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Our View: DFLers put squeeze on Doug

The first blast of the 2002 election was fired over northeastern Minnesota a week ago. Iron Range legislators Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm and new Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, all ganged up to blast stat...

The first blast of the 2002 election was fired over northeastern Minnesota a week ago. Iron Range legislators Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm and new Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, all ganged up to blast state Sen. Doug Johnson, DFL-Tower, because he amended a bill to extend jobless benefits for laid off steelworkers to include only those laid off by the closing of the LTV plant.
The bill extends jobless benefits from six months up to two years for employees of LTV and those employees of suppliers directly affected by the LTV closing. The Iron Range lawmakers wanted the bill extended to all steelworkers, whether they worked at LTV or not.
Johnson, who is arguably the third most powerful legislator in the state behind Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe and Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum, said he moved to limit the bill because he thought it would fail to pass the Republican-controlled House if it were too broad. In fact, he responded to the criticism with this quote, "If my Iron Range colleagues are able to pass a broadened version of this legislation in the House, I will be the first to applaud them."
Some may construe the public criticism of a DFLer by members of his own party to be merely a symptom of one party rule in a region where Republicans seem incapable of being elected dogcatcher.
However, a more important dynamic is in play here. Sometime in the next year, the Legislature must reapportion itself to reflect the 2000 census. It is an article of faith among all legislators that northeastern Minnesota, because of the continuing slow exodus of people, will lose a seat or two.
In this game of musical chairs, some legislator will be the odd person out. How else to explain Rukavina's statement, "Dougie never cared about the Range anyways"?
If that were true, then the voters on the East Range must not be very smart, because Johnson has received well over 70 percent of the vote there in recent elections. The quickest way to lose a vote is for a legislator to appear not to care. Johnson, being the experienced politician that he is, obviously figured that half a loaf is better than no loaf at all.
Rukavina, Tomassoni and Sertich will have to come up with more substantive arguments if they want to squeeze out Johnson. We will watch with interest to see how far their arguments go in the House.
In the meantime, voters should remember that Johnson has been a prime factor in bringing the state's tax dollars back to northeastern Minnesota.

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