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Mills will seek to unseat Nolan in 8th District

Stewart Mills III, vice president of Mills Fleet Farm, announced Wednesday his candidacy for Minnesota’s 8th District congressional seat.

His Wednesday schedule called for him to meet with Twin Cities media and also make stops in Cambridge and Duluth.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to get off the bench and to be a voice in the process of reflecting the priorities of the people of the 8th District,” he said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. The interview was conducted on the condition that it not be released until his official announcement was made Wednesday.

He will seek the Republican Party endorsement and attempt to unseat Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., who was elected to his second stint in Congress in 2012.

Mills lives in Nisswa and works out of Mills’ corporate office on Laurel Street in Brainerd. Nolan lives in rural Crosby.

The political newcomer cited the district’s high unemployment rate and his own experience in managing a work force of more than 6,000 people.

“I know firsthand the hurdles and handicaps placed on us by Washington, D.C.,” he said. “We have been hit very hard due to Obamacare.”

He predicted the health care situation would be “even a bigger train wreck” in the future because of fees and surcharges.

While Mills said there were health care problems before Obamacare the situation has gotten worse. He said the government has hijacked the health care system.

“I am for the free market and consumerism to drive health care rather than government dictates by Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It certainly had room for improvement but what they’re doing is taking it in the wrong direction.”

Mills, 41, said he has respect for the U.S. Constitution that includes but is not limited to the Second Amendment.

An open video letter to Nolan, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., criticizing Nolan’s comments on gun control went viral and prompted many of Mills’ friends to ask him to consider a run for Congress.

This is Mills’ first run for political office. Before this year his primary involvement in politics was in Brainerd Police Officer Troy Schreifels’ campaign for Crow Wing County sheriff in 2006. He said his activity was largely due to Schreifels being his best friend.

The Mills executive said his family has a long history of creating jobs and Washington, D.C., has been part of the problem rather than part of the solution. He blamed government’s regulations and punitive tax policies for inhibiting job growth.

“I’m fed up with — as a businessperson who is a job creator — having Washington, D.C., hold us back from the number of jobs we could be creating.”

Mills said he could not commit to abiding by the decision of the Republican Party’s 8th Congressional District endorsing convention.

“There could be some sort of situation that may cause me to not abide by it,” he said.

Stating that he wouldn’t ask supporters to do something he wasn’t prepared to do, he said he would contribute to his own campaign, but he would also be fundraising.

Scheduled events for Mills on Wednesday included trips to London Road Rentals to discusss jobs and the economy with business owners Jerry and Cathy Kortesmaki and a tour of construction of the Mills Fleet Farm in Cambridge to discuss job creation.

While Mills said he had respect for Nolan and his inside political knowledge he believed voters would see the difference between the “hometown Rick Nolan” who says he supports veterans and the one in Washington D.C. who voted against a recent Veterans Administration bill.

Nolan, in a news release, said earlier that his vote against the bill was a protest vote in support of America’s veterans because the bill fell far short of the funding that was appropriate.

Mills said only four representatives voted against what he termed a widely supported bipartisan bill.

“I feel the people of the 8th District should have a congressman, not a protester,” Mills said.

The married father of five, Mills has worked in his family’s businesses in a variety of positions since the age of 14. After graduation from Northwood University with a degree in business administration in 1995, Mills entered Fleet Farm’s store management program, working at a number of different Fleet Farm stores. He served as director of personnel for FleetFarm from 2000-2010, overseeing the administration and the work force as well as health insurance, 401-K, profit-sharing and other benefit plans. Mills is also the originator of, health care plans, Mills Indoor Shooting and Archery and the “We Love It! Outdoors” television series.

Community organizations Mills has been involved in include being a board member of the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police Foundation. He is the creator of the Louis Hostager Award, given annually in conjunction with the Brainerd Family YMCA. He has also supported the Salvation Army Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and the Women’s Center of Mid-Minnesota.

The Mills companies were started in 1922 in Brainerd by Stewart Mills Sr., with an emphasis in the automotive industry. The Fleet Farm component was added by Stew Mills Jr. and Hank Mills in 1955. Mills Fleet Farm was described in Mills’ biography as a growing, closely held, multi-generational family business with 32 retail locations. The statement said the Mills companies are headed by Henry Mills II and Stew Mills Jr., assisted by their children, Charlie, Andrew, Marisa, and Stewart.

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