Rep. Rick Nolan backtracks on support for PolyMet permitting bill

Northern Minnesota is known for its great fishing, so perhaps it’s fitting that tracking 8th District Congressman Rick Nolan’s position on a bill that deregulates the mining industry and fast tracks the permitting process for PolyMet is a bit like watching a fish flopping around on a dock: first he’s against it, then he’s for it and now he once again opposes it, this time promising to vote against the legislation if it “comes anywhere near close to becoming law.”

Nolan made that assurance while addressing the audience at the Climate Change Forum held at the University of Minnesota, Duluth on Nov. 16, 2013.

We reported in September that Nolan stunned many by voting for National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, mining industry-backed legislation that he blasted both Democrat Jeff Anderson and Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack for supporting and promised never to vote for if elected to congress.

Nolan’s sudden reversal of his position that proposed mining projects must meet environmental rules as currently written in order to be permitted and subsequent vote to assist right-wing Republicans in their efforts to deregulate yet another industry was among the issues attendees wanted to discuss with their congressman. But getting answers to their concerns proved difficult and when pressed, Nolan often contradicted himself. For example, he initially claimed HR 761 does not gut environmental protections (contrary to what he asserted on the campaign trail), but simply changes the “regulatory regime” just as was done in the Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013 and went on to discuss how Cirrus Aviation benefits from that legislation. But when later questioned if his flip-flop on the issue is a sign that he’s taking support from environmentalists for granted, Nolan finally acknowledged that HR 761 does indeed gut environmental protections, and made this promise:

I assure you if and when that legislation (HR 761) comes to anywhere near close to becoming law as I said then, I will not vote for anything that is going to degrade our environment and that’s my position and it has always been my position and I’m sticking with it.

When asked to clarify Congressman Nolan’s position on HR 761, Communications Director Steve Johnson replied “original statement still stands.”

The reaction of those who gathered in Bohannon Hall on that Saturday afternoon is perhaps best summed up by 32-year-old Jesse Peterson, who characterized Nolan’s responses and actions with respect to HR 761 as “incredibly deceptive and reflecting a willingness to be phony.”

Are Labor Endorsed Candidates True Friends Of Organized Labor? Part 3

“An injury to one is an injury to all”

This mantra of organized labor takes on added importance today as unions are under ever increasing attacks from right-wing extremists like the Koch Brothers who are fighting to roll back over 75 years of labor law. And it’s not just taking away the right to bargain collectively that damages labor; workers are injured every time we choose to pass over a union facility in favor of one with no union contract or one that was built with scab labor.

Candidates and staff spend a great deal of time on the road while campaigning in Minnesota’s 8th congressional district, which spans from the Canadian Border to the fringes of the Twin Cites Metropolitan Area. Expenses for lodging and meals while traveling, and for events like fundraisers and meetings typically account for a sizable chunk of a campaign’s operating expenditures. As union membership has dwindled over the past decade, the number of union hotels, bars and restaurants has significantly decreased in northern Minnesota as well. Thus it is imperative for the health of the labor movement that we support those businesses that have negotiated union contracts with their employees, and we should expect no less from our labor-endorsed candidates. Any candidate who refuses to spend union contributions at union facilities is no street friend of organized labor no matter what they say in the union hall.

As in Part 2, a review of 2012 year-end FEC reports filed by all four of the labor-endorsed candidates for 8th district congress yielded some surprises. Only one, Rick Nolan, stayed exclusively at union hotels while traveling the northern part of the district, and his report also reflects several expenditures at union facilities for meals, fundraisers and meeting space. Republican Chip Cravaack stayed primarily at non-union facilities (including one built with scab labor) yet patronized union facilities for lodging and fundraisers more often than Democrat Jeff Anderson. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Anderson’s expenses for food and lodging were incurred in union-friendly Duluth, his FEC report reflects just two stays at union hotels, and no expenditures at union facilities for meals or fundraisers. Tarryl Clark’s FEC report reflects no itemized expenditures for lodging, meals or fundraisers, so it is impossible to discern exactly where she spent her money.

Detailed analysis of campaign expenditures begins tomorrow with Jeff Anderson for Minnesota.

Are Labor Endorsed Candidates True Friends Of Organized Labor? Part 2

For decades, workers who mined iron ore in northeastern Minnesota suffered numerous injustices at the hands of the mining companies that formed the omnipotent Steel Trust. It was only through the political process that these early iron miners were ultimately successful in their fight for worker’s rights, finally signing a contract with the United Steelworkers in 1943, and no where is the sense of justice for workers today stronger than on the Iron Range. Indeed, former Governor Rudy Perpich (a native of the Mesabi Range) went ballistic when initially denied a pension of around $80 per month he earned at a job decades earlier, and was ridiculed and criticized by many in the Twin Cities for fighting the employer for what was for him a very nominal sum. What they couldn’t seem to understand is that for Rangers, it’s not the money, it’s the principle: you earned it, you’re entitled to it. No exceptions. This basic concept is so deeply ingrained in the political culture of the Iron Range that breaking from it seems unconscionable.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for campaigns to end with debts owed to employees for wages earned or for expenses incurred. Sometimes these workers eventually get paid, but other times they are left out in the cold, much like steelworkers who lost their pensions after the bankruptcy of National Steel. A true trade unionist believes in justice for workers, and will adhere to that principle whether employing people in business or for a political campaign. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that a candidate receiving endorsement from organized labor would make paying their workers a priority. And if you think only a Republican would dare violate this covenant with workers, think again. As AFL-CIO President Trumka astutely pointed out months ago, labor’s parlor friends are all too often found within the ranks of the Democratic Party.

Jeff Anderson for Minnesota is the only campaign to report outstanding debts to employees for wages (ranging from $625 to $3000) totaling $6,625, with the remaining $24,153 debt owed for vendor payments/candidate loans. The circumstances surrounding these on-going obligations to former employees is indeed troubling to see from a labor endorsed democrat, particularly one who is a native of the Vermilion Range. These staffers (who include a college student and a single parent) have been waiting since August for their final paychecks. Anderson held a fundraiser to pay off his campaign debt in late December, receiving $1000 from the Northeast Area Labor Council and $2000 from the Boilermakers. Inexplicably, he didn’t use this money to pay his workers. Instead, on 31 December Anderson paid himself $1120 for ‘reimbursement’, leaving a remaining balance in his campaign coffers of $5,979 and his workers wondering exactly when they are going to get paid.

Friends of Tarryl Clark 2012 reports outstanding debts to vendors of $24,135.50. Clark’s FEC report reflects absolutely no payments or monies owed to her for reimbursement for expenses during the course of the campaign.

Cravaack for Congress has no outstanding debt, and Cravaack’s FEC report shows he finally paid his legal bills – with interest – as ordered by the mediator in the dispute.

Nolan for Congress closed out the year with outstanding debts of $53411.88 owed primarily to vendors, with some expense reimbursement due individuals and win bonuses owed to staffers. But in this case, the candidate (who is a native of the Cuyuna Range) is sharing the pain; the campaign also owes Nolan a sizable sum for reimbursement of campaign expenses.

Organized labor is the first to protest when a business shuts its doors and leaves workers holding the bag while executives escape unscathed. Decency demands there be no less of an outcry when a labor-endorsed candidate chooses to use union contributions to reimburse himself before paying his former employees wages that are rightfully due them. Labor needs to demonstrate that treating workers fairly applies to all or risk looking like hypocrites when protesting the next round of executive golden parachutes.

Are Labor Endorsed Candidates True Friends Of Organized Labor? Part 1

Iron Rangers learn early in life the importance of differentiating between friends who will happily accept your hospitality as long it suits their purposes and friends who will loyally back you to the death in a street fight. Faced with an unprecedented attack on workers’ rights that threatens the very lifeblood of the union movement, the ability to bargain collectively, the labor movement too has come to realize the biggest mistake unions can make is to confuse parlor friends with street friends, a point AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka drove home in 2011 when he declared that organized labor would no longer tolerate fair weather friends and that a candidate’s affiliation with the Democratic Party no longer guaranteed endorsement.

Every election cycle candidates flood into local union halls at screening time, each professing to be the true champion of working people in the race. The recent campaign for 8th district congress was no exception, and all 4 candidates – Jeff Anderson (D), Tarryl Clark (D), Chip Cravaack (R), Rick Nolan (D) – received endorsements and hefty contributions from labor unions. It has been said that the true test of one’s character is what one does when no one else is looking, and the same test can be applied to discern how committed these individuals are to the principles of organized labor.

Indeed, a good way for organized labor to differentiate parlor friends from street friends is to examine how candidates choose to spend the thousands of dollars they receive from labor unions after walking out of the union hall. FEC reports that are exposed to the light of day will often show exactly who chose to throw labor under the bus the minute they thought no one was looking. Labor-endorsed candidates who regularly patronize hotels that have been targets of labor disputes or built with non union labor are clearly fair weather friends rather than true champions, as are those who pay themselves before paying their employees long overdue and hard-earned wages. Posts in the coming days will reveal the Good, the Bad and the Ugly among labor-endorsed candidates, republican and democrat alike, in the 2012 race for 8th district congress.

Broader issues surrounding labor-endorsed candidates and union contributions merit discussion in future posts. Do unions have expectations as to how their members’ money is spent by candidates? Are unions comfortable that their endorsed candidates spend union contributions at Wal-Mart or Office Max rather than at local stores or more worker-friendly national chains? Should candidates be held accountable for how they spend union dollars?

MN-08: Chip Cravaack Still Clueless After All These Years (Episode 2)

Residents of the 8th congressional district are well aware that when Rep. Chip Cravaack goes off script, he hasn’t got clue as to what he is saying. Unfortunately for his constituents in northeastern Minnesota, Cravaack’s embarrassing gaffes are not limited to public meetings or interviews and are readily visible on the House floor. It was never more obvious than during the floor debate on the FAA extension bill, when Cravaack flagrantly displayed both his lack of common sense and ignorance of the rules of the House set by his own party.

During the debate on June 22 2011, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) made a motion to recommit with instructions to include an amendment regarding airline baggage fees for military members deploying to or retuning from overseas operations. Cravaack argued against the motion, insisting the amendment should have brought up earlier. Of note is that the incident prompting the amendment occurred on June 6.

From the Congressional Record:

Cravaack: …..My question would be, why didn’t we bring this up earlier, this act? …..We should have opened this up when we had open committee, and this should have been brought up then. But not now, in the motion to recommit, when we have FAA jobs on the line, and we need to get this bill moved forward…

Rahall: In response to the gentleman’s question asked a few seconds ago, it was a closed rule. There was no way we could have brought this up in the amendment process. The gentleman’s party controls the rules of this body and controls the legislative debate.

Cravaack: We did have an FAA open debate, Madam Speaker, and we could have brought this up at this time.

Rahall: If the gentleman would continue to yield, the incident did not occur until after the markup of this bill….

Cravaack: We should not be opening this at this time on a motion to recommit. I will fully work with the other side in trying to make sure that this does not happen again to another soldier, and I look forward to that discussion, but having it right now is a little bit disingenuous on this FAA reauthorization.

Unbelievable.

Obviously, Cravaack was given the brainless task to shepherd the FAA extension through the Republican-controlled House. Unfortunately for his Tea Party handlers, no one was there holding a cue card, thus leaving Chip to his own quite limited devices.

Is it any wonder that Cravaack’s campaign has decided that the fall out from avoiding as many debates as possible is far less damaging than having former Congressman Rick Nolan, a skilled debater, clean Chip Cravaack’s clock?

MN-08: Money Can’t Buy Love

“What do you call a candidate who attacks Rudy Perpich in northeastern Minnesota?

“A Loser.

So goes the new joke rapidly spreading throughout Minnesota’s 8th congressional district in the wake of St Cloud resident Tarryl Clark’s explosive and completely unprovoked attack on the DFL-endorsed front-runner in the race, former Congressman Rick Nolan of Crosby, and on the popular late former Governor Rudy Perpich of Hibbing.

Clark’s 11th hour attack on Nolan and Perpich is clearly an act of desperation by a campaign rich in outside money and poor in grass roots support. Clark is now facing the grim reality that telling voters in northeastern Minnesota ‘no one can beat me, I have too much money’ is not a strategy for success. Indeed, her carpetbagging campaign has failed to gain traction in the 8th district over the past 13 months, and even her campaign manager has acknowledged to the Minneapolis Star Tribune that money alone can’t win elections:

You cannot compete without money, but money doesn’t do anything for you if you don’t also have the underlying support of voters and individuals..

And he is right; If having an obscene amount of money guaranteed success, Clark would be representing the 6th district in Congress and Matt Entenza would be governor of Minnesota. In order to win support, one must have a strong message that resonates with voters. Shockingly, Clark is running her current campaign on exactly the same generic fit-any-district message that failed miserably in her home district against Michele Bachmann in 2010 – hardly a formula for success against Bachmann-clone Cravaack in a district that loathes carpetbaggers. Tarryl Clark remains an outsider with lots of outside money who has no message that has resonated with the voters in the 8th congressional district.

In contrast, the Nolan campaign has raised less money, but has built strong grass roots support across the 8th congressional district. The Cuyuna Range native has been outspent yet has won every straw poll, numerous labor endorsements and the DFL endorsement, and continues to build momentum in the race. Nolan is able to do so because voters get his message. Voters like his message. And voters know that an honest candidate with a strong, clear message is a winner. A proven winner, Nolan didn’t repeatedly win elections in conservative areas (including what is now the southern part of the 8th district) because he had the most money. Nolan won because people respected him. Nolan won because people trusted him. Nolan won because he is just that good. The people of the 8th district have seen Nolan run an aggressive boots-on-the-ground campaign in this race. They have seen his energy and his passion and his commitment for the common good. And the voters clearly like what they see.

A candidate without a message is like a hunter without a compass, wandering aimlessly through the dense forest. St Cloud resident Clark is a lost soul desperately clawing her way through the unfamiliar wilderness of northern Minnesota, yet unlike the hunter who is soon rescued by a search party, there is no one looking for Tarryl because no one knows she is missing.

No amount of money is going to change that.

Because in the 8th district, as in the Beatles classic, money can’t buy love.