‘Man camps’ comment sparks Iron Range newspaper row

A couple of north country newspapers are duking it out on the editorial page over an upcoming special election and the proposed copper mine on the Iron Range.

It started Saturday when a Mesabi Daily News editorial charged that Bill Hansen, a DFL candidate in the District 3A special election “submarined his campaign to a new low level by degrading the proud men and women of the building trades.”

The editorial said Hansen, an opponent of the proposed PolyMet mine, resorted to “outright lies about the project and its possible impacts.”

But to go after the men and women who do so much to make this country great and carry on the legacy of those who came before them to build the very foundation of our exceptional way of life with their labor and skills is just plain reprehensible.

What a smug, arrogant and terribly disgusting viewpoint from someone who benefits each and every day from the efforts, sweat and toil of people of the trades.

And, yes, someone who also enjoys a good modern life in great part because of products made possible because of the minerals PolyMet will mine on the Iron Range.

Hypocrisy obviously has no limits for candidate Hansen, who should be thanking trades workers profusely every day, not insulting them.

The AFL-CIO charged this week that Hansen offended union workers by saying if the mine is approved, crime in the area will increase. It cited this YouTube video from Hansen’s campaign.

“These projects are going to be man camps,” Hansen said. “I’ve been to Williston (North Dakota). Is this what you want? You want giant man camps that clear out the community, that create a lot of crime, prostitution, gambling, all kinds of community problems, tend to drive out other sustainable jobs? And then in a very short time — mining companies are very efficient nowadays — they’re gone.”

Is that a slam against union workers?

In its editorial this week, the Ely Timberway called out the Mesabi Daily News.

“Newspapers have an obligation to inform their readers, not inflame them with distortions and demagoguery,” its editorial said in an unusual broadside against another editorial.

What’s worse, it’s plain that [Mesabi Daily News executive editor Bill] Hanna made claims in his story that simply aren’t true. We’ve reviewed video of Hansen’s comments and at no point does he even mention construction workers or building trades unions. Hanna’s claim that Hansen was directing his comments towards them is pulled from thin air.

It must be noted that our criticism here is limited to Hanna, not the MDN as a whole. Indeed, the paper’s new managing editor Jerry Burnes wrote a perfectly fair portrayal of Hansen when he announced his candidacy last month. It’s only when Hanna takes the reporting reins that objectivity and fairness are routinely tossed out the window at the Virginia paper.

It’s worth noting that, to this point, none of the other candidates in the race appear to be piling on. That could just be smart politics. Then again, all the candidates in this race seem sensible and decent. They’re probably disappointed as well to see what had been a clean campaign suddenly careen into the gutter.

This manufactured issue bears no relationship to reality. Hansen has been staunchly pro-labor his entire life, as have other candidates seeking the DFL nod on Tuesday.

Six candidates have filed to run in the special election in Minnesota House District 3A.

Four DFLers, one Republican and one independent want to fill the vacancy caused by the recent death of Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake.