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The 6 most intriguing congressional stories of 2014

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Democrats tried their best to deliver, but voters were dismissive: Obama’s approval rates fell and Republicans won 13 House new seats and control of the Senate for the first time in eight years.

1. The endearing blueness of rural Minnesota. The 2014 elections were historically bad for one subset of Democrat: the red-state, red-district, rural Democrat. But in Minnesota, in the reddish 7th District and the blue-but-a-battleground 8th, Democratic Reps. Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan survived an onslaught of outside money and strong Republican challengers to hold on to their seats. Minnesota’s rural areas truly buck a trend. The Republican sweep across the United States was so pronounced that Minnesota’s outstate congressional districts are almost alone in their blueness — both senators, the congressmen and the governor are all Democrats, and the onlyother places where that’s true are on the coasts.

2. The defining of DCCC Stewart Mills.” Stewart Mills was a political rookie when he challenged Rick Nolan this year, but he caught on quickly. He had a good grasp of policy. He could work a room. He wasn’t beholden to talking to points. But he’s also, well, rich. Really rich. And that’s the Stewart Mills Democrats wanted voters to think of when they went into the voting booth: the hair-tossing, lobster-grilling, yacht-driving Mills — a character invented by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to flood the airwaves this year (even in the Twin Cities market, well south of the 8th District). The caricature sought to alienate Mills from middle-class voters and supplant the candidate himself. And it may well have worked: even the politically disinterested knew Mills as the candidate struggling to keep his shoulder-length hair at bay.

3. The meaning of member perks. These are the facts: state lawmakers get per diems, and U.S. congressmen get reimbursements for private travel. And this is the spin: Your member takes way, way too many of them. In the 7th District race this year, both sides highlighted these “member perks” as reasons to vote against one candidate or another. Peterson took mileage to fly his private plane around his district, which is roughly the size of South Carolina. He once attended a conference in Las Vegas. His opponent, Torrey Westrom, took per diems at the state Capitol. The implication: these people care about themselves, not their constituents, and don’t deserve our vote. Voters couldn’t turn on their televisions this year without hearing it.

4. Democrats fail in Congress, on the trail. Congress passed fewer laws than any time in modern history, which meant, inevitably, the failure of major priorities for Congressional Democrats and President Obama. The Senate passed immigration reform, but Republicans killed it in the House. Democrats wanted to raise the federal minimum wage, but even as voters supported it, Republicans didn’t join their cause. Even bipartisan efforts failed: Both Republicans and Democrats wanted to reform the NSA and undo intrusive surveillance techniques, but couldn’t agree on how. Democrats tried their best to deliver, but voters were dismissive: Obama’s approval rates fell and Republicans won 13 House new seats and control of the Senate for the first time in eight years.

5. The triumph of a wonky Al Franken. Despite a handful of attack lines against his challenger, Sen. Al Franken’s re-election campaign mostly took a very issue-focused approach to making his case for a second term: student loan refinancing; taxes on hedge fund managers; credit rating agency reform; the farm bill. Franken’s campaign ads were heavy with policy talk, and he used debates and public appearances to highlight work he’s done with Republicans over his tenure. Franken turned to topics like net neutrality throughout the campaign as well. He’s become Congress’s most vocal defender of the open Internet policy, and its biggest critic of massive cable company merges. With Republican Mike McFadden dispatched with in November, he can turn his attention to bigger opponents, namely Time Warner, Comcast and the rest.

6. The sad ballad of George Tsunis. It was a uniquely Minnesotan thing to be upset about: the under-qualifications of the nominee to be ambassador to Norway. When businessman George Tsunis made mistake after mistake at a January Senate hearing (insulting a member of the country’s governing coalition, saying the constitutional monarchy had a president, admitting he’d never even been to Oslo), a group of Minnesotans and other Midwesterners stepped in to prevent his confirmation. Tsunis was never going to win Republican support, so when four Democrats, including Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, said they would vote against him, his nomination was all but sunk. He confirmed as much this month, and the Senate adjourned without voting on him. 

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 12/27/2014 - 08:51 am.

    Al Franken and…..

    Betty McCollum have now become career politicians. 20 years from now they will still be in office.

    And why the fuss over an ambassador appointment to Norway, a country that is insignificant as far as strategic value to the US?

  2. Submitted by Michael Hess on 12/29/2014 - 03:38 am.

    tried their best?

    The article says Democrats tried their best to pass legislation as though it was some valliant effort. There was a staggering lack of bipartisanship from Democrats and Republicans, I’d argue reaching across the aisle instead of how Harry Reid ran the Senate would have been ‘their best’.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/01/2015 - 01:51 pm.

      Can’t Blame

      Sen. McConnell. He did his bi-partisan best to get some reasonable legislation past. The guy just bent over backwards to compromise, to no avail.

      With Reid out of the way, I’m sure we’ll see a blizzard of legislation signed by Obama. And Obama’s appointments will be approved in short order, quickly alleviating that backlog.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/29/2014 - 01:18 pm.

    I don’t think the voters were dismissive at all. They clearly, and forcefully rejected the Democrat agenda.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 01/02/2015 - 08:41 pm.

      You mean he miniscule numbers of voters that turned out.

      35% of voting eligible…Republican votes accounted for 17% of that number. There was nothing clear or forceful about it. And you also seem to forget that Obama was reelected easily in 2012. The democratic agenda is alive and well…as you’ll find out in 2016

  4. Submitted by Michael Hess on 01/01/2015 - 10:22 pm.

    No you won’t

    there is no reason to assume that a change in the Senate will unclog some logjam. As I said neither republicans or democrats have demonstrated bipartisanship and there is sadly no reason to think it will change now. With posturing before the 2016 election and candidates pandering to their extreme wings compromise will be hard to come by.

    Obviously your reply is sarcasm but choosing to blame just the Republicans ignores the guilt of the Democrats in this unproductive divisive political cycle. the article states the Democrats tried their best, evidence is to the contrary.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 01/02/2015 - 08:42 pm.

      If you mean Harry Reid

      ignored bills from Republicans that were laden with pet projects and GOP social engineering, you’re right. That still doesn’t make it a Democratic problem.

      • Submitted by Michael Hess on 01/03/2015 - 09:20 am.

        it does

        When Harry Ried takes up without allowing changes only Democratic “pet” bills and Democratic “Social Engineering” and refuses to allow votes on anything else, yes that’s a Democratic problem. Politics requires compromise and negotiation. Face it there are no innocent victims on either side of the aisle here, both parties have screwed this up and until the center is restored we’ll likely have more of the same. Blaming only Republicans is naive.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/04/2015 - 12:57 pm.

          Give us a number

          How many votes on House bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act should Senator Reid have allowed?

          • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 01/04/2015 - 04:23 pm.

            Oh surely,

            Hundreds of votes since the right wing has absolutely no substitute for healthcare reform. They need plenty of cover for their lack of ideas. LOL

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