The first challenger to Congressman Pete Stauber, R-Duluth, emerged and it’s a well-known face that rapidly rose to national prominence amid a heated debate on health care and skyrocketing prescription costs for life-sustaining medication.

After months of speculation, Quinn Nystrom threw her hat in the ring. The 33-year-old diabetes and health care advocate will officially announce her candidacy to run as a Democrat in the 2020 8th Congressional District election at a gathering 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 3, at the Whipple Beach pavillion in Baxter.

“I have a history of 23 years of public service, of standing up for people, of being an advocate, of bringing collective voices,” Nystrom said during a Wednesday, Oct. 2, phone interview. “That’s what being an elected official is — it’s about listening to people, it’s about their stories and issues and finding solutions. It’s about not backing down and that’s what I’ve done my whole entire life.”

Surrounded by family members and supporters, Quinn Nystrom (center) participates in a campaign kickoff event Thursday, Oct. 3, at Whipple Beach in Baxter. Nystrom is running in the 8th Congressional District as a Democrat for the 2020 Election. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Surrounded by family members and supporters, Quinn Nystrom (center) participates in a campaign kickoff event Thursday, Oct. 3, at Whipple Beach in Baxter. Nystrom is running in the 8th Congressional District as a Democrat for the 2020 Election. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

While the only declared candidate now, it remains to be seen if other DFL challengers to Nystrom will emerge before primaries and the 8th District DFL convention, which is scheduled for May 2-3, 2020, at a place yet to be determined.

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A Baxter City Council member from 2014 through 2018 and a one-time challenger to state Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, for Minnesota House of Representatives District 10A in 2016, the bedrock of Nystrom’s candidacy will likely rest in her track record of advocacy for diabetes issues and reduced costs for life-sustaining medications such as insulin.

While she’s been active in these issues for more than two decades, her profile skyrocketed in the last year. She has become a prominent face of a movement, from St. Paul to Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., to London, with a series of trips into Canada to purchase insulin and interviews with state, national and international news outlets. She’s joined prominent figures such as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders to stump for a more humane health care system that doesn’t profiteer off people with incurable conditions.

In her talks as a candidate with the Dispatch, Nystrom largely framed her campaign along these same lines — the ongoing struggle to reform the health care system to be more fair and humane, while its current state amounts to no less than a human rights crisis.

“There should be no reason that we have some of the highest prescription drug costs in the world and we have some of the highest rates of rationing prescription drugs anywhere in the world despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world,” Nystrom said. “I don’t think the answer is a trip to Canada. I’ll be damned if that’s the solution to our health care problems. We need to stand up to corporate interests and pharmaceutical companies.”

Baxter resident Quinn Nystrom smiles at an event kicking off her campaign for U.S. Congress Thursday, Oct. 3, at Whipple Beach in Baxter. The 33-year-old who's received national coverage for her diabetes advocacy will run as a Democrat for Minnesota's 8th Congressional District. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Baxter resident Quinn Nystrom smiles at an event kicking off her campaign for U.S. Congress Thursday, Oct. 3, at Whipple Beach in Baxter. The 33-year-old who's received national coverage for her diabetes advocacy will run as a Democrat for Minnesota's 8th Congressional District. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Describing herself as a moderate, Nystrom said she has the wherewithal, track record and credentials to be a unifier and coalition builder as a Democrat in a district that’s voted increasingly conservative in recent years.

This is based on a platform, she said, which disdains partisan bickering and emphasizes hearing people’s concerns and finding ways to bring various groups together toward a common goal.

“I think people agree on a lot of things, much more than we disagree on,” she said. “The people of the 8th District want to come to the middle. I’m a true moderate. That’s what people know me as. That’s how people saw me on the Baxter City Council.They knew I’d take time to listen, to hear them out, and that’s what I’m going to do on this campaign.”

This stance was echoed in Nystrom’s position on copper-nickel mining in the district -- an open-minded approach, she said, based in a concerted effort to explore the issue with experts, miners, and others related to the industry.

As for Stauber, Nystrom spoke critically of the freshman congressman and said he’s failed to uphold his promises to members of his constituency in dire straits, despite communicating some of these promises directly to her.

“I met with Congressman Stauber in March when I was out in D.C.,” Nystrom said. “We met with him regarding diabetes issues and I was really hoping he’d come along and really fight for us, knowing this is a real human rights crisis. But, he didn’t come through on his promises and I now have little choice but to run against him.”