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Nolan returns to changed Congress

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By Peter Passi, Forum Communications

DULUTH — As freshman members of Congress arrive in Washington, D.C., this week to begin orientation, at least one among their number should know his way around.

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Democrat Rick Nolan was elected last week to represent Minnesota’s 8th district for the first time, but he’ll arrive on the job with more seniority than the one-term Republican incumbent he replaces: Rep. Chip Cravaack. That’s a point Nolan was fond of making on the campaign trail.

Nolan, 68, has already served three terms in the U.S. House representing Minnesota’s 6th district. While he left that office in 1981, he will return in his 8th district role with credit earned for past service, making him the equivalent of a fourth-term congressman, despite a 31-year hiatus from Capitol Hill.

That seniority will be of limited benefit, however.

Nolan acknowledges he’ll be unable to parlay his experience into any sort of committee or subcommittee leadership role as long as Republicans continue to hold control the House.

But Nolan said his seniority could help him land a coveted spot on the House transportation or natural resources committees, where he could still find himself the ranking member on a subcommittee.

Regardless of leadership roles, Nolan expects his experience will make him effective from Day One on the job in Washington.

“Seniority is not just a function of years but of years of experience and knowing how the process works. That’s a huge benefit,” he said. “I don’t start out at ground zero, looking for the men’s room.”

Nolan said he will do his best to work across party lines, as he did in the past. He stressed the need for cooperation to achieve results.

“I was an effective legislator, but I had a Republican partner in anything and everything I ever accomplished.”

Nolan acknowledged that he is returning to a Congress more polarized than it was in the past.

But he said: “Partisanship is not new. There’s always been partisanship in campaigns and elections. And it always continued through the legislative process. The difference is at some point the various parties started going home and giving up on the prospect of compromise.”

Nolan’s not of that mind, and he said he will work to establish a different tone, where Congress members strive to establish relationships, build respect for each other and figure out where compromise is possible. But he knows he’ll need to overcome some of the cynical attitudes that have taken hold.

“You can go back and look at the speeches of some prominent people who argued quite adamantly against compromise, saying that’s no way to gain political capital or to win elections; and that strategy to some extent worked until people realized: It may work for winning elections but it’s ruining the country,” he said.

In the latest election, Nolan thinks voters told Congress and the Obama administration they want results, not more gridlock and finger-pointing.

Nolan said he aims to spend whatever time it takes to get the job done in Washington, but he and his wife, Mary, have no plans to make the city home.

“My intentions are to get a room near the Capitol,” he said. “We’re not going to move to D.C.”

As for maintaining a presence back home in Minnesota, Nolan said he’d definitely set up a constituent office in Duluth, as well as one on the Iron Range, something in the south part of the district, possibly North Branch, and another in the west part of the district, perhaps Brainerd. He said office plans have not been finalized.

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