The race to replace Beth Olson on the St. Louis County Board took on a partisan flavor Tuesday.
With Ashley Grimm toting the Democratic-Farmer-Labor endorsement into the nonpartisan race, Joe Macor recited U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber’s “Our Way of Life” slogan out of the gate during the News Tribune’s 3rd District online candidate forum.
With the tenor established, the topic of proposed copper-nickel mining seemed like no surprise. It's a litmus test no matter how little authority a jurisdiction has over the mine’s creation.
“We all want to promote clean water and these environmental review processes are great,” Macor said. “We’ve got the technology to overcome any of these issues. If the companies are willing to adhere to what their findings are, I think we should support them.”
Grimm was skeptical, saying she had friends in mining and still needed answers about mining companies covering any clean-up costs, what proof there was of success in water-rich environments, and if the industry could build a basin wall different and safe enough to trust over ones that have failed and cost lives.
"I support responsible mining," she said, while condemning the board for this summer’s vote of support for Enbridge Line 3.
"The fact of the matter is we need to find common ground, and we cannot have symbolic votes," she said.
Connecting the dots between topics, the board’s tabling of a refugee resettlement consent vote earlier this year drew Macor to call it a symbolic vote, along with an expensive proposition for taxpayers.
“The taxpayers of St. Louis County are in a struggle," Macor said. "They’re in a financial struggle right now, and that’s where the focus needs to be.”
Grimm fact-checked him to say it wasn’t symbolic when Olson wanted to vote in favor of refugee resettlement last December. Grimm then cited her past work with refugees in the Twin Cities and the net benefit of their contributions to communities.
“I strongly support having refugees in our community, and I expect anyone running for office or holding office to know that we have had one refugee in our county resettled in the last five years,” she said. “We need to be part of dispelling this myth that’s out there that this is going to be a huge tax burden when (taxpayers) are hurting right now. We know that’s not true.”
Both candidates professed their love for western Duluth. Macor's family has been there for four generations, he said.
Grimm said her hometown Barnum wasn’t that different from rural parts of St. Louis County. She aimed to ensure Duluth understood its northern neighbors.
“I grew up in rural Minnesota,” she said. “We are often overlooked and I think it’s really important for Duluth to fundamentally understand what life looks like when you don’t have internet access” — or food access or easy access to well-paying jobs.
Macor touted endorsements from the county sheriff’s deputies and trade unions.
He said there was no doubt businesses were closing due to COVID-19, that families were hurting and that economic development was his priority to help rebuild the economy. He set a goal of holding the tax levy at zero percent — even after Grimm explained the estimated 5% expansion of the tax base this year will offset the 2021 proposed levy increase of 1.48%.
“People want to see us hold the line,” Macor said.
Grimm said preventative services keep budgets in line, and recalled how an influx of child protection workers led to a reduction over the past four years in the use of foster care services, which her opponent labeled costly.
“I want to make sure we’re able to run our public health and human services on a budget and meet the needs of families,” she said.
Both candidates addressed election security, expressing faith in the election process.
"The one thing I worry about is intimidation at the polls," Grimm said. "We have to make sure that does not happen."
"I have no doubt Minnesotans are going to play fair," Macor said.
Olson announced in February she would not seek reelection. Olson was preceded on the board by Chris Dahlberg, a conservative who served two terms after the more-liberal Bill Kron held the seat for many years.