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Rick Nolan announces that he won't seek re-election

U.S. Rep Rick Nolan is retiring at the end of the current term, he announced this morning. (2017 file / News Tribune)

U.S. Rep Rick Nolan is retiring at the end of the current term, he announced Friday morning — a major shakeup in what already was shaping up to be one of the most competitive congressional races in the nation this year.

Nolan is in his third term representing Northeastern Minnesota's 8th District in Congress; he previously served in Congress from Minnesota's 6th District from 1975-81. He had previously stated that he would run for re-election this year.

"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 re-election, and will retire at the end of the current term," Nolan said in a statement.

"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. ...

"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."

Nolan was being challenged for the Democratic nomination this year by Leah Phifer, a political newcomer. If nominated, he would have faced a Republican challenge in the general election from St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber.

A third candidate, Ray "Skip" Sandman, is seeking an endorsement from the Independence Party.

Nolan had previously announced he would run for re-election; in October, he named now-former Duluth School Board member Annie Harala as his campaign manager.

"Clearly, this race will once again be one of the toughest, most expensive and most closely watched in the nation," Nolan said at the time.

The 8th District had long been a Democratic stronghold, but changing demographics, political views and district boundaries have turned it into one of the most competitive seats in the nation in recent elections.

Republican Chip Cravaack ousted longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar in 2010. Two years later, Nolan defeated Cravaack to return the seat to DFL control.

In 2014 and 2016, Nolan eked out narrow wins over Republican challenger Stewart Mills.

Friday’s news prompted a flurry of responses.

“Congressman Nolan has been a champion for single-payer health care and campaign finance reform, amongst many other progressive issues, for a very long time," Phifer said in a statement, saying she wants to carry on that legacy and "looks forward to broadening her support to present the strongest case against the GOP candidate in November."

Sandman said Nolan's retirement "is well-deserved and I want to thank him for his service. Other than some strong disagreements on copper sulfide mining and pipeline issues, I think many 8th Congressional District residents will join me in saying, 'Thank you.' "

The Republican Party of Minnesota issued a statement saying that “news of an open seat in Minnesota's 8th District is yet another boost to Republican prospects in 2018. 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.”

Former Duluth Mayor Don Ness posted on Twitter that Nolan "is a good man who struggled against the brokenness of federal governance, yet kept fighting for working men and women in Minnesota."

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico said that Nolan "has served the people of Minnesota with dignity, independence and grit, and I am deeply grateful for his service. Rick is a close friend and I know he will continue his dedicated work to the people of Minnesota for the remainder of this year. Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District is a Democratic seat, and that certainly will not change in 2018. We look forward to electing another Democrat to represent the hardworking people of northern Minnesota, who can carry on Rick’s legacy.”

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Here is the full statement issued by Nolan this morning: 

To the great people of Minnesota’s 8th District

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.

Rick

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