Nolan, Mills clash in MN-8’s only 2016 debate

Stewart Mills, R-Nisswa, and Rick Nolan, DFL-Crosby, met Monday, Sept. 19, in the only scheduled debate for Minnesotas 8th Congressional District race.

Stewart Mills (R-Nisswa) and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (DFL-Crosby) met Monday, Sept. 19, in the only scheduled debate for Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District race. SCREENSHOT: The Uptake

Today, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) debated Republican challenger Stewart Mills in a Duluth News Tribune/Duluth Chamber of Commerce forum. You can see the debate at my previous post.

This was a good debate. In about one hour, significant and substantive policy differences found their way into the discussion. Neither candidate necessarily “won,” but both emerge with themes they’ll tout in the remaining days of the MN-8 campaign.

On economic issues, Nolan touted his work to win tariffs on subsidized foreign steel that led to the reopening of United Taconite and Northshore Mining on the Iron Range. He cited the praise of Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves, who credited Nolan for much of the success on that issue. He argued for a higher federal minimum wage and the continuation of the Affordable Care Act, albeit with reforms to fix the pricing problems evident in recent months.

Mills hit Nolan on his party’s affiliation with anti-mining forces. He also argued he didn’t do enough to help the Sandpiper pipeline go through. (Embridge just abandoned that project in favor of a different pipeline and supply route). Mills was very aggressive in hitting Nolan on health care, citing the rising expenses of the health care plans available to consumers under the ACA. He opposes raising the federal minimum wage, saying it should be a matter of state’s rights.

Mills also brought up gun issues, even during the economic questions. Nolan supported background checks for assault rifle purchases and a ban on selling guns to people on the no-fly terrorism watch list. Mills said those restrictions are unconstitutional. Nolan argued the opposite, and cited them as common sense laws that would help prevent violence and terrorist activity.

Stylistically, you got the classic Rick Nolan experience — folksy and plainspoken, responsive to Mills’ hits. One Republican operative observed that he appeared annoyed and did not make much direct eye contact with Mills. I’d argue that he was merely playing to the audience due to the awkward stage layout.

Mills was polished and well-prepared, but probably a little too beholden to his talking points. Early in the debate, he seemed to be sitting on the edge of his chair in a way that made him look a little like a small boy in dad’s spot at the table. He later settled in and appeared more comfortable.

No one talked about Mills’ hair — already a marked improvement from 2014.

Both candidates had moments they probably regret.

Mills made a big argument that there was no way to get off the no-fly list, which allowed Nolan to dryly point out that there is a specific process for doing so. Mills biggest flops were times when his strident devotion to a prepared talking point allowed Nolan to go folksy on him.

Nolan accidentally called Epi-pens “Wiki-pens,” which was unfortunate. Nevertheless, I’d like to know more about what a Wiki-pen does. I’m afraid it might leak. (rimshot!) As usual, Nolan’s weaknesses in a debate came from reliance on a more folksy, off-the-cuff style, which works great when he’s on, but can go awry when he misspeaks.

Overall, I don’t see much that would change the mind of someone who entered leaning one way or the other. However, it was encouraging to see so many specific areas where policy differences were discussed. Someone genuinely undecided about the race probably saw clear contrast here.

But you don’t have to take my word for it, watch the debate for yourself.


  1. I liked Mills better with long hair. Now he’s just another boring Republican suit spewing absurdities.

    • Pitiful Alan…you just offended the majority of your friends/neighbors.

      • Bob, I live in the 8th district, and I can assure you that more than 90% of the folks on my road would have found Alan’s remark amusing. There are certainly many Republicans in the eighth, but to think that they are a super-majority is pure fantasy.

        And if Republicans can’t take a joke, they deserve to loose.

        • Just trying to help you guys make progress on your “Stronger Together” mantra. Appears you and Alan haven’t bought in. OR, could it be it’s only meant for DFL’ers?

        • Right, and how’s your boy Trump doing uniting America by preaching hatred against minorities?
          For a bunch of folks that like to dish it out – saying that democrats and liberals are traitors and evil and so forth – you really can’t take it.

          Oh, and Sieg Heil Drumpf!

          • I’m sure we all agree, we want to Make America Great again, once again be a nation which enforces it’s laws and provides national & global common sense leadership. Right?

            “Stronger Together” doesn’t address any of these issues, let alone ANY issue. It’s a hollow slogan. It could be used by anybody, for anything. i.e. Let’s say by….ISIS?, Planned Parenthood?, SEIU?, KKK?, Nazis?, Teachers Union?, NAACP?, AFL/CIO?, CAIR?, NATO?, No??

            But…don’t get me wrong. Hillary didn’t just pull this slogan out of her butt. She knows her track record on ALL issues is a mess. Therefore she has no choice but to run on an issueless, hollow solgan. No?

  2. A majority of his friends and neighbors may very well be offensive, but apparently that’s OK if you’re a Republican .

  3. Speaking of offensive, I was appalled by Mill’s FB comment about oral sex and a few other comments from a few years that were unearthed. Mills sounded a lot more like an immature frat boy than a 40 year old adult and I am surprised he didn’t realize that social media comments can’t be completely disappeared.
    I would like to hear Mills elaborate more on tax cuts and if he believes that tax cuts for wealthy will trickle down jobs. I have no idea who buys into that anymore but House Speaker Paul Ryan genuinely seems to believe that massive tax cuts for the wealthy will spur economic growth that would over time will trickle down to everyone. How massive? Ryan’s proposal for tax “relief” analyzed by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center could force the government to borrow trillions of dollars. Ryan’s plan would give 99.6% of tax cuts to the wealthiest 1% by 2025 increasing their incomes by an average of 10.6%, annual average savings of $240,000 per household. The other 0.4% tax cut would be divided up across the other 99% of us. Whoopee! I can feel those pennies burning a hole in my pocket now.

    • It is hard to give an income tax cut to people who don’t pay income tax.

      Sales tax is a regressive form of income but is a state and local issue not a federal issue.

      Maybe we should talk about tariffs for income.

    • So I guess that you are perfect and have never posted anything in your fb that might have offended someone. And you should be much more concerned about the liberals actions than republicans words… sticks and stones…. smh.

  4. My reply was in response to ranger’s remark on offending . Not sure why is it didn’t immediately follow his comment.

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