Iron Rangers know that there are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and attacks directed at the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board.
When I was first sworn into office in 1987 as a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, I recall Sen. Earl Renneke, from Le Sueur, vilifying the IRRRB. Why? Because Rudy Perpich was the governor, and it was easy prey to attack “those Rangers.”
Fast-forward to 1999. Speaker Steve Sviggum needed an issue to preserve the Republican majority. So he, too, went after the IRRRB and “those Rangers.”
There were several other attacks along the way, but you get my point. And each time there was an attack, the Twin Cities media came along for the ride.
And now we have the Star Tribune vilifying the agency (“Range agency deep into DFL politics, pockets,” March 1) — with an “exposé” about politics on the Range. Or is it just about “those Rangers”? The newspaper’s Editorial Board then weighed in (“Welcome scrutiny of dialing for Dems,” March 6), and I’m still wondering: “What’s the story here?”
During my 26 years on the IRRRB, we gave loans and grants to at least six call centers: Northwest Airlines (now Delta) in Chisholm; Delta Dental in Gilbert; Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Aurora and Virginia; Fingerhut in Eveleth; the Minnesota Department of Revenue in Ely, and Meyer (the focus of recent attention) in Virginia. All of them, except for Fingerhut, are still employing Iron Range people today, and all of these businesses call to collect money. So, if you call for insurance and airline executives who pay themselves millions of dollars (most of whom are not DFLers), that’s OK? But if you call for Democrats, unions and the Academy Awards (yes, the firm involved even calls for those liberals in Hollywood), this is somehow big news?
By the way, please correct the editorial. A “commissioner who was a Republican appointee” did not approve the loan to Meyer. Gov. Tim Pawlenty himself (perhaps reminded of his South St. Paul DFL roots) personally signed off on the loan, knowing full well Meyer called for Democrats. Go figure.
So, let me vent. Let me ask all of you, what the heck have Iron Rangers ever done to any of you critics to deserve this attention? You see, like most Iron Rangers, I’m proud of who we are, what we do, what we’ve done, and what we’ll continue to do. The ore we’ve mined, continuously, for 132 years, helped educate Minnesotans, helped build our great university, industrialized and built America, and won two world wars. Our mineral wealth built empires controlled by Rockefellers, Morgans, Carnegies and, closer to home — Pillsburys and Hills. We continue to mine your ore and over those years built up a billion-dollar Permanent School Fund that gives tens of millions of dollars, annually, to all the school kids of the state. In fact, the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Anoka-Hennepin school districts alone receive over $1.25 million annually from “those Rangers.” And those figures keep growing.
Our University of Minnesota gives out $7 million per year (and growing) in Iron Range Scholarships to Minnesota students because we also mine the university’s ore. And the Permanent University Fund (now valued at around $400 million) that endows all those professors who bring in over $700 million a year in research money into the Twin Cities’ economy? Well, you guessed it: thank “those Rangers.”
So keep beating on us, we’re used to it. Shucks, you guys are so smart. You figured out there’s politics in politics. There’s even politics in the media. Meanwhile, while you’re beating us up, we’ll just keep doing what we do best. We’ll mine your ore, the university’s ore, the Rockefellers’ and Pillsburys’ ore. We’ll just keep filling everyone’s coffers and if you leave us alone, we can do it for another 132 years (talk about sustainability!).
And when we keep just a little of that wealth for ourselves, just be nice and be grateful that we continue to share Minnesota’s mineral wealth with a state and nation that requires our ores to have a healthy, happy and educated society.
Tom Rukavina, a Democrat, is a member of the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners and a former member of the Minnesota House.