MN-08: Does Rick Nolan’s record in Congress reflect a poor work ethic?

“Congress needs to go to work five days a week like everyone else in America!” has been U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan’s rallying cry since returning to Congress in 2013, pointing to his previous service during the 1970s as an example of what should be done. However, Nolan’s record while representing the 6th district in Congress suggests a poor work ethic not in sync with residents of Northern Minnesota, and reflects a pattern that should be of concern to his 8th district constituents.

Concerns about Nolan’s attendence were first raised during the 2012 campaign by 8th district incumbent Rep. Chip Cravaack. Cravaack pointed out that Nolan missed a large number of votes during his last term in office from 1979-80, which Nolan promptly dismissed as “cherry picking” and not indicative of his time in public office. And Nolan insisted that he was there for all of the critical votes.

(The UpTake)

But the public record contradicts both of Nolan’s claims and an analysis of his voting record reveals a troubling pattern.

Between 1975-80, 6th District Rep. Richard Nolan missed 17.70 percent of recorded votes. As a point of reference, 8th district Rep. Jim Oberstar missed just .96 percent of recorded votes during that same period.

According to GovTrack, Nolan’s current lifetime average is 13.9 percent, still significantly higher than the median of 2.5 percent.

And note that Nolan’s rate of absenteeism climbed with every successive year in Congress.

Nolan Voting Record

In 1975, Nolan missed votes on 16 of the 143 days Congress held recorded votes and missed all votes on three days. But by his last year in office, that had mushroomed to missing votes on 83 of the 125 days Congress held recorded votes. He missed all recorded votes on 34 days – including the entire month of November.

The missed votes were not, as Nolan claimed, inconsequential.

Breakdown of Missed Votes

The majority of the votes Nolan missed in 1975 were on final passage of bills,conference committee reports and amendments, including those addressing criminal procedure, the fishing and agricultural industries and prohibiting common situs picketing.

In 1980, once again the vast majority of those missed votes were on final passage of bills,conference committee reports and amendments, including important votes on veteran’s disability benefits and vocational rehabilitation, mental health services,Indian health care and foreign policy.

Nolan missed two votes on major bills in 1975, four in 1976, 11 in 1977, 20 in 1978, 29 in 1979 and 29 in 1980. This includes votes on final passage of appropriations for Department of Defense, Military Construction, Public Works, Transportation, International Monetary Fund, Agriculture and Related Agencies, Foreign Assistance and Related Programs, Labor and Health Education and Welfare, Energy and Water Development, Treasury and Postal Service, State, Interior, Justice and Commerce.

Nolan is correct that procedural votes, such as those that set the rules for debate, are typically not given as much weight as passing appropriations bills or other legislation. But they can’t be dismissed as those of little consequence either.

The procedural votes are how Congress does its business, setting everything from how long a bill will be debated to how many amendments will be allowed. Demanding recorded votes on mundane things like approval of the Journal is one way for Leadership to get Members to the floor. And procedure is part of the strategy to pass -or kill-legislation. Oberstar, for example, employed a variety of procedural maneuvers during his efforts to keep the BWCA open to snowmobiles and motorboats, fighting in opposition to Nolan’s bill that designated every inch of the BWCA as wilderness.

Even more puzzling is that these procedural votes and votes on amendments that Nolan said were “of no consequence” are exactly what Nolan refers to when complaining about the current House not operating under his definition of ‘regular order.’

What exactly is the point of pushing to consider legislation under an open rule if you’re not going to bother to show up to vote?

Nolan’s rather cavalier attitude towards his responsibilities as congressman is as disturbing as his lack of candor.

Being stuck on the floor debating legislation or fighting over procedure for hours on end is arguably a lot less fun than being back in the office schmoozing with visitors, but it is an important part of the job.

The Rules of the House of Representatives acknowledges that constituents expect their representatives to show up for work and states that Members shall vote on each question. But,the House does not enforce this provision.

And recorded votes represent only a fraction of the number of votes in the House. Many more are voice-votes and division votes that are taken only among those present on the floor and are not recorded. Recorded votes allow Members 15 minutes to get to the floor to cast a vote.

Nolan’s attendence record is summarized below and shows that his first year representing the 8th district is on par with his first year representing the 6th district.

Nolan Attendance Record

In 2012, MPR’s Brett Neely noted that Cravaack’s claim had merits and that Nolan’s defense didn’t hold up but didn’t get any answers from the Nolan camp:

“We had a heck of a of a lot more votes than your Congress ever did and I was always there for the important issues,” Nolan said. “I missed a few votes on the recording of the minutes and the naming of post offices but when the critical issues were up, I was there…

The Congress Cravaack currently serves in has actually held more roll call votes than the one in Nolan’s final term in office. And as Cravaack’s campaign points out, some of those votes Nolan missed include major spending bills.

Neither Nolan nor his campaign manager would explain why Nolan was so absent in his final term. Misterek calls the whole issue a distraction.

“They’re trying to talk about votes 30 years ago that were of very little relevance to the job of the congressman,” Misterek said.

Nolan too continued to insist that he never missed any important votes:

(KSTP Tom Hauser)

The difference in the number and nature of the missed votes over a six-year period is just too stark to be explained away as faulty memory.

Nolan frequently compares Congress to a business when criticizing how the House operates. So, let’s follow Nolan’s lead and put his attendence in the context of the typical worker.

How effectively could a business operate with an employee who, like Nolan, has an absenteeism rate that ranges from two percent to 27 percent and fails to fulfill basic job requirements on eight percent to 66 percent of the days he is at work?

If recorded votes are viewed as a meeting or a task, can you imagine telling your boss you missed three percent of your meetings or didn’t complete 39 percent of your tasks because you didn’t feel like it was important?

And would you then expect a pay raise?

Nolan did.

He voted to increase his salary four times during that same period.

So much for “It’s time for Congress to start living in the real world – where you either do your job, or you don’t get paid.” as Nolan declared in 2013 when promoting his No Government No Pay Act.

Rick Nolan waxes nostalgic for the 1970s, but he complained about how Congress operated back then too. The GOP will remain in control of the House in 2015, and if Nolan showed this kind of disinterest when his party was in control and Congress operated under rules he viewed as favorable, can he be expected to behave any differently if returned for another term?

MN-08: Rick Nolan’s pander-and-evade strategy on PolyMet and the environment

Mention Rick Nolan, PolyMet and the environment in the same sentence and you’re likely to get a number of different reactions across Northeastern Minnesota. And for good reason;inconsistency creates confusion, and Nolan’s words and actions have not been consistent.

It is extremely difficult to communicate the many inconsistencies,nuances and perspectives in a clear and concise manner. Iron Country hopes this very general overview will help readers understand why Nolan is facing charges of flip-flopping and playing both sides, why he has a Green Party challenger and why many who once supported him can no longer do so.

Campaign, 2012
Nolan says he supports both iron and copper-nickel mining but stresses projects must meet current environmental rules and regulations. Clearly states his belief that the technology exists to allow PolyMet to be done safely.

Nolan agrees that it takes too long for mining projects to be approved and supports streamlining the permitting process by improving coordination between agencies

Critics note that mining is conspicuously absent from the Nolan for Congress website, which discusses a number of issues ranging from jobs to the environment.

Nolan voices strenuous objections HR 4402, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Act of 2012, because it deregulates the mining industry and expedites the permitting process by gutting existing environmental rules and regulations. It also incorporates a Cravaack amendment that would apply these new rules to projects already under review – in effect fast-tracking the PolyMet project

Nolan blasts his opponents for supporting the bill and vows never to support it if elected to Congress.

Nolan continually pounds on Cravaack for gutting environmental rules and regulations, which he says is completely unnecessary because mining companies, including PolyMet, don’t have a problem with meeting the current rules and regulations. They just want the permitting process to be more efficient, he says.

‘We don’t have to choose between jobs and the environment, the technology exists for us to do both. We just need to have the political will to do so’, becomes Nolan’s mantra.

Nolan blasts Cravaack for not doing anything that will actually move PolyMet along, claiming that HR4402 has no bipartisan support in the House (it did have one Democrat cosponsor) and no companion in the Senate thus it has no chance of being enacted. Says Cravaack has had two years to get the project permitted and all he has done is talk and support a bill that is not going anywhere.

Congress, 2013-14
In March, Nolan promises to author a bill that streamlines the permitting process for mining projects, similar to the bipartisan bill that passed in the Minnesota legislature.

Nolan, however, does no such thing and his failure to keep that promise proves to be a harbinger of things to come.

In June, Nolan issues a press release indicating the permitting process is working just fine for PolyMet.

Nolan also praised progress in the permitting process for PolyMet’s proposed copper, nickel, and precious metal mining operation near Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota:

“In meetings with both PolyMet and the EPA, it’s clear that all parties are confident that the process is moving forward in a timely manner, and that PolyMet has been cooperative in agreeing to virtually all that has been asked of them. We have reason to feel confident that the process will produce positive results for the region,” Nolan said.

But Nolan is about to make a 180-degree turn that will stun many in the 8th district.

In September, the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Act of 2013 (HR761) is scheduled for vote in House.

The bill contains language identical to HR4402 and, like that abomination, should properly be called the Mining Company Dream Act, for it allows the mining companies to run amok on federal lands at will – without paying one dime of royalties on the minerals they remove – and streamlines the permitting process by gutting NEPA and the Clean Water Act, essentially wiping out decades of hard work by John Blatnik and Jim Oberstar to reign in the mining companies and protect our workers,communities and environment.

And, it retains the language of the Cravaack amendment to apply the new rules to projects already under review, essentially fast-tracking the PolyMet project.

Nolan assures those concerned about the effects of deregulating the mining industry in general, and about relaxing environmental standards for PolyMet in particular, that he will keep his promise to vote against the bill.

But the day before the vote, Nolan tells the Mesabi Daily News that he’s going to vote for HR761 and even more astounding, says he comfortable voting for it!

But Nolan said he believes we can have both expedited permitting and environmental safety.

“I’m pro-mining. But I also very strongly believe we have to do it right. And we can. We have the brains and the technology to do so,” Nolan said.

So, is the congressman going to hold his nose and vote yes on the bill?

“No, I’m comfortable voting for it. It’s not the bill I would write, but they’re not asking me. But it’s a start in streamlining and standardizing the permit process,” Nolan said.

“We’re holding up a whole host of taconite projects alone at Essar, Minntac, KeeTac and Mesabi Nugget.”

Nolan does indeed vote for HR761, which passes the House on a party-line vote, but does not speak to the bill on the floor nor does he make any mention of the vote in social media – an odd omission for a congressman who never misses an opportunity to toot his own horn on everything from getting a haircut in the district to advocating price supports for Big Sugar.

He does, however, send out a press release so rife with doublespeak that it puts George Orwell to shame:

Even though this is not the bill I would have written, I voted YES on H.R. 761 because we need to streamline and standardize a broken mining permitting process that is delaying projects with the potential for thousands of good paying jobs, and billions of dollars in economic development, across Minnesota’s Iron Range. We are long past the time when we need to choose between good jobs and a healthy environment in our great nation. I will continue to do everything within my power to advance good paying mining jobs, and work for strong environmental protections in all the laws and policies that affect the mining industry.

The Duluth News-Tribune asks about the change in his position, but gets an equally murky response.

Nolan’s office said the difference this year is a “deeper appreciation on Congressman Nolan’s part for how the delayed and broken permitting process is holding back projects” on Minnesota’s Iron Range.

Those who supported Nolan because of his vow to never vote for that bill and his strongly stated position that PolyMet must meet existing environmental standards in order to be approved are furious.

But they are told “There’s nothing to be upset about.The bill is not going anywhere.”

And that’s true. There is no companion in the Senate and the Obama Administration makes it clear HR761 is unacceptable to the president:

…The legislation also undermines existing law safeguarding the multiple uses of public lands by placing mining interests above all other uses. This change has the potential to threaten hunting, fishing, recreation, and other activities that create jobs and sustain local economies across the country. Furthermore, the Administration opposes the legislation’s severe restrictions on judicial review. Although the legislation purports to limit litigation, its extremely short statute of limitations and vague constraints on the scope of prospective relief that a court may issue are likely to have the opposite effect.

But at the same time Nolan is assuring those opposed to PolyMet that HR761 is indeed the same Bill-To-Nowhere that HR4402 was in 2012, he is proclaiming to PolyMet supporters that the bill will get the ball rolling on the project.

However, Nolan’s general messaging strategy on HR761 diverts attention away from PolyMet and towards iron mining projects he says are being delayed due to permitting problems, citing Essar Steel as one example. But Essar Steel is already permitted and under construction and facing delays only due to difficulty obtaining financing.

His sound bite on HR761 is another read-into-it-what-you-like statement:

I am supporting federal legislation to streamline the permitting process, while working to assure strict, fair and timely environmental review.

And the doubletalk continues…

Nolan tells those who support PolyMet and those who support iron (but not necessarily copper-nickel) mining that he is working hard to get the bill passed.

But in a response to a constituent upset about his support for HR761, Nolan indicates his work on the bill consists of urging John Boehner, Harry Reid and President Obama to work it out amongst themselves.

Yeah, that’s going to happen.

But reality doesn’t dissuade Nolan from using the vote for HR761 to his advantage on the Range, and use it he does, repeatedly citing this vote as evidence he is a champion of mining and working hard to get PolyMet permitted.

But Nolan doean’t keep his promise to introduce his own bill to streamline the permitting process for mining projects, one that could garner the bipartisan support needed to pass the Senate and land on the president’s desk.

Meanwhile, environmentalists are growing more and more dissatisfied with Nolan – or more precisely, with his lack of candor They say Nolan lied to them in 2012 and again just before the vote on HR761- and that he refuses to explain his actions.

They are not happy campers.

Nolan’s attempt to bring them back into the fold takes the form of a climate change forum, sponsored at his request by Twin Cities environmentalists who likely remember Nolan was an original cosponsor of Rep. Don Fraser’s 1978 bill to designate every inch of the BWCA as wilderness. Although held at UMD, environmental groups in Northeastern Minnesota are not a part of the conversation, learning about the forum only via social media shortly before the November event.

The forum is scheduled on the same day and at the same time as a regularly scheduled rally that draws many in the target group. Though attendance is expected to be minimal , the event is designed to be carefully controlled. No questions on mining and pipelines will be allowed and all others must be submitted in advance and screened by staff. This does not sit well with the crowd and Nolan eventually agrees to take questions from the floor.

But Nolan is not about to give straight answers about his flip-flop on HR761.

First, Nolan claims the bill, which made the Democratic hit parade of anti-environment bills, simply streamlines the permitting process and does not harm the environment. Then, after hearing they intend to find a candidate to challenge him if he continues to say one thing and do another, he acknowledges that it does indeed gut environmental regulations and assures the crowd that if it looks as though HR761 could actually be enacted, he will vote against it. Finally (and unbelievably), he claims that has been always his position and always will be.

That the crowd isn’t buying what he is selling doesn’t seem of much concern to Nolan, who points out that “elections are about alternatives” (him or a Republican) and barely breaks his stride as he scurries off to tell the Duluth News-Tribune how he remained “steadfast” despite opposition at the event and a scathing letter from the Lake County DFL criticizing him for his flip-flop on HR761.

Mr. Environment also has this to say about the 500-plus years of water treatment the PolyMet project would require

“Everything has a long-term impact. I mean, (Interstate 35 in Duluth) has a 500-year impact”

Well then, it seems there’s been much ado about nothing.

Meanwhile, Nolan continues to point out to those concerned about the ramifications of HR761 that the bill isn’t going anywhere. He denies working to fast-track PolyMet, insisting the project must follow the current process and meet existing rules and regulations in order to be permitted.

Up on the Range, it’s a different story. Nolan spins the anger over the flip-flop and doubletalk on HR761 as environmentalists being upset over his “strong support” for PolyMet and continues to cite his support of the bill as evidence he is working to speed up the permitting process for the project. And, he says, support of this bill confirms his commitment to help iron mining projects.

And he flatly denies backtracking on support for HR761.

Like his campaign website, mining remains conspicuously absent from Nolan’s official congressional site. And he doesn’t publicly come out hard for PolyMet until March 2014.

Nolan widely publicizes a detailed letter (complete with scientific analysis, assertions, and conclusions) in support of the project sent to Minnesota DNR that reads more like it came from the public relations department at PolyMet than from a concerned member of Congress acting on behalf of all his constituents. Further evidence, he tells Rangers, of how hard he’s working to speed up approval of the project, noting that a staffer testified on behalf of the project at the public hearing in St Paul.

Yet at the same time, Nolan deflects criticism from environmentalists about that testimony by saying the staffer was acting as an individual and points out that his letter in support of PolyMet is basically symbolic and does nothing to short-circuit the review or speed up the permitting process for the project.

But there is trouble brewing for Nolan, as area environmentalists make good on their promise to recruit a challenger and PolyMet supporters become increasingly aware of the game Nolan is playing.

2014 Campaign
Nolan now focuses his efforts on convincing constituents that he is not playing both sides nor has he flip-flopped on his stated positions on PolyMet or the environment.

Nolan’s congressional website is updated to contain a section on mining that reflects general campaign talking points. The campaign website makes only a passing mention of mining and still does not include mining or PolyMet as an issue.

Nolan continually hammers home this familiar sound bite

“We need to recognize that we are long past the days of having to choose between good mining jobs and a clean environment. We have the brains and the technology to do both”

He embellishes it with tales of rivers catching on fire and noting that the mining companies have no problem meeting current environmental rules and regulations.

It is true that Nolan has said those things all along.

Unfortunately that is where his consistency ends. The same old doubletalk continues even as he protests to the contrary.

And Nolan isn’t talking about his recent endorsement from Environment Minnesota – at least, not in public and certainly not on the Iron Range.

MN-08: Rick Nolan misleads voters about Restore Democracy “Act”

For nearly 3 months, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan has been campaigning heavily on a what he touts as “a comprehensive package of legislation to help restore our democracy,” addressing myriad issues from money in politics to gerrymandering to how Congress conducts business. But in reality the proposal merely expresses an idea, serving not the Common Good but rather the political ambitions of its sponsor.

On the last day Congress met before adjourning for the August recess, Nolan introduced what is officially called the Restore Democracy Resoluton.

Nolan,however, promotes the measure as the Restore Democracy Act, hyping it as destined to “bring about a new golden age of bi–partisan democracy—a model for the world and a reaffirmation of our great American experience.”

That’s a tall order for any legislation, but most particularly for a proposal that has no chance to go anywhere during what little remains of the current Congress and more importantly, is not even an act, but a simple House resolution.

This is not an exercise in semantics;It is an important distinction to make.

An act is a bill that can become a law. In order to do so, it must pass both the House and the Senate and be signed by the President.

In contrast, a simple House resolution affects only matters of that chamber, so it is not sent to the Senate or to the president. And, it has no authority over the Senate nor does it have the force of law.

Most simple resolutions address rules of the House but others, like Nolan’s Restore Democracy Resolution, merely express the sense of the House and are purely advisory in nature. As such, Restore Democracy can’t possibly ‘bring about the golden age of democracy” or enact any other significant reforms.

By calling it an “act” Nolan creates the illusion that he has introduced a significant piece of legislation when in fact he has done nothing more than exploit the process to benefit his flailing bid for reelection.

And in that respect, the Restore Democracy Resolution is a huge success.

Nolan introduced the proposal on July 31, after polling showed him falling below 45-percent, a death knell for incumbents.The Restore Democracy “Act”, as Nolan referred to it, quickly became the centerpiece of his public relations campaign to win the hearts and minds of voters and generate media buzz during the five-week break leading up to its official unveiling on Sep. 8 – after Labor Day, when most voters are just beginning to pay attention.

The provisions are so wide-ranging that Nolan can use the resolution as a springboard to just about any talking point he cares to make – and he does so whether the subject is actually covered by the resolution or not.

In a particularly odious abuse of the incumbency, Nolan led a student reporter to believe that his simple House resolution is a bill that could be enacted and makes higher education more affordable – even though there is absolutely nothing whatsoever in the proposal that relates to tuition.

“The Restore Democracy Act will change the way politics are done in Washington, and according to Nolan students will benefit from the bill — should it pass — regarding their tuition.” (UMD Statesman, Oct 2,2014)

Nolan campaigned on campus that same day.

And this recent letter to the editor suggests that his campaign of misinformation has been wildly successful:

…Nolan is sponsoring the Restore Democracy Act, which would change the way we do politics. When enacted, this act would return Congress to a five-day work week, control the time candidates spend campaigning, end the controlling influence of big money, restrict spending on campaigns to 60 days before an election and prohibit raising money while Congress is in session. And the public will no longer be bombarded with negative political ads for months on end.The Restore Democracy Act is gaining traction under Nolan’s adept leadership…(Duluth News-Tribune, Oct 22,2014)

Nolan certainly is making political hay with this sham, shamelessly peddling his Restore Democracy “Act” like free beer on the Iron Range while on the campaign trail and during media interviews – everywhere it seems, with one notable exception.

Nolan was strangely silent about this “major reform initiative” during the debate with Republican Stewart Mills and Green Party Skip Sandman.

Not a peep at that event, where his farce was likely to be exposed.

Restore Democracy expresses ideas that merit serious consideration in the form of actual legislation and the resolution itself should be presented accurately and placed in the proper context. Unfortunately, Nolan is choosing to travel the low road of political expediency rather than the high road of leadership.

In order to believe that Nolan is not deliberately misleading the public about his Restore Democracy Resolution, one must also believe

– that the four-term congressman does not know the correct name of his own legislative proposal
– that the four-term congressman does not know what issues are addressed in his own legislative proposal
– that the four-term congressman does not know the difference between a simple House resolution and an act that can become law
– that the four-term congressman believes that a simple House resolution expressing the sense of the House can enact comprehansive reform
– that the four-term congressman believes that a legislative proposal with no cosponsors or support from the majority party has a reasonable chance to make it through three committees and to the House floor in the 19 remaining days of this Congress

Nolan’s entire story surrounding the measure lacks credibility.

Nolan says he’s been working on Restore Democracy for a year-and-a-half, a claim that conveniently serves not only to defend the timing but to perpetuate the myth that he is actually doing something about the issues he complains about so incessantly. He also claims growing support from other members of Congress.

But do these claims really make sense?

Think about it a minute.

From Day One, Nolan has been a vocal critic of the rules of this Congress, repeatedly calling for a return to ‘regular order’, a subjective term that is typically tossed around by the minority to protest the rules established by the majority party.

The one and only issue addressed in this measure that a simple House resolution could potentially change pertains to the rules of the House. But again, Restore Democracy expresses only a sense of what the House should do. And, since the rules change with each new Congress, it would be pointlesss to wait until the waning days of the current Congress before introducing a resolution to bring the House back to what Nolan calls ‘regular order.’

Gerrymandering, campaign finance and voter participation were also debated way back in the 1970s (Nolan’s name was on even on some of those bills), so its hardly new territory for Nolan, who has spent the bulk of this term working the national media circuit, complaining about the dysfunction in Washington and decrying the increasing role money plays in the political process.

So why, then, didn’t he introduce a legitimate comprehensive package of reforms? Are we really to believe that the best his staff could do in 19 months is throw together a simple House resolution, containing nothing more than statements of principle?

One needs only look to the press conference to see how seriously this so-called major initiative is taken in Washington.Just two colleagues joined him (even they didn’t sign on as cosponsors) and the event was so sparsely attended that Nolan’s legislative director was deployed to hold a sign in support.

Yet Nolan tells us other Members are jumping on board with this resolution – that is destined to die with the current Congress- even as they are busy campaigning for reelection. And doesn’t it seem strange that he didn’t speak to colleagues in advance in order to marshal support for what he describes as a major policy initiative a year-and-a-half in the making?

None of this makes sense from a public policy standpoint, but holy buckets, it sure makes sense politically – and it is a strategy that worked well for Nolan 40 years ago when he was first elected to Congress.

Unlike incumbents who must either introduce legislation fraught with details or face accusations of inaction, challengers have the luxury of floating plans containing nothing more than general statements appealing to a broad base that can be thrown together quickly.

According to the venerable Associated Press political reporter Gerry Nelson, Nolan’s young staff excelled in that area

“Nolan has pumped out a steady stream of news releases on a variety of subjects. His latest was a six-point program urging Congress to increase Social Security benefits for senior citizens”(Winona Daily News, Sep. 4, 1974.)

Nolan touted a nine-point program to “Save Rural America” in this campaign ad. (Hendricks Pioneer, Sep. 5,1974)

Nolan ad 1974

But its a seven-point economic plan to “restore this nation to a sound economy” that Nolan released just before the general election that should interest 8th district voters:
.

“There are no quick and simple solutions to the economic problems facing this country, Nolan said “My program contains a combination of long range and short range action which if implemented by congress can forcefully deal with our present economic crisis”(Hendricks Pioneer, Oct. 31, 1974)

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

2014 Incumbent Rick Nolan’s seven-point plan to “help restore our democracy” introduced during the waning days of Congress has no more teeth to it than 1974 challenger Richard Nolan’s seven-point plan to “restore this nation to a sound economy”

But by introducing this resolution -a mere plan of general principles- just before the election and passing it off as a comprehensive package of reforms that will “bring about a new golden age of bi–partisan democracy—a model for the world and a reaffirmation of our great American experience”, Nolan reaps all the benefits of a challenger while avoiding the pitfalls that usually face incumbents.

Genius, really, even if patently dishonest.

MN-08: Minnesota Golden Gophers vs Green Bay Packers?

Close elections often result in a lot of spaghetti being tossed around, but what U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and DFL Party Chair Ken Martin seem to think sticks to the wall in the race for 8th district congress has to rank as one of the weirdest: that being a fan of a particular sports team somehow correlates to how well one relates to residents of northern Minnesota.

If that is indeed an important factor when selecting a congressman, then Nolan is in serious trouble.

Republican challenger Stewart Mills is a fan of Minnesota Vikings rival the Green Bay Packers, but Nolan is guilty of an infraction at least as bad if not worse: He is a staunch fan of the Golden Gophers of the University of Minnesota,Twin Cities, archrival of the University of Minnesota, Duluth Bulldogs.

Republican challenger Stewart Mills was “caught” wearing a Packers jersey at a football game in 2009.

Mills packers

Nolan is seen proudly wearing a Golden Gophers hat in a 2013 holiday greeting that was mailed to constituents across Bulldog Country, tweeted and posted on Facebook.

nolan christmas card error
Oops.

Nolan may be the only 8th district DFL congressman in history who just doesn’t get it, but he’s certainly not the only DFLer to make the blunder.

One of the more memorable gaffes was made by Gov. Wendell Anderson in the 1970s during Legislative Weekend, a massive lobbying effort in which Duluth played host to legislators and their families.

The highlight of the weekend was the UM-UMD hockey game. Hockey is serious business in northern Minnesota and the rivalry between the Bulldogs and Gophers becomes particulary intense during the winter months.

Anderson decided it would be great fun to toss out the puck to start the game. Staff from northern Minnesota warned that the crowd would not respond well, noting that he not only graduated from UM but played hockey for the Gophers . But the governor didn’t understand why this would be the case, since it is after all a Minnesota team (not like the Packers, right?) and ignored their strenuous objections.

The chorus of boos was deafening, even when heard over the television, and continued for several minutes.

Those who are not from the northeastern part of the district might not truly appreciate the intensity of this rivalry, which is in part an extension of the long-standing battle between Duluth/the Iron Range and the Twin Cites metropolitan area.

Every legislative session is characterized by area lawmakers beating back legislation harmful to our communities and economy, and fighting to wrestle what often amounts to little more than nickels and dimes from those who don’t seem to believe that intelligent life exists beyond the Interstate 494-694 corridor.

For the first time in recent memory, that dismissive attitude has slithered its way up I-35 into the race for 8th district congress.

The picture of Mills wearing a Packers jersey was leaked to City Pages over a year ago and since then, the DFL party, Nolan for Congress and Nolan congressional staffers have repeatedly pushed it as a reason for voters to reject Mills.

And if that’s not insulting enough, a recent DFL mailing attacking Mills was built around the Packers, making it abundantly clear that the Metrocrats in control of the state party (and apparently the 8th district congressman) view residents as little more than bumpkins.

Following their lead, this race boils down to a choice between a DFL congressman representing Bulldogs Country who sees no problem in sporting a Golden Gophers hat in holiday greetings to constituents (and can’t spell), a Republican challenger caught wearing a Packers jersey at a football game and Green Party challenger Skip Sandman who, as of yet, has not been outed for being a fan of either.

It’s a probably a very good thing for the congressman that voters in northeastern Minnesota aren’t that shallow.

MN-08: How Rick Nolan stopped worrying and learned to love assault weapons

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan’s position on gun control seemed to be the one constant amid ever-changing positions on myriad issues. But all that changed Wednesday, after a picture surfaced of the congressman cheerfully posing with one of the assault-style weapons he says are dangerous and should be banned. Nolan is now facing new charges of hypocrisy and finds his hunting credentials called into question in light of obvious violations of basic gun safety rules.

Nolan wasn’t shy about voicing his support for gun control legislation during his 2012 campaign. As a newly-elected congressman, he reiterated that position during an early January 2013 appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation:

“I don’t need an assault weapon to shoot a duck. And I think they ought to be banned.”

Seems pretty clear.

And later that month, Nolan told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that he’d received threats as a result of that position

Nobody has actually come out and said they’re gunning for me, but the messages are quite angry, vitriolic, and a little bit frightening to people at my front desk who have been taking the calls. I’m a little nervous about it. I’ve never been nervous before

Nolan repeated that claim more than once, yet still made the puzzling decision to move his primary district office from the Gerald Heaney Federal Building – and the protection of security screenings by federal guards – to the ground floor of an unsecured building, just steps from the entrance to the bar of a downtown Duluth restaurant.

Odd behavior for a congressman concerned enough about threats of violence to voice them on national television to be sure. But no matter what their content, the messages gave Nolan an opportunity to portray himself as the victim of the NRA, garnering the sympathy and support of anti-gun progressives across the country. And he continued to beat the drum of gun control right up until this week.

But Nolan is now fighting for his political life, desperately trolling for votes from pretty much anyone – including those gun owners he previously vilified.

So bring on the picture of Rick Nolan holding an AR-15 (you know, one of those pesky assault rifles that he wants to outlaw.)

Most politicians would be at least a little embarrassed but not good ole Rick, who never lets a previously stated position on anything get in the way of shameless pandering. Just look at that smile!

Nolan with assault rifle sep 23

Nolan might not have a spine but, God love ‘em, he has the chutzpah to pose for a photo op so transparent that it insults the intelligence of every single voter in the 8th congressional district (a sports coat and tie, Gracie?)

Unfortunately for the congressman, he demonstrates far less common sense than most kids on the Iron Range, who learn at a very young age that you NEVER place your finger on the trigger of a gun unless you intend to shoot because:

#1: There is no such thing as an unloaded gun
#2: If you think the gun is unloaded, see #1

But wait, there’s more.

Nolan’s blatant disregard for the safety of others isn’t an isolated incident, as documented in this tracking video released Thursday by the NRCC

Holy. Buckets.

Congressman, we know you’re desperate but, trust us, winning the Dick Cheney Award for Gun Safety won’t get you many votes in the 8th district.

(Seriously Rick, even kids up here know better than to play around like that with a gun.)

Nolan may indeed go hunting (maybe he learned from the former vice president?), but he seems completely oblivious to the standards of responsible gun use that is the norm among sportspeople in northern Minnesota.

In the social media frenzy that followed the posting of the picture on facebook, many pointed out that Nolan violated a basic rule taught to 12-year-olds in DNR firearms safety classes. One declared “Rick Nolan’s right – guns are dangerous, but only when he’s holding them!”

Gun Owners PAC stepped up with a very generous offer to pay for Nolan to receive firearms safety training from a qualified instructor at (drum roll, please) Mills Fleet Farm Indoor Shooting!

Green Party candidate Skip Sandman said they all make good points, and while the Fleet Farm reference is amusing, there’s nothing funny about ignoring basic gun safety rules. “Carelessness like that [shown by Nolan] gets people killed”

Sandman and Republican Stewart Mills have different opinions on the gun issue, but both find Nolan’s hypocrisy troubling.

“The congressman is not acting for the benefit of his constituents” observes Sandman.
“What is Nolan really trying to say to the people – that he can’t make up his mind or he’s sitting on the fence? His record on gun control speaks for itself. This is a contradiction and contradiction leads to confusion among voters. And this is just one of many contradictions ”

“Rick Nolan’s hypocrisy is getting out of hand, and this is just the latest example” says Mills spokeswoman Chloe Rockow. “It’s absolutely outrageous that he would say he wants to ban guns like this in Washington, then come home and pose with one the first opportunity he gets. Minnesotans deserve a representative who won’t say whatever it takes to mislead his constituents on his real positions. Minnesotans deserve better.”

MN-08: How not to respond to a political ad

Friends of Stewart Mills released a new campaign ad Wednesday featuring Aurora steelworker Steve Biondich telling voters “It’s not about Republicans or Democrats any more. It’s about jobs and our way of life. Look past the party, start looking at candidates” – a very effective message for the Iron Range. So effective in fact, that Democrats felt the need to immediately go on the offensive.

But instead of articulating an intelligent response to the ad itself – or challenging Mills – U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and his allies chose to go the cheap and easy route of attacking the Mesabi Range steelworker who appeared in the ad.

The Twin Cities-based CityPages posted “Star of Stewart Mills’s (sic) latest ad has off-color facebook page” early Thursday morning, after they say Biondich’s facebook page was called to their attention by a “tipster.”

Nolan staffers quickly jumped into the social media feeding frenzy that followed, focusing on screenshots that play into the stereotype of Range men, particularly those who work in the mines. Campaign manager Kendal Killian called Biondich “Sexist Steve” and a misogynist, and campaign communications director Sacha Haworth passed along similar tweets. The Breck School graduate also criticized the Range steelworker for thinking that “sexist jokes” are funny:

Haworth Mills ad

So, if a voter from the Iron Range who decides to appear in a campaign ad is now considered a “spokesman” and subject to a social media colonoscopy, shouldn’t an official campaign spokesperson from Minneapolis undergo similar scrutiny?

Let’s just take a little look at some of Ms. Haworth’s social media postings.

Hmm…this tweet is pretty darn insulting to women:

haworth tweet demeans women oct 2010 (SFC)

Maine native Franni Franken might take issue with this one:

haworth maine weird people mar 29 2014

Does this indicate that Ms Haworth has reason to associate with a drug dealer?:

haworth knows how to get pcp

Is this really the level of communication expected from the assistant communications director of a member of Congress?

haworth boo invasives boo sep 2013

And then there are the pictures…

sacha 3

sacna haworth

What conclusions could one draw about Ms. Haworth if applying the same standards used to judge Mr. Biondich?

The point is that context is important, everyone has a skeleton or two in their closet, everyone says things they shouldn’t (or should have expressed differently) and everyone has said or done something that others will find offensive.

Public officials and those running for office are fair game, but where does one draw the line for this kind of scrutiny?

If attacking and publicly humiliating a supporter becomes an accepted strategy to discredit a candidate, people will flee from the political process in droves. How many would choose to work on behalf of a candidate knowing that everything they have ever said or done in their personal lives will be fodder for opposition research?

Think of the chilling effect on our democracy.

Elections are supposed to be about ideas and articulating a message to voters, not trashing citizens who are actively engaged in the political process. Perhaps it is not the amount of money in politics that is truly corrupting our democracy, but rather what people think they need to do in order to get elected.

MN-08: Rick Nolan touts support from Koch-linked group then slams Stewart Mills for donation from KochPAC

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan in July slammed challenger Stewart Mills for accepting a $2,500 contribution from Koch Industries Inc. Political Action Fund (KochPAC) but just two months earlier the 8th district congressman happily touted support from a social welfare group with close ties to the Koch brothers.

Nolan described Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) as “nonpartisan” and “bipartisan” after it lined up behind his amendment to the National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA) last May.

But TPA is part of what Pro Publica calls “a tangle of nonprofits, sometimes referred to as the Kochtopus, all aimed at advancing conservative causes.” Pro Publica’s excellent chart documents the organization’s place in the Koch network.

TPA receives nearly all of its funding from Americans for Job Security (AJS). According to the most recent IRS filings, AJS donated $1,108,000 to the group, which reported total receipts of $1,600,056.

And the relationship between the two organizations extends beyond money. Steven Demaura, the president/secretary/director of AJS, also serves as treasurer/secretary/director of TPA.

TPA describes itself as a “non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to educating the public through the research, analysis and dissemination of information on the government’s effects on the economy.”

However, the group’s conservative underpinnings are quite obvious. It has argued, for example, that LEED green building standards are excess government regulation, that Obamacare will result in substandard medical care, that the Davis-Bacon Act artificially inflates construction costs and that a lower corporate tax rate will result in economic growth and job creation.

TPA’s 2014 lobbying agenda includes opposing net neutrality and a federal ban on internet gaming. The group also signed a letter to members of Congress in support of HR 3835, the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act of 2014.

In May, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) spearheaded a bipartisan effort urging adoption of several amendments to NDAA, including Nolan’s. TPA was one of 22 organizations to sign the letter to Congress which stated in part “The undersigned organizations may not agree on many things, but we all agree on this: The United States must curb wasteful and ineffective spending at the Pentagon. Doing so will save billions of valuable tax dollars as well as help to make America safer with the hard decisions our national security requires.”

Two groups that actively support Nolan -Council for a Livable World and Progressive Democrats of America – also signed the letter, yet Nolan repeatedly singled out the Koch-backed Taxpayers Protection Alliance

– In the defense issue section of his congressional website

My amendment prohibits the construction of any project over $500,000 without submitting a report to Congress assuring proper auditing and oversight. It was supported by the non-partisan Taxpayers Protection Alliance and 22 other organizations under the banner of the Project on Government Oversight.

– In a May 22 press release

The Nolan amendment was supported by the nonpartisan Taxpayers Protection Alliance and 22 other organizations under the banner of the Project on Government Oversight.

– In the May 27 Monday Report

That’s exactly why the measure received such enthusiastic, bipartisan support from the bipartisan Taxpayers Protection Alliance and 22 other organizations under the Project on Government Oversight.

The Democratic strategy in 2014 is to run against the Koch brothers and the Nolan campaign is continuing to pound on Mills for accepting Koch money, even linking him to the October 2012 closing of the Koch-owned Georgia Pacific plant in Duluth. Nolan also made the plant closure an issue in his campaign against incumbent Rep. Chip Cravaack, accusing the Republican of not doing more to keep the plant open because of the $5000 KochPAC donated to his campaign.

KochPAC’s contribution to Friends of Stewart Mills is significantly less than that given to other Minnesota campaigns this cycle. According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, KochPAC has contributed $10,000 – the maximum allowed under federal law – to GOP incumbents John Kline (MN-02) and Erik Paulsen (MN-03). 7th district DFL incumbent Collin Peterson received $6,000. To date, Mills has received just $2,500.

Update: Rep. Nolan has removed the reference to Taxpayer’s Protection Alliance from the defense issues section of his congressional website. This story now links to an archived version of the page as it first appeared, courtesy of the Wayback Machine

Nolan campaign manager slams Mills for KochPAC donation August 2014

MN-08: Stewart Mills says American pipelines should be built with American steel

Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and Republican Stewart Mills disagree on many issues, but building American pipelines with American steel isn’t one of them. Mills said on Monday that using domestic steel for pipelines is “just common sense.”

The national controversy over the source of steel used in pipeline construction was pushed to the forefront in Minnesota on Aug.6 when Mike McFadden, a Republican seeking to unseat U.S. Sen. Al Franken, stated that he supported using unsubsidized foreign steel if it was cheaper than domestic steel. The predicted furor erupted across the Iron Range and threatened to spill over into the race for 8th district congress on Aug.11, when Nolan criticized McFadden’s position as “indefensible” and used it as a springboard to call on Mills to disclose his position on the issue.

“Stewart Mills III is a multi-millionaire with a financial stake in the oil and gas business. He’s also been campaigning with Mike McFadden all over the 8th District. Mills has a vested interest in building cheap pipelines, since it means more money in his pockets. Iron Rangers deserve to know whether he too would choose to import cheap steel from China in order to protect his own wealth.” Nolan said in the statement posted on Facebook.

But Mills supports the use of domestic steel.

“The Iron Range has long been the backbone of our part of Minnesota, and it’s just common sense for me that American pipelines should be built with American steel,” Mills responded in an email

“Miners and their families deserve a strong voice in Washington, but Rick Nolan doesn’t stand for their values. He claims to support American steel and steelworkers, but then turns around and votes against projects like Keystone XL that would benefit them. I’ll always stand up for Iron Range miners and their families”

Nolan and Mills each bring a certain level of expertise to the debate, but from different ends of the pipeline.

Mills’ personal financial disclosure reflects an ownership interest in Crow Wing Oil Company, a privately-held wholesale distributor of oil products. The company does not explore and drill nor process and refine, transport and store oil and gas. It simply purchases and sells end products.

Nolan lived and worked in the Middle East while serving as an investment advisor to the Royal Family of Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi controls 95 percent of the oil reserves in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and 94 percent of its gas reserves. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the UAE “is one of the 10 largest oil and natural gas producers in the world.”

Since Nolan and Mills agree on using domestic steel when building pipelines, they are now free to quibble over who really supports the projects or workers. But another comment in Nolan’s statement grabbed the attention of Iron Rangers and did not go unnoticed by Mills.

“The strongest, safest, most reliable steel in the world is mined and processed by Minnesotans right here on the Iron Range,” said Nolan, prompting Mills to add “Just one final point – I would suggest that Rick read up on the difference between iron and steel (there are no steel mills on the Range, Rick!)”

A low-grade iron ore called taconite is mined and processed on the Iron Range. Steel is an alloy. Northern Minnesota has not produced steel since the early 1970s, when United States Steel closed their steel-making and finishing operations in Duluth.

Nolan’s facebook post remained unedited as of Tuesday evening.

Wednesday morning update: Nolan deleted the post.

Rick Nolan for Congress Steel Aug 11 2014

MN-08: Rep. Rick Nolan launched leadership PAC in March

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan might be more attuned to the realities of modern fundraising than the Nolan camp and party leaders recently indicated. Nolan quietly launched a leadership political action committee earlier this year, suggesting that the 8th district congressman knows that he has to step up his fundraising efforts.

Most members of Congress, including those in the Minnesota delegation, maintain a so-called leadership PAC, a legally non-connected committee that allows members to raise large sums of special interest money with few restrictions on how those funds are spent.

The one thing incumbents can’t spend the funds on is their own campaign and they typically use the money to provide financial support to political parties, candidates and colleagues, subject to contribution limits.

Nolan recently told MPR that he doesn’t care to spend time as “an entry level telemarketer dialing for dollars,” reflecting a long-held attitude towards fundraising which no doubt frustrates colleagues who are sending along money to keep the Nolan campaign afloat.

Talking points aside, Nolan appears to have been nudged down the path of self-sufficiency by party leaders taking a tough love approach with their wayward child.

On Mar 5, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced the first round of Frontline members and did not include Nolan on the list of endangered incumbents, an omission that seemed odd given his weak fundraising and the competitive nature of the race.

That same day, Nolan for Congress treasurer Jim DeChaine signed paperwork establishing Nolan’s leadership PAC, Restore Democracy.

Restore Democracy was officially registered with FEC on Mar 11 and the Agency noted that the committee failed to file its April quarterly report, for the period Mar 11 through Mar 31.

According to the July quarterly report (Apr 1 through Jun 30), the committee raised $17,500 from just four donors. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers donated $5000 on May 8, United Transportation Union $5000 on May 28, Lockridge Grindal Nauen $2500 on Jun 18 and American Crystal Sugar $5000 on Jun 18.

On July 15, Nolan for Congress posted its best fundraising quarter to date for the cycle, bolstered by $33,000 sent by colleeagues in the closing days of the reporting period. In addition, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s leadership PAC, Democrats Win Seats, acted as a conduit for contributions totalling more than $15,000.

Yet Nolan still fell behind Republican challenger Stewart Mills and was added to the Frontline program on July 18.

Restore Democracy is not connected to Nolan’s principle campaign committee, so it can accept donations from political committees and individuals who have already sent the maximum allowable contributions to Nolan for Congress. Those funds cannot legally be spent to directly benefit Nolan’s campaign, but can be used to meet his obligations to colleagues and the party and keep the special interest money flowing through the shell game that passes for campaign finance in this country.

Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that the overwhelming majority of the contributions to leadership PACs come from other PACs. Contributions for this cycle (as of Jun 30) total $33,006,846, with $32,695,096 coming from other PACs

Leadership PACS are subject to federal contribution limits and reporting requirements but campaign finance laws don’t apply to how the funds are spent, resulting wide-spread abuse according to watchdogs Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the Campaign Legal Center (CLC)

CLC Senior Counsel Paul Ryan notes that leadership PACs were created in the 1970s, ostensibly for politicians to support those of similar ideologies but have “evolved into slush funds to raise and spend money on anything they want except their own campaign.”

However, the public may be unaware that their representative or senator even has such a committee.

The FEC requires that affiliated committees, such as joint fundraising committees, be disclosed in the filings of a candidate’s principle campaign committee. But there is no such requirement for non-connected committees and finding out who has a leadership PAC can be difficult, allowing politicians to operate these committees largely outside of public scrutiny.

The lack of disclosure makes it easy for members of Congress to quietly create a leadership PAC and solicit funds from special interests without their constituents ever knowing about it, which is exactly what Rep Nolan did last March.

MN-08: The tweet U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan didn’t want you to see

“The tweets they prefer you wouldn’t see” is how the watchdog Sunlight Foundation describes Politwoops,a project that archives tweets deleted by politicians, and just such a tweet has turned into a headache for 8th district U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

The drama began Friday evening when Nolan responded to a tweet by U.S. Rep. Trent Franks criticizing Pres. Obama for statements made during a 2001 interview. “Says Constitution imperfect document reflecting fundamental flaw of the country that continues,” Franks tweeted. Nolan fired back this gem:

Blog Nolan constitution deleted

Nolan deleted the tweet eight minutes later, but it was captured by Politwoops and caught the attention of Republican challenger Stewart Mills. On Monday morning, the Mills campaign issued a press release calling on Nolan to explain the tweet:

“Rick Nolan needs to explain what exactly he meant when he called the Constitution an imperfect document on Friday,” said Mills. “As a Member of Congress, he took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, but now he’s showing his true colors. For hundreds of years, countless Americans have fought and made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our way of life. They stood up to defend not only their country, but their Constitution and all it stands for. The Eighth Congressional District needs someone who will respect the principles our country was founded on, not someone who thinks that foundation is imperfect.”

Congressman Nolan has not yet issued a statement or responded to our request for comment. But City Pages reports a Nolan source suggested the tweet may have been deleted because it contained a spelling error or was made by an unauthorized user.

This deleted tweet containing mistakes and reeking with attitude created a furor, but previous tweets that were not deleted raised a few eyebrows for similar reasons. For example:

Blog Nolan tweet earth day apr 2013

Blog Nolan tweet Obama snark apr 2013

Nolan repeated a media spelling error and didn’t recognize that ‘piece meal’ is one word:

Nolan twitter weinermobile

Nolan twitter mistake piece meal apr 2013

Nolan apparently confused the Legacy Amendment with the Clean Water Fund :

nolan twitter clean water fund screw up

Nolan sponsored a bill facilitating a land swap between Carlton County and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, but still didn’t get the Band’s name correct:

blog nolan tweet ojibwa jul 2013

Nolan is responsible for all of his official communications. The Sunlight Foundation created Politwoops to hold politicians accountible for their public statements and accountibility is indeed the issue here.

This story will be updated if Rep. Nolan responds to our request for comment.

An earlier version of the story omitted the reference to City Pages