Skip to main content

You vote for them, but what does your congressman actually do?

Meetings, traveling, paperwork, and maple syrup, here's a taste of how U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan spends his days.
  • Author:
  • Updated:

Nov. 8 is about more than just Clinton vs. Trump, Minnesotans will cast their votes for a host of candidates and ballot issues – among them their choice for U.S. Representative.

Given they have to fight to retain their seat every two years and with the ubiquitousness of re-election/attack ads every other fall, you'd be forgiven for thinking your member of Congress is in constant campaigning mode.

So once you've voted them in, what is it they actually do? GoMN has asked two Minnesota U.S. Representatives, U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican, and Democrat Rick Nolan, to provide a rundown of a typical few days in their lives representing you.

Today, we take a look at Rep. Nolan, who in November is up against Republican candidate Stewart Mills to represent Minnesota's 8th Congressional District, which covers northeastern Minnesota, including Duluth, Brainerd and the Iron Range.

He tells us he has a life of early mornings, traveling around the state, and making maple syrup in the little free time he has.

A day in Minnesota

Rep. Nolan tends to spend the weekend plus either Friday or Monday in Minnesota when Congress is in session, before traveling to D.C. on either on Monday or Tuesday until Thursday or Friday.

This year's session lasted 111 days, meaning he will spend the bulk of the year in Minnesota, although this year's session was short compared to 2015's.

For Rep. Nolan, the day starts at 5 a.m. with the perusal of national and Minnesota newspapers, before he "hits the road" around 7-8 a.m. to attend his first meeting.

"The Eighth District sprawls from the Canadian border, all the way down to Chisago County – and from Wisconsin to Wadena County – so he spends a lot of time in the car, where he’ll utilize the windshield time by reviewing memos, constituent mail, scheduling, signing letters, doing paperwork and reading any one of our 50-plus weekly local newspapers," Nolan's spokesperson Samantha Bisogno says.

His schedule for the day will range from roundtables to tours of small businesses, medal-pinning ceremonies for veterans, and various meetings. "No two days are alike," Bisogno adds.

His day ends around 8-9 p.m – clocking in at around 13-14 hours.

A day in D.C.

His day starts at the same time and in the same way: reading the newspapers. At around 8 a.m. he will get a legislative update from his staff, before beginning his round of daily committee meetings, policy briefings and constituent meetings.

It's not just meetings, with Nolan also spending time to review mail from constituents, sign letters and do paperwork.

"When votes are called, he takes the opportunity to connect with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to discuss legislation and build relationships," Bisogno says.

"His day usually ends around 8-9 p.m. by discussing upcoming legislative issues with his staff and attending several events held by various groups that have flown in from Minnesota to meet with their elected representatives."

In the House

Alongside his daily duties, Nolan will spend time during the week trying to secure time on the House floor, working with committees and House leadership so his bill proposals get some attention.

As one of the House's 435 lawmakers, he will join his colleagues to introduce legislation and amendments to bills in his two committees on the floor, and will network to recruit co-sponsors for his legislation.

He says he regularly communicates with federal agencies as he "conducts oversight and advocacy" relating to programs that affect his Minnesota district.

He also meets weekly with the other "anti-TPP" members of Congress as they fight against the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which could have an impact on jobs in his district, and will also organize briefings and meetings on behalf of local constituents.

Free time in the rugged outdoors

As for free time, he doesn't get very much. Bisogno says the life of a congressman is so intensive that Rep. Nolan generally works six or seven days a week.

On the occasions he gets a free Saturday or Sunday, he'll spend it with his wife, Mary, and his four children should they be available, attending grandchildren's basketball games or golf tournaments.

In keeping with the 8th District's outdoor lifestyle, something both he and Mills have been keen to reference in their campaign ads, Nolan says when he gets the chance he'll take to the lakes in a canoe to harvest wild rice.

He says he'll hunt and fish with his family, taps and boils maple syrup with his wife, and has plenty of yard-work to keep him occupied.

Next up

On Friday we'll be taking a look at a day in the life of a Republican member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who represents Minnesota 6th District. You can read about his typical day here.

To find news, commentary, and local events leading up to the 2016 election, head to GoVoteMN.

Next Up

Screen Shot 2022-07-03 at 9.32.09 AM

6-year-old Northfield girl missing, mother dead of apparent suicide

Anyone who had seen the girl or her mother in the past two weeks should call Northfield police.

Pixabay - jet skis resting

Jet skier injured in explosion on Minnesota lake

The explosion happened on Little Lake 14 in St. Louis County.

Krisit Noem

Kristi Noem's response to 10-year-old Ohio girl pregnant after being raped

Abortion is illegal in South Dakota unless the mother's life is in danger.

police lights

Sheriff: Deputy shoots gun-wielding man in western Wisconsin

One deputy fired on the man, striking him in an unknown area of his body.

Screen Shot 2022-07-03 at 7.28.32 AM

Man found dead in 26 inches of water in Le Sueur County

The 45-year-old was found in near the shoreline on Lake Washington.

police lights

Man arrested after abduction attempt in Bemidji

The incident occurred in Cameron Park on June 25.

betty danger's

Betty Danger's in NE Minneapolis for sale for $4.2 million

The asking price includes the restaurant's ferris wheel, as well as a nearby single-family home.


Minnesota health officials warn monkeypox cases could grow rapidly

The state has so far confirmed only six cases of monkeypox virus.


Bodies of woman, three young children recovered from Vadnais Lake

Authorities say the bodies recovered were those of two boys, one girl and their mother.

Pixabay laptop keyboard phone dark

Charges: Duluth man had hundreds of child porn images, videos

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found nearly 330 images on the man's electronic devices.

hennepin county sheriff water patrol lake minnetonka

Scuba diver found dead in Lake Minnetonka identified as 20-year-old

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office said 20-year-old Brady Alan Aune, from Elko New Market, died of freshwater drowning on June 3.


What is a typical day like for your congressman?

Meetings, fundraisers and morning runs, here's a taste of how U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer spends his days.

Bernie Sanders backs MN Congressman to become DNC chair

"He is supporting Congressman Ellison for the DNC," Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs told Politico on Thursday.

Second Presidential debate: What you need to know

When it starts, how you can watch, and what to expect from the second Presidential debate tonight.

Here's why 3 of Minnesota's U.S. House races are so important this election

Democrats and Republicans see these races as important – here's an explanation.

The Electoral College votes today – here's what to expect

Electors will meet at the State Capitol at noon to cast their vote for president and vice president.

What's Joe Biden doing in Duluth? Trying to help a Democrat in a close race

The race in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District was very tight in 2014.

A record number of Minnesotans voted last month

Minnesota also had the highest turnout in the nation – again.

What do Minnesota's young Trump voters want from his presidency?

They voted for him. Now here's what they want to see from a Trump administration.