ELY - Richard Painter may be one of the most misunderstood Senate candidates of 2018. He served as an ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush’s administration, became an outspoken critic of President Trump on cable news channels, and is now running for Senate here in Minnesota as a Democrat.
Painter made a stump speech before a crowd of more than 100 area residents at Tuesday Group in Ely this week as part of a tour of the northern tier of the state as he looks to knock off interim senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.), who was appointed to the seat in January after Al Franken resigned amid sexual harassment allegations.
Painter must first win an Aug, 14 primary against the sitting U.S. senator. Smith was visible in Minnesota before Franken’s resignation. She had been the state’s lieutenant governor since 2015 before going to Washington and was widely speculated to run for governor in the open 2018 election. She has the backing of nearly all of the Democratic establishment in the state and scared off at least one prominent potential primary challenger, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.).
Painter sounds like a Democrat who’s attempting to catch a ride on the blue wave created by anti-Trump sentiment. Judging by the thundering rounds of applause as he ripped into the recent actions and statements of the 45th President of the United States, he found a vein of anti-Trump sentiment in Ely bigger than any copper deposit in the Boundary Waters.
He got his start in politics as what he called a “moderate or rational Republican.” He said the message coming from President Trump is that he “will not put up with any dissent” at all. “I’m happy to talk to you about the issues that concern me in this election, and obviously, President Trump is one of them,” he said.
He called for an investigation of Trump by the United States House and Senate judiciary committees. Comparing him to President Nixon and the Watergate hearings, he said, “We’ll find out the facts first and then make decisions about what to do about the president and the vice president,” he said.
Painter said the Watergate prosecutor ended up going to the Supreme Court to get Nixon to disclose the tapes. “We may very well be in a similar situation,” he said. “Prosecutor (Robert) Mueller may end up in front of the Supreme Court (over Trump) and guess who should not be choosing another justice for that Supreme Court. This is a principle of common law, you do not choose the judge for your own case.”
Painter called for a single-payer health care system in the United States, and dismissed the oft-touted argument made locally by the pro-mining crowd that one has to destroy the planet to create jobs.
“Their idea of creating jobs is to do more of what we were doing 50 years ago, back when America was great,” Painter said. “I like to remind people what the tax brackets were under Eisenhower, and the workforce was unionized then, and they begin to think that maybe America wasn’t so great back then. The point is, they want to go back in time with respect to the industries. They say we need more coal. They want more pipelines. They want more fossil fuels.”
He asserted that none of the problems can be fixed until money is taken out of politics. “I will take no money from any PACs (Political Action Committees), super PACs, Russia, or anybody,”:Painter said.
He called for creating more jobs with clean energy industries and new infrastructure for those clean energy projects.
He tackled clean water and the mining industries next. “I think we have taconite mining under control,” Painter said. “That is an industry that has been quite influential here in Minnesota and I think we can deal with that.”
He called copper-nickel or sulfide mining “a whole new ball game” because it has never been done in this state. He didn’t call for the ending of sulfide mining, but questioned the location. “Do you do it in places like Arizona or do you do it in places with a lot of waterways?” he asked. “It’s a big deal whether you are doing this type of mining near waterways or in drier areas where (the pollution) is not going to spread as much,” he said.
Painter said he wasn’t going to dance around the issue. “If I’m in the Senate, I will introduce a bill that would prohibit sulfide mining near major waterways,” he said. That statement was followed by prolonged applause and cheers. “And there’s an awful lot of water here in northern Minnesota.”
He mentioned the recent PolyMet land swap deal and talked about the foreign companies involved in the local sulfide mining projects. “The bottom line is I don’t want these kind of people doing business in this state” he said.
Painter called for growing the economy in northern Minnesota by moving forward. “We should make sure we have broadband and cell phone access everywhere in this state,” he said. “You can then live here in Ely, or Grand Marais, or International Falls and do business with anyone anywhere in the world. A lot of people would rather live in this part of the state than anywhere else.”
He also called for real infrastructure investments in roads, bridges and public schools. “We have to have top-quality schools everywhere in the state. If you don’t, people and businesses are not going to want to relocate here and bring their families and more employees up here.”