He worked as a machine tender at the paper mill in his hometown International Falls for 29 years, serving as president of his union for nine of those years. He was a two-term Koochiching County commissioner before serving three terms in the Minnesota Legislature. He served as precinct chairman for the DFL. He’s a Marine Corps veteran.
And Rob Ecklund has coached youth hockey.
“Going into these budget challenges coming up, experience matters,” the Minnesota House District 3A representative said in a mid-September videoconference interview with the News Tribune Editorial Board. “I’ve made the contacts. I’ve made the acquaintances down there (at the state Capitol in St. Paul). I’m confident that whether I’m in the (political) majority or the minority when we come back (for the 2021 session) — if I’m lucky enough to be re-elected — that I’ll be ready to hit the ground and do the work that needs to get done for northern Minnesota.”
Eligible voters in 3A — a massive district that runs all the way up the North Shore from just outside Two Harbors before following the Canadian border west past International Falls to almost Baudette — can be just as confident about retaining Ecklund in the Nov. 3 election. Since he replaced the late Rep. David Dill in 2015, Ecklund has earned a reputation as a lawmaker who gets things done, even when it requires working across the aisle. He has been a consistent supporter of industry, including copper-nickel mining, and a champion for broadband, Minnesota veterans, education, ATV trail building, and more.
“Northern Minnesota has been so good to my family and myself. It has provided a living for us. The community has treated us very well over the years, and I want to be able to give back,” said Ecklund.
With his service in the Legislature, he is doing just that and has earned the opportunity to continue.
Last year, with Ecklund leading the way, the Legislature put $40 million into border-to-border broadband, one of the largest investments in internet access in state history. And just in time, with COVID-19 forcing Minnesotans to work or go to school from home like never before. Reliable internet is a must, much like electricity and telephone service were a century ago. “We found out it wasn’t nearly enough,” Ecklund said of the allocation. “The first year (there were) $20 million (available), and there were $79 million worth of requests for projects. So we know there’s more work to do.”
Also last year, Ecklund helped pass a bill that allows farmers to join other industries in a Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development program to operate more safely.
In 2017, Ecklund pushed a bill to tweak the formula to benefit rural schools. "Our rural schools are falling behind," he told the Editorial Board a year later.
Since 2008, Ecklund has been fighting his DFL Party’s push for a moratorium on copper nickel mining. The moratorium was passed by the DFL this year as part of its platform. “It’s frustrating for us northern Minnesota Democrats. The power of the party is down in the Twin Cities,” he said in response. “Every year we’ve fought (that moratorium). … My position has always been that we’ve got to prove it can be done right, and that’s what (mining companies like PolyMet and Twin Metals) are working toward.”
Unlike elsewhere in Minnesota, House District 3 is weathering well the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Ecklund. “My district is timber, taconite, and tourism. The paper mill in my district is at full employment, North Shore Mining is back to work, and our resorts are having banner years,” he said. “The only thing (harmful to local businesses) I’m hearing is that we don’t have enough people to clean fish and change out the cabins. … We rent houseboats up here in International Falls, and we can’t send all the houseboats out because they can’t get enough staff to get them turned around. I guess my district is fortunate.”
Ecklund’s Republican challenger sees the district’s economic state differently.
“The reason why I decided to run is really the economic downfall that this area has had in the past couple of decades,” said law student Thomas Manninen of Littlefork. “Populations have decreased, and I felt it was time for somebody to step up and advocate for this area instead of allowing business as usual. … The biggest issue facing our community right now is recovering from the governor’s shutdown.”
No matter what the district’s biggest challenge is right now, Ecklund is the best choice this election to represent the far northeastern corner of the state. “There’s more work to do, and I enjoy it,” he said.
ABOUT THIS ENDORSEMENT: This endorsement was determined solely by and was written by the News Tribune Editorial Board.