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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Dems and rural voters

Democrats are struggling even as they offer solutions over division


Exactly twelve years ago, the Democrats held 59 seats in the U.S. Senate. That included three of the four Senate seats from North and South Dakota, and both Senate seats from the states of Arkansas and Montana. Today, Democrats hold just one of these eight seats in the U.S. Senate, which helps to explain why the party is struggling to enact its agenda in Washington.
We hear from many left-leaning commentators that the very structure of the U.S. Senate, which inarguably provides over-representation to rural states with small populations, gives Republicans an unfair advantage.
Yet the structure of the Senate, and the advantages it provides to small states, has changed not at all in recent decades, and certainly not since the election of 2008, when Democrats briefly held a whopping 60-vote majority in the body.
What has changed is the voting habits of working-class voters, typically young men and those influenced by them, who used to regularly vote for Democrats in places like Montana, the Dakotas, and here in northeastern Minnesota. These are voters working in mines on the Iron Range or in the oil fields of the Bakken. Some are union members, many are not. They voted Democrat in the past because that was the party associated with workers and the party that supported industries that employed many of those workers. Today, those same voters are electing Republicans in states that, until a decade ago, regularly sent Democrats to the U.S. Senate. They should reconsider, in part because Republicans have nothing to offer rural America. Just ask Tom Bakk.
State Sen. Tom Bakk, who left the Minnesota DFL, and who now calls himself an independent, (although he caucuses with Senate Republicans), pointed to the Democrats’ diminished support for dirty, extractive industries, like copper-nickel mining and new oil pipelines, as one reason why voters in the region have voted against them in recent elections.
This is, unquestionably, a change in policy on the part of Democrats and Bakk believes it has fueled rural resentment. “If you’re in a rural area, you drive to the Cities and you see a lot of prosperity there,” noted Bakk in a recent interview. “People feel they’re being left behind and they want to take it out on someone and the voting booth is one place to do that.”
When asked what the Republicans have proposed to help northern Minnesota, Bakk didn’t have an answer. The last time the Republicans had power in Washington, their only significant accomplishment was a tax cut that went overwhelmingly to big corporations and the uber rich, not exactly a fix for what ails rural America.
“They’re a party without ideas,” Bakk acknowledged.
Indeed, the GOP is so lacking in ideas and principles these days that the party never even issued a platform for the 2020 campaign. The GOP has become the Donald Trump party, surviving on conspiracy theories and rural resentment.
Say what you will about the Democrats. At least most of them are willing to take a stand for important things— even when it might challenge them politically. Take the oil sector and its impact on climate change. We know, because scientists have run the numbers, that if we burn all the oil reserves in places like Saudi Arabia, the Bakken, or the tar sands region of Alberta, that we will cook the planet, creating an existential crisis for humanity and most other life here.
That’s why many Democrats no longer support building new oil pipelines, because we’re going to have to leave some oil in the ground if we hope to survive.
Republicans say it’s because Democrats no longer support working people, which is nonsense. Climate change will affect working people in rural America as much, if not more, than anyone else. The Democrats are proposing solutions, like investing hundreds of billions of dollars to transition our economy to non-carbon-based forms of power. That transition would create many times more good-paying middle-class jobs than exist in the oil and gas sector today. Many of those jobs would be created on the northern Plains, where wind resources are abundant, while reducing the risk of catastrophic climate warming.
Not surprisingly, the party of no ideas proposes to do nothing, other than exploit the issue as another means to divide Americans for political gain. They tell voters global warming is just another conspiracy theory, hatched by liberal, urban elites, because they hate working Americans. What garbage.
Democrats should stop assuming they have no future in rural America. They should quit complaining about the unfair structure of the Senate and bring the fight back to places they used to win not that long ago. Democrats actually have ideas and some of them might even help the places that have been left behind.
Rural voters can help themselves as well. They would do better looking for solutions rather than scapegoats.


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