5 questions with Charlie Nickoloff

Charlie Nickoloff, president of St. Paul-based Medical Equities Investments, is a new member of the board of directors at Center of the American Experiment.

You grew up in a rather prominent Iron Range political family.

My father was active way back in the ’50s, ’60s and into the ’70s, the early days of Hubert Humphrey, John Blatnik, Fritz Mondale—what you’d call the glory days of the DFL. As you know, it was practically a state law that you couldn’t be a Republican on the Iron Range. Looking back on it, I think he was really sort of a traditional Blue Dog Democrat. He was a businessman who believed in getting things done.

You eventually went in a different direction?

I don’t think I left liberal politics, I think it left me. It took a severe turn at some point over this time period and has devolved into something that won’t help move the country, or individual freedom, forward.

I had what you’d call a born again experience in the mid ‘80s. Conservative messages started to resonate with me. I realized that there were all kinds of things that government was doing that didn’t seem to make sense.

Conservative ideas continued to speak to me as we got married and started to have a family. That was about the same time the Center (of the American Experiment) was starting up. I began to realize that there needed to be a strong, conservative, thoughtful policy voice in the state… particularly a state like Minnesota that has such a left-leaning bent to its politics.

Is that what drew you to the Center?

It’s a combination of that and people I respected in the public square—people like Mitch Pearlstein and Ron Eibensteiner and others—who were advocating for policies, in a civil way, that advanced conservative thought.

What is your expectation for the Center as a new board member?

I joined the board in part because I was asked, to be perfectly blunt. When somebody turned to me and said, “We’d like to see you help bring some new thinking and by helping us to round out our membership,” I felt it was my turn to say “yes.” I’m also excited to be part of this team and the vision that John Hinderaker is now articulating.

The Center is looking at whether Minnesotans are too bullish on the strength of our economy. What’s your take on that?

Minnesota is a great place to live and certainly can boast a history of innovation. But let’s also remember: For a generation we’ve bemoaned the fact that we’re losing talent and jobs to just about anywhere. There are hundreds of businesses, with thousands of employees, that used to be in Minnesota and are now in South Dakota, North Dakota, Tennessee, or Texas.

You can’t have that happen year in and year out for a couple decades and not have an effect. We’re patting ourselves on the back, saying that we’re doing everything really well, while just throwing a casual eye at this continued bleeding. People and companies are leaving the state for reasons we’re all aware of— taxation, regulation, and honestly, the fear of what our legislature will do next. We need more certainty.