Three DFL candidates face off to challenge CravaackFor the first time in more than 30 years, voters in Northeastern Minnesota’s 8th District are seeing a truly competitive Democratic-Farmer-Labor party primary.
By: Peter Passi, Pine Journal
For the first time in more than 30 years, voters in Northeastern Minnesota’s 8th District are seeing a truly competitive Democratic-Farmer-Labor party primary.
That would be thanks to Rep. Chip Cravaack’s surprise defeat of Rep. Jim Oberstar two years ago.
Three Democrats are vying for the chance to defeat Cravaack in the November general election. Voters in the Aug. 14 primary will choose between former Duluth City Councilor Jeff Anderson, former state Sen. Tarryl Clark and former Rep. Rick Nolan.
Of the three, Clark has amassed the greatest war chest, Nolan has the DFL endorsement and Anderson has youth and (possibly) Duluth on his side.
Active in a number of Duluth organizations and a councilor from 2008-2012, 35-year-old Anderson has support from his government service in the district’s largest city, and on the Iron Range, where he grew up. It is his first time running for office outside Duluth, where he pushed for gay rights including a domestic partner registry. Anderson left his job as a radio advertising executive to pursue office.
Clark, 51, has been campaigning for the seat for at least a year, having moved north to Duluth after her unsuccessful race against Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann two years ago in another district. A state senator from 2005-2010 and executive director of Minnesota’s Community Action Program from 1998 to 2006, Clark is currently co-chair of Jobs21! Initiative for the Blue-Green Alliance.
Nolan, 68, served in Congress from 1975 to 1981, starting in the same year Oberstar did, and was a member of the Minnesota State House of Representatives from 1969-1973. He and his wife, Mary, live on a small farm near Crosby, where he works as a real estate broker.
By far the best-financed candidate, Clark’s campaign spent about $225,000 in the first 25 days of July ¬– according to recently released federal campaign finance reports – while Nolan spent $33,000 on the campaign trail during the same period – about 15 percent as much as Clark. Jeff Anderson has run on a shoestring, pumping only about $19,000 into the race during the same 25 days.
Nolan’s campaign manager, Michael Misterek, said fundraising tells only part of the story.
“While other campaigns have been able to outspend us by raising money from outside of Minnesota, we have been able to run a smart, grass-roots campaign mixed with a multifaceted media campaign. We are the only campaign that has been able to do both effectively,” Misterek said, adding: “No one should underestimate the value of the DFL endorsement as well.”
Nolan, who was the only candidate to pledge that he wouldn’t run unless he emerged from his party’s convention with the DFL endorsement, received that nod from delegates in June.
“People trust the party’s chosen candidate, and the DFL has a grass-roots army that continues to go out knocking on doors and making phone calls to voters on behalf of Rick,” Misterek said. “This mixture of voter contact will make a huge difference.”
Anderson, too, predicts that factors other than finances will play a larger role in the outcome of the Aug. 14 primary.
“The bottom line is that both Rick and Tarryl have to spend more money than I. Tarryl has to spend a significant amount of money trying to explain to people why it was a good idea for her to move here a year ago just to run for office,” Anderson said. “Rick has to reintroduce himself after 32 years in retirement. I’ve been on TV and in the newspaper practically every week for the past five years talking about real issues here in Duluth, challenges such as job creation and things that are important to people who live here.
“So I don’t have to spend as much on television or direct mail or any of those things, because people know who I am.”
But Joe Fox, Clark’s campaign manager, said it takes resources and a strong candidate to run for office successfully, particularly in the 8th District, which he noted was the second-largest congressional district east of the Mississippi in geographical size.
There’s also the challenge that lies ahead: The Democratic primary winner in the 8th District will take on the incumbent Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack of Lindstrom, who has amassed a $916,000 war chest.
All three candidates have received labor endorsements, but Nolan contends his campaign has an edge in the heavily unionized 8th District.
Nolan has enlisted the support of Minnesota’s DFL congressional delegation, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. Gov. Mark Dayton, Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, and former Rep. Jim Oberstar – who lost the 8th District seat to Cravaack last election – also have endorsed Nolan.
Clark’s well-financed campaign has drawn national attention, and she has been able to win endorsements from the likes of former President Bill Clinton.
Fox said Bill and Hillary Clinton came to know Clark as they stumped for her in her unsuccessful campaign for Congress two years ago against 6th District Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Meanwhile, Anderson has focused his attention on enlisting the support of local political leaders, including a host of mayors and state legislators from the Northland. He called it a grass-roots approach, focused on building individual relationships.
“I’d rather have the support of Wynona Clinton of Eveleth than the support of Bill Clinton of Westchester, N.Y., because her endorsement comes with a vote,” Anderson said.
What makes you the candidate best suited to take on and beat Rep. Chip Cravaack?
Several things. One is I believe I’m the most well-prepared by my experience in elective office at the state, local and national level. I believe I’m the best prepared by my experience in volunteer community service and in business.
Secondly, I know how to win a congressional election. There’s nothing more difficult in American politics than defeating an incumbent member of Congress. I’ve run as a challenger. I’ve run as an incumbent. I know how to win an election contest.
And lastly, I have served and I was recognized for having served well with integrity and with effectiveness. Those are the reasons I think make me the best candidate.
Including the incumbent, I am the only one in this race who has been working across our communities and with families throughout the district, northeast and central Minnesota. For going on 25 years now, I’ve done a lot of work on rural issues, the issues that really impact and make our communities strong, whether it’s economic development, health care, housing, education, infrastructure, transportation. I’m going to be able to use those relationships and experiences to walk in the door in Congress and hit the ground running and start getting things done, because Washington and Congressman Chip Cravaack have forgotten who they represent. That it really is our communities and families.
I’ve certainly been battle-tested, and I know what it’s like to stand up against Tea Partiers. With more than 12,000 contributors, I know what it takes to make sure we have the resources. We’ve got the campaign to move into the general election quickly.
My story is the story of so many folks who live here in Northeastern Minnesota. I am a fourth-generation Iron Ranger, a businessman, a veteran, an elected official in the largest city in this congressional district. I have Iron Range roots and a record of service here in Duluth. That’s what it’s going to take to beat Chip Cravaack. Rep. Cravaack has essentially moved his family out of state. He, himself, has limited connections to this district. And I think to properly represent the people of the 8th District, we need someone who actually lives here, someone who actually lives here year-round, and someone who has the kind of deep roots I have and the experience and relationships that are necessary to be an effective representative.
To beat Chip Cravaack, we need someone who can win big on the Iron Range and win big in Duluth and have that connection here in the northern part of the district. Jim Oberstar didn’t perform as well on the Iron Range in 2010, and ultimately it contributed to his defeat. I’m the candidate who can make that connection.
What compelled you to run?
Quite bluntly, Washington is broken. I think we’re at a precipice right now as a country. We’re still in the greatest country in the world, but people in Washington have been polarized and are bickering. I think they’ve truly forgotten who they represent. What this should all be about is our families and our communities, instead of Wall Street, instead of special interests, instead of the oil companies and others.
It’s important that someone is going to be there and remind them that this is really about people and our communities. Like probably most of your readers, I was never going to run for office. I’ve been an advocate for families, for communities and seniors and veterans. I really liked my job.
I got to think about solutions and work with communities throughout our whole district. I got to talk about what was working and what needed to be changed and then to go work on changing the system. Because, let’s face it: We want big government. But government gets in the way a lot of the time.
But what I’ve seen and why I originally ran for office is believing that it really does matter who’s there. Having someone who is an advocate, who will be a partner and who understands rural issues will make a big difference for people throughout our district.
So I’m running because I think some people are trying to take our country in a direction that most Americans, certainly not many people in this district, would recognize. And I want to make sure our priorities get put back straight.
I don’t think Chip Cravaack represents the values of people here in northern Minnesota. He is more representative of Tea Party Republicans in Washington who have drawn this line in the sand, where they’re not going to do anything. They’re going to block whatever they can and be obstructionists.
This is the same group that went to Washington, D.C., saying they were all about jobs and the economy. Yet one of the first things they do is attack Medicare and Planned Parenthood, and then they attack the full faith and credit of this country by toying with the debt limit. These are things that don’t create jobs. These are things that create turmoil and division in Washington. And I think that people are sick of it.
Chip Cravaack is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
I point out my work on the City Council here in Duluth … where we have to work together to get things done. While we have our differences and we won’t compromise on our principles, we know at the end of the day that to pass a budget, to get our streets fixed, to invest in public infrastructure, we have to work together. And that is a sentiment that has been lost in Washington, where compromise is now considered a dirty word. Compromise is how we get things done, and we need leaders who recognize this.
In terms of differentiating myself from my competitors in this primary, that style speaks for itself. I believe you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You should do more listening than talking, and while I may not be the candidate who delivers the most fiery speech on the campaign trail, I am the one who can roll up his sleeves, who has been in the trenches these past years dealing with real-life problems. I’m a 21st century leader ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century.
Quite frankly, I had not anticipated running for Congress at this stage of my life. I’ve been a Congressman. I don’t need to go to Washington again. I’m not looking to build a career. But most everyone agrees: The country is in serious trouble, and we’re at a tipping point. We need to get this country back on track. We need to fix things and to fix them now.
I believe with all my heart that I can make a difference or I would not be a candidate. I’ve served in the past. As I mentioned before, I served well and honorably and effectively, and I believe I can do that again. I believe I can make a difference.
If elected, I will arrive in Washington with my seniority intact and would have the seniority of a fourth-term member of Congress. And depending on who ends up controlling Congress, I could conceivably be named a subcommittee chairman, where much of the work is done and where I would have a great opportunity to make a difference.
What should Congress do to strengthen the economy?
Government can be a catalyst, whether that is through helping with tax incentives or important infrastructure projects, like transportation. Helping make sure we’re bringing down cost containment in health care helps us with economic development. There are ways that Congress can help us with making sure our kids are able to get the education they need to be competitive globally. We have great schools and colleges, but college has become really unaffordable. Let’s make sure we get wireless broadband so that all our rural communities can be connected.
We could make sure we’re not passing a small pretty short-term transportation bill but having a real bill to make certain that we can both get the train up to Duluth and that we’re able to make sure the 122 bridges in St. Louis County alone that either need to be repaired or replaced have the resources they need. Instead of giving breaks to oil companies or companies that are outsourcing our jobs … let’s take that money and turn it back into incentives for companies to diversify and expand. …
In terms of our forestry and our mining, we have some incredible raw products, but let’s do more retooling and manufacturing and doing that right here. We could be the ones making the turbines and sending them out of the port of Duluth, instead of them coming in.
The other thing is there are way too many duplicative, outdated regulations. Whether it’s for a company, a nonprofit or a government, we need to make our rules and regulations clearer so people understand and can actually follow them.
I think the quickest thing that Congress should be doing is investing in public infrastructure which is so needed, and it not only helps us build better bridges and roads and schools, but it puts people to work immediately. One of the other things I think Congress should do, here in Northeastern Minnesota to strengthen our economy is to streamline our permitting process for many of the mining projects on the Iron Range. If we can, and I believe we can do this safely, move forward with expanded lines at Keewatin Taconite and Mesabi Nugget and PolyMet, we create thousands of jobs for Northeastern Minnesota, and that has a direct impact on Duluth. It has a direct impact on the Iron Range.
And then I think the third piece specific to the 8th District and strengthening our economy here is to invest in manufacturing. If we are mining and taking iron and copper and nickel and other minerals out of the ground here in Northeastern Minnesota, we should be using that to build things here in Minnesota and here in this country. Right now, we’re not doing that. We can see things coming to our port here in Duluth every day that are built in foreign countries. Wind turbines are some of the most visible products that are built overseas and then brought to our country. We should be building those here with our materials, using the labor of people here in our congressional district.
There are a number of things. Most importantly, we need to get the economy back on track and people working again. We can do that by putting an end to these wars of choice and nation-building abroad and start rebuilding America. That will create jobs, improve the quality of our life and give us some extra money to help balance our budgets.
Secondly, we need to change our tax and trade policies so that we incentivize more domestic manufacturing. Millions of jobs have been shipped overseas. Other countries incentivize their domestic manufacturers to keep their manufacturing within their boundaries, rather than outsourcing them and sending them overseas like we do. And we need to incentivize our domestic manufacturing.
Thirdly, through tax fairness and other measures I’ve been talking about that improve our quality of life, we need to rebuild the middle class. That creates the demand that further incentivizes businesses to invest in new machinery and to hire new employees, and that, too, will create more jobs, improve the quality of our lives and get the country moving again. Those are the three things: stop the nation-building/start rebuilding America, change the tax and trade policy and rebuild the middle class through wiser spending and tax equity.
Would you seek any tax reforms?
I would. We do have, in this country, a spending problem. There’s no doubt that efficiencies can be made, much like we did during my time on the City Council in Duluth, where the city’s budget was cut by nearly $10 million. You can always find new efficiencies.
But we don’t just have a spending problem in this country. We also have a revenue problem. I point to the past decade, where we have been at war, not just in one place but in two theaters, where for the first time in American history we not only didn’t raise taxes, we lowered them for everyone. We didn’t pay for these wars, and it has come at a cost to our public infrastructure and to investments in our economy here in the U.S. So the tax reform I would seek is to let the Bush-era tax breaks expire for those making $250,000 or more. I think it’s wrong when you have people like Mitt Romney paying an effective tax rate that’s lower than what most middle class taxpayers pay.
Studies here in Minnesota have shown the average income earner pays 32 percent of their income in taxes — real estate, Social Security, gas taxes, excise taxes, etc. So a person making $30,000 a year pays $10,000 in taxes. And similar studies have revealed the average millionaire or billionaire is paying closer to 14 percent, or in some cases nothing at all. So we need to revise the rates and close the loopholes to provide more fairness in our tax system. Nobody’s talking about penalizing the rich. We just want to make sure they pay the same rates as everyone else in the country. It’s all about fairness.
I’ve always thought there need to be tax reforms. First off, I think we need to be making sure that the Bush tax cuts for the middle class continue, and that they expire for our top earners. If we did that, we’d be resolving a great deal of the deficit alone. We should be utilizing an opportunity to be bringing down the business tax while we’re closing loopholes that again are sending our jobs overseas. We should be acting as a partner.
The tax code is a way that can help companies that are in a position where they are making a profit be able to redesign what they’re doing. For small businesses, we can mirror more closely what we do in Minnesota, so we see the kinds of deductions for reinvesting back in your company that we do here. … There’s a whole bunch of things we could do to make things simpler. We need to do is make sure that millionaires and billionaires and corporations are actually paying taxes and that we’re not seeing them pay significantly less in taxes than everyone else.
Do you support stricter gun controls in light of recent tragedies, including the shooting in Aurora?
First of all, I’m a hunter, and I believe very strongly in Second Amendment rights. Having said that, I don’t need an assault rifle and a clip that holds 100 shells to shoot a duck. I don’t think we need to have people bringing assault rifles into our movie theaters, our classrooms and into our communities. There’s some room for stricter controls, and that would be one of them. I would support a ban on assault rifles.
First and foremost, we need to start enforcing the laws we have on the books. We still have a number of laws that aren’t being enforced, and I think that’s something we can all agree upon.
Let’s face it. Hunting is a critically important pastime for people throughout our district, and it’s important in times like this that people know they have someone who will stand up for their Second Amendment rights. But we also need to be thinking about crime safety and crime control.
I think we can all agree that terrorists should not have assault rifles, and I think we can agree that people who have significant mental health issues should not be in that same position. I also think we should be going back to some of the common-sense regulations we had during the Reagan era on assault guns.
I want us to make sure that we work together to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness, and out of the hands of violent criminals. But I whole-heartedly support people’s Second Amendment rights as someone who hunts, as a veteran and as someone who up until this year had a conceal-to-carry permit.
I respect our gun rights, our right to bear arms. But I think there are common-sense solutions that we can get behind to make sure that we keep weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them.
How would you rate the state of the nation’s health-care system?
I’m one who believes that, while the Affordable Care Act may not be perfect, it is a step in the right direction. And I think that most reasonable people would agree we need to do something about how we provide health care and how we pay for it. So I look at a piece of legislation like the Affordable Care Act and say, let’s strengthen what works and let’s get rid of what doesn’t work. But to just say — Repeal it or get rid of it — I think is irresponsible, because we now are going to stop refusing people health insurance because of a pre-existing condition.
Kids who graduate from college in a down economy can stay on their parents’ health insurance just a little longer. There’s a whole host of things that are good, that make common sense and are going to raise the grade for health care and how it’s presented and paid for in this country.
In particular, I’d say we have a lot to be proud of in Minnesota. We know what works. I worked significantly to help shape Minnesota Care in the 1990s, expanding and working on health care reform with Gov. Pawlenty. The law that passed does some really good things, including allowing our 24-year-old son who has got a decent job but not really any health-care benefits to be able to have health-care coverage because of us.
What I get worried about … is for all of our communities and the people in them to be able to get actual access to health care. We need to keep our rural hospitals. We need to make sure we’re attracting doctors to our communities. We need to have nurses. I’m the only one in this race who has been working on this issue for going on 25 years now.
I think that not enough has been done on cost containment. The VA has been negotiating drug prices, and their costs are significantly lower than what everyone else pays. We can be improving our costs by negotiating with drug companies.
I prefer a Medicare-for-all type system. If we can be paying into that, it’s a system we trust and that we know has low overhead. Then we can help improve the affordability of health care while we’re also expanding access for all people.
It’s been said, and I would agree, that we have kind of a sick health-care system. Way too much money is spent on administrative costs and not enough is spent on prevention. I personally think the country needs to embrace a single-payer universal national health-care system. Many other advanced countries in the world have done that, and they provide better care for about half the cost. And I say better care as evidenced by the fact that many of the advanced nations of the world have higher life expectancies and lower infant mortality rates, and they do it at far less cost through a single-payer system.
If the U.S. House emerges from the 2012 Election as polarized and paralyzed as it has been in recent years, what makes you think you can accomplish anything?
The electorate is polarized, and this Congress is being rated as perhaps the worst Congress in the history of our country. At least that’s what the pundits are saying.
Part of the problem is they don’t get to know each other, and they don’t work together. They go into session at 6 o’clock on Tuesday night, and what they don’t finish on Tuesday night they finish up on Wednesday, and they’re gone again by Thursday.
To get to know people across the aisle, you have to work with them. The first thing I would do is insist that Congress go to work at 9 o’clock on Monday morning and not stop work until 5 o’clock on Friday afternoon.
I believe the work of the nation for someone who has been honored enough to serve in Congress is such that they should put in an honest day’s work and an honest week’s work. If they do that, they’ll get to know each other. And in the process they’ll learn to have some respect for one another. And then it becomes apparent, if you’re paying attention and listening to one another, where those areas are that you can work together and cooperate and collaborate.
I was actually a very effective member of Congress and accomplished a great deal, and I never did any of it on my own, nor did I do it with just the Democrats. Everything that I ever accomplished involved participation, cooperation and collaboration with the Republicans I served with in both the Statehouse and the U.S. House. That’s what I intend to do again, if given the chance.
It’s my leadership style. I have political mentors like Don Ness and Roger Reinert and Tony Sertich, people who know how to work with the other side, people who aren’t afraid to find some grounds for compromise in order to get things done for our community and state.
Right now in Washington, it has become about ‘me trying to make you look bad and you trying to make me look bad,’ and heaven forbid that we ever give anyone credit for anything. That’s not how we move our country forward. That’s why I think we probably need more county commissioners or city councilors in Congress.
I think I can be effective because I’ve proven it. I am the only one in this race who has worked in a highly polarized environment. I’ve worked as an advocate and also as a legislator and a legislative leader.
Our communities and the issues that affect our families aren’t about political parties. They’re not about partisan issues. What I hear from people over and over again is: I’m worried I’m not ever going to be able to retire or I can’t afford to stay retired. I don’t know how I’m ever going to expand my business. Or can I hold onto my job? Can I afford the mortgage on my house? Can I send my kids to school? When are we going to get our roads fixed? Can we afford our health care?
Those are not partisan issues. The solutions may be different, but if people of good will are willing to work hard together to actually make a difference, I believe we can do it. We have to have people who know and want to seek solutions and are willing to go and develop relationships and take the time that it’s going to take to change things.