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

A look at where the paper’s editorial board and its endorsed candidate for the 8th Congressional District disagree.

Stewart Mills
MinnPost photo by Devin Henry

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.”

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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.”

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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:

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“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.”