After decades away, two veteran lawmakers return to Congress as freshmen

Rick Nolan, D-Minn, and Matt Salmon, R-Ariz

Rick Nolan, D-Minn, and Matt Salmon, R-Ariz

Power is hard to give up. Perhaps that's why at least nine of the nearly 80 newly elected members of Congress have served previous stints in Congress. Most are Democrats who lost in the Republican wave in 2010, but for two Representatives-elect, a lot has changed since their last run around the block.

When Rep.-elect Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., last served, Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House, Bill Clinton was president, 9/11 was unimaginable and the economy was strong. He left the halls of power in 2001 because he stuck to a self-imposed pledge to serve only three terms - for a while anyway. Eleven years later, he finds himself roaming the same with a lot of new faces.

For Rep.-elect Rick Nolan, D-Minn., his time away from D.C. was even longer. Last time he served, Jimmy Carter was president - enough said. His 31-year absence from Washington led him to the private sector and back. At the age of 68, he defeated Tea Party-backed Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., in one of the most expensive House races in the country that cost more than $4 million. He told CBSNews.com that he still believes his liberal politics but that he is much wiser and realistic this time around.

CBSNews.com spoke with both veteran/freshman lawmakers during their new member orientation on Capitol Hill this week.

Q: Mr. Nolan, you've returned to Congress after a 30-year absence why did you decide to come back?

Rick Nolan: The country's been good to me and my generation. Back in Minnesota we live with the old notion: for those too much is given, much is expected. The country's in trouble and I just felt compelled to step up with the firm belief and conviction that I could come here and make a difference on day one.

Q: Mr. Salmon, you served in the late '90s, why are you back?

Matt Salmon: The country is pretty screwed up. When I left we balanced the budget four years in a row. when I left we had a surplus of $240 billion; the federal debt was right around $5 trillion. I felt pretty good when I left, we left the country in pretty good fiscal shape. It's in terrible shape now. Anybody who has an opportunity to change things in a positive way has a responsibility to participate.

Q: You left due to a term limit pledge.

Salmon: I'm not going to do that again.

Q: Why not?

Salmon: I think it's foolish to term limit yourself when nobody else has to follow those rules. The second thing is when you term limit yourself, you're a lame duck from the first day and nobody takes you all that seriously. It's the same reason a lot of us argue that you shouldn't be talking about an exit strategy. Once you prosecute a war you shouldn't be talking about that immediately because your enemy just waits you out. When you term limit yourself, it's something i learned the hard and painful way, because... you're a lame duck from day one.

Q: Mr. Nolan, do you have different expectations than your first trip?

Nolan: No. My expectations, I suppose, are little bit different because the country's in some of the most serious economic trouble that it's been in perhaps since the Great Depression. The challenge now, of course, is to create jobs and grow the economy and get the country moving forward in a positive direction.

Q: Mr. Salmon, have your expectations changed this time?

Salmon: I'm a lot wiser than I was before, and I know all things aren't as they seem, and I've learned you have to pick your battles wisely. There are a lot of people who are really sincere about trying to fix the problem and a lot of people that aren't - [people] that are just serious about getting reelected.

Q: Mr. Nolan, what will your priorities be? How are you going to [create jobs and fix the economy].

Nolan: The first thing we have to do is change the way we do our politics. There are just hundreds of millions of dollars of super PAC money poured into negative campaigns on both sides all across the county, and it's really perverting the entire process making it somewhat toxic.

People ask what's the difference between now and then.... my first term we worked 48 out of 52 weeks, the current Congress has only spent 32 out of 52 weeks working.... what's happened is everybody's campaigning and nobody's governing and that's getting the country in a mess. We have to take all this money out of politics.

Nowadays, people say you should spend 30 hours a week of call time raising money. We never did that. We spent our time in committees, in meetings get to know one another, getting to respect one another, finding compromise.

The first bill I'm going to introduce, or co-sponsor, is to reverse Citizens United. The second bill is provide for public financing for federal elections, and thirdly, I think it's time we consider putting a limitations on campaigning... so elected officials can spend their time governing.

Q: Mr. Salmon, what are going to be your priorities this time around?

Salmon: A top priority is to produce a reasonable platform for a balanced budget as quickly as possible. While I think the Ryan plan was a decent idea, I think we can do a lot better than that. I think 25 years is... a lot too long. I think something that balances within the next five or six years.

Q. Mr. Nolan, have your politics changed in any way in the past three decades?

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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