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Political Notebook: McFadden Chinese steel comment thrown back at him by Dems, unions

Senator Al Franken (D-MN), far left, sits down with his challengers at the U.S. Senate Candidate’s Forum at Minnesota Farmfest on Wednesday in Redwood County. Pictured right of Franken are Republican challengers Mike McFadden, Jim Abler, David Carlson and Independent challenger Kevin Terrell. Craig Lassig / Reuters

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. - Republicans have courted Minnesota Iron Range voters by strongly supporting proposed copper-nickel mines as a new way to make money from the land.

In recent months, GOP candidates have made visit after visit to the normally Democratic northeastern part of the state, blasting Democrats for not fully jumping on board with the mines.

Then, at Farmfest in the opposite corner of the state, Republican-endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden made a comment that 24 hours later Democrats and unions threw back in his face.

McFadden had just come off stage with Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and other Senate candidates. Franken fielded a few reporters’ questions, including a follow-up on McFadden’s comment in the forum that the incumbent voted against the Keystone XL and other proposed oil pipelines.

Franken explained that he supports the Keystone being built from American-made steel, which would help the Iron Range’s taconite mines. He also said he wants the pipeline to provide oil to Americans, not for overseas sale, which could happen.

Moments later, a question put to McFadden was: If the cheapest steel comes from China, is that OK?

“I would love to see us use U.S. products when we can,” McFadden said. “But it must be cost competitive. I am a supporter of free and fair trade.”

So, Forum News Service pressed, would Chinese steel be OK?

“Yes,” McFadden replied, “If it is not being subsidized by the Chinese government.”

Democrats and the labor movement jumped on the McFadden statement.

“Investment banker Mike McFadden would take one of the largest energy projects since the Hoover Dam and stamp ‘Made in China’ on it,” said Craig Olson, president of the Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council. “McFadden should be creating jobs in Minnesota and the U.S., not in China.”

Gov. Mark Dayton did not enter the McFadden fray, but said in answer to a reporter’s question that Republicans should not be announcing full support of copper-nickel mining on the Range until they see an environmental report still being compiled. He said that he will withhold final judgment until he has all the information.

Where’s the difference?

The prevalent feeling after U.S. House and U.S. Senate forums at Farmfest appeared to be that the candidates did too little to differentiate themselves from each other.

When asked who won, few could offer answers.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat who has represented western Minnesota for two-dozen years, explained an incumbents’ attitude: It is up to challengers to offer up the differences.

Republican challengers for the U.S. Senate and western and southern Minnesota U.S. House districts were much gentler on Democratic incumbents than in the past when many conservative challengers were criticized for sounding mean.

Observers noted, for instance, that McFadden and Franken exchanged as many compliments as barbs.

No session decision

Dayton told Forum News Service that he is not ready to call a special legislative session to fund flood recovery.

The governor is awaiting final information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as to how much damage there is and how big the state’s bill will be.

It is not clear when that information will be available given the fact that it takes time to do the tallies since more than half of Minnesota’s 87 counties reported damage. It also is not clear if this fall’s election campaigns will encourage or discourage a special session.

Separately, Dayton said he is lobbying federal officials to name more than the current two counties agriculture disaster areas. In any case, he said, federal flood insurance should keep farmers that sustained flood damage going until next year.

What did he say?

McFadden was not the only politician to say things at Farmfest that his campaign may have wished he hadn’t.

Dayton made a couple of comments that may come back to haunt him during the campaign, both coming from his well-known self-deprecating sense of humor.

First he said: “I have no talent. That’s why I became a politician.”

Later, he said a few words to the audience to begin a program. But he forgot a main reason why he spoke, a proclamation honoring farm families. He started to walk off stage when an aide reminded him of the proclamation.

“That’s why I have young staff whose brain cells are all intact,” Dayton joked.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.