Three decades later, Congressman Nolan finds changes in D.C.

Eighth District DFLer gearing up for re-election campaign

 

Eighth District Congressman Rick Nolan, DFL, returned to the U.S. House of Representatives after 32 years in domestic and international business and community work. The 8th District includes 18 counties that run from the top of the state’s Arrowhead region, including Duluth and the area along Lake Superior, through some of the nation’s richest mining, timber, lakes and tourist country. (Photo by Howard Lestrud)

Eighth District Congressman Rick Nolan, DFL, returned to the U.S. House of Representatives after 32 years in domestic and international business and community work. The 8th District includes 18 counties that run from the top of the state’s Arrowhead region, including Duluth and the area along Lake Superior, through some of the nation’s richest mining, timber, lakes and tourist country. (Photo by Howard Lestrud)

Cliff Buchan
Staff Writer

As the 113th session of Congress continues to slog along, mired deep in division over Obamacare, 8th District Congressman Rick Nolan, DFL-Crosby, believes there is room for compromise. And without it, he says, governing can be next to impossible.

Defeating incumbent Republican Chip Cravaack last November, Nolan’s election brought a return to Congress after 32 years. He served three two-year terms before leaving politics in 1981 to return to family and business interests.

During an interview with a panel of ECM Editorial Board members on Sept. 24, Nolan said he is intent on making his case in Washington, D.C. Nolan said he is approaching his duty with two key principles: He will be “shameless” in delivering for his district and Minnesota and will be “bipartisan in all areas where I can to get things done, big and small.”

In his first nine months in office, Nolan said he has helped secure $60 million in funding and grants for projects in the district. Earlier this year he traveled to Chicago and met with Environmental Protection Agency officials and also met with transportation officials in Washington. The result: $10 million in funding for clean water and projects for the Port of Duluth-Superior harbor and the St. Louis River.

Nolan, a former teacher and University of Minnesota graduate, was also successful in helping direct federal funding to Pine County Technical College in Pine City and Central Lakes College in Brainerd to develop and expand training programs. A number of state schools will share in the funding.

He will continue efforts to secure funding for needed road and airport projects and to generate economic development in the Iron Range, where mining interests continue to be explored, Nolan said.

He teamed with House Republicans to pass a water regulation bill that expands the definition of invasive species to include Asian carp and zebra mussels. He also joined a bipartisan effort to secure funding for invasive species research.

“I have had an impact,” Nolan said, reflecting on his first nine months in office.

Making a
difference

It’s not only regional and district business where Nolan has been influential. He also played a major national role last month in speaking loudly against military action against Syria without Congressional authorization. Nolan said he saw too many similarities between Syria and the Vietnam War and could not remain silent out of fear the U.S. would become involved in another costly war.

As a U.S. airstrike became more likely in response to alleged chemical attacks by the Syrian government that killed more than 1,000 civilians, Nolan called for caution. He did so only after carefully reviewing classified documents and warning Obama administration officials that they were bypassing Congressional authorization. Such a measure could result in impeachment hearings against the president.

“I didn’t come here to be a shrinking violet,” Nolan said.

After speaking out, Nolan said he found many other Democrats and Republicans shared his view.

“They were reluctant to speak out,” he said.

Nolan said he is convinced the public is no longer buying into the “power of the imperial presidency” after the costly Iraq and Afghanistan wars where billions of U.S. dollars were spent and often wasted.

“I have to believe it had an impact,” he said of his role in helping cool the drumbeat for an attack against Syria. In an era when many needs in this country are going unattended, nation-building in foreign lands is a mistake, Nolan said.

After he left public service, Nolan’s civilian business interests resulted in his living in the Middle East for four years.

“Things are never as they appear in the Mideast,” he said.

Nolan said he has come under fire for his actions to support job creation in northern Minnesota that are tied to mining. Projects have been tied up too long by regulatory agencies, and businesses are often saddled with unreasonable costs and regulations, he said. When a business is loaded with costs, it can’t compete, he added.

He said he will ignore the political consequences if he can make a difference in bringing jobs to the district.

“I’m in this because I care,” Nolan said. “I care a lot.”

Next year

As Nolan winds down his first year in Congress representing northern Minnesota, he is bracing for another expensive re-election campaign. The 2012 contest saw $20 million spent, and that total could be reached again. Nolan calls that level of spending “obscene.”

In Washington, he said, experts who run campaigns want lawmakers to spend 30 hours a week “dialing for dollars” and another 10 hours a week in “fundraising development.” Nolan said the time to do his job in Washington is crimped further by the 14-hour round trip to and from Washington and the Brainerd lakes area.

Nolan said he has heard the message from the experts in Washington but will draw the line on campaigning if it takes away from his duties. He said he is obligated for some fundraising efforts and will call supporters when in the district.

“I’m not doing any calling time in Washington,” he said.

Nolan believes the big reason for expensive campaigns today is the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision that tossed out the bans for corporations and unions on making independent expenditures and financing. The ruling gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools. Many corporations and unions have climbed on the campaign cash wagon, he said, driving up costs significantly.

That has contributed to the hard line in Congress when it comes to compromise and governing, Nolan said. He compared Congress to a huge ship that turns slowly and may be steered in the right or wrong direction.

He remains convinced that election reform is needed. Nolan said he would support new rules that would limit campaign spending and the length of campaigns.

As he looks back on his earlier service and compares it to 2013, he understands there have been many changes and some are not for the better. The constant push for campaign funds and the thirst to remain in power drives men and women to political positions that result in gridlock. Congress needs to tend to business, Nolan said.

In his view, the political platform of today’s Democrats is on par with his grandfather’s Republicans.

Prior to winning his first term in the former 6th District in 1974, Nolan served two terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives from Morrison County.

After leaving Congress, Nolan devoted time to his family and moved into private business, establishing U.S. Export Corporation. He teamed with Gov. Rudy Perpich to build and operate the Minnesota World Trade Center in St. Paul. He later served as president of the Minnesota World Trade Center Corporation and chaired the International Association of World Trade Centers’ Trade and Policy Committee, the world’s largest private-sector international trade group.

Nolan is also the former owner of Emily Wood Products, a small sawmill and pallet factory in Emily.

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