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From legalizing pot to eliminating the corporate tax: IP candidate for governor Hannah Nicollet on the issues

Hannah Nicollet: "I don’t know if I want the government running health insurance when they haven’t been that efficient in other areas."

If Hannah Nicollet had her way, Minnesota would be the third state to legalize recreational marijuana. The Independence Party gubernatorial candidate also believes anyone charged with possession of the drug should be pardoned for the offense.

In the long tradition of Independence Party candidates in Minnesota, Nicollet is espousing ideas on the campaign trail not often uttered by candidates from the other two major parties — proposals that don’t fit squarely on any particular side of political spectrum. Nicollet, a software developer by trade, supports investing in roads and bridges, is pro-mining and wants to eliminate corporate taxes in the state. But she wouldn’t try to get rid of MNsure, and says Minnesota should look beyond its borders for policy solutions that are working in other states and countries.

“As a software developer, if we have problems to solve we would look for a tool or an application that was already doing what we wanted to do, and to whatever extent we could, not try and reinvent the wheel,” she said. “If we have problems to solve and someone has already done it, why legislate in a vacuum?”

Here’s a look at where she stands on taxes, the budget and other major issues that will face Minnesota’s next governor: 

Taxes: Nicollet’s biggest complaint on the campaign trail so far has been, as she sees it, stagnant private sector growth that has led to thousands of Minnesotans who are underemployed. She has consistently pitched a dramatic solution to the problem — completely eliminate Minnesota’s corporate tax to make the state friendly for businesses to expand here.

“Right now we have the third highest corporate income tax in the nation, at 9.8 percent, and it is also the most costly to collect. Businesses spend most of the time trying to comply with it and trying to get deductions,” Nicollet said. “The total revenue that it amounts to in our state budget is only 4 percent. It’s only a small part of our budget and it makes things a lot less business friendly. I’d like to do what Ireland did in the 90s and just eliminate it.” [Note: Ireland does, in fact, have a corporate tax.]

Budget: Nicollet isn’t specific when it comes to where she would cut in the budget to make up for lost revenue from cutting taxes, though she believes eliminating the corporate tax will increase activity in the private sector. “People always look at revenue like it’s a fixed pie. Revenue is not a fixed pie, it changes all the time,” she said. “Taxes influence behavior. If you are strategic about how you make tax cuts then you can influence behavior.” 

If she’s lucky enough to have a surplus to spend as governor, Nicollet said she would put nearly all that money into the state’s deteriorating roads and bridges. She would also support increasing revenue to pay for additional infrastructure improvements, but she wouldn’t specify how she would raise the money or how much she would raise. “Every year we don’t [fix infrastructure] it it’s costing us money. I would try to get that started as quickly as possible, but within reason,” she said. “You don’t want to put your whole state under construction at one time. I would project out four years to get all of the work done.”

Education: Education spending and policies have become the centerpiece of this year’s gubernatorial campaign, particularly how to address Minnesota’s achievement gap, one of the worst in the nation. Nicollet doesn’t believe money is the problem — Minnesota dedicates the largest portion of the budget to education. “We clearly care about it and we are making it a huge priority, but we haven’t been strategic about it,” she said.

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She said she would start by giving school districts more independence to address the individual needs of their students. The achievement gap is a problem across the state, but the approach to fixing it could be different in an urban district than in a school in rural Minnesota, she said. “A lot of time we have these one-size-fits-all kind of solutions, like Common Core, and clearly one size doesn’t fit all or we wouldn’t have the achievement gap that we do,” she said.  “I would like to see more autonomy where kids can have their needs met — their local, individual, community, cultural needs — addressed right in their school district, and they haven’t had the freedom to do that.”

Nicollet also isn’t eager to continue tuition freezes at the state’s public colleges and universities. Those institutions regularly get state money thrown their way, she said, but they’ve done little to cut administrative and other costs to keep tuition down over time. “Now our state institutions are building things like health clubs and we keep giving them money in our bonding bill to building more buildings,” she said. “But it looks like they haven’t been forced to innovate.” 

Sex offender treatment: Minnesota’s controversial treatment program for dangerous sex offenders will be in the spotlight in February, when a federal judge takes up a class action lawsuit alleging the program is unconstitutional. At the crux of their argument is a startling statistic — in the nearly 20-year history of the Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment Program (MSOP), only one person has been successfully released from the prison-like facilities in Moose Lake and St. Peter. Nearly everyone in the program has already served their prison sentences.

Reforms to deal with the constitutional issue of locking up people indefinitely in the program have stalled in the Legislature, despite warnings from U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank that he could take action if lawmakers don’t. For Nicollet, the solution isn’t in a dramatic overhaul of the program, but simply increasing accountability at the judicial level. Judges in each county review cases and recommend prisoners for treatment in the program, and Nicollet would like more public information available about these decisions and the judges who make them.

“It’s a solution that comes on the end of something that should have been solved in the beginning. We have no accountability in the judicial process,” Nicollet said. “You can’t even look anyone up who are giving out these sentences. I want to bring more transparency to our judicial branch. They have the least amount of accountability of any branch of government in the state.” 

Marijuana: On the national level, Nicollet’s views on marijuana are becoming less radical. Two states have already legalized recreational marijuana and others have decriminalized it, but Minnesota was slow to open its doors to even medical marijuana. This spring lawmakers passed the most restrictive medical marijuana law in the nation.

“Obviously I take drug abuse seriously, but marijuana in particular doesn’t make anyone violent and it doesn’t kill anyone, whereas someone dies every 19 minutes from a prescription drug,” Nicollet said. “And their kids are my other concern. I know people who are very good parents who smoke pot, and then we have kids paying the price in foster care. Being taken out of your home is very traumatic.” 

“Treating drugs as a criminal issue versus a public health issue has so many unintended consequences,” she continued. “It’s dangerous to the people who get raided, it’s dangerous to the officers, and all for what? You are terrorizing people on the state’s dime.”

MNsure: Nicollet finds herself somewhere in the middle of the debate over MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange. On one hand she wants the program to continue, unlike most Republicans, but she doesn’t want to push it on Minnesotans who aren’t interested. “We need to focus on just those who need subsidies. I don’t know if I want the government running health insurance when they haven’t been that efficient in other areas. I don’t want us to create another payment at the state that we can’t afford to pay,” Nicollet said. “I want to keep people who needs subsides on the exchange, but not push it on everyone.”

She’d also like to open up the possibility to shop for insurance from other states and move Minnesota away from employment-based insurance coverage. “Nowadays people change jobs so much, so if you lose your doctor every time you change jobs it doesn’t make sense.”

Mining: When it comes to the controversial PolyMet non-ferrous mining project on the Iron Range, which environmentalists fear could pollute the area’s pristine lakes, Nicollet finds herself on the side of the miners. “They need the jobs in outstate Minnesota,” she said. “Economically, our rural areas are the ones hurting.”

Her biggest concern is getting PolyMet to commit to covering the costs that come when the mine is used up. “It costs about $200 million to close a mine and $6 to $7 million every year after that for maintenance. And that could go on for a couple hundred years,” she said. “The problem is when mining companies declare bankruptcy at the end and the state is stuck with those costs. We want to make sure that they really have the money to do the end care.” 

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/24/2014 - 10:51 am.


    While I like the idea of making pot completely legal, I have to wonder about some of Nicollet’s other ideas.

    MINING: We’re not looking at maintenance costs of $6 million per year for two hundred years on a closed mine. We’re looking at FIVE HUNDRED years–and that’s the minimum. Out of that the state will get twenty years of payroll taxes and then we’ll get stuck with 500+ years of water monitoring and processing. Explain to me again how this is a good deal.

    Yes, northern Minnesota needs good jobs. No, this is not the way to go about it.

    TAXES: Eliminating corporate taxes makes for a good sound bite, but at the end of the day it’s poor policy. Someone else, namely the tax payers, have to make up the difference. Or services, namely those that go to tax payers, have to be cut.

    Businesses use our roads, airports, court system, and other government services. They use the benefits of our society, so it’s a no brainer to ask them to help pay for it too.

    HEALTH INSURANCE: Some areas of government are not as efficient as they could be, but that is also true of the private sector. To pretend otherwise is to put blinders on your face and pretend that poo from the private sector doesn’t stink. Medicare’s administrative overhead is typically 3%, whereas private sector health insurance runs around 30%. It looks to me like the government is a lot more efficient in this area.

    Opening up our exchanges to plans from other states is a non-starter as we’ll just get the crappy plans the other states don’t want either. Or they simply won’t sign up for an area, as we’re seeing in Rochester where the Mayo Clinic has a lock. No one else wants to come in and try to compete with the big kid on the block.

    Single payer universal health is the only sensible way to go. Anything less than that is just rearranging deck chairs while the ship sinks. Stop messing around with band-aids, get universal in place, and call it done.

    ROADS: We’ve spent a fortune on roads and bridges, to the point where we have the fifth largest network of paved roads in the country, even though we’re not the fifth largest state. I’m not saying we need to eliminate spending on highways, but we do need to spend more–a lot more–on mass transit. Let’s get some equity in the system while at the same time allocating more funds to road maintenance. We can also spend on road expansion, but it can’t be at the rate we’ve been spending in the past. It’s simply not sustainable, as demonstrated by the huge backlog of maintenance issues we already have.

    Nicollet has some good ideas, but for the most part her positions strike me as half baked and not well thought out. Like so many other candidates, it doesn’t seem like her intellectual pool is very deep. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker when running for office–just look at some of the candidates we’ve already elected. But if that’s the case, then she needs to surround herself with good policy advisers who have though through the issues and have a good grasp of the implications from taking a certain course of action.

    • Submitted by Peter Mikkalson on 10/24/2014 - 11:43 am.

      While much of what you say…

      is true, it’s also the case that the existing two party system hasn’t addressed the issues with any greater success and by their failures may have simply made things worse. I’m for a breath of fresh air this election! Go IP!

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/24/2014 - 12:25 pm.


        I’m not in favor of a breath of fresh air–I’m in favor of an intelligent breath of fresh air.

        Go IP? Go intelligence!

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 10/24/2014 - 01:27 pm.

        A breath of fresh air

        A half-baked idea is not a good one, no matter how fresh it is.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/24/2014 - 03:06 pm.

        Two party yada yada

        Third party candidates doing stupid things is no improvement over two parties, it just adds more stupidity to the mix. It’s magical thinking and ignorant to assume that the private sector is more efficient than the government, especially with health care.

      • Submitted by Philip Fuehrer on 10/27/2014 - 07:53 am.


        Up to 6% with leaners – from 1% in the previous Mason-Dixon poll. Traditional IP upward movement later in campaigns.

  2. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 10/24/2014 - 11:15 am.

    Myths about corporate taxes

    MYTH #1: If a corporation pays income tax, it just raises prices to cover that tax:
    FACT: Most people I’ve talked to believe (without having thought much about it) that corporations are taxed in the same way as employed individuals, that is, all their income minus a few insignificant deductions and exemptions.
    Actually, corporations are taxed only on their *profits,* that is, income minus expenses, which can include cost of raw materials, employee wages and benefits, costs of leasing buildings and equipment, depreciation of purchased equipment, utilities, advertising, business travel, shipping charges,and supplies, including little items such as pencils and paper clips. Clever accountants can make a prosperous company look unprofitable on paper, thereby minimizing or eliminating its tax obligations.
    Raising prices when non-tax expenses have not increased only brings on more income tax liability.
    To take a simplified example, if a product costs $100 to make and market, and the company sells it for $150, then the company pays taxes only on the $50 profit. If it were to raise the price to $200, then it would be paying income tax on $100 profit, unless it could find another expense to offset the increased income.

    MYTH #2: Corporate taxes are “double taxation,” since shareholders already pay income tax on their dividends.
    FACT: The notion of “double taxation” is a quaint one. It seems to be say that no dollar bill can ever be taxed twice, and yet this doctrine appears to apply only to corporations, not to individuals.
    Look at the situation of typical company employees. They are paid certain wages or salaries on which they pay state and federal income tax. With the remainder of their money, they buy goods and services. The providers of these goods and services then pay income tax on the profits from their businesses, but they also pay (with pre-tax dollars) their employees, who then buy goods and services from other businesses. The same dollar bill is taxed several times, because taxes are not levied on dollar bills but on *holders* of dollar bills. (This is akin to another quaint right-wing argument, which says that Obama’s presidency is illegitimate because the area covered by the red states is larger than the area covered by the blue states, as if each acre of land had a right to vote.)

    MYTH #3: Taxes take money out of the private economy
    FACT: This would be a valid argument if governments simply took tax money and buried it in the ground. However, all governments use tax money to buy things and pay people to do work. I’m talking not only about the unfairly maligned government workers but also about the many private businesses that win government contracts to build buildings, supply military uniforms, provide fleet cars, run employee cafeterias, or process driver’s licenses. Isn’t it the right wing that wants to privatize prisons and schools, ostensibly for “greater efficiency and accountability” but really to get their grubby paws (or their friends’ grubby paws) on all that government money? And what about the billions that Dick Cheney’s buddies at the company formerly known as Haliburton made from delivering inadequate supplies to the troops in Iraq?

    MYTH#4: Companies always go for the place with the lowest taxes
    FACT: If you’re talking about companies looking to source their low-skilled jobs for the lowest possible cost, then places like Alabama and Mississippi are appealing. If you’re talking about companies that require intelligent, skilled workers, they don’t want to set up shop in Alabama or Mississippi. They want places capable of producing intelligent, skilled workers, preferably with a high quality of life that will motivate those workers to stick around.
    In any case, Minnesota is already doing better than the surrounding states other than North Dakota, which owes its current boom (and housing shortage and increased crime) entirely to the Bakken oil field.
    It’s true that Minnesota still needs more private sector jobs, but so does every other state.

    On the whole, Ms. Nicollet’s ideas seem like Rockefeller Republicanism, not a new approach.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/24/2014 - 11:52 am.

    She hasn’t won me over

    …but even if her policy prescriptions are, as Todd Hintz has said, “half-baked,” they’re still more appealing than what I’m hearing from the Republican candidate. That’s not enough to win my vote, however.

    Transportation is going to be a front-burner issue for the foreseeable future, and I agree with Hintz – and many a planner and traffic engineer – that we simply cannot build our way out of traffic congestion. The fiscal costs are unbearable, and so are the environmental costs of covering even more of the state with concrete and asphalt. Other modes need to be given more attention and funding. Traffic engineers I’ve spoken with assure me that 60% of the cost of a road “over its lifetime” is maintenance, not construction. We (not just Minnesotans, but state and local governments in general) almost never set aside that kind of money for maintenance – it’s not headline-grabbing like a new highway opening – which is why Minnesota is now billions of dollars behind in highway maintenance funding.

    Speaking as a life-long teetotaler, I do like her position on marijuana, and in fact, would like to see it go further. Drug use – any drug, not just marijuana – is a mental health issue, and it ought to be decriminalized first, then legalized. End the symbiotic relationship between police departments and the whole, abysmally failed, “war on drugs.” Regulate and tax all of those substances the same way alcohol (also a drug, and at present, far, far more dangerous to individuals and society than marijuana) is now regulated and taxed.

    But those are my positions, not hers. I like having a viable female candidate for Governor, and one not closely affiliated with either party. I don’t agree with all her positions – health care being a prominent one – but I don’t agree with *all* the positions of almost any candidate. I just wish the whole “independent” policy regime were better organized, and not tied so tightly to dubious libertarian ideas.

  4. Submitted by Richard Callahan on 10/24/2014 - 02:39 pm.

    She should have been included in ALL the debates

    Agree with her or not, she and her party deserve to have their views aired in the debates. It’s a shame that even NPR excluded her.

    We need at least one alternate third party viewpoint. The Republicans and DFL aren’t getting us anywhere.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/24/2014 - 03:43 pm.


      While the two major parties may not get everything done on your agenda, I would argue that one of them is doing a heck of a good job. Just to name a few items, one of the parties has

      -Improved Minnesota’s economy, to the point where we have lower unemployment than the national average.
      -Paid back money borrowed from schools.
      -Runs a surplus and is contributing money to the state’s rainy day fund.
      -Getting our infrastructure repaired.
      -Advanced marriage equity for all people.
      -Rolled out health care for thousands of people who have never previously had it.

      Is it a perfect track record? Heavens no! But to say that neither party is getting us anywhere is a bit of a disingenuous stretch.

    • Submitted by Mike Worcester on 10/24/2014 - 04:05 pm.

      Major Party Status

      While I won’t be casting my vote for her as a candidate, state statute had defined the IP as a Major Party. To use polling numbers as a barrier for inclusion to a candidate forum shows a near cavalier disregard for our laws which determine who can be called a major party. Of course, those same laws cannot force candidate forum inclusion.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/24/2014 - 07:50 pm.


      When said “major party” finds itself able to prevent its nomination process to be overrun by members of another party (The Libertarian Party), essentially rendering the former a shell entity of the latter, we can talk. Thanks for the catch Todd, pretty dire times for when two of your candidates for statewide office are masquerading Randian infiltrators and another is a kid who resorts to comment boards for publicity.

  5. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/24/2014 - 03:55 pm.


    I thought Ms. Nicollet looked familiar–I’ve met her several times at gun shows where she’s been selling bumper stickers that essentially say “I hate the gub’mint.” Ironically, she wants to become part of the government.

    The post below is a MinPost article from 1 ½ years ago.

    Here’s a video she posted espousing some of her views.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 10/24/2014 - 07:57 pm.

      But wait

      I thought Libertarians were supposed to be the “next big thing”? Its a rather telling commentary on the character of one who instead of being upfront and honest about her Randian ideology, would rather attempt to hoodwink the electorate by stealing the supposedly moderate mantle of a weakened IP in a desperate attempt to gain power. But hey I guess it shows some growth, at least the Libertarians realize their ideology will never be accepted by the populace at large.

    • Submitted by Tom Lynch on 10/24/2014 - 08:44 pm.

      I heard her interviewed on a radio talk show a couple of weeks ago. She sounded like a real crackpot. And not a very smart crackpot. She could barely answer the easy softball questions. The host had to answer his own questions for her….except for her right-wing talking points. She sounded like a typical GOPer. Except for the pot question.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/24/2014 - 09:39 pm.


        Yeah, she’s not exactly an eloquent speaker. The video listed above is painful to listen to.

        I hope the IPs don’t mind if I go waste my vote elsewhere.

    • Submitted by E Gamauf on 10/25/2014 - 10:47 am.

      Way too funny: You weren’t kidding!

      The gun show circuit, ok.

      But anti-government stickers – and she’s running?
      That’s just too funny, but I know a few people that would vote for her.

  6. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/25/2014 - 07:59 am.

    Gun Show

    Well, I’m off to the gun show this morning. Maybe Ms. Nicollet will be there again at the Libertarian table, volunteering her wisdom to all who will listen.

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