State Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake) died Saturday after battling a rare cancer. He was 60. He had been ill most of the year, but took a turn for the worse this summer.

 

As we reported last week, Dill lived in Crane Lake near Orr but spent a good deal of his time operating a fly-in resort just over the border in Ontario, Canada.

Dill represented an enormous district, a vast stretch of wilderness speckled with small tourist towns and old logging villages. He specialized in natural resources issues -- paper and logging, mining and recreation.

Gov. Mark Dayton will now call a special election to take place most likely this fall. This could be a very interesting affair, as the DFL of the 6th Senate District is comprised of two distinct clans.

The DFL electorate has tended more conservative, having supported both Dill and State Sen. Tom Bakk against more liberal opposition in the past. But the party organizers, with some exceptions, are more progressive. This could complicate any potential endorsement process (which would use the elected delegates from 2014, not new ones).

The district voted for President Obama in 2012 by more than 10 percentage points, but narrowly supported the "one man, one woman" marriage amendment that same year. (It surprised me to learn, however, that Dill's district was among the least opposed to gay marriage among Range districts).

District 3A is also home to the BWCA, Bois Fort and Nett Lake reservations, the proposed Twin Metals project and the North Shore. It's also home to International Falls and its struggling paper mill and the quirky Range city of Ely.

Dill was among the more conservative members of the DFL caucus, but was well-liked both within the caucus and outside of it. I never got a chance to know him personally, but came to regard him as very competent and effective. People who did know him tended to like him a great deal. He was funny, warm and responsive to people.

His successor will face a tough political battle in coming months, but then will face the enormous challenge of representing this very big, very unusual, and politically tumultuous district. Dill did the job well, and will be missed. Obviously his family lost a husband and father, but the Iron Range legislative delegation lost one of its smartest, most even-tempered leaders.

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Watching United Steelworker talks on the Iron Range