Nolan shares thoughts after election
By: Peter Passi/Forum Communications, Pine Journal
DULUTH -- After snaring less than two hours sleep Wednesday morning, Congressman-elect Rick Nolan, D-Crosby, agreed to share some of his thoughts and plans with the Duluth News Tribune.
As for his nearly 9 point victory margin Tuesday over Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-North Branch, Nolan said he was quite frankly taken aback.
Nolan, a 68-year-old Brainerd native, attributed his win in part to his deep roots in the district as a fourth-generation resident of northern Minnesota. Up until now, his political career has included a five-year stint as a representative in the Minnesota Legislature and six years of service representing Minnesota’s 6th District in Congress, from 1975 to 1981. Nolan’s experience outside of politics includes working as a teacher and running a sawmill and pallet factory in Emily.
In the final weeks of the campaign, Nolan’s image withstood a barrage of attack ads.
“It’s hard to measure the impact of the millions of dollars in attack ads that were being spent against me,” he said.
But Nolan theorized that part of the reason why he ran so strong was because of the criticism he endured.
“I think that part of the campaign sort of backfired on them. I think people said, ‘Enough is enough,’” he said. “I think a lot of people were kind of offended by that. That’s probably part of why the margin was as large as it was.”
Nolan said he’s eager to get to work and pledged that the first bill he will introduce as a returning congressman will seek to amend the U.S. Constitution to address the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, which barred restrictions on independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.
Political action committees and 501c4 organizations exploited the court decision and funneled millions of dollars into races this year. In the 8th District campaign alone, outside parties spent more than $10 million, largely on attack ads.
Although his campaign was a beneficiary of much of this spending, Nolan warned of the influence of ballooning political contributions.
“I see it creating a poisonous atmosphere,” he said. “Us country people know the old expression: He who pays the piper picks the tune.”
Nolan said fundraising has become an obsession.
“Members of Congress are expected to spend a tremendous amount of time raising money,” he said. “The campaign becomes almost continuous. It starts the day after the election.”
To solve the nation’s problems, Nolan predicts members of Congress will need to start working together more effectively.
“I think a lot of people saw members of the Tea Party as being obstructionists,” Nolan said.
Nolan maintains that he knows how to work across party lines, even as a minority member. Republicans will continue to hold a 49-seat advantage in the House, when the next Congress convenes.
“I was an effective legislator, but I had a Republican partner in anything and everything I ever accomplished,” said Nolan.
Nolan also served as a legislator in a Republican-controlled statehouse with a Democratic governor.
“Under those circumstances, we passed the ‘Minnesota miracle,’ which was considered to be the most progressive school finance and tax system anywhere in the country,” he said. “That was the product of Democrats and Republicans working together, and it didn’t happen easily.”
During the recent campaign, the arduous road to developing copper mines on the Iron Range became a source of much discussion.
Some advocates of the proposed new breed of mines argued that regulations were needlessly blocking projects and holding up the creation of badly needed new jobs.
While Nolan said he wants to see new mines become reality, he said that doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to legitimate environmental concerns.
“A lot of people have proposed you expedite the process by doing away with the standards,” Nolan said. “That will obviously expedite the process, but that’s not what I want to do, and that’s not what I think most people want to do.”
Nolan said it shouldn’t take eight years and $40-50 million to get a project approved or rejected, either. He said he wants to work with would-be mine developers and regulators to keep projects on track and requirements clear.
“What I hear industry saying is: ‘Look, we don’t want to pollute the air or the water or the lakes or the forests. Just tell us what the standards are and show some consistency and efficiency in the process and let us move forward. We’ll meet your standards. And that’s fair. That’s not unreasonable,” he said.
Nolan isn’t a huge fan of the Affordable Care Act, but he considers it a step in the right direction.
“I think the Affordable Care Act did a lot of good and deserved to be supported. But there still is a better way,” he said.
Instead, Nolan favors following other industrialized countries that have adopted universal single-payer systems.
“We’re spending 17 percent of our gross national product on health care, and the rest of the industrialized world is spending 10 or 11 percent, and they’re getting a better bang for their buck. They’re getting better results, as measured by life expectancy, infant mortality and things of that sort,” he said.
“With a single-payer system, more of your dollars go right into actual health care, as opposed to pharmaceutical or insurance industry profits and cumbersome administrative procedures. I still believe very strongly we need to go with a single-payer system.”
Nevertheless, Nolan said he supports the Affordable Care Act as an interim solution.
“To the extent that it gets implemented and implemented well and has positive effects, I think that enhances the prospect for an even more complete universal health care system,” he said.
Bringing home the bacon
Nolan said Cravaack was often lukewarm when it came to pursuing federal funding for projects, but he will push hard to bring dollars home from D.C.
“We’re talking about roads, bridges, infrastructure, schools, hospitals, community centers, whatever it is,” Nolan said. “If the federal government has authorized and appropriated money for a worthy program that improves the lives of people, I want to be in there championing the businesses and communities in the 8th District that want to participate in those programs.”
Nolan said Minnesota sent $67 billion last year to Washington and only got $47 billion back.
“There are states that get back $4 for every $1 they send to Washington,” he said. “Those are dollars that are going to be spent, regardless. As long as they’re for a worthy project, I’m going to be there fighting for communities.”
Where Cravaack was critical of spending more federal money to develop a national rail system, Nolan said he’s a fan of the idea, including the Northern Lights Express project proposed for Duluth. Nolan said that if the nation can shift more travel from air to rail, the benefits could be substantial.
“It would be far less expensive and would consume a great deal less energy,” he said. “In many cases it would be quicker and safer and much more enjoyable.”