Battle of Two Nations and Two Parties

“The vanguard of the Ojibways fell on the Dakotas at Cormorant Point early in the morning.”
Ojibwe Oral History*

William Warren recorded the above Ojibwe oral history of the battle of Kathio for the Minnesota Historical Society where he indicated the local Ojibwe hold that their westward expanding ancestors won a large decisive battle over the Dakota nation along the banks of Mille Lacs around 1750. Many historians question whether there was such a decisive battle in the region, but the facts do bear out that this region around Mille Lacs was in constant political turmoil between the two dominant native peoples for well over a century.

Certainly the Ojibwe would have had the advantage in the 1750s. They maintained a superior arsenal of firearms acquired as a result of their successful fur trading with the French on the Great Lakes as they continued their westward expansion in search of more beaver pelts and living space. The early history of Minnesota at the time was greatly influenced by the continued ebb and flow of peace and war between these two great native nations and the Mille Lacs area was often at the center of their conflicts.

In 2012 the area around Mille Lacs is again a political battleground, but this time the combatants are DFLers and Republicans in the highly competitive state legislative races in District 10. The new district is made up of parts of two other Senate districts scrawling across the lakes region north of Mille Lacs with Brainerd anchoring the western part of the district. The district has a great deal of  “volatility” which in politics means the voters don’t always vote party line and show little allegiance to any particular party over time. As a result, depending on the measure you use of the new district’s voting history, it could arguably lean either to the DFL or the Republicans. Also making the district more competitive is that redistricting resulted in an open seat with no seated incumbent.

Not surprisingly, given the volatility of the district, both candidates for the Senate are seeking middle ground. The Republican endorsed candidate for the Senate is former Sen. Carrie Ruud trying to engineer a comeback . By most counts she is considered a moderate within the present Republican crowd.  Six years ago she lost her reelection bid for a district that included about half of the new district. She was a strong advocate for resorts, lake associations and minimizing damage caused from excessive off-road vehicle use on state lands in the one term she served. Her opponent,  DFLer Ty Stevenson, ran for the Senate two years ago and returns with a well-oiled campaign machine. He will provide a lot of energy to the race and should make it competitive. Most have predicted a Ruud win, but you cannot take anything for granted in this newly drawn district that has yet to develop an identity.

The two House races in District 10 are considered some of the most competitive in the state and could hold the key to who controls that body.  District 10A is essentially the Brainerd district and incumbent John Ward (DFL–Brainerd) is receiving a stiff challenge from newcomer Republican Chris Kellett. As a popular teacher and coach, Ward has had electoral success in the Brainerd area despite a Republican voting history in other races. After redistricting, 10A may have even become slightly more Republican giving Kellett and her team hopes of a surprise victory over the popular Ward.

The new District 10B is one of the most intriguing creations from redistricting. Covering several lakes and a mostly rural landscape, the district has yet to develop any identity. The area in the past has been tied into districts connected to larger regional centers that tended to dominate the political focus. The precincts that make up the district have a voting history that is even between the two parties. As a result, the district is considered a key legislative race for control of the House.

The Republican candidate Dale Lueck is a local cattle rancher who won a contested endorsement. The district covers some potential sulfide mining property and Lueck has advocated for reducing regulatory delays, which he believes are stopping this new mining in the region. The DFL candidate Joe Radinovich also won a contested endorsing process and later a primary. Radinovich is a young energetic campaigner who boasts of four generations on the old Cuyuna Iron Range, which is in the middle of the district. The race has been flooded with outside money and even accusations of dirty tricks with a Republican staffer writing letters to the editor claiming to be a Democrat. As the new district looks to develop an identity, it appears that it’s going to maintain its old heritage of being a battleground of historic proportions.

*William Warren History of the Ojibway People. Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul. 1984: p.160

About John Tuma

John is a former state legislator and litigation attorney. He served in the Minnesota House of Representatives for eight years from the Northfield area, beginning in 1994. Elected as a Republican, John was known for his independent thinking and ability to work across party lines. He is well-known in Minnesota state government circles.
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