WASHINGTON — Perhaps Stewart Mills’ most notable foray into public policy was his January “open letter” video to Minnesota lawmakers opposing potential new gun control measures.
But Mills, the Nisswa Republican challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, says that wasn’t the first thing to inspire him to political action. During the 2009 debate over the Affordable Care Act, Mills, a vice president at family business Mills Fleet Farm and the administrator of the company’s health care plan, met with then-Rep. Jim Oberstar’s staff to voice his opposition.
The bill passed, Republican Chip Cravaack upset Oberstar in 2010 and Cravaack, in turn, lost to Nolan last fall. But between the Affordable Care Act, debates over gun issues, and what he sees as unsustainable national debt, staff meetings and open letters weren’t enough for Mills — he said it’s time to follow his family’s “hunting camp doctrine”: If you complain about something, you get the job to fix it.
Mills talked with MinnPost on Wednesday about the “four pillars” of his campaign, what he’d do to replace the Affordable Care Act, and balancing environmental and economic issues in the 8th District (Questions have been edited for clarity; answers, for brevity).
MinnPost: What’s the basic driving force behind your campaign? Why are you in the race and what is your message for voters?
Stewart Mills: I became an outspoken critic of a lot of the misinformation and some of the bad concepts that were being pushed out of Washington. Through that, I had a group of people that asked me to run for this office. It was one of these things where, underneath the hunting camp doctrine, I was the guy that was complaining about it, so I should go to fix it.
In my campaign, I have something that I call the four pillars:
- The first pillar is … Obamacare.
- The other was a Main Street tax policy that was from the ground up. The 8th District is a Main Street economy, and I don’t believe that Washington D.C. creates jobs. If we’re going to create and sustain the jobs that our part of Minnesota needs, it’s going to be coming from Main Street businesses, from the ground up, businesses that are taxed at the personal level. If we want a sustainable economy, we have to look toward our Main Street businesses because the 8th District is not a place of big corporations.
- Respect for the Constitution is my third pillar. Certainly I’m a hunter, I’m somebody who uses firearms recreationally, I’m a shooter, I shoot competitively, that is my golf. I know how guns work. I know that one gun is not morally superior or inferior to the next, and I also have read the Constitution, I believe that we should uphold and abide by the Constitution.
- Finally my fourth pillar is our national debt. $17 trillion is way too much. But the very fact that we keep kicking the can down the road and adding to our debt is endangering the future of our nation and our children’s future. We are passing on along to them a fiscal mess. Part of my hunting camp doctrine I’m running underneath is when you go to hunting camp or you go to a campsite in our part of Minnesota, there’s usually a sign that says leave it better than when you found it. I believe that we should do that.
MP: Do you see yourself aligning with any part of the GOP over another, basically the Tea Party or the so-called “establishment?”
SM: You can’t get anything done on your own and if you start alienating people or taking positions that are unduly controversial, I won’t be able to create the constituencies and the groups that I’m going to need to either form or be a part of, to represent the interests of our part of Minnesota. So I’m not planning on being divisive, and also I’m planning on working with everybody on the Republican side of the aisle and I also plan on reaching across the aisle where I possibly can to advance the interests of our part of Minnesota.
MP: How would you have voted on the final bill ending the government shutdown?
SM: I’m not in Washington and I’m not privy to their conversations. I can neither commend nor condemn the votes that they’ve made because I just don’t have access to the strategies or the back-end.
There is such a divisive culture in Washington DC that it would have not been necessary to shut down the government if people were able to come together, put their cards on the table. When you take a look at what the Republicans were asking for, some of this, in hindsight, wasn’t unreasonable.
MP: Would you attach any conditions to voting to raise the federal debt limit?
SM: First of all, the United States of America has to pay its bills. As we go forward, we have to tie the increases of the debt limit to solid spending cuts, things that are unnecessary: the Department of Energy being turned into a venture capital firm … These are all things that maybe it’s a good in some people’s minds, however, it’s not the true function of the government, the proper function of the government, nor can we afford it, it is not sustainable. So, in a nutshell, yes, anything that we do, budget-wise, has to be tied to spending cuts because our current trajectory is not sustainable.
MP: How would you approach the farm bill and the issue of food stamp cuts?
SM: We [Fleet Farm] are an ag-based retailer. Certainly I support the farmers and anything that we can do to make sure that our farm families are stronger, we need to do as a nation. As far as food stamps or SNAP is concerned, we have to make sure we preserve our social safety net and we wring out any fraud, waste or abuse that is in the program.
MP: Do you have a specific level of cuts in mind?
SM: I know that there is a difference in the cut level between the Senate portion and the House portion, but what the right amount is, you’d have to measure the fraud, waste and abuse.
MP: If the ACA were to be repealed, what type of policies would you propose in its place?
SM: There are some good things in the Affordable Care Act, there are some things that I believe will benefit the American public. However, the way they went about achieving those was the wrong way. When you take a look at the medical economy, you have supply, demand and delivery. The Affordable Care Act, when it was first introduced, said that what we’re going to is, we’re going to bring down costs and we’re going to improve delivery. Well by their own admission, the Affordable Care Act did none of those things.
I wouldn’t scrap health reform altogether. As a matter of fact, I’m for health reform, but I’m for health reform that is going to take us in a different direction that’s going to increase the supply of medical services, that’s going to reduce the demand through prevention and making our population healthier and that’s actually going to make the delivery more efficient.
MP: So go back to the drawing board to try and write a plan doing that?
SM: It’s not so much going back to the drawing board. We have gone down this path, we have had this debate, there is consensus about what we need to achieve and actually have more people covered and not less. You don’t scrap everything altogether, because we’ve invested in this, we’ve invested our time in the debate, and the debate has been productive. We should continue to focus on it and go forward with things that will make our system better.
MP: There’s always a debate in the 8th about balancing environmental and economic especially in areas like mining, forestry, etc. What’s your approach to environmental issues and climate change, and how would you balance all that?
SM: I am a fan of mining and I do think it’s a great industry and it’s an industry that goes way, way back in our heritage. It’s just a matter of making sure a technology and the science behind the mining is one that preserves our ecology. I hunt, I fish, I’m outdoors quite a bit. I want our resources to be clean, to be pure.
Rather than being the guy who holds up the stop sign, we should be rolling up our sleeves and figuring out, OK, we are going to do this, we need to do this. How can we do this in an environmentally safe and sound manner?
MP: Do you have a position on climate change?
SM: I really don’t. I’m open-minded on climate change, but I’m open-minded to both sides of the debate. Certainly we don’t want to do anything that’s going to jeopardize the future of our planet, but at the same time we have to be realistic that: Is the climate changing? Is man causing the climate to change?
And if it is man-caused, what is the right way to go about it? Especially when you have countries like India and China that are polluting at a huge rate. To pick on the farmers and their cost of production or to stand in the way of various pipeline projects may not make any sense in the big picture.
MP: What’s the strategy for winning the 8th? How can a Republican win up there?
SM: This is the year, with what our country is facing, in which people are, Democrats in particular, are going to be taking a very hard look at somebody who may not be a traditional Republican. I believe that I can reach the conservative Democrats and some of the people who have just always voted Democrat year after year, and I can win them over.
My current campaign strategy isn’t getting a large turnout from Republicans and conservatives to overwhelm the Democrats, my current campaign strategy is to reach out to traditionally Democratic voters who care about things such as the future and sustainability of our country, who care about our Constitution, not limited to, but certainly inclusive of, the Second Amendment.
MP: Do you intend on self-funding at all?
SM: I really haven’t landed on that yet. However, conceptually, I’m not going to be asking my supporters to do anything for me I’m not willing to do for myself. I will be playing a role in my campaign financially. However, I’m manning the phones and I’m putting on fundraisers and I’m engaging in all the activities a candidate would. I’m hitting on all cylinders right now and we’ll see what takes place later in the election cycle.