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Feeling Heard In Minnesota's 8th Congressional District


A key congressional race is underway here in the 8th District. We've been reporting all week. And we heard that people in this district have a saying - the Democrats could run the devil and still win. But then in 2016, this district went for Donald Trump. We wanted to know why, so we drove out to two small cities up north - Grand Rapids and Hibbing, Minn. - and we started asking. We heard some people are doing great, others not so much. But one thing that we heard a lot - this area has gone Democratic for a long time, and for a lot of years, people have felt ignored by their representatives.

So - local elections.


KING: Say it again.

GOSSELIN: It's a joke.

KING: I met Jim Gosselin when I was knocking on doors in Grand Rapids. He was doing some work on the side of a little house.

GOSSELIN: If they would start worrying more about what's going on up here, everybody would be a lot better off.

KING: What is going on up here?

GOSSELIN: No permits for copper-nickel mines. There is no - everything's getting shut down out here. People aren't working up here.

KING: I'm assuming you're not voting if you think the election's a joke.

GOSSELIN: No, I'm not.

KING: What do you do?

GOSSELIN: I'm normally an equipment operator, but I do this on the side. I'm with Local 49.

KING: You're with a union. When I was kid, if you were a union guy, you're a Democrat - full-stop. What's changed?

GOSSELIN: The Democrats aren't getting us to work. The Republicans have come in and they've started approving these permits and approving these pipelines and so on and so forth. If you can't approve it, you can't us keep busy, we're not going to support you.

KING: Either after 75 years of Democratic support, you just - you don't trust them anymore?

GOSSELIN: I never have. I got to get back to work, guys.

KING: Just a couple more questions. When was the last time you voted?

GOSSELIN: Three years ago.

KING: And who did you vote for?

GOSSELIN: That doesn't make any difference.

KING: No, no. It does make a difference that, three years ago, you voted, and now you're saying elections are a joke. I want to know what changed. What happened?

GOSSELIN: There's no work up here.

KING: Well, then why not vote for the Republican?

GOSSELIN: That doesn't make any difference. We're not going to go there.

KING: So you heard Jim say there's no work up here, which is weird because I looked it up afterward and the unemployment rate in Grand Rapids is under 3.5 percent. So does he have the wrong impression? If he does, it's not just him. Bonnie Furin invited us into her house in Hibbing. It's small, and it sits on a dead-end street next to some vacant houses. On the living room wall are pictures of her grandkids. And across the room, there's a security camera monitor with a view of the alley behind her house where there are these two giant potholes.

BONNIE FURIN: We don't get new sidewalks, new streets, new alleys, but everyone else does. It's like we don't exist. We're like at the dead end, and nobody cares.

KING: And like Jim, she thinks it's politicians that are the problem.

FURIN: People that are in office over and over again get complacent. And I think having someone new would have new eyes and new ideas, and there won't be so much complacency then.

KING: So she wants a Republican to win, but she still might not vote this year.

FURIN: I don't feel confident in voting this year because I'm not confident in who's running. I mean, one vote isn't going to change the whole world, I'll tell you that.

KING: All right. So that's two Minnesotans who don't really feel like voting. But then we met a man who says he will vote. His name is Clayton Rabey. He stopped mowing his lawn in Grand Rapids to talk to us for a while. He didn't sound that amped about either candidate himself, but...

CLAYTON RABEY: I just don't care for Trump (laughter).

KING: Can I ask why not?

RABEY: I just don't like the way he talks. And it's all I, I, I, right? (Laughter).

KING: He may be skeptical of President Trump, but some of his family members feel differently. Do you think any of them lean Republican, any of your kids?

RABEY: A couple of them do, yeah (laughter). I got two grandkids out in Pennsylvania working on the pipeline, and they're all for Trump.

KING: Your kids and grandkids are voting on the economy. They're voting because they have good jobs and they feel safe.

RABEY: How long is that going to last, though? I don't know.

KING: So Clayton feels ignored by his own family in a way and also by politicians. And then we met someone else in Grand Rapids who had some really interesting thoughts on being invisible.

ANNIE HUMPHREY: It's like if you're not contributing to the system, you're not important.

KING: And you think that's what a lot of what people are experiencing now?

HUMPHREY: Hell yeah, I do.

KING: Annie Humphrey is Native American. She's a singer and an artist.

HUMPHREY: So this song is called "Episode Of Horrible." (Playing guitar).

KING: She just won this big honor. She is the Native American Music Awards Artist of the year.

HUMPHREY: (Singing) Strong brown women attracting thinkers (ph) and bullets.

KING: What's driving you to the polls this year?

HUMPHREY: Here's what I do. I go all Democrat. I just do that.

KING: You just tick Democrat, Democrat, Democrat, Democrat.

Now, even though any politics run liberal, she says she knows how to get along with conservatives.

Think of someone close to you who's a Republican. Who is that?

HUMPHREY: His name is Doug.

KING: Doug. When you talk to Doug, what does he think about your politics, and what do you think about his?

HUMPHREY: They're mushrooms.

KING: What do you mean?

HUMPHREY: Well, I don't like mushrooms on my pizza. So when I get a piece of mushrooms, I don't throw the whole pizza away. I just pick off the mushrooms and eat the rest of the pizza. So it's like mushrooms, right? You don't have the whole thing away, just like people. Republican, you look past it. You know, there's a lot of good in people.

KING: But she says she also experiences some ugliness from people because she's Native American.

HUMPHREY: People don't talk to me. I can be in the library in Grand Rapids and no one will greet me. I've been walking through the store for a good 30 minutes. No one has looked at me, smiled, acknowledged me. I mean, anything - there's nothing. There's this really weird energy.

KING: This is a feeling she's had since she was a kid. And she's always wondered, is what I'm feeling real? Now, she's sure it is.

HUMPHREY: The racism is getting more blatant and is getting more dangerous and getting more scarier to me because I'm a brown tattooed person. They don't see a veteran. They don't see a grandma.

KING: I asked her why she thinks it's getting worse.

HUMPHREY: Because Trump is racist, and he makes it OK.

KING: So about two months ago, she was standing in line with some of her family members to get a sandwich. And this guy came up and got in her face.

Did he come at you physically?

HUMPHREY: No, no, no. No. He was like...

KING: Yelling.

HUMPHREY: He was - he said, this is America. I'll rip your [expletive] head off. So that was a verbal attack.

KING: She plans to vote even though she's not sure voting is going to change anything, change people's attitudes toward her. But she has a plan to deal with all of this.

HUMPHREY: The secret - this is a secret now - being free is just having no fear. Can you imagine that? No matter what's happening around you, if you're not afraid, then you have freedom. And I tell my kids that because they're like, oh, my God, what's going to happen, Mom? And so when we have a ceremony, I tell them, maybe you should just pray not to be afraid.

(Singing) Stay coherent for as long as I'm able.

KING: That was Annie Humphrey. She was one of the many voices we heard here in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District ahead of Tuesday's midterm election. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.