Not that long ago, Minnesota was sitting on a healthy $1.5 billion state budget surplus. Then COVID-19 happened. The economy went bust. The state now has a $2.4 billion deficit — and the hole could be even deeper by the time the 2021 session of the Minnesota Legislature rolls around, longtime Iron Range state Sen. David Tomassoni said in an interview with News Tribune Editorial Board members this month.

“(The Iron Range) needs somebody (in St. Paul) that has some experience with how the halls work and how the budget works and how to take care of the things that need to get taken care of,” Tomassoni said. “Even though I’m in the minority (party), I’m as effective as I can possibly be because I’m able to deal with both sides of the aisle. For my Senate district and the people I represent, I believe sending me back would be in everybody’s best interest.”

Tomassoni has been an effective mainstay for the Iron Range since 1993. He will continue to be if he wins re-election on Nov. 3. First, though, Senate District 6 DFLers can support him in the Aug. 11 primary and send him on to Election Day to face Republican challenger John J. Moren of Canyon.

“My college coach used to say all the time, ‘You can’t substitute experience,’ and I know for a fact that my experience is something I can rely on when I’m at the Capitol and dealing with both sides of the aisle as well as with the administration,” said Tomassoni. “I’m really, really frustrated with what I might term as an era of dysfunction and delay. It really has to stop. The people don’t send us there to do all-or-nothing politics. They send us there to actually accomplish things.”

Among Tomassoni’s accomplishments during eight years in the statehouse and nearly 20 years in the Senate is the broadening network of high-speed internet on the Iron Range and the $230 million Highway 53 project of a few years ago, which was legally required to use only American steel. He also has been a consistent and ardent supporter of the stringent and thorough environmental review process that has brought us to the verge of a PolyMet copper-nickel mine on the Range and that could lead to an underground, economy-boosting Twin Metals mine near Ely.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“The reason for (my success) isn’t because I’m special. It’s because I've worked with people at this level for a really, really long time, and I’ve gotten to know them,” Tomassoni said.

His challenger in the primary is Christopher Horoshak of Cotton, a former DFL door-knocker who two years ago made headlines when he said he was harassed for being gay by fellow DFL campaign team members.

“What got me involved in politics was I wanted to be that voice that I was looking for as a kid. I never really had that champion,” Horoshak said in a separate interview. “I felt (politics) was a way to really help elevate my community around me.”

Horoshak’s Iron Range neighbors can encourage him to continue to be politically involved. But in the primary next month, they can cast their ballots for Sen. Tomassoni — again.