*We are continuing our Meet the Candidates conversations for the November 3rd, 2020 elections. We recently talked with Thomas Manninen (R) running for MN House District 3a against incumbent Representative Rob Ecklund (DFL). Find information on his MN House record here and listen to our conversation with Rep. Rob Ecklund.
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*KAXE/KBXE News and Public Affairs Director Heidi Holtan recently spoke with Thomas Manninen. The following transcript has been edited for clarity. The audio of this interview is available at the top of this page.
(Heidi Holtan) Q: Thomas Manninen is the Republican candidate for House District 3A, which includes the following counties: Koochiching, Lake, and Cook, as well as St. Louis County. Thomas Manninen joins us now. Thank you for being with us.
(Thomas Manninen) A: Thank you for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.
Q: So why are you running for Minnesota House seat 3A?
A: I decided to run because for the past several years, I've unfortunately had to see family and friends...people who've been in the community for a long time, have to leave, move out of the district, sometimes have to move out of state, simply because of lack of jobs. I see it from a perspective that our government in Saint Paul has adopted policies that benefit the Cities and leave areas like mine behind. I think it's a simple fix, one that's going to take some time, but that's why I decided to run...because I feel that if we adopt smart policies that put our district first, we won't have these families have to leave their homes.
Q: So, you've mentioned jobs, but I was going to ask you if you had to choose two of the priorities in your role as the possible next legislator for your district, what are those two priorities?
A: I put it from this frame: the Governor's shut down has left communities and small businesses in dire situations. Some aren't surviving the pandemic, but for those who are still holding on, we have to put them at the top priority. So I would say this: we've got two important industries in northern Minnesota in my district, and that's the logging, the timber industry and the mining industry. The first priority, of course, is ensuring that the timber industry, which is struggling, finds a way to become prosperous again. It's supporting new timber markets. You can talk to any logger who has been in the field for decades, and they'll say that we need new timber markets. That's for that area. And then, obviously with Twin Metals and Polymet, doing all we can at the state level to support them and ensure that they are allowed to begin operation, if gone through strict environmental review.
I believe that those two projects are ones that we have to support. Then, the second priority, if we're picking a top two is that the state's going to be facing a deficit, because of the Governor's shutdown. And it's important that we don't make the burden fall on the taxpayer. The government in Saint Paul's going to have to tighten its belt. That means that these million dollar infrastructure projects in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, we're going to have to look to make some cuts. So, I would say the top two priorities are to make sure the taxpayer doesn't take the brunt of the deficit, and ensure that we are supporting doing all we can to support the jobs and trade that frankly, that made the country, but make Northern Minnesota especially unique.
Q: We're talking with Thomas Manninen today. He's the Republican candidate for House District 3A. It covers St. Louis, Koochiching, Lake, and Cook counties in Northern Minnesota. As of today, there are still over 30 states that have governors with emergency executive powers. I want to talk a little bit about the pandemic and your thoughts on it, and your thoughts on the state's response.
A: Well, I think it's important to know that what's going on in Minnesota right now with Governor Walz is pretty tragic. We all grew up taking civics, and we learned about separation of powers. It's the House and Senate that make the law, the governor that signs and executes the law. And right now we have a governor who's kind of operating outside the bounds of his powers. So, I think that we have an opportunity as we navigate the pandemic that we currently face, to work at the House and Senate level, to work with the governor to make sure that people are taken care of, those who are most risk, while at the same time, respecting the rights of business owners to provide for their families and save their livelihoods, quite frankly. I view these shutdowns, specifically the one in Minnesota...these governors have seized the chance to take power that we've never seen before. As a representative, I would rein that in and get back to functioning the way government's supposed to.
Q: Thomas, you mentioned mining and timber industries. A lot of times there is a narrative of jobs versus taking care of the environment. I wonder if you'd talk a little bit more about that, about the balance between those things.
A: Absolutely. Especially with regards to the mining issue, this is a common narrative we hear. I don't have a science background, so I was more than happy, and in fact, insistent upon finding people to talk with about the Twin Metals and Polymet projects. I was able to go tour both of the facilities, talk with the professionals who are administering their operation. And I was thoroughly impressed, specifically the first one I did was with Twin Metals. The concern for a lot of people is the Rainy Lake watershed, but if you go and talk to these people, you see that Minnesota has one of the strictest environmental regulations in the country. Twin Metals and Polymet, both have complied with these orders. And talking with Twin Metals, they detail in great depth, what safeguards they have in place to ensure that the environment is not harmed in an adverse way, while bringing 750 full-time jobs, 1500 runoff jobs.
This isn't an either or situation. I think Saint Paul has to stop framing it as such. You know, these people live in Ely, they live on the lakes. They're the last people who would want pollution and these lakes to be destroyed. So it's not an either or situation. With respect to the environment, while mining the minerals right here in our country, in our backyard, instead of being beholden to China and some of these other countries, that don't have environmental regulations, don't have child labor laws, and especially given the COVID pandemic, we have to reassess our relationship with China. I think going forward, our copper nickel and cobalt dependency among other precious metals, we can be independent on this. And I think it's important we take a great opportunity. And if you have concerns about the environment, you'll reach out to Twin Metals and Polymet, and they're more than happy to clarify any concerns.
Q: If you win this seat for House District 3A, you will be serving people who didn't vote for you, maybe people who are against projects like Twin Metals. How will you reach out to all of the people in your district?
A: I try and look at it as this isn't personal, this is politics. And we've got people who are going to support me and people who won't. After the election, it's important to come together, especially in a district like ours. You mentioned before, it's an incredibly large district area-wise, and we've got a lot of different communities. I mean, the needs of people in Northome are different from the needs of people in Grand Marais and Ely, and beyond. And as a legislator, I would always have my office open. I always joke that I'm going to be saving my phone calls for constituents, and not for lobbyists or any of these other pseudo important types. Not to say that on every single issue I'm going to simply go by what my constituent wants. I mean, I have convictions, I have my own ideas about how things are going to be best for the district. But, of course we can always have a conversation, especially recovering from this economic downtime, there's much room for compromise and finding creative solutions that best fit this district.
Q: This district includes the Bois Forte reservation and also Grand Portage bands. Any thoughts on reaching out to people on the tribal nations?
A: Absolutely. Well, governor's shut down has affected us all. There isn't one area of the economy that wasn't affected by this. As I mentioned before, I'm going to bring back the North and that doesn't apply to a specific group of people, that applies to everybody in the Northland. So, with these communities across the district, I will take input from all areas, because like I said, there's concerns from all across the different regions. And it's important that we make sure that all perspectives are heard, when ultimately crafting public policy.
That is Thomas Manninen. He is running as a Republican for House District 3A. Find more information at his website, thomasfor3a.com. Thanks so much for your time today.