REGIONAL—Joe Radinovich got engaged one day last week—he just couldn’t remember when. Political campaigns are always a whirlwind, but this past week was a month’s worth of hectic rolled into …
REGIONAL—Joe Radinovich got engaged one day last week—he just couldn’t remember when. Political campaigns are always a whirlwind, but this past week was a month’s worth of hectic rolled into five days so Radinovich could probably be forgiven the momentary lapse.
First there was the engagement, to former state Rep. and current St. Louis County prosecutor Carly Melin. Then his father had a heart attack (he’s okay), followed immediately by a breaking news story about sexual harassment in the office of Congressman Rick Nolan, that caught Radinovich in the crossfire.
It was a reminder that life has a way of intervening into the best laid plans, including a campaign for the Eighth District congressional seat.
But back to politics and that sexual harassment story. According to a number of former female staffers interviewed by the highly-regarded online news site Minnpost, a longtime Nolan policy aide, Jim Swiderski, engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment, including groping, targeting young attractive female interns. The report cites eight former interns or staff, all of whom spoke to Minnpost on the condition that they kept their identities be keptsecret for fear of retaliation.
According to the report, top Nolan staff, including Jodie Torkelson and Jeff Anderson, appeared to tolerate Swiderski’s behavior for a time. Eventually, after numerous complaints, Nolan’s top staff allowed the 60-some year-old Swiderski to retire in 2015 with no mention of the harassment allegations. They even threw him a retirement party and later recommended that Radinovich, who chaired Nolan’s 2016 re-election effort, hire Swiderski for a job on the campaign.
Radinovich, who had worked for the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board before joining Nolan’s campaign in January 2016, said he had no inkling of Swiderski’s improprieties.
He said someone at the senior level of Nolan’s office, by which he meant Torkelson, Anderson, or Nolan himself, made the recommendation, but he couldn’t remember who. Radinovich said he knew that Swiderski was experienced and that we was willing to work for relatively little compensation, so it seemed like a sensible hire, which was completed sometime in early April.
But when the decision prompted a reaction from some female staffers who knew of Swiderski’s history, Radinovich looked into their claims. He spoke to one of the staffers who he knew, and who was later part of the Minnpost story. “When she told me it was true, I was irate.”
He said he immediately contacted Torkelson, telling her that Swiderski had to be fired. But he said Torkelson tried to minimize his concerns, so he took the matter a few days later to Nolan himself. “I told Rick that he couldn’t be on the campaign”, and he agreed at that point and gave Radinovich the okay to fire Swiderski. On April 22, Radinovich told Swiderski he was out.
It’s not clear that the story will have much impact on the Eighth District race, given Radinovich’s tangential role and his efforts to fire Swiderski once he learned of the allegations. To date, Radinovich’s DFL opponents have had little to say about it, although the campaign of Republican Pete Stauber was quick to accuse Radinovich of failing to act to protect employees of the Nolan campaign.
On the campaign trail
With just over two weeks to go until the Aug. 14 primary, Radinovich is betting that voters will have other issues on their mind as they head to the polls— and he said he feels good about the current state of the race. He had a particularly strong second quarter fundraising haul, raising $180,000, or more than the other DFL candidates combined. He was the first of the DFL candidates to hit the airwaves, with an ad featuring him on a mountain bike near Crosby, an image that highlights his youth and signals that he recognizes the value of amenities like recreational trails to community and economic development.
His campaign released the only poll in the race last month, which showed most voters still undecided, but put Radinovich in a tight race with former KBJR anchor Michelle Lee, each with support of 16-17 percent of the voters.
“It feels good on the ground,” said Radinovich. “We’re seeing good crowds where we go, and we’re getting good response in forums.”
Radinovich says his message about how to address the rapid changes taking place in the economy appears to be resonating with voters. “I think the biggest issue is that the economy is changing around us,” said Radinovich, noting the rapid pace of technological change is transforming major industries. “Whether you’re in mining, manufacturing, or agriculture, this is happening. People are recognizing the changes, but most are concerned for now about their immediate world, and maybe don’t sit back and see the whole picture.”
Radinovich believes he’s the only candidate with a clear-eyed sense of how these changes will affect society and how to meet the changes. “What politics should be about is the future, and a big bold vision of where we need to go,” he said. That vision includes support for universal health care coverage and providing more affordable access to childcare.
Radinovich shares a view held by other DFLers in the race that much more needs to be done to improve the skills of the workforce, and he recognizes that the region faces more of a skills shortage than a jobs shortage. Addressing that gap, says Radinovich, means “making investments in skills training and re-training, protecting the rights of workers to unionize, and fortifying complementary systems and services that make work possible—like healthcare, childcare, and public education.”
While Radinovich said he sees a place for import tariffs, which have become a hot issue since President Donald Trump lauched his global trade war, Radinovich sees them as a tool best targeted toward unfair traders. He notes that President Obama imposed very high tariffs on some Chinese steel products that were being dumped in the U.S. back in 2015.
Yet, he said, the Eighth District is a classic example of the perils of the kind of indiscriminate tariffs and trade restrictions that Trump has enacted or is threatening to enact. While steel tariffs have pleased some on the Iron Range, Radinovich notes that they have alarmed Eighth District voters in farm country.
“If we’re going to pit farmers against miners I don’t think that’s a winning formula for rebuilding the middle class,” he said.
Radinovich is well aware of the key role that the Eighth District could play in determining which party controls the U.S. House after the fall elections, an outcome that will largely determine whether Congress provides a check on President Trump. Putting more Democrats in Congress, said Radinovich, “would give us the ability to hold him accountable.”
Radinovich said he’s been concerned that Trump has failed to follow through on the primary proposals he campaigned on. “The three messages that he ran on were ‘drain the swamp, stopping job killing trade deals, and protecting Social and Medicare,’” all of which helped Trump make inroads with former Democratic voters. But Radinovich said Trump has done nothing to improve ethics in Washington and notes that Republicans in Congress are increasingly targeting the safety net, including Social Security and Medicare for possible cuts. While Trump has taken action on trade deals, Radinovich said his indiscriminate approach is hurting many American workers and is alienating our traditional trading partners.
As for last week’s Helsinki summit, Radinovich called out Pete Stauber, the likely GOP nominee in the Eighth District, to disavow Trump’s decision to side with Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence officials regarding Russian interference in U.S. elections.
“Pete Stauber has embraced the President at every turn, and failed to stand up for American democracy. I believe that any candidate who claims to fight for the interests of working people would denounce the President’s actions as he degrades our democracy,” said Radinovich “We should be concerned, and we should send a Congress to Washington, D.C. capable of holding the President accountable to the American public, not a foreign dictator."