The last thing DFL Chair Ken Martin needed was this: a story in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine that exploded already simmering tensions between two key groups in the DFL coalition — environmentalists and miners on the Iron Range.

Reid Carron, a clean-water advocate who lives in Ely, is quoted in the lengthy article — about the conflict over copper-nickel mining — disparaging mining advocates: “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.”

Mining and building trades unions were quick to fire back at Carron’s incendiary comments.

“The sentiments expressed by Carron very accurately reflect the way most anti-mining, anti-pipeline, anti-development groups really feel about the hardworking people of northern Minnesota. It disgusts me,” said Jason George, political director for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, which represents more than 13,500 heavy-equipment operators.

This open rift between two groups important to the DFL coalition — environmentalists and the building trades unions — could allow Republicans to peel off rural votes.

Martin tried to contain the damage: “These judgmental comments wrongfully disparage thousands of hardworking Minnesotans. There’s no room in the debate for sharp-tongued attacks on Minnesotans who work hard every day to provide for their families and support our state’s economy.”

Save the Boundary Waters, an environmental group of which Carron is a leader, apologized in its own news release: “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.”

Carron himself also put out a statement of apology, calling his own comments “disrespectful and untrue,” adding that “the people and the communities in northeastern Minnesota are treasures that deserve to prosper.”

But the damage is done.

The Carron comments show the peculiar form of trouble that can arise for public or semipublic officials who speak their mind a little too freely on an issue they care deeply about.

The DFL may hope this will go away. But for Iron Rangers, what they long suspected is now confirmed. And they are known to have long memories.