EVELETH (AP) -- The two top Republicans in the Minnesota House listened and learned during a visit to the Iron Range, a DFL stronghold that's been hard-hit by the downturn in the domestic steel industry.
Speaker Steve Sviggum and Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty met Friday with miners, mining officials, business and civic leaders in Eveleth and toured U.S. Steel's Minntac Mine in Mountain Iron.
Rep. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, organized the visit to give Sviggum and Pawlenty a firsthand look at the dilemmas of the Iron Range, where taconite companies face stiff foreign competition.
LTV Steel Mining Co. closed permanently last month and other taconite operations have laid off workers and slowed production. More than 2,000 of about 5,600 taconite miners in northeastern Minnesota are out of work.
Iron Range DFL lawmakers are pushing for extended unemployment benefits, economic development aid and other bills for relief. But they need the support of Republicans who control the House.
Bakk said he was heartened by the GOP leaders' visit.
"We didn't have to beg them to come to the Iron Range," Bakk said. "They reached out to us. There's nothing quite like getting your feet on the ground to understand a business and an industry. I do think at the end of the session there's going to be some help there."
A meeting at the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board was closed to the media; organizers said they thought community members might speak more freely.
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