Mills, Westrom form new ‘super joint’ fundraising committee

A new ‘super joint’ fundraising committee will benefit Republicans seeking to unseat two Democratic congressmen in Northern Minnesota, according to paperwork filed on May 21 with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

First reported by the Center for Public Integrity, the committee, called ‘Young Guns Day 1 2014’, includes Mills Fleet Farm Vice-President Stewart Mills, who is challenging 8th District U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, and State Sen. Torrey Westrom, who is challenging 7th District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson. Other beneficiaries are the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and eight other Republican candidates who have reached the top tier of the party’s Young Guns program.

Young Guns is a challenger-assistance program and employs a multi-tier approach that allows candidates to advance in the ranks by demonstrating a credible campaign in a competitive race. Mills was named to ‘On the Radar’, the lowest tier, in November 2013. He and Westrom both achieved top tier ‘Young Gun’ status on May 13, 2014.

Joint fundraising committees consist of two or more candidates, party committees or political action committees. All share in fundraising costs and distribute the proceeds according to a specific formula.

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v FEC, federal law limited the total amount an individual could give to federal candidates, party committees and political action committees, so these joint fundraising committees were quite limited in scope.

But in McCutcheon, the Court ruled those aggregate contribution caps unconstitutional, opening the door for donors to give to as many candidates and committees as they want and paving the way for ‘super joint’ fundraising committees – those formed for the benefit of many candidates or committees – that can exert pressure on deep-pocketed donors to write big checks.

Under these new rules, an individual is allowed to write a check for as much as $84,600 to Young Guns Day 1 2014. But the donor must abide by the maximum contribution limits of $5200 per election cycle to a candidate and $32,400 per year to a national party committee.

This is the second joint fundraising committee formed by Mills and Westrom. In March, they joined with the NRCC to form the Minnesota Congressional Victory Fund. Mills reported receipts of $9,254 from this venture on his April quarterly FEC filing, while Westrom’s share of the proceeds was $16,312.

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.”

MN-08: Republican Legislators Endorse Stewart Mills For Congress

Republican Stewart Mills III of Nisswa has secured endorsements from 16 Republican members of the Minnesota Legislature in his bid for the 8th district congressional seat held by DFL Rep. Rick Nolan of Crosby, his campaign announced Wednesday. This list includes every Republican state representative or state senator whose district encompasses a portion of the 8th congressional district.* mills family

Nine of the legislators endorsing Mills reside in the 8th congressional district:

House Minority Leader Rep. Kurt Daudt of Crown
Rep. Brian Johnson of Cambridge
Rep. Ron Kresha of Little Falls
Rep. Bob Barrett of Lindstrom
Rep. Mark Anderson of Lake Shore
Rep. Sondra Erickson of Princeton
Sen. Paul Gazelka of Nisswa
Sen. Sean Nienow of Cambridge
Sen. Carrie Ruud of Breezy Point

Six represent legislative districts that creep into the 8th congressional district:

Sen. Karin Housley of St. Mary’s Point
Sen. Dave Brown of Becker
Sen. Michelle Benson of Ham Lake
Rep. Steve Green of Fosston
Rep. Jim Newberger of Becker
Rep. Tom Dettmer of Forest Lake

Joining the legislators of the 8th congressional district in endorsing Mills is Rep. Tom Hackbarth of Cedar. Hackbarth’s district is contained within the boundaries of 6th congressional district, but his hometown of Anoka was part of the Fighting 8th during the 1970’s.

In a prepared statement released by the Friends of Stewart Mills, Ruud said that Mills “fits our district,” while Minority Leader Daudt emphasized Mills’ status as a state and local business leader:

Stewart Mills has been an integral business leader in our district and across the state of Minnesota for many years. His leadership and problem solving ability will be a greatly needed addition to Washington.

Mills,41, announced a formal challenge to Nolan, 69, earlier this month and garnered national attention for significantly outraising the incumbent in his first quarter of fundraising. These endorsements from every Republican legislator who represents a portion of the 8th district indicate strong support for his campaign from within the party and are the first to come from Minnesotans. Mills’ only other endorsement in the race comes from former 8th District Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack, who previously issued a statement of support in a fundraising email sent to supporters.

Nolan defeated Cravaack in one of the most hotly contested and expensive congressional races of 2012.The district remains competitive and the 2014 congressional race is once again expected to attract millions in outside spending. Both the Rothenberg Political Report and the Cook Political Report currently rate the district as a ‘Lean Democrat.”

*ICFP noted that Rep. Tom Dettmer was the only Republican legislator representing part of the 8th district who was not included in Mills’ press release. Dettmer could not be reached for comment, but a spokesperson for Friends of Stewart Mills stated that Dettmer had indeed endorsed Mills but was inadvertently omitted from the list.

MN-08: Challenger Mills Outraises Rep. Nolan In Third Quarter Fundraising

Republican Stewart Mills III of Nisswa formally declared his candidacy for 8th district congress just last week, but came out strong Tuesday, releasing a third quarter fundraising report reflecting contributions nearly double the amount raised by DFL Rep. Rick Nolan of Crosby. Mills raised $243,826 for his bid to unseat the incumbant, while Nolan posted receipts of just $129,472, falling short of his second quarter total of $134,764 despite a strong last minute push from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Steve Israel and the DCCC just before the fundraising deadline of Sep. 30.

Nolan received slightly more unitemized individual contributions, reporting $19,497 to Mills’ $19,198, but Mills trounced Nolan in itemized individual contributions, both in number of donors and in dollar amounts. Mills racked up contributions of $218,128 compared to just $48,075 for Nolan. Analysis of individual contributions reveals that Mills raised more money from inside the 8th district, while Nolan raised the bulk of his money from donors outside Minnesota. The breakdown is as follows:

8th District
Mills – $93,178 from 60 individual donors
Nolan – $11,350 from 18 individual donors

Mills – $44,151 from 37 individual donors
Nolan – $13,525 from 17 individual donors

Outside Minnesota
Mills – $80,800 from 35 individual donors
Nolan – $24,100 from 18 individual donors

Nolan’s largest individual donation this quarter came from Bridge Capital CEO John Baldwin of Hayden Lake, Idaho, who contributed the $5200 maximum allowable contribution for the election cycle. In Minnesota, Nolan’s top individual contributors this quarter were Minneapolis lobbyist Jim Erickson, who donated an additional $3950 to max out his contribution to the campaign, and Tofte Management CEO Dennis Rysdal of Schroeder who contributed $2000.

Mills’ report is remarkable in that his largest contributors from inside and outside the 8th district all donated the maximum allowable for the election cycle. Out-of-district donors are David Copham of Fort Myers, Fla.; Ruthann & Thomas Hall of Green Bay, Wis., Sandra Mills of Menasha, Wis.; Travis Mills of Vail, Colo.; Jeff Olcott of Wausau, Wis.; Guy & Karen Smith of Black Creek, Wis; Mark & Shannon Evenstad of Wayzata, Minn; and Robert Ulrich of Edina, Minn. Residents of the 8th district who donated the maximum allowable are Dennis Frandsen of North Branch, Arnold & Joann Johnson of Lake Shore, Heather Mills of Nisswa, and Marissa Mae & Stewart Mills Jr of Brainerd. Candidate Mills also contributed $5200, but under FEC rules is not bound by contribution limits

Donations from political committees/PACs separate the challenger from the incumbent, and here Nolan handily outraised Mills. Mills received contributions totaling only $6,500 from just two organizations, but Nolan raised $61,00 from 33 different political committees, with $26,900 of those donations coming from PACs affiliated with labor. Mills’ top contributor was the Cravaack for Congress Campaign Committee, which donated $4000, the maximum allowable contribution for an authorized political committee. Nolan’s largest contributions this quarter came from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which donated $10,000,the maximum allowable for multicandidate PACs, and from the American Crystal Sugar Corporation, which donated an additional $5000 to max out its contribution to Nolan.

Mills reported no disbursements that appeared to be associated with fundraising, but Nolan’s report reflected at least $13508.22 spent for fundraising – ACT Blue $275.73 (service fees), Katie Connolly $9006.99 (consulting fees $7500, mileage $350.25, expenses $1156.74), Dottie Mavromatis $4225.50 (consulting fee $4000, expenses $225.50)

Both campaigns reported debts. Nolan for Congress disclosed obligations of $50,313 while Friends of Stewart Mills reported $14,608.

Rep. Nolan does have a slight edge over his challenger in cash on hand, reporting $261,00 to Mills’ $234,443.

This is Stewart Mills’ first quarter of fundraising, yet he raised just $174,631 less than Rep. Nolan raised this election cycle- to-date. The breakdown is as follows

Individual Contributions
Mills $243,826
Nolan $147,092

Political Committee Contributions
Mills $6500
Nolan $271,365

The 2012 8th district congressional race was one of the most expensive in the nation and attracted over $9 million in outside spending. Nolan never excelled at fundraising and raised significantly less than Tarryl Clark or Chip Cravaack, yet defeated his well-funded opponents in both the primary and general elections. It is too early to tell how the congressman’s self-imposed limit on time spent fundraising will impact his bid for re-election. But outside groups are already targeting Nolan in radio and TV ads, so the 2014 race is sure to exceed $10 million in outside spending. And the NRCC is certainly impressed with Mills: he’s number one on the list of 5 Republican House Candidates Who Are Outraising Democrat Members Of Congress.

MN-08: Mills Announces Formal Challenge To Nolan

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan of Crosby now has a formal challenger in the 2014 race for 8th District Congress. Mills Fleet Farm Vice President Stewart Mills III of Nisswa made that announcement Thursday at events in Cloquet and Rush City.mills family

Mills said the following in a prepared statement:

I have seen first-hand how overreaching government policies affect Minnesota families. I’m running for Congress because I want to roll up my sleeves and make sure that our government is working for us, not stifling our local job creators and the American dream.

The current government shutdown and impasse in Congress is the perfect example of why Washington needs fresh voices and perspectives to move our country forward. Our government needs to work harder to make sure that no matter what the disagreement, our social contracts are being met, like those to our seniors and veterans. This partisan squabbling is unacceptable.

Mills launched his formal bid to unseat the DFL incumbent at businesses near the Duluth and Twin Cities media that cover the sprawling 8th congressional district, but Friends of Stewart Mills campaign coordinator Isaac Shultz was quick to point out that Mills has recently been to Hoyt Lakes and other cities on the Range.

“Mills enjoyed his visits to the Iron Range and looks forward to going back up there soon,” Schultz said, adding “he’s excited about the opportunities that PolyMet and Twin Metals offer to Rangers and wants to be of assistance in any way he can.”

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin released a statement Thursday blasting Mills as being out of touch with “Minnesotans” and “utterly unqualified to take on the job of U.S. Congressman”:

In announcing he is running for Congress, Stewart Mills III lined up with the extreme Republicans who put thousands of Americans out of work with their senseless government shutdown. Mills III is another Tea Party extremist who would rather hold our nation’s economy hostage to promote a radical agenda rather than solve problems to grow the middle class.

You only get one time to make a first impression, and out of the gate Mills III demonstrated just how out of touch he is with Minnesotans. The last thing Washington needs is another hyper-partisan, uncompromising Tea Partier like Michele Bachmann or Ted Cruz who is long on rhetoric and short on substance. It’s obvious that he is utterly unqualified to take on the job of U.S. Congressman and that he represents exactly what this country is running away from.

Schultz had this to say in response to Martin’s harsh statement:

Stewart Mills is focused on reaching out to voters and discussing the stunning failure of partisan leaders in Washington DC. Instead of reaching commonsense solutions that help grow our economy and reduce the burden of government on working families, Washington insiders are bickering over partisan ideologies.

In June, Mills’ potential candidacy caught the eye of CQ Roll Call, which noted a “Brad Pitt kind of appeal” and we noted the Crow Wing county native could pose a serious challenge to Rep. Nolan. Mills’ decision later that month to launch an exploratory campaign prompted a ratings change in the race, which The Rothenberg Political Report currently rates as a Lean Democrat.

The Nolan campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Mills’ formal entry into the race.

‘No Work No Pay’ Political Theater For Swinging House Freshmen

Furloughed federal employees are suffering the loss of pay during the current government shutdown, a program that provides critical nutrition assistance to low-income women, infants and children is suspended, and recent opinion polls show Congress with a public approval rating significantly lower than Richard Nixon’s just before he resigned the presidency in disgrace, so naturally both Republicans and Democrats see this as the perfect opportunity to break out their song-and-dance routines for the public, hoping to score big political points from the stalemate over implementation of the Affordable Care Act as they head into the midterm elections. Joining House leaders center stage in this warped political theater are three members of the freshman class – a Blue Dog Democrat from Texas, a Tea Party Republican from New York, a Progressive Democrat from Minnesota – who recaptured seats for their respective parties in 2012.

Rep. Pete Gallego (TX-23), Rep. Rick Nolan (MN-8) and Rep. Chris Collins (NY-22) all defeated incumbents from the opposing party in races that attracted millions in outside spending, and all have sponsored legislation affecting pay for Members of Congress during a future government shutdown (the 27th Amendment prohibits changes in compensation from going into effect until the next Congress). Nolan capitalized on public outrage by introducing his bill just as the government was preparing to shut down on Sept. 30 and launching a media blitz in concert with progressive groups such as Courage Campaign, whose executive chairman started the ‘No Pay for Congress During The Shutdown’ petition on Oct. 1. Yet only the bill introduced by Collins on Sept. 20 affects Members’ pay during the current shutdown, and Collins is the only sponsor to date who opted to have his pay voluntarily withheld until the stalemate is resolved.

The Government Shutdown Fairness Act (HR3160) introduced by Tea Party Republican Collins and the No Government No Pay Act of 2013 (HR 3224) introduced by Progressive Democrat Nolan are similar bills to withhold the pay of Members of Congress during a shutdown. The major difference is that Collins’ bill contains a special rule for the current Congress that requires Members’ salaries to be placed in escrow, the same provision contained in the No Budget No Pay Act of 2013 that was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last February.

Blue Dog Democrat Gallego’s Shutdown Pay For Congress Act of 2013 (HR 3215) introduced on Sept. 28 suspends pay for Members of Congress during a shutdown and amends the definition of ‘non-essential’ employees to include Members of Congress. While this bill does not contain a special rule applying to the current Congress, it does exactly what the public wants: it gives Members of Congress a taste of their own medicine by treating them exactly the same way federal ‘non essential’ employees are treated during a government shutdown. Not surprisingly, this bill has been decidedly unpopular with Members of Congress.

All three bills are currently stalled in committee with no hearings scheduled.

The freshmen have taken different approaches to their pay during the current shutdown as well. Rep. Collins was among the first in Congress to request that his pay be withheld for the duration of the current shutdown; and Rep. Gallego opted to continue receiving a paycheck but was one of the first to state that he will donate his salary to ‘an organization that helps military men and women who have been injured’ and encouraged colleagues to follow suit. Rep Nolan stated only that he will donate a ‘considerable portion’ of his salary to ‘Minnesota charities.’

Collins, Gallego and Nolan correctly surmised that public anger over the government shutdown offers a rare opportunity to attract national attention and create buzz in their home districts. Collins, a Tea Partier who needs to appear more moderate in order to dodge the public backlash from the shutdown, Gallego, a Blue Dog in a true swing district and Nolan, a Progressive who recently alienated a substantial part of his base by voting for forestry and mining industry bills that gut environmental protections, all stand to benefit from latching on to an issue so extremely popular with the public. But campaign contributions rather than votes may well be the Holy Grail the three are seeking as they build war chests for the next election. Nolan in particular would benefit from a large infusion of outside cash because he refuses to spend 30 hours per week “dialing for dollars” and struggles with fundraising as a result.

National exposure is the key to securing outside contributions. Gallego and Collins have the edge in mainstream media coverage, and both Collins and Nolan have a substantial presence in non-traditional media. But Nolan has been the most successful at generating publicity and securing public support from allies coast-to-coast via social media, making good use of a ready-made action network at his disposal because of his advocacy for campaign finance reform, which includes introducing the ‘We The People‘ amendment language developed and promoted by Move to Amend. Nolan’s brilliant communications strategy of introducing his bill just as the government was shutting down and then immediately launching an aggressive public relations campaign designed to harness public outrage and position the Northeastern Minnesota congressman as the architect and leader of the ‘no work no pay’ movement paid off by attracting thousands of new fans from outside the 8th District. Nolan is now widely perceived as championing the public outcry against pay for Members of Congress during a government shutdown although it is Gallego’s bill that treats Members like other federal employees during a shutdown and Collins’ bill that actually addresses pay for Members during the current crisis. From the bill title to the sponsored Facebook meme, Nolan’s expertly crafted public relations campaign has been wildly successful in enhancing the Nolan brand with progressives and no doubt endearing him to Democratic leadership as well. It does not however, translate into passing his bill.

While Nolan’s bill enjoys a bandwagon effect in social media, Collins’ legislation is building momentum among Members. On Sept. 30, Nolan had five cosponsors, Collins had 17, Gallego had one. As of Oct. 8, support breaks along party lines with 13 Democrats lining up behind Nolan, three behind Gallego and 44 Republicans backing Collins.

Clearly, Collins and Nolan are heavily invested in generating publicity for their respective positions, but what they choose to sell may tell the real story. Collins is making hay with his voluntary request to have his pay withheld and largely relegating his bill to a secondary position, whereas Nolan is peddling his bill like free beer on the Iron Range yet barely mentions -and is rather vague about- his salary. Standing in stark contrast to the others is Gallego, who employs a straightforward and comparatively low-key approach to addressing both issues that suggests that perhaps this is one congressman whose primary motive is doing the right thing rather than shameless self-promotion. And you just have to admire a Member of Congress who is willing to have himself declared ‘non essential.’

House leaders understand that perception is reality, and both Republicans and Democrats will continue to perform their song and dance routines for as long as the public allows. Hyping ‘no work no pay’ legislation doesn’t change the fact that all three bills are languishing in committee and mired in 2014 election politics. In 2012, Collins defeated Democrat incumbent Kathy Hochul by only a narrow margin in a decidedly Republican district, and both Gallego and Nolan defeated incumbent Republicans who had unseated Democrats in the Tea Party wave of 2010. The Rothenberg Political Report currently rates NY27 as Safe Republican, TX23 as Toss-up/Tilt Democrat and MN8 as Lean Democrat. With the control of the House at stake, Republican Leadership most certainly will not allow either of the Democrat bills to advance, and even the future of the Republican bill is unclear.

But it’ll sure look great on the campaign literature back home.

Nolan Puts Mining Company Interests Above Workers, Communities

Mining is deeply ingrained in the culture of Minnesota’s Iron Range, and this issue more than any other defined the candidates in the 2012 race for 8th district Congress. Candidate Rick Nolan’s position put the Cuyuna Range native on the correct side of the worker v mining company nuance that made him a true ally of Rangers: strongly support mining, but enforce the rules and regulations that protect our environment and the health and safety of our workers. Unfortunately, Congressman Rick Nolan appears to have abandoned this common sense approach in favor of a Company Man position, voting for the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act, legislation he previously vowed he would not support because it expedites the permitting process at the expense of our workers, communities and our environment.

The current legislation, HR 761, is a reincarnation of HR 4402 passed by the US House of Representatives in 2012. DFLer Jeff Anderson, Nolan’s opponent in the primary, and Republican 8th District Rep. Chip Cravaack both strongly supported HR 4402 and criticized Nolan for refusing to do so. In fact, the harshest criticism came from Anderson (now Nolan’s district director), who deliberately and methodically mischaracterized Nolan as being anti-mining. But candidate Nolan was adamant that one did not need to compromise safety rules and regulations in order to expedite the permitting process and repeatedly blasted both for supporting the legislation that was being pushed by right wing Republicans at the behest of the mining companies. Indeed, Nolan made his position quite clear in this statement from July 2012*:

Yet on 18 September 2013, Congressman Nolan voted in favor of HR 761 (legislation that contains language identical to that of HR 4402), a move that stunned many observers, supporters and constituents. And Nolan told the Mesabi Daily News that he’s comfortable with the legislation and continues to insist we don’t need to sacrifice safety in order to expedite permitting:

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.


When questioned about the change in his position, the Duluth News-Tribune reports

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.


Does that mean that candidate Rick Nolan didn’t understand the issue or truly support mining as alleged by his former primary opponent and current district director Jeff Anderson?

Does it mean ‘screw our workers, screw our communities, screw our environment – mining projects come first at all costs?’

Or does it mean that staffers have convinced Nolan to compromise his beliefs and take the easy road to favorable headlines in order to boost his support on the Iron Range as he heads into an election year?

Nolan’s press release does nothing to clarify his position and offers little more than Orwellian doublespeak:

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.

What we do know is that Congressman Nolan firmly believed that provisions in last year’s bill were harmful to workers, harmful to the environment and harmful to communities, and that gutting rules and regulations was not necessary to expedite the permitting process. We know that he clearly stated he would not support that bill. And we know he inexplicably reversed his position and chose to vote for a bill introduced this year that contained identical language.

Going back on one’s word and throwing our workers, environment and communities under the bus in order to further the interests of the mining companies is a questionable strategy at best, and definitely not what one would expect from a candidate who campaigned on a theme of integrity and changing the way we do politics ‘Because you matter’.

Congressman Nolan certainly got the headlines he wanted, but at what cost?

*Text of Nolan’s statement in the above video is as follows: “….HR 4402 that was passed by the House of Representatives here recently ostensibly to expedite the process, and to the extent that it does that I would quite frankly have no problem with that legislation. But careful observers and journals all around the country and around the Congress say that the bill does more than that. I don’t know if Jeff (Anderson) just read the Republican press releases or if he’s actually read the bill. The fact is that the bill guts many environmental health and safety provisions for workers, for the community, for the environment. It guts provisions requiring mining companies to pay royalties and to forego many of the rules and regulations…. Democrats and Republicans both support mining. The primary difference is the fact that Democrats insist on rules and regulations to protect the health and safety of workers, to protect the health and safety of our communities, the health and safety of our water and natural resources and our heritage. Make no mistake about it – mining is very, very important for our region, but so are the pensions of the workers and the health and safety of the people who work in those mines and the footprint that will be left behind. That is every bit as important. Mining has a time-certain limitation on it. The long range consequences are something that will be with us not simply for a lifetime. They will be with us here forever. So don’t underestimate under any circumstances the importance of stepping up and making sure that we insist on these kind of protections for the people here now today and for future generations.”

MN-08: Still Swinging In 2014?

Once upon a time the 8th congressional district was the merry-go-round of the political playground in Minnesota, occasionally spinning fast enough to make one dizzy but never doing any real damage to its long time rider, a popular kid named Jim. But the neighborhood was getting bigger, and one day a new kid called Chip appeared out of nowhere and destroyed the much-loved ride. So the children were forced to the swing set, forever doomed to sway to and fro, until Jim’s old friend Rick jumped off his swing and knocked Chip to the ground. But now Stewart has suddenly appeared on the playground to block Rick’s run for the merry-go-round, leaving observers wondering if the children of northern Minnesota will ever get off the swings long enough to rebuild the old ride.

So goes the story of how the 8th congressional district morphed from a DFL stronghold into a DFL-leaning swing district, safe for Democrats only in the absence of a strong Republican challenger. Whether Democrats can transform the district back to a safe seat hinges on the results of the 2014 race, and it appears that Congressman Rick Nolan of Crosby may be facing a strong Republican opponent. Indeed, the potential candidacy of Mills Fleet Farm CEO Stewart Mills III of Nisswa recently attracted the attention of Roll Call:

Just the name, Stewart Mills III, sounds like a stereotypical Republican, but the shoulder-length hair is evidence that he might be a different type of GOP candidate. If he decides to run, as most observers expect, Mills will be a stark contrast to the 69-year-old congressman who is serving his first term after his first tenure in Congress in the late 1970s.

Republican sources from both the northern and southern parts of the District express enthusiasm for Mills’ candidacy, noting he has a strong libertarian streak and will likely run as an “anti-establishment regular guy.” Mills, who has a young family, worked his way up from mechanic to CEO in the family business, strongly opposes gun control and is a car buff, avid hunter and outdoors sports enthusiast – a profile that is very appealing to Northern Minnesota residents and could help him win the support of Independents, Conservative Democrats, and Iron Rangers.

But while Republicans see a golden opportunity to swing the 8th district back into the red, most Democrats continue to see the seat as safely blue and blow Mills off as a joke. A few long time activists and party strategists, however, strongly disagree with that assessment and see the potential for a serious threat in an off-year election. According to a Democrat source who has run many successful campaigns in the 8th District, Stewart Mills could be “a real problem for Nolan if he runs a good campaign,” noting that Mills and his extended family are popular in the area and that they treat their employees well. And Nolan has some vulnerabilities that are particularly worrisome for Democrats as they face an early Republican challenger.

First, Nolan’s age may again be an issue. During the DFL primary race, Nolan was repeatedly criticized for being too old to serve in the Congress. His age became less of a problem as voters got to know the now 69-year-old congressman, yet some who eventually supported him remain uneasy. “People like youth,” notes one concerned DFL party regular who preferred to remain anonymous. A challenge from the 41-year-old Mills will likely serve to reignite the debate among Democrats as well as among voters at large.

Second, Nolan’s popularity on the Iron Range is not what it should be for a DFL congressman. A DFL primary opponent incessantly pounded on Nolan for being anti-mining, a misrepresentation which is now an albatross hanging around Rep. Nolan’s neck. And recent gaffes surrounding the EPA and mining and the issues in the Hwy 169 expansion, as well as a general perception the congressman is playing both sides on the mining issue, have contributed further to what is described as a rather lackadaisical attitude towards Nolan on the Range.

Third, the newly-elected congressman’s grip on the 8th district is tenuous. Nolan defeated Rep. Chip Cravaack by nine percentage points, but lost all but one county in the southern part of the district, including his home of Crow Wing County. Nolan made up the difference in the north, carrying St Louis County by 27% – up 10 points from the previous election,yet falling far short of the 50%+ margins Oberstar enjoyed prior to 2010. A strong challenge by Mills, who also has deep family roots in Crow Wing County, could further erode Nolan’s support in the heavily populated Brainerd Lakes Area and spell trouble for the congressman if he has not shored up his base in Duluth and on the Iron Range.

Congressman Nolan doesn’t have an easy path to re-election in 2014, but unseating the incumbent will be a difficult task for challenger Mills. The Minnesota GOP is in a state of both financial and ideological turmoil, and at this point it is unclear if the factions can unite to mount a successful challenge to Nolan. And it is unknown what kind of candidate Mills will be or if he can successfully distance himself from the substantial baggage Cravaack left behind. But the changing political culture of the region may work to Mills’ benefit. Election results over the past decade reflect a waning allegiance to Democrats across Northeastern Minnesota, and voting Republican is no longer considered the unforgivable mortal sin it once was on the Range. The “anti-establishment regular guy” candidacy of Stewart Mills could seriously challenge Rick Nolan on the heavily DFL Iron Range, particularly if Mills adopts a reasonable stand on the mining issue that balances the needs of the industry with those of the residents and workers rather than the ‘company man’ deregulate-the-industry approach espoused by Cravaack.

The possibility of the 8th district swinging back to Republican control in 2014 has captured the interest of The Rothenberg Political Report, which writes

It remains to be seen how Mills performs as a candidate, but this looks like a district Democrats may not be able to take for granted. The Rothenberg Political Report currently rates the race as Safe for the Democrats — pending a final decision from Mills.