‘Man camps’ comment sparks Iron Range newspaper row

A couple of north country newspapers are duking it out on the editorial page over an upcoming special election and the proposed copper mine on the Iron Range.

It started Saturday when a Mesabi Daily News editorial charged that Bill Hansen, a DFL candidate in the District 3A special election “submarined his campaign to a new low level by degrading the proud men and women of the building trades.”

The editorial said Hansen, an opponent of the proposed PolyMet mine, resorted to “outright lies about the project and its possible impacts.”

But to go after the men and women who do so much to make this country great and carry on the legacy of those who came before them to build the very foundation of our exceptional way of life with their labor and skills is just plain reprehensible.

What a smug, arrogant and terribly disgusting viewpoint from someone who benefits each and every day from the efforts, sweat and toil of people of the trades.

And, yes, someone who also enjoys a good modern life in great part because of products made possible because of the minerals PolyMet will mine on the Iron Range.

Hypocrisy obviously has no limits for candidate Hansen, who should be thanking trades workers profusely every day, not insulting them.

The AFL-CIO charged this week that Hansen offended union workers by saying if the mine is approved, crime in the area will increase. It cited this YouTube video from Hansen’s campaign.

“These projects are going to be man camps,” Hansen said. “I’ve been to Williston (North Dakota). Is this what you want? You want giant man camps that clear out the community, that create a lot of crime, prostitution, gambling, all kinds of community problems, tend to drive out other sustainable jobs? And then in a very short time — mining companies are very efficient nowadays — they’re gone.”

Is that a slam against union workers?

In its editorial this week, the Ely Timberway called out the Mesabi Daily News.

“Newspapers have an obligation to inform their readers, not inflame them with distortions and demagoguery,” its editorial said in an unusual broadside against another editorial.

What’s worse, it’s plain that [Mesabi Daily News executive editor Bill] Hanna made claims in his story that simply aren’t true. We’ve reviewed video of Hansen’s comments and at no point does he even mention construction workers or building trades unions. Hanna’s claim that Hansen was directing his comments towards them is pulled from thin air.

It must be noted that our criticism here is limited to Hanna, not the MDN as a whole. Indeed, the paper’s new managing editor Jerry Burnes wrote a perfectly fair portrayal of Hansen when he announced his candidacy last month. It’s only when Hanna takes the reporting reins that objectivity and fairness are routinely tossed out the window at the Virginia paper.

It’s worth noting that, to this point, none of the other candidates in the race appear to be piling on. That could just be smart politics. Then again, all the candidates in this race seem sensible and decent. They’re probably disappointed as well to see what had been a clean campaign suddenly careen into the gutter.

This manufactured issue bears no relationship to reality. Hansen has been staunchly pro-labor his entire life, as have other candidates seeking the DFL nod on Tuesday.

Six candidates have filed to run in the special election in Minnesota House District 3A.

Four DFLers, one Republican and one independent want to fill the vacancy caused by the recent death of Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake.

  • MrE85

    The social problems of the oil boom in western North Dakota have been well-documented. They will even be featured in an new television drama (by drama, I mean soap opera), “Blood & Oil.”

    • Mike Worcester

      Forum Communications did an excellent series on the sex trafficking that went on in the area and how law enforcement was caught woefully unprepared for the situation that developed. I’ll also say that the MDN has had a long history of critical commentary towards those who offer any criticism about the long-term effects of mining. Range blogger Aaron Brown has done a great job of detailing this behaviour.

      • MrE85

        If Minnesota Brown says it, I’ll believe it. The guy is a great read.

  • chris

    The pro sulfide mining forces are clearly terrified that Hansen will win and are pulling out all the stops. I watched Hansen’s comments and there is nothing controversial or offensive in his remarks. It is interesting, the people trying to stir up offense here are probably the same people who in other situations decry political correctness.

  • Paul

    Boom towns are generally less law (not entirely lawless) than actual towns. It’s been that way since there was law.

    Man camps are the precursor to boom towns, expecting them to be model establishments is naive at best. You’ve got lots of opportunistic people making lots of money without many legal ways to use it there. That’s the simple recipe for increased crime and vice.

  • Jeff C.

    I think it is worth noting that the MDN is based in Virginia, a town created around mining and the Timberjay is based in Ely, a town that embraced the creation of the BWCA. Virginia is a dying town. Ely is thriving. The PolyMet mine is expected to give the Virginia area a brief economic boost. An environmental accident at PolyMet could destroy the BWCA, and, with it, the Ely economy.

    • kath kosch

      Many locals in Ely disagree with the opinion that their town is thriving. My husband is from Ely and the general consensus among most of my friends and acquaintances is that the population is aging (it is), that there are fewer families (there are) and that mining is the only thing that will save Ely from economic doom. I happen to disagree with that school of thought and believe in the power of economic diversification (since the reason my husband graduated from Ely and not Silver Bay is due to a mine shut down).

      I wouldn’t say Virginia is dying (downtown Virginia is another story). It still performs a major role as a regional commercial hub for those who don’t want to trek to Duluth.

  • gus

    Copper-sulfide mining would bring a whole host of problems to our area. Imagine a project that will leave hundreds of years of pollution to monitor and correct. A generation of jobs for many, many generations of pollution. Proponents of this mining can’t talk about these things, they can only attack people like Bill Hansen with this type of slander–that they’re anti-jobs, anti-union, anti whatever. Bill Hansen is a very decent person who is speaking truth to ignorance. We’re very lucky to have him in this race. We’d be even luckier if he were to win.

  • Guest

    I know Bill Hansen and his wife Cindy. They are just salt of the earth people. It is unfortunate that the slimeball that runs the MDN is muckracking Bill the way he is. It just doesn’t seem right. Listen to the forums online, does it sound like Bill is and unreasonable boogeyman? He was twice endorsed by the DFL….TWICE!!! Over David Dill. I think the DFL party up on the range is making a huge mistake by not supporting Bill Hansen and his voting bloc. The best thing that can happen is Bill wins the primary and the range delegation wraps their arms around him and says, we hear you left wing of our party, your voice is important in this debate too.

    I am curious how the late Paul Wellstone would manage this copper/nickle debate on the Iron Range, I tend to believe he would be taking the same tact as Bill, and getting blasted for it by right wing newspapers in the favor of large corporations that could care less about Ely, Virginia, Hoyt Lakes etc.

  • Evilimp

    The copper industry is bottomed out. China has more than it needs right now. Mines are closing down & laying off workers. Polymet & Glencore are in bad financial straits. No one will ever say what the actual wages of these mysterious “good paying jobs” are. The whole thing is a sham, dependent on hoodwinking the desperate.

    • Joe Musich

      It is great for this iron range escapee who’s father died “on the job” at Minntac to see a DFL politician stand up to mining interests. The Copper market is looking to recycling now. Google it ! I dare you. He he ! It is not about union jobs. It’s is about fearing the future. It is time for those on the range to look at the statistics regarding where jobs are really coming from up there. Maybe if the steelworkers unions start demanding fair wages for all kinds of work finances and tax revenue would be in better condition. Making all work up there valuable would open the window for a clear view on just exactly the price for the polymet debacle will be. And while the steelworkers are at it maybe that could help turn many of those neo DFL politicians into opening their eyes.