In his first sit-down TV interview since announcing his retirement in February, Congressman Rick Nolan spoke with KBJR 6 about his decision not to run for another term, the timing of the announcement, and whether he'll endorse any of the candidates vying for his seat.
Below is a transcript of the interview, which has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Jennifer Austin: Have you decided who you'll be endorsing for your seat? For the 8th congressional district seat?
Nolan: No, I have not. I have encouraged a number of the candidates to run. We have a really good, strong field of candidates who have shown they know how to win tough elections. They know how to govern effectively. My sense of it is, encourage them all to get into the contest for the [DFL] endorsement, and the primary if necessary, and let the best one of the group emerge.
JA: Do you plan on making an endorsement though?
Nolan: I'm not sure. I'm just so fond and so proud of a number of them. It would be pretty hard to do, but one of them will emerge and they'll have my full support.
JA: Would you ever consider endorsing a candidate who opposes copper-nickel mining?
Nolan: That would be a pretty difficult sell for me. Copper-nickel [mining] is such an integral part of our whole economy and our way of life here on the Range, and [it's] so vital and critical to our national economy [and] to our national security.
JA: Why decide to retire now? Why was now the right time?
Nolan: Well, one of the reasons is I first got elected about a half a century ago. By virtue of when I was first elected to the Congress of the United States, there's only one other member of the entire Congress that came to the Congress before I did... so I'm the Dean of all the Democrats. I've been involved in government and politics, directly and indirectly, for well over 60 years, and there does come a time when you say it's time to pass the baton, time to move on... I can't tell you how grateful I am to have the privilege of representing people here in the 8th district, but there's a time to pass the baton on to the next young generation... I have a wonderful wife, Mary, and four children, and their great spouses, and 13 grandchildren. I'm really looking forward to spending a lot more time with them than I've been able to in the past. So, I'm excited about the future and I've still got a voice. I'll still be around. Voters haven't seen the last of Rick Nolan. I just won't be running for public office anymore.
JA: Your retirement announcement came three days after the Minnesota caucus. As you know, here in the 8th district, Rebecca Otto [who opposes copper-nickel mining] won the straw poll for governor. Did that factor into your decision to retire?
Nolan: No. It's just strictly a personal decision. [It's a] desire to spend more time with family and less time raising money. [The 8th district race] has been the most expensive in the country and I don't have to raise another $10 to $12 million dollars. I don't have to go to another 30 to 40 district and county conventions. I don't have to go to another 35 to 40 fundraising events.
JA; Was there any strategy though in waiting until after the Minnesota caucus to announce [your retirement]?
Nolan: No. It was just a difficult decision. I love my job. I'm so grateful that people have given me the opportunity to serve, yet [there were] a number of compelling reasons [to retire] involving family and just personal desires. You know, yesterday I was out tapping maple syrup trees instead of going to county conventions, and I like doing that. I have a wide range of diverse interests that I like to do that I have sacrificed for so many years... I think what drove the decision more than anything was looking at the polling that [my campaign saw] coming in. The [8th] district has been trending very Republican in recent years. Our polling always showed me winning, you know, by slim margins, but [generally] it's always showed the Republicans winning the congressional election. So, that has kind of flipped now for the first time and it shows an even contest between Democrats and Republicans, so that made my decision easier, because I want to keep the 8th district blue.
JA: Four of the five DFL candidates for the 8th district seat announced [their candidacy] after your retirement announcement. That gives them about nine months until Election Day. Do you worry that they're at a disadvantage because of that shortened campaign time?
Nolan: I suppose that argument could be made, but in some respect, they may be advantaged. I have a Reform Democracy piece of legislation that would reverse Citizen's United, put an end to gerry mandering, require full disclosure, regular order in the Congress, but it also provides for a limitation on when campaign activities can take place. Most western democracies have election contests that last anywhere from 30 to 90 days, by law. My bill provides for a 60 day election contest. I don't think there's anything sacred about 60 days versus 40 or 75, but I do know 365 days a year, every year, is too many. Each one of the [8th district] candidates has a good eight, nine months to make their case to the public throughout the district here. That's more than enough time to make their case as to why they should be elected.
JA: What are you most proud of when you look back at all the years you spent in Congress?
Nolan: Well my first term, I got involved in politics in the anti-Vietnam war movement, which I thought [the war] was a tragedy, and I was able to be a sponsor in the resolution that finally ended our involvement in that war. I thought, if I never did another thing, it was all worth it... But [my second time in Congress] being able to put so many of the men and women back to work here in Minnesota's 8th congressional district, in mining, in engineering, in transportation, in good paying jobs, that is probably what I'm most proud of. You know, there's nothing more important to people than to have a job with a living wage and good benefits, and there is nothing more devastating than not having a job.
JA: How do you want your time in Congress to be remembered? What do you want to be your legacy?
Nolan: I've always fashioned myself as a working men and women's member of Congress. My father once told me, he said, if you just do a couple of things, I'll always be proud of you. One, be honest. I don't want any of my kids getting in trouble. That was good advice from Dad. The other, was [to] work for the common good, for the common men and women. Don't worry too much about the rich and powerful, they'll take care of themselves.
JA: When you wake up the morning of January 4, 2019 and you're no longer a member of Congress, what's the first thing you'll do?
Nolan: I'll have some coffee. I'll check out the television news. I'll check out the Duluth News Tribune, and the Brainerd Daily Dispatch, and the Mesabi Daily, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and I'll breathe a great sigh of relief knowing that the challenges to fix everything that needs fixing has now been handed over to someone else.