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Dayton touts accomplishments in addressing Iron Range meeting

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton talks with Aurora Mayor David Lislegard during Wednesday night's RAMS meeting in Mountain Iron, Minn. Photo by Jerry Burnes / Mesabi Daily News

MOUNTAIN IRON, Minn. — In the first month of his final year in office, Minnesota Gov. Dayton touted his administration's work on the Iron Range and statewide during a speech to the Range Association of Schools and Municipalities.

RAMS represents cities and school boards across the Iron Range, acting as a united advocacy group to the state Legislature and federal officials on issues facing the region.

Dayton began his political career under the guide of Range Gov. Rudy Perpich, calling the region "extra special" to his later political career in the U.S. Senate and as governor in 2010. Tough times were abound in the state when he moved into the top executive role as statewide unemployment was 6.9 percent and 9.4 percent in northeastern Minnesota. The ups and downs of the Range have been well-noted, which included another mining industry downturn in 2015.

"Rangers have always been special people," Dayton said. "I've seen Rangers' strength in good times and even more in bad times."

But more recently the times have turned, the governor said, pointing to the state's fiscal forecast in 2013, the first of several surpluses experienced in his tenure. Part of the turnaround on the Iron Range started with mining, he said, but continued through community investments by the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board that provided funding and infrastructure for businesses and expansions.

"We've been trying very hard, along with many of you, to turn things around up here," Dayton said. "Diversification into new industry is slow and hard to achieve when you're in competition against the rest of the state, the country and even the world. Our administration has worked long and hard to bring PolyMet and the former Essar, now Chippewa, into production and new employment."

Calling the upcoming year an interesting and potentially turbulent one, Dayton acknowledged the fight ahead with Minnesota Republicans, including his new lieutenant governor, Republican State Sen. Michelle Fischbach.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, told the RAMS gathering that he expected a lawsuit soon over Fischbach's refusal to give up her Senate seat while ascending to lieutenant governor.

Bakk said the DFL is willing to let the courts interpret the state constitution and believes the judges will side with Democrats. If that happens the Minnesota Senate will move to a 33-33 tie in the chamber until her seat is filled.

"For us up here, that matters," Bakk said referring to the bonding efforts coming in 2018.