Local view: Northland votes for Democrats are votes against economic self-interestIn perhaps the most poignant ad of the 2010 election, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia took “dead aim” at the controversial cap and trade bill by shooting at it. In the same ad, he decried federal spending, touted his NRA endorsement and promised to repeal the “bad parts” of “Obamacare.” The ad was conservative in tone and typical of a Republican. The message was that Manchin is a Democrat — but not that kind of Democrat.
By: Dave Zbaracki, Duluth News Tribune
In perhaps the most poignant ad of the 2010 election, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia took “dead aim” at the controversial cap and trade bill by shooting at it. In the same ad, he decried federal spending, touted his NRA endorsement and promised to repeal the “bad parts” of “Obamacare.” The ad was conservative in tone and typical of a Republican. The message was that Manchin is a Democrat — but not that kind of Democrat.
West Virginia is politically intriguing anyway. It hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1942. Voter registration favors Democrats nearly 2-to-1. Yet the state has voted Republican in the past three presidential elections. Much of West Virginia’s economy is tied to mining, particularly coal. The state has a high rate of union membership. Voters in West Virginia support Democrats at a state level but are hesitant to support the party at a national level because of environmental policies that would cripple the state’s economy.
As West Virginia shows, American political parties are not monolithic. They have factions that do not always agree. Civil libertarians, economic conservatives and social conservatives clash in the Republican Party. Conversely, environmentalists and union members, particularly in mining and construction, do not always get along in the Democratic Party.
President Obama recently rejected a plan to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would carry crude oil from Canada, our single-largest supplier of oil, to refineries in the U.S. The privately funded project would have created tens of thousands of jobs, many of them union construction jobs. The president halted the project, citing environmental concerns. He did so despite polls showing that a majority of Americans approve of the Keystone project.
Following the rejection, many newspaper editorial boards across the U.S. and Canada railed against Obama’s decision. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the decision would result in Canada exporting more oil to China rather than to the U.S. Environmental activists praised the president’s decision to halt the pipeline. There will be a day when there are viable alternatives to fossil fuels, but such solutions are decades from large-scale implementation. Pumping crude oil by pipeline from Canada is the safest and most efficient means of transport. It seems as if President Obama would rather pander to his radical environmental base and wealthy Hollywood donors than support blue-collar workers in mining and construction.
In a similar way on smaller scale, Minnesotans are debating mining for precious metals in Northeastern Minnesota. The proposed PolyMet mine in Hoyt Lakes would create hundreds of jobs on the Iron Range. The East Range communities of Hoyt Lakes, Aurora and Biwabik stand to benefit the most after being decimated by the closing of the LTV mine just over 10 years ago. Mining for precious metals like copper and nickel is not without risk. However, these precious metals are used in things like batteries for hybrid cars, wind turbines, computers and other electronics. It seems a bit disingenuous that environmentalists would rather mine precious metals in countries like China, India and Russia that may not be keen to U.S. interests and do not have rigorous mining regulations.
Thinking globally and acting locally means mining in Minnesota where we do it right rather than mining in countries with lax environmental standards.
The PolyMet mine is supported by state representatives and state senators on the Iron Range, as well as Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon and State Auditor Rebecca Otto. Yet it is opposed by Gov. Mark Dayton and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. All of them are Democrats, but two rural and two urban.
Whether it’s building an oil pipeline from Canada or mining in West Virginia and Minnesota, there seems to be a disconnect between the impractical goals of urban Democrats and rural Democrats who understand societal needs for energy and precious metals. Rural states like West Virginia understand what is in their economic interest and the ideological differences between Democrats. Why doesn’t Northeastern Minnesota?
Dave Zbaracki of Duluth is a libertarian-conservative activist with degrees in political science and history from the University of Minnesota Duluth.