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Our view / endorsement: Ecklund is best-prepped to represent 3A

Rob Ecklund

With a short legislative session on the docket and an election right after that, residents of Northeastern Minnesota’s massive House District 3A need a representative who’s ready to step right in and who can be effective immediately.

That’d be Rob Ecklund, the DFL candidate in the Dec. 8 special election to fill the seat vacated in August when popular, longtime Rep. David Dill died after undergoing cancer treatment.

Ecklund is a nearly lifelong International Falls resident who was elected Koochiching County commissioner in 2010 and was re-elected last year. He worked at the Boise Cascade paper mill for 26 years. He was a member of and was president for nine years of United Steelworkers 159. In addition, Ecklund testified and lobbied in Washington, D.C., with the national labor-management group Pulp and Paperworkers’ Resource Council, serving as its chairman. He played a similar role in St. Paul with the Minnesota Wood Fiber Council. He also has been a youth hockey coach and was a precinct chairman for the DFL.

“As a county commissioner, I’ve become well-versed in a lot of public policy that has an effect on the constituents. I’ve spent a significant amount of time at the Capitol as a commissioner, working on issues that are important to the county, and prior to that … I spent a lot of time in St. Paul and in Washington, D.C., working on environmental issues that affected the paper industry (as well as labor issues).”

With regard to what perhaps has been the hottest issue in Northeastern Minnesota, including District 3A, the prospect of copper-nickel mining, Ecklund has remained reasonable and consistent.

“I’m a pro-mining person, and I feel that we have the finest regulatory agencies in the world and Minnesota has some of the toughest environmental standards to live up to,” he said. “If a project can prove that it can go, then let’s get on with it.”

Just as hot has been the suddenly struggling taconite mining industry, which has been marred by plant shutdowns and massive layoffs. The state can help, Ecklund said, much the way it helped the paper and wood-products industries by requiring that, whenever possible, government in Minnesota use Minnesota-made paper.

“One thing I think the state can do is insist, on state projects, on buying U.S.-made steel,” he said. “Why not use (our) steel? That’s one thing the Legislature can do.”

Other ways to help the economy in District 3A, Ecklund said, include allowing county highways to be used as ATV trail connectors, boosting tourism, and expanding broadband to encourage entrepreneurship and to help rural Minnesota better compete in world markets.

“People want to live up here, but they have to have the technology available so they can make their living,” he said. “And we have to continually improve our infrastructure.”

The special election promises to be quite competitive.

The Republican challenger is the well-known former mayor of Ely, Roger Skraba, a wilderness canoe guide hired by people from all walks of life.

“I’m the most well-rounded (of the candidates) because of that,” he told the editorial board in his one-on-one screening. “I mean, I also worked on a dairy farm; there are dairy farms over by International Falls. I’ve logged; there are loggers in International Falls and Grand Marais and Ely and in Cook and Orr. I understand our psyche, what makes us work. We’re getting more and more people moving in that bring the other, not the local, the old ‘work hard and get it done.’ They bring in the retirement dollars and say, ‘We like the way it is; don’t change it.’ Well, change, it has to occur.”

Independent Kelsey Johnson of Gnesen Township, which is rural like much of the rest of District 3A, has a master’s degree in ethics and leadership. She has worked in sales, has helped run others’ campaigns, and, for the past six years, has worked as a lobbyist, including for the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

“I’ve lobbied in 27 states, so I’ve dealt with legislatures in 27 states. I know the games they play very well. I understand the process very well. I understand the leadership and who to interact with in order to get something done. I’m very good at my job,” Johnson said. “I’ve built some really strong relationships at the Capitol (in St. Paul). I’ve really built some amazing connections. I work very well with both sides of the aisle, and I didn’t want to fracture any of those relationships by declaring for one party or the other.

“Given my experience, I bring more to the table,” she further said. “I want to represent the folks here, and I want to use all the skills and abilities and knowledge and relationships I’ve built over the last six years to really benefit everybody up here. … The greatest honor would be to represent this area and to lobby for the people I love so much and the communities I care about and really enjoy spending time in.”

This is Johnson’s first run for office. If it falls short, Northeastern Minnesota can hope she runs again and stays involved.

Asking the voters of Minnesota House District 3A to pick an independent may be asking too much — especially when they’ll be voting on the position again in the fall. Ecklund, with his wealth of qualifications and combination of decisiveness and reasonableness, is the pick now.

In their own words

Columns written by the three candidates in the special election for Minnesota House District 3A — DFLer Rob Ecklund, independent Kelsey Johnson and Republican Roger Skraba — will be published Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on the News Tribune Opinion page.

Deadline for letters

The deadline for letters to the editor related to the Dec. 8 special election for Minnesota House District 3A is a week from today, Wednesday, Dec. 2. Letters can be sent to A reminder that letters about candidates are limited to 200 words while other letters are limited to 300 words.