Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

EDITORIAL: It's time for Nolan to retire

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In the #MeToo era, the political risks surrounding sexual harassment, or the condoning of sexual harassment, have increased significantly. And that’s why the DFL cannot afford to have Rick Nolan sitting near the top of its ticket this fall.

The DFL, under the leadership of Party Chair Ken Martin, has made it clear that zero tolerance is the new normal for party staff, volunteers, candidates, and elected officials. That’s laudable because it’s the right thing to do.

It also provides a powerful political counterweight to a Republican Party that is severely hamstrung on this issue by the looming presence of Donald Trump. Polls show that fewer than a third of American women currently support the President, and his treatment of women is almost certainly a major factor in the record-setting gender gap when it comes to Mr. Trump. While DFL candidates will have a plethora of strong issues to run on this fall, the party’s position on sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace is one more important issue that will likely play well with women voters.

Rick Nolan’s presence in the race would strike a discordant tone to that message, which is why he should step down from his current candidacy as Lt. Governor under gubernatorial candidate Lori Swanson.

Nolan, in short, appears to be out-of-step with the party when it comes to zero tolerance. As we report this week, it appears Nolan was openly dismissive when a young gay man working in the DFL field office in Mt. Iron during the 2016 campaign approached him at a campaign event to ask for help in addressing ongoing harassment by two other staff members in the office.

While Nolan’s campaign issued a statement categorically denying that he ever spoke to the young man, we spoke to him and two additional eyewitnesses to the conversation, who all related a similar version of the discussion and Nolan’s response. We also obtained a photograph from that Oct. 13 campaign event, showing Nolan, the young man, and the two eyewitnesses present at the event.

Faced with such evidence, we question whether Congressman Nolan’s denial is credible.

Our report comes on the heels of reporting by Minnpost, which documented that Nolan allowed an alleged serial harasser to work on his staff for years and when they finally took action in 2015, they reportedly allowed him to retire rather than firing him. They reportedly even threw him an office party and later recommended him for work on Nolan’s re-election campaign.

For a DFL party that is looking to set an example on sexual harassment, bias, and discrimination in the workplace, the possible presence of Nolan near the top of the ticket should be cause for real angst. While Nolan has spoken out in his own defense in recent days, the rule of politics is if you’re having to explain yourself, you’re already losing the debate.

Whether any one of us believes or disbelieves the Congressman isn’t really the point. It is an issue that Republicans would undoubtedly exploit in the fall election should Nolan and Swanson emerge as the nominees in the Aug. 14 primary. The prospect of Trump’s GOP attacking a Democratic ticket for condoning sexual harassment may seem astonishing, but Nolan’s presence on that ticket would make it an almost certain line of attack.

Indeed, the state Republican Party has already done so in the wake of the Minnpost story, arguing in an official statement that “Nolan’s failure to deal with sexual harassment on his staff proves that he does not represent the morals of Minnesotans and should not be running for public office.”

Such a message is likely to resonate with more than a few Minnesotans.

Nolan has had his time in politics, and he has a record of which, in most cases, he can be proud. But times change and his apparent attitudes regarding what constitutes a safe and appropriate workplace, we believe are no longer in sync with the views of most Minnesotans, and certainly not with the views and goals of the Minnesota DFL. For the good of his party, it’s time for Nolan to exit the political stage.

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