A rift between factions for and against a mining expansion in northeastern Minnesota got deeper this week over condescending quotes in an extensive New York Times Magazine piece that also touched off a new round of political squabbling.
One passage in a nearly 5,000-word feature on tensions over mining produced a firestorm of criticism from the moment it was posted online Thursday, and on Friday led to an apology.
Reid Carron, who is active in the Save The Boundary Waters effort to resist a proposed copper-nickel mine, had criticized people supportive of the project for elevating the promise of new jobs over environmental concerns near the pristine wilderness area.
“Resentment is the primary driver of the pro-mining crowd here — they are resentful that other people have come here and been successful while they were sitting around waiting for a big mining company,” Carron told the Times. “They want somebody to just give them a job so they can all drink beer with their buddies and go four-wheeling and snowmobiling with their buddies, not have to think about anything except punching a clock.”
His wife, Becky Rom, was quoted suggesting a mine worker also featured in the article didn’t care about the area’s natural beauty because he “drives to the mine in his truck, comes home and watches TV, and he doesn’t know this world exists.”
Union leaders pounced, with International Union of Operating Engineers political director Jason George saying the remarks feed into “a war on American workers in this country.”
The political reaction soon followed, with Republicans blaming Democrats for the sentiment and many Democrats working to distance themselves from it. The area is crucial political turf heading into 2018 because it has long been a Democratic stronghold but shifted into President Trump’s column in the last election.
Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer called out Save The Boundary Waters as disparaging.
“The next time Save the Boundary Waters leaders voice their opposition, I hope they take a minute to realize all they have thanks to the mining industry and the incredible workers who provided it to them,” Emmer said in a statement. “I urge my fellow Minnesota colleagues to join me in condemning these unnecessary mean-spirted attacks on our hardworking citizens.”
DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin was among the leaders in his party to say there was no room, in his words, “for the sharp-tongued attack on Minnesotans who work hard every day to provide for their families and support our state’s economy.”
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, one of several DFL governor hopefuls, chimed in, too, by saying the insults won’t help bridge the divide over the proposed Twin Metals project or the environmental concerns over mining in general.
“We can continue to support the mining economy that has been central to towns like Ely for generations while also preserving the wilderness that has also been so important,” Coleman wrote in a statement, adding, “Minnesotans are known for working together to advance the common good. As the debate over Twin Metals continues, let us all remember to treat one another with the dignity and respect that our common humanity demands.”.
By Friday afternoon, the Save The Boundary Waters group issued an apology on behalf of Carron and Rom.
“Those who disagree with us care about our community every bit as much as we do. Our politics are divided enough and we believe we can all do better — starting with ourselves — at considering other perspectives respectfully even as we fiercely advocate for our values and beliefs,” the group’s statement read. “People who go to work in mines are some of the hardest workers in Minnesota. They rise before the sun, work long hours, and take pride and accomplishment that comes from having produced something of value. That is a not a life to be mocked or derided. For any comments that did so, we are truly sorry.”