COMMENTARY: The humbling of giants: The rise and decline of the Iron Range — Essay – by Aaron Brown (Minnesota Reformer – September 28, 2021)


Mesabi means giant. That means that I was raised in the land of giants on the Mesabi Iron Range of northern Minnesota. In my youth, I saw those giants as the elected leaders who fought for my homeland in St. Paul and Washington, D.C.

When I was 10 I watched my grandfather, Marvin Johnson, run for the first and only time in my life. Twenty years after his body was crushed in a mining accident, he sprinted into the street to shake then-Gov. Rudy Perpich’s hand at the Keewatin Fourth of July parade. His admiration was greater than the pain.

Perpich grew up in a company-owned mining location called Carson Lake, just east of Keewatin. He was just a few years older than my grandpa. Perpich and his three brothers all became educated professionals, with three of the four boys becoming members of the state Legislature at one time or another.

But it was the oldest, Rudy, who became the first and, so far, only Iron Ranger to serve as governor. When things got bad he coined the oft-repeated local phrase, “jobs, jobs, jobs.” Then there was U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, the most invincible giant of Mesabi Range politics.

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