8th Congressional District candidates spar over job growth

By Brady Slater/ Duluth News Tribune In the race for the 8th District heats up in advance of Nov. 4 balloting, it's beginning to look a lot like a mud fight. Republicans are parsing photographs of incumbent Democrat Rick Nolan handling rifles and...

By Brady Slater/ Duluth News Tribune

In  the race for the 8th District heats up in advance of Nov. 4 balloting, it’s beginning to look a lot like a mud fight. 

  Republicans are parsing photographs of incumbent Democrat Rick Nolan handling rifles and condemning him for the placement of his trigger finger. Earlier this week, Nolan refused a news outlet’s request for a response to the alleged controversy.

The Democrats brought in a lookalike actor to make light of Republican challenger Stewart Mills’ long hair and substantial wealth in a television commercial. Mills responded by telling the News Tribune, “It shows we’re winning the debate.”

Meanwhile, as millions of dollars are being solicited and spent on initiatives that have little to do with the candidates’ fitness for policy-making, Green Party candidate Skip Sandman of Duluth is struggling to scratch together enough money to get out his yard signs.


It’s no wonder some people will take advantage of the state’s new no-excuse absentee voting option.

It’s a way to stay clean – to keep the mud off.   

“With all of the calls and mailings and tons of nasty ads, it’s a nice convenience for people to say, ‘OK, I’ve made up my mind and I’m telling everybody I voted already,’” said Aaron Brown, a Hibbing Community College professor, author and political blogger.

But for those who will vote the traditional way, there’s time to delve into the issues. In the 8th District as anywhere, that can always mean jobs – how to create them, how to preserve them and how to make them better. 

In this arena, Nolan accuses Mills of being a classic Ronald Reagan Republican.

“He supports the trickle-down theory of economics – you give the rich enough money so that enough of it will trickle down to rest of us,” Nolan said. “History shows that doesn’t work. You build a strong economy by building the middle class. You create from the bottom up and middle out. That’s the big difference between the two of us.”

Mills himself does not evoke Reagan when talking jobs policy. Instead, he borrows a quote attributed to an iconic Democrat, John F. Kennedy.

“A rising tide floats all boats,” Mills said. “The solution is not one industry. We need to get that tide rising again.”


Mills said the economy needs a fresh set of eyes. He sees a Main Street that is “coiled like a spring,” he said. “We have the ability to create jobs.”

But that ability is dampened by cumbersome regulations and excessive governmental involvement. 

“The remedy isn’t more of the same policy doubling down,” Mills said. “You’re not going to harvest any difference that way.”

As vice president of Mills Fleet Farm, his family-owned company with 35 retail stores throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, Mills is well-versed in creating the retail jobs that figure prominently in the modern economy. But according to a June report by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the average weekly wage in Northern Minnesota for retail workers in 2013 was $441 compared to $1,027 in the manufacturing sector. To create the manufacturing and production jobs that best serve middle-class prosperity, Mills is calling for a relaxing of government oversight and involvement.

“We don’t need guys in white tieback suits wandering across farm fields,” Mills said. “They don’t know what it takes to make us successful.”

Mills’ well-known animosity for the Affordable Care Act shows up in his stance on jobs, too. Health care insurance, as it is presently mandated, is holding entrepreneurs back, Mills believes. Even vibrant employers, he said, “are afraid to hire past 100 employees or 50 employees because of some of the requirements foisted upon them.”

Tax policy, too, stunts the potential for growth in the private sector.

“Our tax policy is way too complicated, especially for Main Street,” Mills said. “It’s to the advantage of multi-national companies that have armies of accountants and lawyers. But (small businesses) are coming from behind; it takes forever for them to figure out tax policies.”


Conversely, in Mills, Nolan sees the sort of candidate who was once so eager to enter into the world economy. 

“He tends to be a free trader,” Nolan said of Mills. “I’m a fair trader.”

Nolan blames both parties for the private sector’s outsourcing of some of the best industries and jobs overseas. He believes we’re still battling the country’s misguided entry into the global economy in the 1980s. Better trade agreements and tariffs are required to force companies to rethink sending manufacturing processes overseas for cheaper labor and production costs.

“We built the strongest middle class in the history of world,” Nolan said. “But we saddled American business with the cost of Social Security, Medicare, safety and environmental rules, unemployment and workers’ comp, and a whole wide variety of measures including the ability to unionize. Then we said, ‘Oh now we want business to compete with nations that do very little or none of that.’”

It created a fair-trade imbalance, sent jobs overseas and created the climate of “inversion” that’s become a buzzword of the economy. Corporations, including Burger King recently, are moving their headquarters out of the U.S. to avoid the country’s steeper levels of taxation.

“In the last 30 years we’ve literally lost hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs that have been moved overseas,” Nolan said. “We need to reverse those incentives and keep manufacturing here.”

Nolan is a strong advocate of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, a federal program that enables small businesses in the U.S. to find credible buyers in global markets.

“It’s government,” Nolan said. “But the Republicans say government should have no role to play.” 


Nolan also believes rebuilding American infrastructure will get more out of the construction industry and lead to better conditions for manufacturers. He cited a $1.5 million sewer line rebuild on the west side of Mille Lacs Lake that he supported as a modest example of government spending stimulating the private sector. A new luxury hotel is planned for the area.

“I’ve gone out to economic development offices and pleaded for projects in my district,” Nolan said. “I’ve been shameless. I’ve been petitioning any and all agencies.”

Nolan’s recent vote against arming Syrian rebels did not happen in a vacuum, he said. He had jobs on his mind. 

“Spending priorities are a big factor,” Nolan said. “You could spend trillions of dollars abroad and argue it’s important for national security. But spend that same money in our own country on roads, schools, bridges, airports and lay the foundation for more economic development. That creates a lot of jobs.”

Sandman’s approach to job growth adopts the Green Party line. It starts by pulling money from defense and corporate subsidies. That money would then be used to train and make-over the workforce into one that builds a renewable energy infrastructure for Minnesota, including more wind turbines for Northern Minnesota.

“We need to start preparing our citizenry and that is what’s coming,” Sandman said. “My dream is that we have union members putting up that technology, and have it run by union shops.”

Nolan is seeking his second straight term in the House of Representatives, and previously served as a Congressman for the 6th District from 1975-81. He and Mills reside in the Brainerd lakes area. Sandman is a Vietnam veteran who works as a cultural advisor in an area treatment center. 

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