last 10 years enforcing laws with FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and a one-year stint with the Department of Agriculture, so I have spent the last ten years seeing exactly where Congress has failed us, and exactly where we can do better. I’ve seen the effects that these laws have on our communities and on our economy. I would like to go to Congress so I can start building better laws, stronger laws, that actually keep us safe.”
Kirsten Hagen Kennedy: I was elected to mayor in a Tea Party hotbed. Right now, we’re struggling with the basics of our lives, our farms are struggling, our seniors are struggling, our students are struggling, but most importantly, our middle class has all but disappeared. And so I would go to Washington and work at the same level that I work at now, but for a much larger area.”
Michelle Lee: “I spent the last 35 years covering the stories that impact the Iron Range, that impact Duluth and this big beautiful district, all 27,000 square miles of it. When I first came on as a cub reporter in Duluth, I was schooled by the other reporters, they said there were only three things to remember about the Northland. That our economy had three legs, timber, tourism, and taconite. Basically, that is all you need to know.
“Well I know that every story has more than one side to it, and I had to tell the truth, even though the truth hurt. I will always talk to the people and will always go to conduct the people’s business and I will always tell the truth, because that’s all we have.”
Joe Radinovich: To enact our values and to pass legislation, I think we have to do two things. We have to win… and we’ll need legislative skills, too. They have something in common, because they mean that we have to be able to tell stories and communicate our values so we can build a coalition, and then we have to take that coalition and have to work across the aisle to include the people who may not be with us on every issue. The real trouble we’re going to have in this district is that if we divide ourselves on the issues that we know divide us in this room and across the district, we won’t have the opportunity to legislate in Washington, D.C.”
Jason Metsa: “Passing bills is about building relationships. You are stuck in a room with your colleagues, which means you can compromise a lot, but not on your values. In my six years’ experience in the Minnesota Legislature, I have been able to pass bills in both majority and minority. We have to understand where people are coming from. My grandpa always said you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. I’m authentic with people and I work hard.”
Question 2) One of the current issues we are hearing most about involves the future of copper-nickel mining in Northeastern Minnesota and its impact on the environment. What is your position on that issue?
Kirsten Hagen Kennedy: “We can get it right. We can get mining right. It’s important. We want to keep it here, the unions and the jobs are critical to this region and to the country. We have to have stringent regulations and buy-in from the companies coming to mine, from the environmentalists and the activists, and the workers in the mines. I also understand that there are permitting processes that have started and people are upset by that. It will probably be decided though litigation before this election is decided. I would make sure we use cutting-edge technology, the best scientific practices, but don’t take food off people’s tables.”
Michelle Lee: “This issue really sucks the air out of every room that we candidates have been in, because we are so divided on it. And that’s really sad because when we are divided, we will not move forward and nobody will succeed. I know what taconite mining has done for this community and how it can benefit this community. I do have concerns about copper-nickel mining, and I will say that unless we are 100 percent sure it can be done safely, I cannot put my stamp of approval on it. But is my stamp of approval going to do anything? As Kirsten said, this is going to end up in the courts.
I’ve never met a miner who didn’t respect clean air and clean water and I’ve never met an environmentalist who said they didn’t want to help build good-paying sustainable jobs, or that resented a union worker.”
Joe Radinovich: “I come from a family of miners and understand the importance of these jobs. We need materials to live our lives, and these should be ethically-sourced. So where the world needs these minerals, I think we have an obligation to figure out a process that is science-based that if something is approved, we hold the companies responsible, but shouldn’t impede mining. Twenty percent of the cobalt [mined worldwide] probably passes through mines that utilize child labor.”
Jason Metsa: “We live in a global environment. It’s not responsible or ethical to do it any place without the best regulations, and that’s right here in Minnesota. And we need to make sure that we’re holding the company’s responsible. Unions have the right to have workers report environmental concerns without fear of retaliation. We need transparency and we need to hold companies accountable. We also need to trust those people who are public servants to get the job done.”
Leah Phifer: “I believe that process is critical to looking at this issue. Taconite mining has been the lifeblood of the range, and put food on my family’s table for four generations and I am dedicated to making sure we have a strong and robust taconite mining industry.
But when we talk about the process, the process doesn’t work if legislators weigh in to put their thumbs on the scales of the process, when we introduce legislation that circumvents the judicial branch, by cutting out four pending lawsuits. That eliminates the EIS standards, as we’ve seen through the MINER Act. We need to make sure that our legislators aren’t intervening so we can truly let the process work the way it is intended. Let the science speak for itself.”
Question 3) How does the DFL unify the party?
Michelle Lee: “The short answer is just keep saying the name ‘Donald Trump.’
I always say the DFL is a big tent. We have to reach out to people, disenfranchised DFLers, independents, and disgruntled Republicans who are dissatisfied with what is happening out there in Washington, to bring them back into the DFL ‘big tent’. When we’re divided, nothing is going to happen.”
Joe Radinovich: “Democrats unite around economic values. We’re facing technology and mechanization that’s replacing workers across all industries. In mining, farming, in factories, in the grocery stores. And with driverless cars coming on line, we’re facing even more disruption.
This country is the wealthiest we’ve ever seen, and workers are getting a smaller piece of that pie. Three solutions will help us speak across the DFL coalition: expand affordable childcare, free two-year community/technical college, and universal single-payer healthcare. These are three values we can rally around and win this election in 2018.”
Jason Metsa: “Elections are about bringing people together, but I’ve learned through my experience with the Northeast Labor Council that that can be hard. When we had our economic downturn up here we saw everybody together because we put the little things aside and focused on how we can raise one another up together.
We need to make sure that we’re making investments, to give the next generation the tools to do a little better than ours.
That’s what this is all about, as lawmakers, making sure that we give the tools to that generation.”
Leah Phifer: “I’ve spent last 10 years working in national security. I left the FBI because the single greatest threat to our national security is sitting in White House right now. The DFL is the party that fights for the values that truly keep the nation safe. Our president will tell you that travel bans and border walls will protect us. I have worked in border enforcement and counterterrorism, and I can tell you that’s the furthest thing from the truth. What really keeps us safe is when every family in this country has food and housing security. When every person has access to good quality healthcare and educa tion. And that’s how we can unite this party. Around those four values, because that is truly what the foundation of national security is built on in this country.”
Kirsten Hagen Kennedy: “We have to stop talking about fear and talk about hope. The United States of America used to not be afraid as a country. We were not afraid of people who didn’t look like us. I have two brothers who registered to vote in this election for the first time at age 40 and 42 and they voted for a person that my father has still not forgiven them for. It was not a happy Christmas at the Hagen farm. They’re hard workers, one’s a union worker. They just felt left behind. People voted Trump because they felt left behind. To unite, we have to spread the message that the DFL doesn’t leave people behind.”
Question 4) Will you abide by the endorsement?
Metsa: I’m seeking the endorsement
Hagen Kennedy: Yes
Lee: I am seeking the endorsement.