Minnesota’s 8th District is the battleground of one of the nation’s most expensive congressional races.
On one side, we have the folksy and experienced lawmaker in incumbent Democrat Rick Nolan who once earned a living operating a northern Minnesota sawmill. On the other side is the flashy and younger Republican challenger, Stewart Mills III, who came up through the ranks of his family business, Fleet Farm.
The candidates are as different as the constituents in the congressional district they hope to represent.
The 2016 election marks the second time Nolan and Mills have squared off at the polls. In the 2014 election for the congressional seat, Nolan defeated Mills by a 1.4 percent margin. Just 3,732 votes separated the two candidates.
Voters were divided in 2014, and so was the ECM Editorial Board, which saw potential in both candidates and endorsed both Nolan and Mills as strong advocates of their positions on big issues.
The ECM Editorial Board has met with both candidates and, two years later, we still like both candidates.
In his meeting with this editorial board, Mills was decisive in his comments and gave intelligent, well-thought-out answers to nearly a dozen questions posed to him. For that reason, we endorse Mills in 2016.
There is a lot to like about Mills. But there is also an issue that left us conflicted.
Mills has been accused of making Facebook posts with an off-color, sometimes vulgar attempt at humor. Some of the posts dealt with domestic assault issues. Others were sexual in nature. The posts date back as far as 2009, with others in 2011 and 2012. The posts have been removed from Mills’ Facebook page.
Mills didn’t run for office until 2014.
The Twin Cities alternative newspaper City Pages published some of the posts on July 14 and had a follow-up story July 22. A DFL legislator from Duluth called Mills out on his comments in an Aug. 2 op-ed piece in the Star-Tribune. Mills offered a counterpoint two days later. We have found no further mention of the issues in any statewide media and the issue wasn’t raised in a Sept. 19 debate between the two candidates in Duluth.
When asked about the issue by the ECM Editorial Board, Mills said long ago he did nothing more than “repudiate” a tasteless comment made by a friend. Mills’ staff in Brainerd said the DFL was “cherry-picking” statements from Mills’ Facebook page to create an image of the candidate that simply doesn’t exist.
“Cherry-picking” aside, the posts reflected a use of language and an approach to humor that is best left in Mills’ past.
Nolan told us that the comments were a bit misleading. Given the opportunity to jump on Mills in regards to the issue, Nolan said, “I don’t want these kind of issues to be in the campaign. It denigrates the whole process.”
Mills made it clear that he has a 10-year history of supporting women’s rights and has a strong record supporting women’s issues – especially violence against women. He said that for about 10 years he has been a sponsor of a “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” – the annual men’s walk that raises awareness of rape, sexual assault and other crimes against women.
Now back to the issues: In our opinion, Mills has grown as a candidate the past two years and has earned our endorsement.
Mills views the 8th District as being four districts in one: The Iron Range, the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities (or exurbs), the Lakes country, and the Duluth area. He sees the southern part of the district, where our readers predominantly reside, as a place where all four cornerstones of the district come together. He sees security and safety, tax regulations and the Affordable Care Act the big issues of residents in our readership areas.
When it comes to health care, Mills says having health insurance doesn’t mean people have access to health care coverage because people have had to shift to plans with higher deductibles.
That’s in contrast to Nolan, who has been a longtime supporter of the so-called “Obamacare.”
Mills says the Affordable Care Act needs to be repealed and wants to make changes to our federal health care programs that will help stabilize insurance rates back home in the 8th District offered under MNsure. He wants to do this through social safety nets such as the former Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association. Mills also advocates for a free market system of purchasing insurance, which includes the ability to purchase insurance across state lines and the full utilization of Health Savings Accounts.
In regards to Social Security, Mills says the system could be insolvent by 2034. He stresses that a bipartisan approach is needed to fix the Social Security system. While Mills offered no plans of his own for solving Social Security’s woes, he advocates working with his Democrat counterparts to put some good ideas on the table including the privatization of the program if brought to the table by a bipartisan committee.
In contrast, Nolan said the program has a $2 to $3 trillion surplus and is not something that needs fixing right now. Nolan said a tax increase will be “an easy fix” if the program needs fixing down the line.
When it comes to the economy, Nolan believes in boosting trade and maintaining a strong Iron Range. He is proud when he says he has had a hand in bringing $465 million into the district for roads, bridges, airports, and housing, he said.
Mills says one key to a better economy lies in fair trade and simple trade agreements. He says there is a need to force our trade partners to play by the rules of trade agreements to create a level playing field for Minnesota businesses. Mills says our trade deals are often lopsided giveaways to our so-called trading partners.
Mills also said there are too many elected officials watching out for Wall Street. He says he would not be one of them. He pledges to look out for Main Street, where he says people of the middle class are being crushed.
Mills said the United States needs tax reform geared toward small business growth. Through new tax policies — including the flattening of the tax rate, regulatory policies, and new leadership, the 8th District could be in for an economic boom, he said.
Mills likes the idea of free college education but says nothing is really free. He, instead, supports a student bill of rights that allows all credits to transfer, guarantees that four-year degree programs take four years, institutions being accountable to how tuition dollars are being spent, and the sharing of an institution’s graduation outcome data with students. He does not support federal government involvement in local public school systems.
We believe a new vision for the future is needed from the representative of the 8th District — and Stewart Mills’ positions are more likely to carry forward that vision.
– This is an opinion of the ECM Editorial Board. This publication is part of ECM Publishers, Inc.