Saturday, September 13, 2014

Send Rick Nolan Back to the House

There are a lot of things wrong with Congress, but Rick Nolan isn't one of them.

Representing Minnesota's huge 8th congressional district (which runs from just north the Twin Cities to the Canadian border, and two-thirds of the way toward North Dakota), Nolan was elected in 2012. But the unusual thing about him is that he also served in the House from 1974 to 1980 as part of the "Watergate Class." He decided not to stand for reelection in 1980, going on to run businesses in Minnesota until he gave it a go again a few years ago.

Nolan has a perspective almost no one else has: He sees how Congress was when it could get things done, and before big money changed it into the mess it is today. As he said on NPR just after he was elected:
One [way that Congress is different now] is that [it] no longer works in the same number of hours and the same manner that it once did. My first term of service, we worked 48 out of the 52 weeks. If you look at the schedule for the coming year, Congress is scheduled to work 32 out of the 52 weeks. Secondly, most of our weeks were four and five-day weeks and they were all day-long.

Now, a day is defined quite differently. On Tuesday or Monday, you go in at 6:00 in the evening is when you have your votes scheduled. What you don't finish up on that evening, you finish up the next day and the following morning at best....

[In the 1970s] we were meeting in committees every day, getting to know one another and in the process, developing a measure of respect for one another and in the process, learning where the opportunities for cooperation, collaboration existed. Every bill that I passed, I had a Republican partner. I put together a presidential commission on world hunger.
Nolan also has spoken out to decry how the rest of a member of Congress's time is used:
NOLAN: We’re told should be spending 30 hours a week in fundraising and call time dialing for dollars.

CHUCK TODD: Let me stop you there [...] They want you to spend 30 hours a week making phones calls?

NOLAN: For money. And you know I’m not going to do that, I haven’t done that. I’m here to govern. But the fact is my last election contest years ago I think I spent $250,000. The total amount of money in my election contest this year was well over $20 million. You know, back when I was here before that was more than was spent in the presidential contest! We need to change the way we do politics. We need to take money out of politics, and the Congress needs to go back to work governing.
Now Nolan is running for reelection and his opponent, Stewart Mills III, appears to be from Hollywood central casting: 42-year-old wealthy heir to a regional retail giant, good-looking, even quirky (wearing longish Brad Pitt hair and casual clothes while Tweeting photos of his visits to kitschy landmarks in the district). Millions of dollars in dark money is being spent on ads against Nolan because Republicans think the seat is one they can win.

Today's Star Tribune story on the race presents both the challenge and the challenger. Mills is paraphrased as saying Nolan "is too deeply embedded in the Washington establishment," which is clearly not true, given the story's lead, which describes how Nolan refuses to stick to Democratic party talking points and works against policies that he sees hurting his district. (Policies that I personally would agree with, by the way -- the 8th is a district torn on environmental issues, given its economy split between mining and nature-based tourism.)

Here's another way that Nolan shows he isn't a Washington insider:
...this week [he] proposed reforms to Congress that would ban fundraising during Washington work periods and limit spending on congressional campaigns to a period 60 days before an election. He said change is needed because “it’s too much money and not enough governance.”
Banning fundraising during the Washington work week. What a concept! I think a lot of people would agree with that.

You know who will be a Washington insider, if he gets there? Stewart Mills III.

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