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 comprehensive 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 it is 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.

Restore Democracy Presser

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 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 it is 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.