There’s some buzz around the Capitol about former powerful state Sen. Tom Bakk registering as a lobbyist for a tobacco giant and a couple mining companies. I talked to him Friday from his winter place in Mesquite, Nevada. The lobbying came as a surprise because I figured he’d be enjoying post-political life on a snowmobile in the winter and a boat in the summer. He said he’s taking people’s calls but hasn’t sought out any gigs.
Among the clients: Altria, aka Philip Morris.
“I’m a personal liberties guy,” he said of the tobacco industry. He voted against the indoor smoking ban and mandatory seat belt laws, for instance.
Bakk told me he also agreed to help Essar, the international mining conglomerate that has been tied up in a long-delayed and troubled project in Nashwauk. The latest news on that front: The Supreme Court upheld the state’s decision to terminate the company’s mineral leases, the Strib reported recently:
That paves the way for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to reassign Mesabi Metallics' state leases. The Iron Range's biggest mining companies — Cleveland-Cliffs and U.S. Steel — have shown keen interest in them, particularly the former.
Bakk said his aim is merely to help the project get developed, perhaps as a joint venture, but with the understanding Essar can’t be the face of it.
He’s also registered as a lobbyist for Twin Metals, which seeks to develop a copper-sulfide mine on the doorstep of the Boundary Waters but had its mining leases withdrawn last year by the Biden administration. (The company is suing to get them back.) The administration then went on to put a 20-year moratorium on mining in 225,000 acres of Superior National Forest near the Boundary Waters. If Twin Metals wins its lawsuit, however, expect the company to say the moratorium doesn’t apply to its existing leases.
Bakk told me CEO Iván Arriagada of the company’s Chilean parent company Antofagasta may be making a trip to Minnesota in early March. Bakk is unperturbed by recent developments that would seem to make the Twin Metals mine unlikely.
“Big worldwide miners have a long view of things. They take a decades-long view of the situation,” he said. “It will happen. It's too big a resource not to be developed. It just depends on whose lifetime it's in.”
Bakk’s home region of northeast Minnesota contains a massive trove of precious metals known as the Duluth Complex, but it requires a high-risk mining process to get at them and the waste is a threat to a huge supply of fresh water.
Bakk is also working for the University of Minnesota as a consultant on repairing the system’s flagging image, he told me. He’s not registered with the U as a lobbyist.
One thing he won’t be doing, Bakk said, is regularly walking the halls of the Capitol, and he especially won’t be lobbying individual members. “I don’t want to be on the other end of that desk,” he said. Instead, he’ll be advising others how the system works and who they need to lobby for specific asks.
You may be rightly curious why that advice is worth a dollar. It’s because there are just a handful of people around the state Capitol who know where all the buried buckets of money are, and how to get at them. Bakk is one of them.
Busy news day at Reformer HQ:
The new CEO and publisher of the Star Tribune comes from Gov. Tim Walz’s cabinet. Steve Grove has experience in both journalism and Google’s journalism innovation lab, but the appearance of a Walz cabinet member running the state’s largest media organization is… awkward. Walz is even quoted in the Strib’s announcement saying nice things!
(While we’re at it: I used to work there and my wife works there.)
The timing of a recent settlement between the Department of Employment and Economic Development — which Grove leads — and Reformer contributor Tony Webster over a public records dispute is certainly suspicious. (Tony won, including $17,000 in legal fees, natch) Moreover, it raises questions about whether Grove will make supporting open government and transparency a foundational value at the Star Tribune.
Read my brief story about it. The picture says a lot.
Deena Winter was at the Capitol to listen to Tartan High School alums talk about the pain and trauma they’ve endured after getting cancer, which they believe is the result of drinking water contaminated by 3M chemicals. The bill would outlaw “non-essential” use of PFAS chemicals in products. The business lobby is against the bill, fearing a patchwork of state regulations. Fine: Have Congress pass a strong bill, but they’ll never agree to that either. The father of Amara Strande, who suffers from terminal cancer, put it this way at the hearing: “The more important question you ought to ask is ‘Am I willing to hold the child as she dies in my arms, or is it more important for me to coddle the billion-dollar corporation?’” Powerful stuff.
Max Nesterak reports on an effort to toughen meatpacking safety rules:
Meatpacking workers told state lawmakers Tuesday about broken ankles, gruesome lacerations, pinched nerves and other injuries they and their coworkers have suffered on the job in Minnesota’s meat processing plants.
Bill passed out of committee 11-2.
One problem: State OSHA is overwhelmed and badly underfunded. No point in doing the bill if you don’t match with requisite money to enforce it.
Kudos to intern Grace Deng, who braved a cold rain to cover the missing and murdered Indigenous relatives march, as they seek more money for the state office trying to do something about it. Indigenous women comprise 1% of the state’s population — but they’re seven times more likely than white women to be murdered, according to a state report. Mayor Jacob Frey was chased away with boos.
First they NIMBY’d housing, then they NIMBY’d renewable energy: Our national energy writer Robert Zullo tracks the increasing hostility to renewable energy projects.
In commentary: Zach Spindler-Krage, a Minnesotan studying at Grinnell College, talks about next steps to protect the Boundary Waters from mining.
And Laura Mortenson argues for our own version of a child tax credit that could help reduce childhood poverty. The feds did it for a minute, but it worked too well so they scrapped it.
Did you listen to Deena’s Valentine’s Day playlist? So I’m at home Tuesday with a kid with pink eye and really digging this song by Natalie Taylor called “More than a Feeling” and even though I’d never heard it before, the song filled me with some kind of vaporous nostalgia, and then last night I realized it’s the song by Boston and now I’m the annoying old person who points out a cool song is just a cover!
There’s plenty more to talk about but I’m outta time so it will have to wait until tomorrow.
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Have a great day all! JPC