REGIONAL— Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden received a crash course in Iron Range politics this past week over comments he made Aug. 6, at a FarmFest debate with Sen. Al Franken. …
REGIONAL— Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden received a crash course in Iron Range politics this past week over comments he made Aug. 6, at a FarmFest debate with Sen. Al Franken. McFadden won the GOP primary on Aug. 11, becoming the party’s nominee.
McFadden, who has made support for the Keystone XL Pipeline a major issue in his campaign to unseat the first-term Democrat, said in response to a question that he wouldn’t oppose using foreign steel in the project, as long as it was purchased through free and fair trade.
That comment struck a nerve with Iron Range steelworkers, who have spent months fighting against imports of cheap foreign steel pipe, and they were quick to respond with a rally in Virginia last Friday that made it clear they weren’t pleased.
“His comments flew in the face of everything we believe in and everything we had put so much time into,” said Jon Malek, president of the Steelworkers Local 1938 in Mt. Iron. “For someone running for such a prestigious office to come out and say that, it would have ticked Gandhi off. It took a lot of gall.”
“I think it shows how out of touch he is with our issues up here,” said state Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, who helped organize the rally.
For DFLers, McFadden’s comment was a rare gift, particularly given the GOP’s efforts to use copper-nickel mining as a wedge issue on the normally DFL-friendly Iron Range. McFadden has criticized Franken for what he says is less than enthusiastic support for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes. That’s a concern to steelworkers, like Malek, as well, and he said he plans to bring up the issue next week, when Franken plans to tour a taconite plant and meet with steelworkers.
While Local 1938 has yet to endorse a candidate for U.S. Senate, Malek said he believes Franken has stood by Iron Range workers when it comes to buying American steel.
Rather than walk back his comment, McFadden’s campaign went on the offensive in the wake of the FarmFest brouhaha, accusing Franken and his supporters of hypocrisy on the issue. He said Franken has opposed expedited construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and that doing so had hurt the economic recovery and the undermined efforts to make the United States energy independent. The pipeline, however, is being built to ship Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast, where much of it is expected to be exported to the global market.
McFadden also criticized state Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, and former Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Pike, both of whom spoke at last Friday’s rally. McFadden noted that the two had supported construction of the Minnesota Vikings stadium, which includes some large steel components not manufactured in the U.S.
Rep. Metsa noted that those steel components are manufactured by Arcelor-Mittal, which does have a taconite plant on the Iron Range. And, he said, Iron Range legislators fought hard to ensure that all of the other steel components were American made. He called McFadden’s countercharges “laughable” and another indication of his lack of understanding of the issues affecting the Iron Range. “When they’re up here trying to pander to the mining vote, when they are out in the rest of the state not even supporting American steel, I’d say he’s out of touch,” said Metsa.
With his investment banker background and substantial wealth, DFLers were comparing McFadden’s comments to similar gaffes made by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Malek said the similarities are unmistakable and he said that’s one reason why he actually understands McFadden’s position.
“He was an investment banker. And when you’re with that group of people, that’s who you are and that’s how you view the world. I understand he is what he is. But that doesn’t make it right.”