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Editorial: Raskin’s visit to Ely certainly welcome, but comes with pinch of irony

It’s exceedingly rare for a small town to have not one, but two members of Congress visit in a span of 24 hours.

Save for July 4 parades or natural disasters, it’s not likely to happen.

Yet it did in Ely this week, with the much-ballyhooed appearance by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) at an event at Vermilion Community College on Tuesday, followed Wednesday by Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital welcoming U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minnesota).

Of course Rep. Stauber is our Congressman and he frequents Ely on a regular basis, and he’s made it clear in his five-plus years in Washington that Ely-related issues are a priority. We’ve been well-served by both Stauber and his staff.

While it’s expected that Ely’s own representative will take an interest in the community, it’s clearly notable and appreciated to draw the attention of a high-ranking Congressman from beyond.

Viewers of cable channel MSNBC certainly know of Raskin, a frequent guest on the network and one of the leaders of impeachment efforts against former President Trump.

He addressed impeachment and more before a packed house at Vermilion, bringing a national perspective to Ely before an appreciative audience.

Raskin declined to answer our reporter’s questions on Ely’s hot-button topic - the debate over copper-nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota - but it’s not hard to figure out where he stands.

The Maryland Democrat’s appearance at Vermilion was organized by mining opponents and the audience reflected that sentiment. Raskin’s own social media post after the event saluted them, saying “Here’s to the great Minnesotans saving the Boundary Waters - and democracy.”

We’d venture to guess a good chunk of Ely area residents take an opposite view of Raskin when it comes to mining, and probably on an array of other issues including guns.

Yet it’s notable that Raskin’s Ely event went off without a hitch.

As far as we know, there were no protests. There were no calls for Vermilion to not allow Raskin to speak on the Ely campus. There was no effort to silence Raskin or prevent him from sharing his views.

We can’t help but wonder if that would have been the case had someone with an opposite view - on mining, guns, January 6, the Trump administration, you name it - was scheduled to speak in Ely.

After all it was only weeks ago that City Hall was filled, with some of the same folks who turned out to see Rep. Raskin, to protest a council resolution thanking Twin Metals Minnesota for its contributions to the community. “Send them back to Santiago” was one of the rallying cries.

Democracy only works when all voices have the opportunity to be heard and multiple viewpoints are shared.

We’ve seen too many examples nationally where pressure is mounted, and speakers with one viewpoint or another are shut down, cancelled and even lose their jobs. During the Covid pandemic this newspaper heard from those who were angry with the coverage of a public forum hosted by an area physician, one who had some differing views about Covid-19.

Free speech isn’t free if one side decides what can and can’t be shared.

We don’t agree with where Rep. Raskin seems to line up on mining, but we welcome him here nonetheless and hope he had a wonderful stay in one of the most beautiful areas in the country. And America’s best small town.

No doubt when he’s back in Washington he will remember his time in Ely and perhaps be in position to help this community on any of an assortment of issues.

In the meantime, we’d all be best to step back and allow a free exchange of ideas, perspectives and political viewpoints. Just as Rep. Raskin experienced in Ely this week.

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