Stauber champions Iron Range way of life in bid for second term

The former police officer and St. Louis County commissioner has cast himself as a culture warrior fighting for the Iron Range way of life.

U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber
U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber

Well, this isn’t 2018 anymore, that’s for sure.

In what’s already been a political era of smashed expectations and vanishing precedents, 2020 still finds a way to upend preconceived notions for Americans across the country. There are few, if any moments in American history where so many “once-in-a-generation” crises unfolded during the same calendar year: An economy in a tailspin. Millions thrust into poverty and homelessness. Social unrest and riots across the globe. Natural catastrophes blotting out the sun. A worldwide plague that killed hundreds of thousands. Wars and rumors of wars — just to name a few.

And so, with Nov. 3 looming on the calendar, is it surprising that both major parties have described Election Day in biblical terms of success or failure — preserving the American way of life or a calamitous fall into ruin? Only the future can be the judge if this political dogfight is portents of what’s to come, or just self-serving hyperbole by politicians, but there’s little doubt that 2020 represents a year of reckoning for powerful forces in American life that have been mounting for decades.

In the 8th Congressional District, voters will decide between incumbent Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Hermantown, or DFL challenger Quinn Nystrom, whose rise to prominence is directly tied to her nationally-acclaimed advocacy for diabetics and stints in local government as a council member for the city of Baxter.

Pete Stauber

If Pete Stauber is reelected on Nov. 3, he would be the first Republican to win a second term in the 8th Congressional District since William Alvin Pitenger, who last served in 1935-1937 — otherwise, the 8th has been a DFL stronghold represented by names like Blatnik, Oberstar and Nolan for the lion’s share of 80 years.


But, that was before the rise of President Donald Trump. The 8th Congressional District swung more than 15 points in favor of the Republican nominee in 2016 and elected Stauber himself by a comfortable margin in 2018, perhaps signalling a definitive red shift for the district after decades of Democratic loyalty.

Leaning on his background as a retired police officer for the city of Duluth and former St. Louis County commissioner, Stauber has been lauded as a bipartisan workhorse who’s passed numerous bills despite being a freshman in the minority party of the House. A staunch pro-Second Amendment and ant-abortion advocate, Stauber has struck a moderate tone on some key economic issues, such as his outspoken support for union and labor causes and promises to defy his own party in the event Republicans push to slash entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.

While he speaks highly of the president and often invokes Trump’s goals as his own, Stauber has largely avoided the kind of populist language Trump rode to victory in 2016. He has, instead, cast himself as a homegrown culture warrior who’s defending a way of life that’s characterized the Iron Range for decades.

His support for the president has led to some contradictions, as Stauber’s outspoken praise for the 2016 Republican tax cuts — which entailed a $1.5 trillion deficit hike and cut $200 billion from entitlements — stand in opposition to Stauber’s promises to defend entitlements like Social Security and Medicare for seniors, as well as his criticisms of America’s mounting debt load.

Much like Nystrom, Stauber said the main challenge facing the 8th District the coming two years is COVID-19 and how the federal government will navigate a host of related issues as diverse as pandemic relief funding to expanding rural broadband, from copper-nickel mining to law enforcement reform — and everything in between.

Health care reform

In 2020, roughly 40 million Americans lost their jobs at the height of the pandemic and tens of millions lost their employment-based health care coverage as a result. As the nation tries to find its footing again during the worst health crisis in a century, much of the national discourse has centered around alternative ways Americans can secure affordable health coverage even if they can’t maintain a job for no fault of their own.

“What I'm not going to support is the $33 trillion takeover of people's health insurance by the government that'll kick 180 million people off their private health insurance,” said Stauber in an emphatic rejection of government-based universal health care. “The answer is, yes, we can enhance and work on health insurance in a bipartisan voice. You're seeing that right now with the Affordable Care Act. That is currently the law of the land.”

Stauber pointed to a number of as-yet unpassed bills that would reduce some prescription costs and promised that pre-existing conditions would continue to be protected, but did not provide any indication of a model change or health care system that Republicans would push to replace the Affordable Care Act.


National debt

During the presidency of Donald Trump, the U.S. national debt skyrocketed at a rate previously unseen in American politics, increased by just under $7 trillion in less than four years. Some of this can be attributed to budgetary decisions and tax policies by the Trump Administration prior to 2020, but much of it is tied to pandemic relief bills needed to soften the blow from statewide lockdowns intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Stauber said the debt is a pressing concern, but this is an unprecedented crisis and the federal government needs to prop up local economies in the short-term to avoid a complete collapse.

“We're right in the middle of this pandemic. We're not through it yet,” Stauber said. “So we're still looking at targeted investments that need to be made to keep this economy going and our small businesses across the nation to keep their doors open, because we know that small businesses are the engine of our economy.”


In 2020, the U.S. economy spiraled into Great Depression territory, with unemployment rates spiking at levels unseen since the 1930s and more than 8 million Americans descended into poverty.

The federal government’s relief and stimulus packages — with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act preeminent — gave most American citizens a one-time payment of $1,200 and authorized a $600 boost to unemployment benefits. Small businesses were granted access to more than $500 billion in zero-interest loans and grants.

Assessments of the CARES Act have ranged from praise as one of the most robust relief programs in U.S. history, to criticism as a bloated package of hand-outs that was ripe for abuse.

“They were absolutely necessary,” Stauber said. “It was almost unanimous in both houses, but there were some blind spots.”

These blind spots include the $600 “plus” to unemployment benefits, Stauber said, which has been widely attributed by both Republican lawmakers and small business owners as a dis-incentive for people to go back to work.


George Floyd protests

With the extrajudicial killing of George Floyd on May 25, a firestorm of unrest erupted in Minneapolis and spread across the globe. Within weeks, all 50 states saw more than 10,600 mass protests against police brutality that brought together 15 million to 26 million people in the single largest protest movement in American history. Estimates place between $1 to $2 billion in damage was inflicted on American properties in outbreaks of violence.

Speaking as a former police officer, Stauber pointed to the passage of the Justice Act that he championed, with provisions that outlaw chokeholds, implement psychological testing and more community supervision, boost diversity hiring initiatives, as well as other measures to reform law enforcement practices.

“It brings common sense pragmatic solutions. There's transparency involved, accountability and performance measures that will be put forth to every law enforcement agency across the nation,” Stauber said. “I believe that it’ll transform police departments in a positive way.”

Mental illness crisis

Needless to say, 2020 has not been good for the soul, with reports of skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety, drug overdoses and suicidal ideation coupled with indications that mental health services and crisis hotlines are severely overtaxed. A particularly disturbing report by the Public Health Survey at the University of Chicago indicates no less than 1 out of 10 Americans seriously contemplated taking their own life in June.

Stauber said much of the issue can be tied to lockdowns, with people, their families and their communities closed off and isolated while their jobs and schools aren’t accessible. He said the fastest and simplest way to address the issue is to reopen the states as quickly as possible, with increased emphasis on providing the kind of professional care they need.

Other topics

  • In terms of mass surveillance, Stuaber said he wouldn’t vote to renew the Patriot Act until he had reviewed every provision of the bill, but lauded it’s passage and what he deemed as a positive track record over the last 20 years. In 2015, polls by the American Civil Liberties Union indicate 80% of Americans fear their privacy and personal information is being infringed, while 60% of Americans believe the Patriot Act should be reformed.

  • In terms of the federal minimum wage, Stauber wouldn’t comment on whether he believed minimum wage laws should be abolished or whether he supported a $15 minimum wage. Instead, he said that continuing pro-job, pro-business policies by the Trump Administration would increase prosperity, increase competition and naturally increase low-end pay rates at a comparable level.

  • In terms of Enbridge Line 3, Stauber reaffirmed that he is supportive of the pipeline and identified it as a key economic cornerstone in the region to boost jobs and boost local economies.

  • In terms of the nation’s D+ rated infrastructure, Stauber said that he would like to be part of the solution and help usher a Department of Transportation highway bill that would trickle down investments at the federal, state and local levels to address $4.5 trillion in estimated infrastructure needs. He also noted there are ways and means to reduce costs while improving America’s failing roadways, bridges and other structures.

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .
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