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Rep. Nolan West, 26, began working on campaigns a decade ago and says he always wanted to go into public service. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

Breaking the Ice: From controversial candidate to freshman lawmaker

Name: Nolan West

Title: Representative, District 37B

Education: B.A., history, University of Minnesota


Freshman Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, has decorated his office “like a museum” with historic-looking artwork and a small collection of old books. The history buff, to some visitors’ surprise and amusement, also displays a large portrait of “Seinfeld” character Kramer.

Also present is a bust of Abraham Lincoln, which recalls the controversy over inflammatory social media posts in which West criticized Lincoln and spoke of “lynching time.” West apologized after the old posts came to light in September, resigning his post as a legislative assistant but continuing his candidacy.

“It’s who I was when I was an ignorant youth but it’s not who I am today,” West said in a recent interview, characterizing the posts as “stupidity and hyperbole.”

West, now 26, began working on campaigns a decade ago and always wanted to go into public service, inspired in part by his mother, an Anoka County commissioner.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. There’s a lot of good ways: Coffee. “Calvin and Hobbes.” “The Far Side.” Over there I have the complete collection of “Calvin and Hobbes” and “Far Side.” Or “Seinfeld.” I am a “Seinfeld” fanatic; [a portrait of] Kramer’s on the wall right there.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail” by Hunter S. Thompson. I have a history degree, so I love looking at social difference. … I read lots of philosophies of all kinds. I used to be a real jerk in high school and even early college. Just thought I knew everything in the world. And I only read stuff I agreed with 100 percent. I only read the blood-red conservative stuff. Then I lost a few arguments even though I didn’t want to. Maybe I don’t have all the answers. So I started branching out and reading stuff that was diametrically opposed: “The Communist Manifesto,” “The Essential Nietzsche.” That helped me immensely as a person to grow and understand other people’s perspectives.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. Chewing. Chewing is the worst. I understand that 99 percent of the time, it’s my problem. It drives me crazy though.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I paint miniature models. Read a lot of old books. My oldest one is [from] 1858. Rereading a history book from 1926 is incredibly interesting because everything is fresh in these people’s minds.

Q. Has an event or person inspired you?

A. I have tremendous parents. My dad puts everything into his children because the only thing that I can identify that he spends on himself is he takes one golf vacation every year. Otherwise he spends his entire life looking after his children. I’m the youngest of four sons. He still treats us all like we’re children. I’m the youngest at 26. The oldest is 36.

Q. What would be one way to end partisan polarization?

A. Both sides are 100 percent at fault. Just talk to everyone. They can realize I’m coming from a place that wants to help everyone. They’re also coming from a place that wants to help everyone. We just disagree on how to do it. That way we can take our two philosophies and create something that makes us both sort of happy and sort of not happy but we can’t get too upset about what we don’t get.

Q. Where do you like to eat lunch?

A. If I’m in district, Carol’s [Restaurant] right off Highway 65 on Aberdeen. That’s a locally owned place in Blaine. They serve standard American food but everything is made from scratch. You can taste it; it’s wonderful.

Q. What’s your first impression of the renovated Capitol?

A. It’s spectacular. You feel like you went back in time to 1905. They kept a lot of those original fixtures. Nothing feels updated and new. Even the new elevators, they gave them a little retro rustic look, which is amazing.

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