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Nolan: He and opponent are poles apart

Attempting a return to Congress more than 30 years after leaving Washington D.C., Brainerd native Rick Nolan said he and his opponent Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., couldn’t be more different politically.

“He and I are just on opposite poles,” the 1962 Washington High School graduate said at the north Brainerd campaign headquarters for his DFL-endorsed challenge. That polarity was apparent in a late September interview at his headquarters.

Nolan, who handily won a three-candidate primary despite being outspent by one opponent, outlined his views on foreign policy, the economy and stated why he thought he had a perspective that would better serve 8th District constituents.

The 8th District DFL office, a typical makeshift political campaign post, was staffed largely by campaign aides weren’t born when Nolan was first elected to represent the 6th District in Congress in a wave of post-Watergate Democrats that included Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., who began the first of his 18 terms representing northeastern Minnesota.

Cravaack, who lives in North Branch, unseated Oberstar in an upset and is seeking re-election for the first time.

While acknowledging Cravaack has a home in North Branch and there’s no legal requirement for a U.S. representative to live in the district, Nolan says his own long-standing roots in northern Minnesota give him a better feeling for the district.

Cravaack, in comparison, is not originally from the 8th District and his family currently lives in the eastern United States, Nolan said.

“I’ve been here all my life,” Nolan said. “That just gives me a much better perspective.”

Nolan said reasons why compromise is so difficult in Congress are because the elected representatives work a short work week, get their marching orders from party leaders and never get to know each other. Areas of possible compromise are never discovered, Nolan said, “if you don’t sit down and talk to each other.” He advocates a five-day work week for Congress.

Describing himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, Nolan said he has concerns about government intruding on citizens’ personal lives. As a businessman, he said he knows the importance of cutting spending where there is no return on investment and in spending more where there is a return.

One way for the U.S. to get its spending under control, he said is to end the “wars of choice” and “nation-building” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s not wanted,” he said. “It’s not welcome. Stop that waste of blood and treasure.”

The U.S. should always be supportive of people with democratic aspirations, Nolan said, although he noted that many of the nations in the Mideast are dominated by kingdoms, such as Saudi Arabia, and history indicates that when the U.S. aligns itself with such autocratic rulers it amounts to looking for trouble. In particular, he voiced criticism of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

“We should maintain a cautious observation and a willingness to help facilitate and collaborate with those regimes...that appear to have the best interests of their country at heart,” he said.

Money spent on those wars and on nation-building, the Crosby area resident said, should be spent to help balance the budget and to invest in U.S. infrastructure and in human development.

Additionally, Nolan said he wants to end the Bush tax cuts for billionaires and millionaires and use money from a more efficient health care system. Changes in the nation’s tax and trade policies aimed at incentivizing domestic manufacturing are also necessary, according to Nolan, founder of the Minnesota World Trade Center.

“We incentivize out-sourcing,” he said. “I think we need to flip that.”

He doesn’t see the urgency that others see in fixing the Social Security and Medicare systems. Social Security payments, he said, are earned benefits and not entitlements. Dire predictions of the future of those two programs are projections, he said. One of the tools that could be used to address Social Security weaknesses would be to lift the cap on income that’s taxable, the candidate said. Nolan said the nation’s first priority is to get the current fiscal house in order.

“Social Security and Medicare are not the problem at the time,” he said.

On the topic of immigration Nolan said it’s not practical to round up and send the millions of undocumented immigrants back their countries. Instead he calls for a reasonable path to citizenship and a strengthening of U.S. borders.

“We need to stem or curb the flow (of undocumented immigrants),” he said.

The legislation leading to automatic spending cuts which are now scheduled to take effect in January are “totally irresponsible” in Nolan’s view.

He criticized Congress for taking a two-month vacation on the heels of a recent one-month vacation, as the nation approaches the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic cuts and tax hikes. He said he would welcome the chance to sit down and meet with other House members and make cuts that might avoid the automatic cuts. Leaving Washington, D.C., with that unfinished business, he wondered out loud how some members of Congress could have the audacity to submit their names for re-election.

If he’s elected, Nolan said he would seek a spot on the Transportation and Infrastructure and the Natural Resources committees. He pointed that he would return to Congress with the seniority of a fourth-term member and possibly could be awarded a subcommittee chair. The former congressman and state lawmaker would like to see the North Star rail line extended further into the 8th District. As evidence for the need to build our infrastructure he cited a 2011 Minnesota Department of Transportation study that said there were 223 deficient bridges in the 8th District. The Aug. 1, 2007, collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis a few years ago was cited by Nolan to indicate how serious this problem can be.

“It’s not hyperbole when you say they’re falling down,” Nolan said.

Nolan criticized his rival for not being supportive for air service to outstate communities. Cravaack, according to Nolan, favored doing away with Essential Air Service funding for outstate airports, although Nolan said the Republican has backed away from that position.

“I also know air transportation is an integral and critical part of any region’s economic success,” he said.

Cravaack said his comments on EAS were made when he was bargaining with U.S. senators who refused to negotiate on the topic. (A more detailed explanation of Cravaack’s position may be found in the accompanying voter’s guide story on the congressman.)

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