Pipeline Protest Could Hurt Democrats' Chances in Minn.

Pipeline Protest Could Hurt Democrats' Chances in Minn.
AP Photo/Jim Mone, File
Pipeline Protest Could Hurt Democrats' Chances in Minn.
AP Photo/Jim Mone, File
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The Democrats have a pathway to defeat President Trump next year in the 2020 election. As always, we should expect Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan to be competitive this race, but we can’t forget about Minnesota. 

Every election cycle, Minnesota becomes more of a battleground state and the Republicans have a shot at turning it red in 2020 (as Trump mentioned just last week). But if the Democrats want to succeed, they must be careful to avoid potential political minefields in the state that could have negative implications during the campaign.  

One such minefield is opposing a pipeline called Line 3 that’s being rebuilt and replaced in Minnesota. While it hasn’t garnered much attention on the national stage yet, it could very well become the next Dakota Access or Keystone XL fight in the months ahead and just in time for the 2020 election. Democratic contender Bernie Sanders jumped into the debate early on by releasing a video in January opposing Line 3, and just last week Elizabeth Warren came out against the pipeline in a tweet prior to her rally in St. Paul, which drew criticism from local construction union members. 

Just as we saw with Warren, Democrats need to be cautious about blindly joining this fight for a few important reasons. First, the project is supported by local labor unions and leaders, as well as lawmakers in both parties in the state. Second, as we’ve seen from past protests over pipelines, they usually have a costly and negative impact on local residents, taxpayers, law enforcement and government – and therefore a negative impact on any politician who is supporting the protests. 

Finally, Democratic candidates wading into the issue are automatically aligning themselves with the organizations that are leading the battle. For example, organizations such as Honor the Earth, which led the Dakota protests, are already planning events to prevent the pipeline from being rebuilt in Minnesota. On the surface, it might not seem like the kind of group a Democratic candidate needs to be wary of, but there are questions about its funding and authenticity that could have repercussions.

For example, Honor the Earth and other organizations, including the Tide Foundation, receive significant funding from billionaires George Soros and Warren Buffet, who has substantial interest in railroads, including transporting crude oil. That’s a bit hypocritical for a group that wants to protect the environment, plus several of the Democratic candidates have an excellent record of holding big money accountable and out of politics. It would be a mistake for them to get involved in a local issue that’s being funded by individuals using their abundance of wealth and resources to change the outcome of a politicized issue.  

Honor the Earth’s executive director is also getting inquiries about finances and money raised during the last protests. Recently she was questioned by White Earth Nation, a major tribal governing body in Minnesota, about why no tribal lands have yet to transfer over despite fundraising for that exact purpose. Is that the kind of situation that a candidate in a competitive Democratic primary wants to be involved in and have to explain to voters?  

Democrats can and should have robust plans for the environment and climate change. But wading into the discussion about Line 3 won’t improve the environment, and it will hurt their chances of winning a critical state in 2020. If the Democrats want to hold onto Minnesota during this upcoming election, it would be wise to keep a distance from this protest. Instead, Democrats should explain to the residents of Minnesota how they have the best vision and plan for the future and set us back on the right course. 

Savannah Shoemake is a Democratic activist and served as a youth campaign coordinator for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

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