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Nolan meets the public at Judy's Cafe

Congressman Rick Nolan had coffee and conversation with Marlys Wisch, John Ilse and Sue Hilliard. Photo by Tammy François.

Congressman Rick Nolan brought his constituent stump speech to Two Harbors last week, telling Lake Countians on Friday about the changes he's seen in Washington after a 30-year absence and also addressing more parochial concerns.

The day before, he had packed in a full slate of meetings in Duluth -- and was met by Second Amendment protesters -- Friday he visited Silver Bay and Judy's Café in Two Harbors, where about 20 local residents turned out.

"It's as partisan as you've heard. It's changed so much," the Crosby, Minn., Democrat said, comparing the current political climate to when he was first served as a Congressman in the 1970s. Nolan said he's noticed that his colleagues spend more time fund raising and not enough time governing.

"It's starting to change," he reassured. "The American people are saying they're tired of the gridlock. We're making a difference here and there. It's starting to come together. All you can do is keep pushing."

Those in attendance were decidedly more subdued that the group that met Nolan Thursday at the Holiday Inn in Duluth, where he attended a public forum organized by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. There, National Rifle Association activists carrying signs that read "Guns stop violence" and "Don't tread on me" were on hand to challenge Nolan on gun legislation.

After some back and forth with people who questioned why Nolan had been given an F-rating by the NRA, Nolan said that as a hunter and sportsman he too was confused by the poor rating. He said that there is room for conversation and compromise in the debate and warned against the dangers of an all-or-nothing approach to interpreting the Constitution.

"You know we have a First Amendment right called the right of free speech, but you can't go into a crowded theater in the dark and yell, 'Fire!' We also have a freedom of assembly. But you can't assemble in a way that restricts or prohibits people from getting to their home or to their work.

"We've always had restrictions on guns. You can't have an automatic machine gun. People can't have rocket-propelled grenade launchers," Nolan said. "At the time of the Second Amendment when we were talking about the right to bear arms, that was a musket with one ball in it." He suggested that if the nation takes a rigid approach to dealing with evolving problems, it does so at significant risk.

In Two Harbors, constituents brought a range of questions and concerns. Jim Manahan of Silver Bay said he came to talk to Nolan about repealing the Defense Against Marriage Act. Cristina Manahan, who recently became a U.S. citizen, wanted to encourage legislative efforts to reform and streamline immigration law. She said she was encouraged by some of the recent discussions by Congress on the matter.

Conversations also turned to the role of mining in the Arrowhead and concerns about potential soil, water and air pollution caused by the industry -- especially the proposed sulfide mines. Nolan expressed confidence in the processes and safeguards currently used by the mining companies. He said he drew the line at proposed legislation he expected to see in the House in weeks to come.

"We're going to have a bill to do away with national environmental standards. I'm not going to support that," he said. "(The bill) would allow unfettered access to mining and that's what they're trying to do. Basically that would be like saying to all the multi-national corporations, 'come on in and have your way with us.' We can't do that," Nolan said emphatically.

Throughout the region and the state, he said that most people "want to see Congress fixing things, they want more cooperation, less gridlock" and more focus on the budget and the impact of sequestration.

"Every entity that has had a significant funding relationship with the federal government is facing cuts. Sequestration makes no sense," Nolan said.

Asked how he hopes to resolve the issues raised by sequestration when the parties seem unable to agree on any of the major issues before them, Nolan said that it was a matter of making the parties aware for where budgets can be cut. To illustrate examples of waste, he said that a report from the U.S. Inspector General revealed that $60 billion had been directed toward rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure. None of the rebuilding projects had been completed and "40 percent of the money " went into Swiss bank accounts."

He also said that the U.S. could cut spending by "pulling back on our military footprint" and refraining from "wars of choice and policing the world." He was quick to add that cuts to military spending should not be made at the expense of national security or veterans' benefits.

On the subject of cuts to Social Security, Nolan said that the program is solvent and could remain so. He proposed a change in the way income is taxed. Currently, Social Security tax is no longer deducted from earnings of those making over $113,700. Nolan's solution would include doing away with that cap.

"Remove the cap on taxable income and Social Security will be good for another 40 years, "he said.