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Republicans jump on mining, timber bandwagon

DULUTH, Minn. -- Minnesota's four major Republican governor candidates went into heavily Democratic Duluth on Thursday to support mining and timber.

On most issues, Jeff Johnson, Kurt Zellers, Scott Honour and Marty Seifert sounded more alike than different during a WDSM radio's "Sound Off" forum. But they showed subtle differences.

All support the planned PolyMet copper-nickel mine on the Iron Range and like the idea of making it easier to log northern Minnesota timber. And the quartet agreed that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is hindering both.

"I would be a champion to use the resources that God has given this state..." Hennepin County Commissioner Johnson said. "These are real jobs, real careers."

Johnson flatly declared that "if Mark Dayton is re-elected, PolyMet will not happen." He accused Dayton of delaying decisions until after the Nov. 4 election.

State Rep. Zellers and businessman Honour said another Iron Range project ended up in Indiana because Minnesota's permitting process was delaying work too long.

Indiana worked with the company as plans were being developed, Zellers said. Minnesota officials, he added, require completed plans to be filed, then send them back for reworking, taking up much time.

"Now there are 900 jobs in Indiana that could have been here in Minnesota," Honour said.

Honour added that that the permitting problem extends beyond the copper-nickel mine operations. "I will make streaming regulations and increasing the speed in which the state operates a priority."

Former state Rep. Seifert said he was the only candidate at a Duluth public hearing about PolyMet, sitting with union members. He said water quality could be five times the standard of drinking water after mining is completed.

Long-lasting drinking water problems are feared by environmentalists if copper-nickel mining is allowed.

"It is shameful that Mark Dayton has been allowed to kick the can and hide the ball," Seifert said.

A question about wood pellets, which southern states export in larger numbers than does Minnesota, resulted in different comments, but with all candidates supporting more timber work.

The state needs "a good working salesman," said Zellers, a professional public relations man. "We are at the heart of what I would consider some of the best timber in the world."

But, he said, timber production fell 30 percent in Dayton's first three years in office.

It is not just the timber industry that needs a boost, Zellers said. Duluth docks need state money to help in renovations and upgrades.

Seifert promoted the fact that he is the only candidate who lives outside the Twin Cities, and someone who long has burned wood.

The state Department of Natural Resources owns much of the state's timber land, he said, and needs to make timber leases more affordable so it does not drive companies to other states and countries.

Seifert agreed with Zellers that the Duluth port needs work, so bigger ships can use it. "We have got to get the harbor dredged."

Honour promoted his private-sector work in helping reopen a Washington state wood mill.

The businessman said his philosophy of reducing regulations throughout state government is the answer. "We need to open up those timber lands to loggers."

Johnson also said the timber issue is part of a bigger problem. He said the culture in state government now is to punish people, but it needs to be more oriented to helping them succeed.

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.