Dave Lislegard

Dave Lislegard poses at the site of PolyMet in 2015, with the former LTV plant in the background.

Many of us remember the “Schoolhouse Rock” cartoon “I’m Just a Bill” from our childhoods, which explains the basic process by which an idea gets offered, introduced as legislation, passed by the legislative branch, and either signed into law or vetoed. It’s rudimentary “Politics 101,” but it does a good job of explaining how our government framework is fundamentally intended to work.

The reality of how lawmaking occurs, both in Washington and Saint Paul, is much more involved than that. When you add executive authority – currently exercised during a once-in-a-century pandemic – the system becomes so complex that certain individuals and groups are allowed to exploit the general lack of understanding in the most negative fashion, with no truth or substance backing them up. We don’t have a cartoon or cleverly composed song, but a “Politics 201” would benefit Minnesotans as they read or hear about what is happening – or more accurately, what appears to be happening – at the State Capitol.

To illustrate factors at play beneath the surface, here I’ll share two different proposals, one from each side of the ideological spectrum. First, consider the so-called “prove it first” legislation, introduced by environmental groups and their legislative allies, which would pose yet another series of roadblocks for Polymet and other copper-nickel mining to become operational. Throughout an unprecedented review process, Polymet already has “proven it” through every single legal, scientific, and environmental standard. This bill wouldn’t just move the goalposts; it would be like moving the entire game from an NFL stadium to a sandlot.

Deep down, the authors know their impractical anti-mining legislation has no path forward. Since I’ve been elected to the Minnesota House, no bill similar to this has so much as received a committee hearing, and I assure you this isn’t by accident. The Iron Range Delegation and I continue to vigorously fight for our strong mining heritage and have educated our leadership and most colleagues about how the legislation is a direct attack on our way of life and the harm it would cause.

So why does such a proposal, that even the authors know deep down won’t pass, get so much attention? In the 2019-2020 regular legislative session, 4,695 bills were introduced in the House; in the Senate, the number was 4,633. How many were signed into law?

118.

Granted, many bills are combined into larger “omnibus bills” during the session, but the point remains the same. Far too often, legislation is introduced not with the goal of actually changing law, but solely to appease a certain ideologically driven constituency.

On the other side of the coin, you’ve likely seen literature or heard radio advertising from Action 4 Liberty, a group based in the Twin Cities working day and night – during a time when our nation is already deeply divided – to agitate people, including those on the Iron Range. They do so under the guise of supporting businesses and families in our region. Meanwhile, the group’s top ally in the Legislature, Republican freshman Representative Erik Mortensen from Shakopee in the southwest metro, has introduced a bill, HF 199, to strip away significant funding from Iron Range communities and put critical public services in jeopardy.

Some examples: if this bill were enacted, Virginia would lose $975,000, causing an 11% property tax increase. Aurora would lose $358,000 and would face a 25% increase in property taxes. Gilbert: a $332,000 loss for 22.5% property tax hike. Eveleth would lose $628,000, equaling a 26.5% property tax increase. Finally, McKinley would lose $20,000 and residents would face a whopping 33.8% property tax increase.

While it would financially devastate Iron Range communities that are already hurting, serving as the Vice Chair of the House Taxes Committee, I can assure you that this bill won’t become law, either. But isn’t it odd that despite their newfound concern for the Range economy, no one from Action 4 Liberty is talking about this bill? After all, it’s authored by one of their closest friends in the House. Action curates a tightly wound narrative and feeds that – and that exclusively – to its followers, while their legislative allies run parallel with them to directly pit regions against one another.

We all need to take time to understand the real issues at play, which go much deeper than the sound bites, sensationalist fundraising emails, lit pieces, or social media posts. Many of the bills contributing to this feeding frenzy of hyperpartisanship have no chance of becoming law. Zero. We all have diverse viewpoints, but it’s impossible to ignore how the extremism – which comes from both sides – is ridiculous and poses a real problem not just for politics but our entire society. I again encourage folks to watch “the Social Dilemma,” a movie available on Netflix which shows the extent to which social media companies will manipulate people by allowing misinformation to spread with the goal of more shares, likes, and valuable data to be mined, without regard for the damage to our social fabric.

Think of a book. Those farthest left and farthest right are on the margins. The truth, and the best path forward for our state, is between them. Yes, the frustration out there is real, and many people in our region are experiencing unheard-of levels of hardship. Our energies should instead be placed on solving these enormous challenges rather than fostering perpetual divisions against one another. I was elected to protect and promote this district and the Iron Range, and I still believe we have the capacity to work together to help our region and state once again thrive and prosper.

Dave Lislegard is the second-term DFL State Rep. for House District 6B from Aurora.

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