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The Star Tribune endorsed Stewart Mills for Congress. His policies? Not so much

MinnPost photo by Devin Henry
Stewart Mills

So who saw that coming?

On Monday, October 27, the Star Tribune endorsed 8th District Republican challenger Stewart Mills over Democratic incumbent Rep. Rick Nolan.

The decision caused a stir on social media — much of it speculating on whether new owner Glen Taylor’s politics and stated preference for a less liberal paper had anything to do with the decision.

Editorial page editor Scott Gillespie said the paper has a long-standing tradition of not discussing how the editorial board arrives at its decisions, though he did say the talk about Taylor misses the mark. “We take a nonpartisan approach to making our picks, despite what some on the left and right want to believe, and it would be wrong for anyone to read anything broader into a single endorsement decision,” he said in an email. “The Star Tribune endorsed candidates from both parties — and independents — long before Glen bought the paper. People who see evidence of our page ‘turning right’ in this year’s endorsements are reading very selectively, in my opinion.”

Yet the endorsement was notable not just for who it supported — Mills was not the only Republican the paper endorsed this election cycle; the paper also backed both Erik Paulsen in the Third Congressional District and John Kline in the Second — but how it did so. 

While praising Mills for his “intelligence and pragmatic instincts,” his “realism,” and his energy and zest,” the paper also noted that it “would welcome more specifics” when it came to entitlement reform and — most importantly — that it differed with Mills “on a number of issues.”

How many is “a number”? Hard to say, exactly, but a look at recent Star Tribune editorials and Mills’ policy positions and statements shows that the candidate and the paper seem to disagree on quite a bit, including prominent issues such as gun control (which the Strib duly noted), taxes, Obamacare, the environment and foreign affairs.

Here, a closer look at where the paper and its endorsed candidate in the 8th Congressional District diverge: 

MillsStar Tribune Editorial Page

Mills’ campaign was essentially kicked off in 2013 with a 12-minute video about Second Amendment rights addressed to Rep. Rick Nolan and Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar. An excerpt:

“Rick Nolan’s duck gun is much more lethal and impractical than the so-called assault rifles that he would legislate away. … Gun control isn’t about controlling guns. It’s about controlling people and limiting your freedom. … Gun-free zones are killing our kids. … They are magnets for psychopaths.”

The paper has long supported gun control measures: In an Aug. 24 editorial on the regulation of firearms at the state Capitol, for example, it noted:

“Measures that merit serious consideration include bag checks — like those that many professional sports fans already endure — and the use of metal detectors to check for weapons at certain times or places in the Capitol complex. … Strong consideration also should be given to statutory changes that would clearly give public safety officials the authority to check whether gun owners who provide advance notice about their intent to carry at the Capitol do in fact have a valid permit.”

MillsStar Tribune Editorial Page

Mills has not been shy about his distaste for the law. From a position statement he gave to Minnesota Public Radio:

“One of the main pillars of my campaign is to repeal and replace Obamacare with real health care reform that will lower costs and increase access to care. As plan administrator of the self-insured health plan at our family’s business, I’ve seen first hand the disastrous effects Obamacare will have on health care in our country. The fundamental point here is that socialism doesn’t work, but consumerism does.”

The paper, on the other hand, has been a supporter. From June 13:

“The venomous politics dogging the Affordable Care Act and the flawed rollouts of its new health insurance marketplaces have too often overshadowed health reform’s noble goal: ensuring that more Americans have access to vital, potentially lifesaving medical coverage. … While the state’s mostly Republican critics of the ACA quickly complained that the MNsure website was too costly to build and that the coverage gains came mostly through public programs, the dramatic drop in the uninsured rate is still a milestone.”

MillsStar Tribune Editorial Page

Mills supports both the PolyMet and Twin Metals copper-nickel mining projects and believes the permitting process has taken too long. From his MPR statement:

“We should be taking advantage of opportunities that copper-nickel mining could offer the Iron Range. Projects like PolyMet and Twin Metals will bring economic benefits and hundreds of new jobs to the Range in a time when unemployment is disproportionately high in our district. The environmental review and permitting process for these projects has gotten out of control, and I’ll work in Congress to make sure we can pursue these projects in a responsible way without having to wade through years of red tape and bureaucracy.”

The paper doesn’t seem to think the review and permitting process is out of control. In August of 2013, it said the public should be given “ample time” to weigh in, and in a Feb. 21 editorial on a legislative hearing having to do with Polymet, it stated:

“Given the high stakes and the state’s inexperience setting financial assurance for a mine like PolyMet, it’s important to have public scrutiny of this critical process. It’s also good to spotlight this issue so that regulators, legislators and the public are informed as other companies vie to mine the region’s rich deposits of copper, nickel and other metals vital for electronics and green-energy technology. The transparency will go a long way toward reassuring a state that has significant uncertainty about this new type of mining.”

MillsStar Tribune Editorial Page

Mills wants to flatten the tax rate for everyone. From his Oct. 7 debate with Nolan:

“We need simplification of our tax code to make sure our small- and medium-sized businesses that make up over 80 percent of all employers in the 8th District are not put at a competitive disadvantage. For the benefit of the middle class, we need to flatten out the tax code and simplify it.”

It’s a bit of an apples and orange comparison (state vs. federal), but the paper has expressed its support for higher taxes for the top tier of earners with its support of Gov. Mark Dayton’s policies. From its Oct. 19 endorsement of the governor:

“Johnson’s desire to not just reform state taxes but also reduce them, to a level he does not specify, should give Minnesotans pause. … State government stability is itself a competitive asset, one Minnesotans should not want to jeopardize again. Dayton deserves credit for the fiscal stability that has returned on his watch. His push to correct the oversized income tax cuts enacted in 1999 and 2000 was important to that change, as was the discipline to enlarge the state’s reserves and repay more than $2 billion owed to school districts.”

MillsStar Tribune Editorial Page

Mills advocates taking the fight to ISIL, even if it involves American forces. From his debate with Nolan:

“We don’t have a choice in this one. They have a direct stated intention of attacking Americans, attacking America and American interests abroad. And the current track that we’re on is the right track. Because we need to leverage our air power, we need to work with our allies in the region, whether it’s Saudi Arabia, whether it’s Turkey, it looks like they’re getting interested, and it’s right in their interest to make sure we crush the threat of ISIS.”

The paper has tended to be far more circumspect when it comes to using U.S. forces in the Middle East. From a Sept. 19 editorial:

“… Assad has been targeting the more moderate factions in order to show the West that the alternative to his butchery is an even more barbaric terrorist organization. So if the moderate rebels aren’t an effective enough force, whose boots will be on the ground? And if ISIL is defeated, won’t Assad benefit? These are among many tough questions that Congress must ask as it debates next steps. In typical fashion, Congress prioritized campaigning over governance, and so a vote authorizing military force wouldn’t take place until after the election. But Congress can’t, and shouldn’t, avoid vetting Obama’s strategy before it takes any future steps toward another Mideast war.”

Comments (37)

  1. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 10/31/2014 - 03:13 pm.

    A different wall

    It makes me wonder if the wall of separation between the editorial board and the advertising department had a hole knocked in it. The weekly Fleet Farm supplement plus plenty of daily ads puts them in the top tier of advertisers. The endorsement is mystifying. Or maybe Mr. Mills brought the editorial staff onto his boat for lobster? Sorry, could not help that one!

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/31/2014 - 04:04 pm.

      Actually Bill, both the boat and the lobsters you’re thinking about belong to the DFL.

      My guess is it’s Alida Messingers dingy.

  2. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 10/31/2014 - 03:48 pm.

    Good policy

    “the paper has a long-standing tradition of not discussing how the editorial board arrives at its decisions”

    Too bad. Trying to explain some of their choices would be hilarious to hear about.

  3. Submitted by Eric Black on 10/31/2014 - 03:56 pm.

    Good piece Adam Wahlberg. Personally, I hesitate to conclude that the change in ownership or the fact that Fleet Farm is an advertiser are the key factors. And it’s okay for Scott Gillespie to stand behind a policy of not discussing how the editorial board came to its conclusion. The place to explain that would be the endorsement itself. But if you read the editorial with this in mind, the writers were unable to cite a single issue on which the paper prefers Mills’ position.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/31/2014 - 03:59 pm.

    Mills is a shoe-in, so the Strib has nothing to lose by endorsing him and it avoids the awkward appearance of being a rubber stamp for the DFL…again, I mean.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/31/2014 - 06:52 pm.

      Is this

      trick or treat?
      It’s a bit early for April Fools.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 10/31/2014 - 09:06 pm.

      That’s what you guys said in 2012

      I’ll wait til all the votes are counted.

    • Submitted by Tim Walker on 11/06/2014 - 07:20 am.

      “Mills is a shoe-in”

      Another in a long line of Mr. Swift’s uncanny election predictions.

      Why, I wonder, hasn’t President Romney hired this intellectual powerhouse to work as a White House strategist?

  5. Submitted by Mac Riddel on 10/31/2014 - 04:04 pm.

    So essentially Taylor let the staff know they can write anything they want about the candidates as long as they endorse the right people? Sure seems that way. That said, the Trib has been gradually tipping right for several years now.

  6. Submitted by Mary Quain on 10/31/2014 - 06:42 pm.

    Excellent piece from Adam Wahlberg

    After one of the best leads I’ve ever seen, Wahlberg’s piece goes on to provide side-by-side comparisons of the Strib’s and Mills’ respective positions on specific issues. The comparisons reinforce a glaring disconnect between the candidate and the paper, made even worse by the paper’s own admission.

    By not providing any substantial reasons for endorsing Mills, but rather just using fuzzy terms about his personality, the announcement begs several important questions and severely diminishes the paper’s credibility. In terms of journalistic integrity and value, Wahlberg’s piece put the Strib’s announcement to shame.

    Any wonder a reader might ask, “Is Glen Taylor the new Rupert Murdoch?”

  7. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/31/2014 - 09:47 pm.

    Confusion with the facts

    Minnesota’s Thorstein Veblen once wrote that it is the job of the editor (if not the publisher) to know and tell the public what they like to believe. A lot of people, including some MinnPost readers and commenters, like to believe that a bunch of empty suits, like Mills, Paulson and Kline, will be elected on Tuesday and that it will be a good thing, never mind why. These people would prefer that newspapers like the Star Tribune keep the facts under raps because it tends to confuse them. You just can’t please some people.

  8. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/01/2014 - 07:19 am.

    Politically naive

    Me, that is. It never occurred to me that Glen Taylor would take an active part in editorial page endorsements, and this endorsement still doesn’t seem that way to me. For one thing, Taylor has sounded at least somewhat rational, and there’s almost nothing ratioinal about the ‘Strib endorsing Mills. Adam Wahlberg has simply made the irrationality of the endorsement obvious for everyone to see.

    “We don’t agree with your positions on ‘x,’ ‘y,’ and ‘z,’ but we’re going to endorse you for election because…”

    Cue the sound of crickets.

    It strikes me as a case of cognitive dissonance. Either the editorial board doesn’t believe what it has said in the past about various issues, or its endorsement of Mills is entirely tongue-in-cheek. Editorial boards rarely express a sense of humor, so I lean toward the former.

    That, or one of the board’s right-leaning members wrote out her/his personal endorsement, based on the same sort of irrationality that right-wingers often display, someone mistook it for the notes of the editorial board meeting, and it got printed as the paper’s position by mistake.

    Yeah, that’s it. The endorsement is a mistake…

  9. Submitted by Joan Peterson on 11/01/2014 - 08:17 am.

    Mills Star Tribune endorsement

    I wrote a letter to the Star Tribune which was not printed. In it I stated that their endorsement made no sense. One of the important issues, as your article pointed out, is gun safety reform. The Star Tribune said that Mills had an “unyielding stance” on the issue which concerned them. This is just one example of the disconnect between their endorsement and the facts on the ground. We just don’t need more unyielding politicians who refuse to work for the majority of their constituents instead of the lobbyists who fund their campaign. As a resident of the 8th district, I know that the corporate gun lobby ( NRA and others) have poured a lot of money into this campaign to distort Rep. Nolan’s views. It’s disturbing. I have lost a loved one to gun violence. Too many of us have. Gun rights and gun violence prevention are not mutually exclusive as Mills would have us believe. His own business sells a lot of guns. Follow the money.

    On health care reform the Strib essentially called Mills and expert which he certainly is not. He would take us backwards in so many areas without having a plan for how to even do that. If we care about health care, Social Security, the environment, infrastructure, public safety, Medicare, the economy and other issues of great importance to us all, we don’t need Mills’ “fresh face” in Congress taking us in the wrong direction.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Beckfeld on 11/01/2014 - 10:12 am.

    Conflict of interest

    I suppose the millions in advertisements that Mills Fleet Farm pays the paper had nothing to do with it’s endorsement.

  11. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 11/01/2014 - 10:43 am.

    “People who see evidence of our page ‘turning right’ in this year’s endorsements are reading very selectively, in my opinion.”

    Pretty classic non-denial obfuscation, there, Mr. Gillespie.

    More to the point, what policies of Mills does the Star TRib support? How many times does a Republican need to get elected with a vague platform and then ram policies through that are much more harsh than advertised (a la Walker, Kasich, and many others).

    More broadly, a bigger House majority for Speaker Boehner will just embolden the right wing of the GOP, whether Mills specifically joins them or not.

    I predict that some time in 2015 the Star Trib will be publishing editorials decrying the US House bandying about impeachment (or, heaven forbid, actually voting articles of impeachment), and will see no connection whatsoever between that and endorsing blank slate Republicans like Mills.

  12. Submitted by Paul Harvey on 11/01/2014 - 11:58 am.

    Strib endorsements

    The Strib throwing in an endorsement or two for candidates it doesn’t agree with has always puzzled me, and it is not a new phenomenon. Sometimes the editors offer a weak “new voice” rationale (which could be said of any challenger to an incumbent) or the equally unsatisfying, “he/she more closely fits the district.” My guess is that the editorial page editors feel such endorsements convey the impression of the page’s bi-partisan independence when they more likely convey incoherence or lack of conviction.

  13. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 11/01/2014 - 12:15 pm.

    The Strib editorial folks could feel that–this is my general impression in talking to folks from around the state since I moved here–their endorsement is the kiss of death in certain circles.

    Many folks just scan the headlines and read what interests them, pay scant attention to the editorial pages and they really don’t need pesky facts to back up a headline and lead in or, perhaps, a slant. They think what they think before, during and after they see, scan or ignore some prose attempting to relate some tidbits of objective reality.

    Perhaps Strib folks feel they can turn the tide in this way and, Who knows?, they might be right.

  14. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 11/01/2014 - 02:18 pm.

    The editorial board went with a young male. A non-incumbent young male with “energy” and whatnot to counter all the endorsements they made of older male incumbents.

  15. Submitted by Sherry Gunelson on 11/01/2014 - 02:40 pm.

    Mills Endorsement

    Well I agree with Ray that the Strib endorsement of Mills was a mistake. However, I don’t believe a Strib endorsement is worth much.

  16. Submitted by Gary Melom on 11/01/2014 - 03:36 pm.

    Strib Endorsement of Mills

    One more example of actual journalism !!! Good job !!!

  17. Submitted by Jon Lord on 11/01/2014 - 04:56 pm.

    Simply put

    The Strib is backing free market rights but not the rights of a free people although hinting they’d prefer the opposite. Classic Conservative vs Liberal politics.

  18. Submitted by John Appelen on 11/01/2014 - 06:47 pm.

    Why Nolan

    So many comments that note differences between Mills and the Star Trib folks. Now does that really matter?

    They may think Mills isn’t ideal, that however he is better than Nolan.

    • Submitted by E Gamauf on 11/02/2014 - 04:46 am.

      Mills – You really like his hair, too?

      Don’t know much about either candidate, but the caricatures are childish.

      The attach ads, especially the nonsense that the NRA put out, is a little stupid.
      As though “knowing the number of shells in a duck gun” is like pixie dust.

      Ostensibly, Mills knows the number of shells in a duck gun?
      Jeez, call the Nobel committee!

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 11/02/2014 - 09:40 pm.

        Worse than

        Do you really think either side owns the high ground in “good ads” in that contest.

        The folks focusing on Mills inheritence, salary, hair, etc. And hiring an actor to portray Mills grilling lobster…

        I can not wait until Wednesday when we back to normal commercials.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 11/02/2014 - 08:40 am.

      Then why doesn’t the Strib simply say

      That it likes Mills better than Nolan regardless of his positions. Too difficult? LOL

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/03/2014 - 10:19 am.

      Yes, it matters

      Why would the Strib endorse an candidate if they disagree with his most important positions?

      If the editorial board truly disliked both candidates, they should note that fact and refrain from making an endorsement. Of course, that would require integrity, and open them to accusations that they are not balanced, but that’s the price to pay.

  19. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 11/01/2014 - 10:16 pm.

    A pathetic paper

    And this ridiculous endorsement is just further proof. Did the editorial board like his hair? They oppose all his other positions.

  20. Submitted by Kevin Bradley on 11/02/2014 - 09:06 am.


    To say that disagreeing with Obamacare indicates a “distaste for the law” is misleading. I know attorneys, judges, politicians, and law enforcement professionals who uphold the law but disagree with Obamacare.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/03/2014 - 10:00 am.

      “The law”

      I don’t think that the term “the law” was referring to law enforcement, but rather to the Obamacare law. I read it the same way initially, too. Poor layout, for sure, but not necessarily misleading.

  21. Submitted by rolf westgard on 11/02/2014 - 07:19 pm.

    Rick Nolan

    is a winner regardless of the election result.

  22. Submitted by Deborah McLaren on 11/02/2014 - 09:01 pm.

    Thanks for

    pointing out real facts – side by side.

  23. Submitted by E Gamauf on 11/03/2014 - 06:58 am.

    Newspaper as Paper Maché Dinosaurs

    Sports, Business Press Releases & Coupons
    Tiny, tiny comics

    This newspaper, like so many others, is a shadow of its former self. Nobody much uses newspapers as their primary source of information any more than they use telephone books.

    Newspapers are the last throes of a dinosaur and the Strib is starting to look like a small community advertiser.

    While people watch the paper, maybe what they should be watching is Net Neutrality & the consolidation of the internet as just another sales conglomerate.

  24. Submitted by Jon Lord on 11/03/2014 - 07:45 am.

    Mills is an uninformed but wealthy hack who wants to sell more guns and that’s his main concern. That he’s concerned that Nolan doesn’t know how many shells there are in a duck gun is disingenuous at best. Is he concerned that people know about how many shells there are in an assault rifle? Of course not. Whether they know or not he’s willing to sell them the gun anyway and with the largest clip possible, regardless of what they know or who they are.

  25. Submitted by Nathaniel Finch on 11/03/2014 - 12:00 pm.

    Fresh face

    For a “fresh face,” Mills certainly has a tired old hair-do. Anyway, I prefer a “fountain of smart” to a “fountain of youth.”

  26. Submitted by Susan Maricle on 11/07/2014 - 01:15 pm.

    Mills for Governor in 2016?

    He wouldn’t get my vote, but I can see him running for Gov in 2016. He grabbed a solid chunk of 8th District votes and statewide would garner the support of Fleet Farm Republicans, to paraphrase Tim Pawlenty. His strongest asset, I have to admit, is he owns all the behaviors that his opponents tried to shame him with.

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