In response to a potential challenge from Republican Stewart Mills, Eighth District Representative Rick Nolan’s spokesperson told the Brainerd Dispatch, “Congressman Nolan welcomes anyone to the race who is willing to run for public office.”
But Nolan was singing a different tune about Green Party challenger Skip Sandman. Nolan dismissed Sandman as a spoiler, fought to keep him out of the debates, and complained that Sandman is “taking four or five percent from my side of the ledger.”
DFL Chair Ken Martin declared that a vote for Sandman was a vote for Mills, conveying a sense of entitlement that belies the foundation of the DFL Party, which was created by a merger of the Democrats and the Farmer-Laborites—not a hostile takeover.
The trouble for Nolan began when he flip-flopped on HR761, joining House Republicans in voting for a bill that should properly be called the Mining Company Dream Act. It allows mining companies to run amok on federal lands without paying a dime in royalties on the minerals they remove, and streamlines the permitting process by gutting the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act.
Nolan earned a challenger by repeatedly playing both sides of the jobs-versus-environment debate and arrogantly claiming it was he or a Republican.
Percentage of the vote for nationwide Green Party candidates
who ran for the US House in the 2014 election
But Sandman’s remarkable percentage of the vote on Election Night wasn’t just about PolyMet or the environment. He was a solid candidate and an acceptable alternative for those fed up with Nolan’s constant half-truths, omissions, and flat-out lies, not to mention the nasty—often ridiculous—attacks on Mills from both Nolan and the Democratic Party.
After Nolan decried campaigning as “dialing for dollars,” Mr. We-Need-To-Get-Money-Out-Of-Politics even whined that Sandman was garnering a good chunk of votes without spending any money.
A growing number of Democrats are no longer willing to play along and, in the run-up to the election, Sandman’s supporters were pummeled for aiding the enemy.
They did succeed in scaring many voters away from Sandman and towards Nolan. (They may now regret it in light of Nolan’s post-election vote in favor of fast-tracking the Keystone XL pipeline, to the detriment of the environment and the rights of landowners.)
Yet Sandman still polled over four percent in a district where the Green Party should not get more than two percent. In fact, Sandman garnered roughly the same percentage as the Independent candidate in 2010. Nationally, he finished ninth in a field of 38 Green Party House candidates.
Despite the fact that national and state Democrats threw everything and the kitchen sink into the Eighth District, Nolan’s percentages were down from 2012 and he almost lost.
The problem was not PolyMet or the Greens; it was Rick Nolan. No third party challenger would have posed any serious threat to a popular incumbent who had accomplishments and issues on which to run.
The voters are not to blame if they feel the incumbent has not earned their vote, nor should they be criticized for voting for the candidate of their choice. Our system of government allows for more than two political parties and votes must be earned. A vote for Sandman was a vote for Sandman—no more, no less.
Since taking office, the Nolan camp has exhibited a bunker mentality, where anyone who dares to question or express dissatisfaction with Nolan is dismissed as a one-issue radical, a Republican, or harboring a personal grudge.
Such arrogance laid the groundwork for the 2014 election—from getting a Green Party challenger, to having to bully Democrats into voting for him, to almost losing to the Republican.
With Rick Nolan, it’s not about the voters. It’s not about the issues. It’s about whatever serves himself or the DFL Party.
A member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Shelly Mategko is a trade unionist, former lobbyist, and a political activist from 1974 to 2010, with expertise in campaign finance and communications strategy.