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.

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.

Wow.

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.

Huh?

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.”

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.

Bachmann, Tea Party disrupt White House Easter Egg Hunt

Tea Party Chip Cravaack prepares for White House Easter Egg Hunt

Tea Party Chip Cravaack prepares for White House Easter Egg Hunt

The annual White House Easter Egg Hunt typically provides a respite from politics and thus is eagerly anticipated by adults as well as children. But today the joyous celebration was briefly disrupted by members of the Tea Party who were convinced the eggs posed a threat to the future security of this country.

Shortly before the hunt was scheduled to begin Monday morning, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN6) held a press conference in front of the White House to praise President Obama for finally taking a proactive stance against terrorism.

“First, I want to personally thank President Obama for calling today’s hunt.
For years. I’ve tried to persuade this Administration to aggressively track down and eliminate those who seek to do this country harm. I’m so relieved the threat posed by these covert foreign agents is finally being taken seriously by the White House,” said Bachmann

Even members of the press corps accustomed to her ramblings were taken off guard. Reporters exchanged confused glances in stunned silence until someone from the Congresswoman’s home state finally asked “Uh, are you referring to the Easter eggs?”

“Those are terror babies!” shot back Bachmann, as she swept her arm towards the brightly colored eggs littering the South Lawn. “You know, they start out little like this and then they hatch and before you know it, they’ve turned our children against us. Those fluffy ducklings and chicks, they’re so cute and the kids follow them everywhere and think ‘Wow! They’re really neat, I want to be just like them.’ Then pretty soon terrorists have infiltrated every lake, creek and river in the country, not to mention the parks and farmland. Their mission is to control our waterways and destroy our agriculture industry.”

“We’ll all starve to death unless we eliminate this threat!” Bachmann declared as a black SUV sporting ‘Live Free or Die’ license plates and packed with Tea Partiers screeched to a halt in front of her.

“Did someone say hunt?” eagerly panted former Minnesota Congressman Chip Cravaack as he leaped from the vehicle brandishing his AR-15’s. “You betcha,” hollered back Sarah Palin as they charged ahead to attack the unsuspecting Easter eggs.”Cmon Chip, you shoot ’em and I’ll field dress ’em!”

While startled reporters and onlookers ducked for cover, Bachmann continued unfazed. “My favorite gun is an AR-15 because you can be so accurate with it,” she observed with smiling admiration as bits of eggs and colored shells flew in every direction across the South Lawn before the Tea Partiers were tackled by stunned secret service agents.

“You can’t prepare for this kind of crazy” declared President Obama, defending his security team, “I mean, terror babies… shooting Easter eggs… just what the hell is in that tea they’re drinking?

Children who watched the scene were disgusted as well. “If they didn’t know how to make egg salad, they should have just asked for help,” firmly declared a 4-year-old boy while brushing pieces of egg off his shirt.

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: Radical Rick Nolan Returns To Washington

During the recent election Rep Chip Cravaack and his extremist friends repeatedly pounded away at former Congressman Rick Nolan for being “liberal and radical”, and warned voters Nolan would continue his “radical ways” if returned to Congress. Well, Radical Rick soundly defeated Tea Party Chip on November 6, and in a telephone news conference Monday, the 8th District congressman-elect outlined his radical agenda: changing the way we do politics by getting big special interest money out of elections, supporting a national light rail transit system, and passing sensible BWCA land swap legislation that represents the best interests of northern Minnesota residents.

In the early morning phone call with reporters, Nolan said he was optimistic that a BWCA land exchange bill could still be passed this year, but without the problematic provisions of Cravaack’s bill: exempting lands from the Thye-Blatnik Act, which would result in millions of lost revenue for Lake, Cook and St Louis counties; weakening protections normally afforded to federal lands; potentially allowing logging and mining interests to avoid paying revenue due to the taxpayers for use of the land. Radical Rick noted there is currently no companion bill in the Senate, and indicated he would ask Senators Franken and Klobuchar to introduce legislation that could garner bi partisan support for the land exchange and enable its passage before this session of Congress adjourns.

This new approach to the BWCA land swap highlights the difference in representation 8th district residents will notice in many areas over the coming months. Whereas Tea Party Chip’s first statements as congressman-elect were to oppose funding for the new terminal at the Duluth International Airport and for the Northern Lights Express, Radical Rick voiced strong support for a national light rail transit system, which he said would “create jobs and provide a cost effective and sensible” means of transport. And Nolan emphasized we need to continue funding for northern Minnesota airports, funding that Cravaack voted to cut or eliminate during his single term in Congress.

Nolan was also critical of the role money now plays in politics, describing it as “dangerous and threatening to our democracy”. “Members should be beholden to the public and not to the highest bidder,” he continued, and under the current system “Members spend too much time fundraising and not enough time governing.” Radical Rick plans to introduce legislation providing for federal funding for campaigns, limiting the amount of time Members devote to campaigning, and overturning the Citizen’s United ruling.

Nolan made these comments as he headed out to Washington DC for what will be his second freshman orientation. He was first elected to Congress in 1974 and served until 1980, experience that gives him a significant edge over new Members. And Nolan retains seniority from his previous service which will likely assist him in securing assignments to committees key to the 8th district: Natural Resources, and Transportation and Infrastructure. Nolan said he is eager to get to work and is particularly looking forward to the National Mining Association reception for Members of Congress this week. And the Cuyuna Range native noted that his family will continue to live in northern Minnesota “I’m just going to find a room right close by the Capitol where I can stay when Congress is in session. We’ll keep our home up in Crow Wing County where we’ve been all our lives”

Yep, that’s radical for an 8th district congressman all right.

MN-08: Veda Ponikvar Calls Out Chip Cravaack In New TV Ads

Not much gets past Iron Range publishing icon Veda Ponikvar.

The 93 years young Ponikvar (who earned the moniker “Iron Lady” for her battle against the Steel Trust), has watched in disgust as Rep Chip Cravaack blundered and lied through his 2 years in Congress.

Well, the Iron Lady is mad and she’s not going to take it any more. So Ponikvar recently teamed up with award winning documentary filmmaker Tom Selinski to produce two new TV ads for the group Regular Folks From The Range.

Registered with the FEC as an electioneering and communications organization, Regular Folks From The Range does not endorse any particular candidate, but focuses on informing the public about Chip Cravaack’s abysmal voting record and embarrassing performance in Congress through ads currently running on cable TV throughout the 8th district.

Their first ad, ‘Company Man‘, featuring respected union members pointing out that Cravaack sides with the mining companies and not workers, has proven highly effective.

Last Friday, the group launched its final salvo with Ponikvar starring in ads exposing Cravaack’s appalling record on the public health crises of autism and breast cancer. Ponikvar’s simple message “He seems to take care of himself, but not us” is sure to resonate with voters throughout the district who have watched Cravaack engage in a pathetic game of political dodge ball in recent weeks.

MN-08: A Packsacker And A Ranger Go Deer Hunting…

Deer hunting is a time honored tradition in northern Minnesota, and many look forward to gathering with friends and family at the hunting shack every fall. Former Congressman Rick Nolan (a native of the Cuyuna Iron Range), took time off from the campaign trail this weekend, explaining he’s never missed a deer opener. Much like a fourth-grader with a broken leg who doesn’t want to be left behind when the rest of the class heads out for dodge ball, Rep. Chip Cravaack (a packsacker who’s primary residence is in New Hampshire) cried ‘me too’ and limped along on his own, seemingly unaware of how the game is played. Pictures speak a thousand words….

A Ranger preparing for deer hunting

A Packsacker preparing for deer hunting

A Packsacker on the opening day of deer season

A Ranger on the opening day of deer season