Rep. Rick Nolan to retire, won't seek re-election in Minnesota's 8th District

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan will not seek re-election and plans to retire at the end of his current term. Nolan’s decision opens a swing set in northeastern Minnesota’s 8th congressional district, which includes Duluth and most of the Iron Range. 

Nolan is currently serving his third term of his second tenure in Congress. He previously represented Minnesota’s 6th District from 1975 to 1981.

Nolan defeated Republican challenger Stewart Mills in 2016 in the nation’s most expensive congressional race. More than $17 million was spent in a district of about 650,000 voters. In November, Mills wrote in a Facebook post that he wouldn't be making a third run at the 8th District seat, saying "this is not a cycle I feel comfortable with." But Friday, he posted "I am very seriously considering another run for U.S. Congress to represent Minnesota's 8th District" after receiving numerous phone calls and emails.


"With deep appreciation and thanks for allowing me to represent you in the Congress of the United States, I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for reelection, and will retire at the end of the current term. 

"The gratitude and affection I have for all of you here in Northern Minnesota is beyond my ability to express in words.  Make no mistake – I love my work representing you in the Congress, and the decision to leave is agonizing to say the least – especially when thinking of all the many volunteers, contributors, party leaders, colleagues, supporters – and of course the voters – who have all meant so much to our success.  

"The fact is, I have spent 16 productive and exciting years in elective office, and far longer working behind the scenes in business, labor, community service, and the public policy arena.  Good politics is about making a positive difference in people’s lives, and together with all of you and a brilliant dedicated staff, we’ve made a real difference for the 8th District of Minnesota and our great Nation.  Jobs are coming back.  Wages are going up.  The Iron Range and the 8th District are on the economic rebound, and our best days are still ahead. 

"Having said that, there is a time and a purpose for everything and now is the time for me to pass the baton to the next generation.

"To be sure, I’m really going to miss representing the 8th District, but it is time for me to spend more time with my wonderful wife, Mary, our four fantastic adult children and their terrific spouses, and our 13 remarkable grandchildren.  They have been incredibly patient and supportive.  Now it’s time for me to respond in kind, and give them the attention they deserve and I want to give.

"Despite the fact that our Nation is being challenged by some rather troubling politics, let’s remember that our Founders foresaw difficult times and gave us the tools to see them through.  Our Constitution is strong, our people are resilient, and the elections of 2018, 2020 and beyond provide continuing opportunities for progress, reform and necessary change. 

"Hopefully the timing of this announcement in this still young election year will provide prospective candidates with ample opportunity to present themselves to voters and activists at the many party county conventions to be held over the next several months throughout our region. 

"Fortunately, we are blessed to have a number of highly qualified people who have demonstrated the ability to win tough elections and govern effectively.  With hard work and a broad base of support, one of them will win the seat, and serve with distinction in the next Congress. 

"Meanwhile, rest assured, with the better part of a year left in office, I will continue working for the people of Minnesota’s 8th district and our entire Nation, energized and determined to finish strong. 

"History teaches us that there are no final victories in politics.  There will always be powerful forces standing in the way of progress.  So I will continue always to speak out for the common sense, progressive agenda I have spent a lifetime fighting for.  But I will be doing so as a private citizen, privileged and grateful to be living here in the greatest Nation on earth.

"Again, thank you so very much for choosing me to represent you."

THIRD CHALLENGE FROM MILLS? "I have decided not to have my name on the ballot this election cycle, this is not a cycle I feel comfortable with," Stewart Mills wrote in a November 2017 Facebook post. "In my study of this coming cycle, the Democrats have an impressive offensive strategy...The Republicans, in my direct and personal experience, are recruiting folks without a strategy, polling, or an explainable path to victory. In my opinion, these candidates will be the sacrificial lambs the NRCC will build their incumbent protection strategy upon. If there is a meaningful change of leadership and priorities at the NRCC, I might be open to looking at another run in the 2020 cycle."

But Mills may be having a change of heart. Friday, after news of Nolan's retirement broke, he posted: "I have received numerous calls, emails, and messages. I am very seriously considering another run for U.S. Congress to represent Minnesota's 8th District. There is no timeline on when a decision might be made."

DEMOCRATIC CHALLENGER: Last October, a Democratic challenger emerged in the 8th District. Leah Phifer, who has never held a political office, has already opposed Nolan's policy work concerning the PolyMet copper-nickel mining project in northern Minnesota. 

“Congressman Nolan has been a champion for single payer healthcare and campaign finance reform, amongst many other progressive issues, for a very long time.” said a statement from Phifer. “I’ve been traveling the district the past eight months, hearing from many DFL’ers concerned about the future of our district. I look forward to uniting us around our core values of economic justice, human rights and environmental protections. I’ve been listening to the voices of our people and look forward to meeting with individual delegates one-to-one to continue those conversations.”

REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: The Republican Party of Minnesota used Friday's announcement by Nolan to reaffirm their support of 8th District candidate Pete Stauber.

"Today's news of an open seat in Minnesota's 8th District is yet another boost to Republican prospects in 2018," the party said in a statement. "Minnesota's 8th District was already a top pickup opportunity in the country for national Republicans, and today's news positions 8th District Republicans like Pete Stauber, in an even stronger position. We are looking forward to bringing new, Republican representation to Northern Minnesota in November." 

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR STATEMENT: "Today, Rick Nolan announced he won’t seek re-election. Rick has served our country well and done incredible work for Northern Minnesota. When he speaks, he speaks with honesty. When he takes on a fight, he never backs down. With a twinkle in his eye and a big heart for his constituents, he has been a joy to work with. Now he has decided to put his family first and after all he has been through this year, he deserves it. Thanks to Rick and Mary for their work and I look forward to the remaining months ahead. Oh, and by the way, Rick is such a rabble rouser, he isn’t done yet!”

SEN. TINA SMITH STATEMENT: “I thank Rick Nolan for his years of dedicated public service and constant advocacy for the people of Northern Minnesota. This is a bittersweet retirement. I’m happy that Rick will be able to spend more time with his wonderful family, and I know his voice will be missed. Congressman Nolan is a relentless advocate for his constituents. He wasn't afraid to reach across the aisle to work with those he didn’t always agree with to get things done for Minnesotans. And he never shied away from a fight when we needed him—we all remember his fiery speeches, unflinching principles, and his willingness to stand up to big money and powerful people on behalf of Minnesota families. Rick is a friend, and I will miss working with him.”

REP. BETTY MCCOLLUM STATEMENT: “Representative Rick Nolan has been a tireless champion for Minnesota and I have been proud to work with him on many issues. Rick is a dear friend and I will miss serving with him in the House. Representative Nolan will spend the rest of the year continuing to fight for Minnesota and our nation. Rick and his family have my very best wishes.”