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Nolan: Time to govern

Less than a full week into his second stint as a congressman, Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., is anxious to get to work.

In his first phone news conference with Minnesota reporters, the rural Crosby DFLer voiced a concern that he emphasized during his successful bid to unseat Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., in November. Congress, he said should spend more time in session. Looking back at his first term in Congress in 1975, Nolan estimated the representatives were in session 48 out of 52 weeks with most of those weeks consisting of four- or five-day work weeks. That compares with the current term with plans for Congress to be working 32 of 52 weeks, with most of those weeks two-day work weeks.

“We’re only scheduled to work 124 days this coming year,” he said. “Congress has to get back into the business of governance.

Nolan’s spokesman, Steve Johnson, said later Monday he believed there were 125 days listed on the House calendar.

Any chance for collaboration or cooperation comes from time spent with committee members getting to know each other and learning where their interests are compatible and where they’re not, he said.

“The Congress is not governing,” he said. “Right now the ag committee should be meeting, looking at a reenactment of the farm bill, looking where money can be saved.”

On Tuesday, Nolan was appointed to the Agriculture Committee, a post he had sought and a panel that he had served on during his first three terms in Congress. He said the Agriculture Committee has jurisdiction regarding the U.S. Forest Services and he wants to deal with a number of trade issues establishing a fair competitive market for those in the forest-related industries. He said he’ll also work for a sustainable food and agriculture policy for the producers of corn, wheat and beans, one that will be more supportive of small and family-operated farms.

Earlier, Nolan had been named to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. On that panel, Nolan said, clean air and water legislation and Amtrak legislation all need to be crafted. He said he also wants to upgrade the nation’s “old and crumbling infrastructure,” which include bridges in need of repair.

Fresh off a congressional race in which in excess of $20 million was spent — most of that donated by outside sources — Nolan has pledged to introduce legislation that would provide a constitutional amendment to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Although he said he was outspent in both the primary and general election, typically, he maintained the candidate with the most money receives the most votes. Members of Congress, he said are expected to spend about 30 hours a week on the phone asking for money, in addition to conducting fundraisers.

While admitting that a constitutional amendment was a long, laborious process, Nolan said reforms could come quicker if new U.S. Supreme Court justices are appointed.

“This is one constitutional amendment that is very, very possible,” he said. “House Republicans are not very supportive as a group. I’m reasonably optimistic that something can be done here. Sometimes you just have to step up and lead the charge and do the educating.”

Nolan said he didn’t plan to spend 30 hours a week asking for contributions but admitted that one has to play by the rules of the game in order to have enough money to win.

“If I did absolutely nothing, I’d be on the outside looking in,” he said.

The biggest opportunity for federal spending cuts, Nolan said is in the military.

“We don’t need to be the world’s policeman,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t need a strong defense.”

Responding to a question regarding gun control, Nolan said the government should be supportive of mental health care to prevent those rare occasions where people with mental health problems turn violent. He also called for outlawing assault weapons and called for reasonable and sensible restrictions such strengthening background checks.

“I’m a hunter,” he said. “I don’t need an assault rifle to shoot a duck and protect my family. I don’t need a magazine clip with 50 shells in it.”

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860