The Mining-Labor Juggernaut, A Day After the Election

Mother Jones ran an election-day piece about corporate campaign contributions yesterday, with a map designed to show “which companies dominate” the politics of each state.

There were a few surprises: I didn’t expect to see that “Finance” contributes the most to candidates in Maine, and “Tech” to candidates in Minnesota. On the other hand, the authors, Alex Park and Tasneem Raja, warn that their categories are pretty broad and loose: “‘Real Estate’ for instance, includes donations by individuals and groups connected to both construction and the sale of buildings”; and a category like “Health” might include donations by individual doctors and nurses as well as healthcare companies.

Breaking things down by states doesn’t make all that much sense either, as I learned when I looked at Michigan, to see if it’s possible to track down some of the money driving the politics of the mining boom in the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan is one of about half a dozen states in which “Real Estate” makes the most contributions to political campaigns; but this isn’t the case throughout the state.

Have a look at the Upper Peninsula on followthemoney.org, the site Park and Raja use to make their map. Political money comes mainly from big labor and “Energy and Natural Resources” along with Rick Snyder’s One Tough Nerd PAC and other Republican PACs.

Zoom in a little more. Over in Ironwood, where Orvana now has a permit for their Copperwood project, Energy and Natural Resources interests are among the biggest contributors; as I mentioned in a previous post, the district’s own outgoing Republican Matt Huuki paid big mining back when he brought a bill during the 2012 lame-duck session that relieved mining companies of up front costs and ensured they pay no taxes until they go into production. But in this part of the Western UP, contributions from labor are nearly twice those of the mining industry; and that is before you count contributions from the construction industry.

In Marquette, where I’ve been following the Eagle Mine project, you see contributions across the board in State elections from the pro-mining Michigan Petroleum Association and a group called the Michigan Laborers, an AFL-CIO affiliate. Labor and mining are right up there with big Republican donors like Randy Richardville (under the aegis of something called the Citizens Action Fund) and the Stamas Leadership Fund.

The snapshots this site and others like it afford are pieces of a larger mosaic, in which extractive industry and big labor now dominate the politics of the Upper Peninsula; and whereas they used to be on opposite sides of the fence, they are now working toward the same goals — in what is now a right to work state. I wonder how long before these strange bedfellows start kicking one another beneath the covers.

There are, at the same time, other forces at work in the politics of the UP, at least on a more local level. All four City Commission candidates in Marquette — Dave Campana, Mike Plourde, Sarah Reynolds, and Tony Tollefson — said that they want to see job growth in industries other than mining and they are all for promoting “economic sustainability” instead of riding the boom and bust cycle of mining. A candidate survey from the organization Save the Wild UP also shows all candidates saying they “[believe] that new mining developments near waterways threaten fish populations and recreational fishing” and they want to “[hold] companies financially accountable for their environmental degradation.”

Maybe that’s a start or at least a sign of intelligent life. Of course these are politicians, so I take their responses to this questionnaire with a grain of salt and I realize that they are only saying what they need to say, not necessarily what they believe. Now that Campana and Reynolds have won seats, will they have the courage, or at least the political cover, to take stands that might put them at odds with the UP’s mining-labor juggernaut? Or will big money just steamroll the entire UP? I wonder, too, if we will start to see more fractures in the politics of the region — between big mining and big labor, between local, state and industry actors over everything from trucking routes to hunting grounds and fishing spots, or between right-to-work Republicans and out-of-work locals, who probably cannot and should not count on a mining job or the economic revival big mining promises to bring.

2 thoughts on “The Mining-Labor Juggernaut, A Day After the Election

    1. lvgaldieri Post author

      Hi Dan,

      Thanks for catching me and for the clarification. Old habits die hard, I guess. Anyway, I’ve corrected this to read “Eagle” and not “Kennecott-Eagle”.

      L

      Reply

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