A tight race in the Eighth District has taken some nasty turns with the most recent recriminations centering on Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack’s residency in the district. It’s a legitimate issue, but both DFL challenger Rick Nolan and Cravaack are guilty of shading the truth on the topic.
Nolan erred by running ads that incorrectly claim that Cravaack no longer lives in the district. The representative does own a house in North Branch, but his family has moved to New Hampshire, which has certainly raised questions about where Cravaack’s interests really reside.
The Nolan campaign has defended the ads, claiming the point is to demonstrate Cravaack’s lack of ties to the region he serves. While it’s fair game to question if a representative has real ties to his or her district, the campaign overreached in stating that Cravaack does not live in the district.
However, Cravaack also crossed the line by attempting to paint Nolan’s ad as an attack on his family, which he claims broke a gentlemen’s agreement by the two candidates. Cravaack’s claim, which he has trotted out to friendly newspaper editors and television reporters, is patently ridiculous. Nolan’s ad never made any mention, or claims, about Cravaack’s family. Indeed, if it had limited its residency claims to Cravaack’s family, the ad would have been accurate. Instead, it only mentions Cravaack himself, which is where the ad went wrong.
It was Cravaack who decided to drag his own family into the spotlight in a transparent ploy to garner sympathy from voters over the struggles that his autistic son faces.
Cravaack has also been disingenuous in claiming that he never made residency an issue when he ran against former Congressman Jim Oberstar. In a recent interview with KSTP-TV (available on YouTube), Cravaack claimed he never questioned Oberstar’s residency, but was criticizing the congressman’s absence from the district. Cravaack’s claim doesn’t square with the facts. Video footage from two years ago, shows that Cravaack did, indeed, challenge Oberstar’s residency, repeatedly telling audiences that the congressman did not live in Minnesota. Cravaack, who was born in Ohio, even suggested that he had more connection with the area because he had kids going to school in the Eighth District. That’s no longer the case, of course.
From a purely technical standpoint, residency in the district isn’t a requirement for representing the region in Congress. The real issue is how deeply one is rooted to the region— and on that score, Nolan wins hands down.
Nolan, who was born and raised on the Cuyuna Range, previously served in Congress, but returned to Minnesota instead of remaining in Washington, D.C., after leaving Congress. Many former congressmen have used their political connections to earn lucrative paychecks as lobbyists and consultants, but Nolan opted to return to Minnesota, where he worked in economic development, even starting his own successful small business in the wood products industry. Were Nolan to lose his race, we have every expectation that he will continue to live and work in the Eighth District.
By contrast, should Cravaack lose his office, does anyone really believe he’ll return to live in North Branch? He may own a house in Minnesota, but his heart and his home should clearly be with his family in New Hampshire.
That doesn’t disqualify Cravaack as a viable candidate, and he’s made an effort to stay in touch with people in the district by regularly sending staff to communities to hear from constituents. But the congressman has come under fire for his own absence from the district and votes — such as lack of support for Essential Air Service — that run counter to the district’s needs.
That’s why residency, and roots in the district, remains a legitimate issue. It’s unfortunate that both candidates have muddied the waters with inaccurate ads and statements. Voters deserve better.