WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen used the first TV ad of his re-election campaign to highlight how he went against President Donald Trump to oppose mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
“When President Donald Trump tried to take away important environmental protections for the Boundary Waters, I said, ‘No way,’ ” Paulsen, a Republican running in a congressional district won by Hillary Clinton, says in the ad. It includes shots of Paulsen camping and canoeing with his family.
“I’m for mining, just not there. It’s too special — too important a place,” Paulsen says. Democrats quickly noted that Paulsen has taken plenty of other votes in his legislative career that have undermined environmental protections.
But in his ad, the Eden Prairie lawmaker showcased his vote earlier this year against an amendment — sponsored by two other Minnesotans in Congress — to reverse a two-year ban on mining leasing and exploration on about 234,000 federally owned acres near the BWCA. The moratorium had been initiated under the Obama administration to study the impact of sulfide mining in that region. This year, the Trump administration moved to scale back the study to a smaller environmental assessment.
Reps. Rick Nolan, a Democrat, and Tom Emmer, a Republican, backed the Trump administration’s actions and sponsored the House amendment. Debates over balancing mining jobs with environmental protections have dominated the Eighth Congressional District race in northern Minnesota, where Nolan’s retirement is spurring a competitive DFL primary.
Paulsen, who represents a suburban Twin Cities district, objected to ending the fuller environmental review early. A statement from his campaign said: “Paulsen opposes Trump’s move and the decision to ignore over 100,000 public comments given during the review process.”
He concludes his ad by saying, “I’m Erik Paulsen and I approve this message, because I’ll stand up to my party or President Donald Trump to protect Minnesota.”
Paulsen has mostly tried to keep his distance from Trump: he said he wrote in Marco Rubio’s name for president in 2016, and he did not attend Trump’s recent rally in Duluth. Critics in his congressional district have noted a tally by the website FiveThirtyEight that shows Paulsen has voted with Trump’s positions 97.6 percent of the time.
The Republican has also criticized Trump for stalling on immigration, signing a discharge petition to force a debate on immigration changes and pushing for a solution for young immigrants eligible for protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy instituted by President Barack Obama.
His campaign pointed to congressional analysis on the GovTrack website, which shows that Paulsen ranks No. 1 among all U.S. representatives in getting the most cosponsors on his bills and No. 3 in getting the most bipartisan cosponsors. His spokesman John-Paul Yates said in a statement that Paulsen was an independent leader and that they would tell that story throughout the campaign.
Paulsen is facing a tough, well-funded race against DFLer Dean Phillips. Phillips’ campaign cited several recent votes by Paulsen: his vote in 2015 against an amendment that would have ensured environmental impact reviews for mining permits, and another vote against a measure meant to prevent toxic contamination of groundwater and water sources including the Great Lakes.
“Erik Paulsen has taken more special interest money than nearly any other member of Congress, and that buys him nice TV ads,” Phillips said in a response to the TV ad. The campaign also pointed to Paulsen’s 15 percent rating in 2017 by Environment America, a federation of environmental advocacy groups.
“Unfortunately, this is just another misrepresentation of truth from Rep. Paulsen — who has consistently voted against environmental protections during his 30 year political career,” Phillips said.