CHISHOLM – David Tomassoni learned the importance of mining at a young age.
“It was pretty obvious it was where everybody worked and it was the economy around here,” Tomassoni, who grew up in Chisholm, said. “I had two older brothers and a younger sister. All three of us were in hockey. At some point in time, somebody had to pay the bills and all of that came from my dad’s job in the mining industry.”
Tomassoni’s father Chet, was a maintenance supervisor for M.A. Hanna Mining Co. The support his father was able to provide for their family because of mining, remains with Tomassoni.
“He had a company pickup truck and he would park it in the back alley,” Tomassoni said. “Every day when he went to work, there was a big chunk of red ore in our driveway, so we knew all about mining right off the bat.”
Tomassoni’s upbringing and nearly three-decade career as one of the state’s most well-respected politicians, has centered around advocacy for miners and the mining industry.
From working as a college student in Iron Range mines to his years as a Minnesota state representative and senator, Tomassoni knows what mining means to families, businesses, and communities across northeastern Minnesota.
“When you’re young, you took a lot of things for granted,” Tomassoni said. “But one thing we did understand was if we didn’t have that job in the mines, we were going to come out on the short end of the stick.”
Tomassoni received first-hand experience in mining as a young man.
As a college student, Tomassoni from 1972 through 1975 worked at Butler Taconite, National Steel Pellet Co. and the Pierce Mine in Hibbing. He operated a car dropper at the Pierce, disconnecting empty rail cars and dropping the cars down to the loading pocket to be filled. He also worked on the wash down floor.
“You had a big pile of taconite over there and you’d wash it down,” Tomassoni said. “Then, you’d bring the hose over to this other pile and wash that one down. By the time you got done, the other pile was back.”
Tomassoni graduated in 1971 from Chisholm High School. He went on to play hockey at the University of Denver, graduating with a Business Administration degree.
He then played hockey in Italy for 16 years.
“My original intention when I went to Italy was to play for one year, retire from hockey and get into the workforce,” Tomassoni said. “But the money kept getting better, so I started liking it so much I just decided to keep coming back. I was making millions, but it was in Italian lira,” he joked.
At 38 years old, Tomassoni threw in the towel on playing hockey.
After getting into insurance sales, Tomassoni in 1988 ran for St. Louis County Commissioner.
But he lost.
“The experience was so distasteful (in losing never ever get close to politics ever again,” Tomassoni said. “It was like, ‘I don’t like this’.”
Two days after the election loss, he went back to Italy to play hockey again.
However, in 1992, when a Minnesota House of Representatives seat opened up, Tomassoni threw his hat back into the ring in a Democratic-Farmer-Labor primary election.
“The seat was opening up due to redistricting,” Tomassoni said. “What I had learned in the 1988 race was that if there were two people from Chisholm running, then I couldn’t win, but if there was one person running from Chisholm, I could win. There were four people from Hibbing running in 92’ and just me from Chisholm, so I won the primary.”
Tomassoni served as a state representative from 1993 to 2000. He’s been a state senator from 2000 to present.
Mining, logging, education, taxes, environmental, economic development, seniors, and veterans, are among his top legislative focuses.
Much of it, in one way or another, ties back into mining.
“Our job in the legislature encompasses many different things,” Tomassoni said. “Educating people is the number one thing we have to do. But you look at Hibbing High School, it was built because of the mining industry. You look at all our schools that were built because of mining, so there is close correlation between mining and education. And the mining industry not only provides jobs for the people who are working at the mines, but it has a two-to-one and maybe as much as a four-to-one spin-off effect on jobs.”
With his father’s work in mining and Tomassoni’s experiences as a summer student, mining and its impact on people and communities has remained in the forefront for Tomassoni in a personal way.
That, along with other ups and downs within the industry in recent decades, has helped shaped Tomassoni’s unequivocal support for miners and the industry.
“It’s our lifestyle,” Tomassoni said. “It’s what keeps us going up here. We’ve had booms and busts the entire time the mining industry has been around from the turn of the last century. Whenever there’s a bust, we find out how bad it is for families and for jobs in the area. The spin-off effect is devastating. It’s our main industry.”
To help the industry remain healthy, Iron Range legislators have sought to preserve mining jobs and carry effective mining legislation, he said.
“We’ve tried to make sure, number one, that the jobs are always there,” Tomassoni said. “And when there’s changes needed in tax codes or changes in laws that somebody needed, we’ve tried to help. We’ve also always tried to be tireless advocates in stopping anything negative that would stop the industry.”
Northeastern Minnesota’s iron ore industry helped build the United States, win two world wars, build cars, bridges, highways, and remains vital to the United States, he said.
“Everything comes from the earth to make those things,” Tomassoni said. “It’s meant a lot to a lot of people and it’s meant a lot to the entire nation. It’s our main industry and it provides really good paying jobs for families. My job is to be sure it stays viable.”
Tomassoni still loves anything hockey.
And he’s proud of his Italian heritage, using Italy’s national colors of green, white and red in his political campaigns.
Throughout his political career, he’s been known to be affable and to be able work with others.
“I think it’s a people business and getting along with people is very, very important,” Tomassoni said. “I just try to get to know the people I’m working with, make sure they know me, and find out what’s important to them. Making friendships across the aisle is important to me because you need to work with people. I don’t think I can define my style. Being nice to people and getting along with people is a good way to do it.”
He’s also known to laugh often during daily conversation.
“I find that humor is a great equalizer,” Tomassoni said. “If you get people laughing, they tend to like you. It’s just one of those kind of things – I don’t plan it.”
Just as in hockey and politics, mining is about people, he says.
“They’re good people,” Tomassoni said of those in mining. “One of the things that makes our mining industry very effective as it is, is that these are union jobs and there’s a certain protection that goes along with being a union job and there’s safety measures involved. People can go to work knowing that they have the ability to do an honest days’ job and come home to their family and that wasn’t always the case. I’ve run into a real lot of wonderful people as a result of backing unions also. You form good friendships.”