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Nolan endorsed for re-election

NASHWAUK — News of former Rep. Jim Oberstar’s death earlier Saturday heightened emotions at a DFL 8th Congressional District endorsing convention that endorsed Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., by acclamation in his re-election bid.

Nolan, the rural Crosby businessman who started a second stint in Congress after unseating Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack in 2012, said he had known the longtime DFL 8th District congressman since the two of them were young staffers in Washington, D.C., some 50 years ago. Oberstar worked for then-U.S. Rep. John Blatnik and Nolan worked for then-Sen. Walter Mondale. Later, the two men were elected to Congress for the first time together in 1974.

In his acceptance speech at Saturday’s convention at the Nashwauk Recreation Center, Nolan grew emotional as he remembered Oberstar. He said there was usually a light on in Oberstar’s office long after most representatives had gone home.

“Nobody worked harder than Jim Oberstar,” Nolan said. “There was nobody more highly regarded than Jim Oberstar. We will never be able to replace Jim Oberstar. He was such a great leader.”

At Nolan’s urging the DFL delegates gave the late congressman, who died Saturday at his Maryland home, a standing ovation. Earlier, 8th District DFL Chair Don Bye, who has a home in Pequot Lakes, opened the meeting with a moment of silence. Many of the delegates first learned about Oberstar’s death after their arrival at the convention.

Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, was one of those who was shocked by Saturday morning’s news. He told delegates the former 8th District representative would have told them to move forward. Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, read the crowd a message from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., relating to Oberstar’s death.

“We lost a giant last night,” Franken wrote in his message.

Radinovich urged DFLers to dig deep in their support of the party and to unite in their common purpose “to send Democrats like Rick Nolan to Congress.” After his speech, the youngest member of the Minnesota Legislature described Oberstar as a personal hero.

“His work in northeastern Minnesota will possibly never be matched,” Radinovich said.

Oberstar, Minnesota’s longest serving congressman, represented the northeastern Minnesota district for 36 years, from 1975 to 2011, before he was upset by Cravaack.

Nolan, who previously served in Congress form 1975 to 1981, said his generation had benefited greatly from America’s bounty and they were bound to see that similar opportunities are available to younger generations.

“That’s what the DFL is all about, paying it forward.” he said in his address.

He said that in today’s economy, middle class citizens are getting crushed while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. He criticized the disproportionate amount of taxes middle income earners pay compared to millionaires.

“Nobody’s suggesting we should be punishing the rich in America,” he said. “How about having them pay their fair share?”

Nolan accused right wing conservatives and Republicans of waging a war on women, workers, the environment and on President Barack Obama.

“They are shameless,” he said. “They are unrelenting and that is our challenge.”

The incumbent U.S. representative criticized his Republican-endorsed opponent, Stewart Mills III of Nisswa, for his opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to raising the minimum wage. Nolan disagreed with Mills’ call to replace the ACA with a free market-based system.

“The free market didn’t take care of it,” Nolan said. “That’s why we have the ACA.”

Nolan credited Minnesotans’ efforts to achieve marriage equality and to stop voter suppression. He pledged a deep commitment to protect the state’s land, air and water, noting this was not the 1950s when businesses and industries dumped pollutants in public waters.

Calling the current Congress the “most unproductive Congress in the history of the U.S.,” Nolan said he worked hard to secure an amendment that shut down the lock and dam at St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis as part of the state’s “last, best chance to stop Asian carp.” Nolan also pointed out that he helped secure $10 million to expand the Duluth harbor. Nolan said Minnesotans only receives 65 cents for every dollar they send to Washington, far less than many other states.

“We are on a mission to even the score,” he said.

The candidate also touted a Time magazine story that identified him as a leader who spoke out in an effort to keep the U.S. out of a war in Syria.

“It’s high time we put an end to these wars of choice,” Nolan said.

Nolan said he wanted to see public financing of campaigns to reduce money’s influence, to raise the minimum wage, noting two-thirds of those who earn it are women, to see a reversal of the Citizens United case and to continue to improve the ACA.

“We’re not done with this thing until we have single payer, universal (health system),” he said.

As he concluded, Nolan mentioned that Democrats were a little complacent in 2010 (when Cravaack defeated Oberstar). He said his party would have to work hard to turn out like-minded voters during a non-presidential election year when turnout is traditionally lower.

The location of the endorsing convention was changed relatively late in the game, when union officials raised concerns the previously chosen motel was not an appropriate venue. The Timberlake Lodge in Grand Rapids, union officials said in a letter, was built almost entirely by non-union workers and the staff is non-union.

In a brief interview just outside the dry hockey arena where delegates met, Nolan said he was ready to debate his opponent but wasn’t sure that it would happen since Mills seemed to have set so many conditions before a debate could be conducted. “I’m available,” he said, joking that the only venue he might veto was a Mills family reunion.

“I’m very fond of the Mills family,” he said, noting they have made many contributions to the Brainerd area.

As Nolan’s interview with a reporter concluded first-term Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, offered his comment on the upcoming race.

“The only Mills we want on the (Iron) Range are the ones that produce steel,” he said.

MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at 855-5860 or Follow on Twitter 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