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Former FBI analyst announces bid for Congress in NE Minn.

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Leah Phifer will challenge incumbent Congressman Rick Nolan.
Leah Phifer, 33, a native of Two Harbors who now lives in Isanti, will challenge incumbent Congressman Rick Nolan in Minnesota's 8th Congressional District for the DFL endorsement. (Photo courtesy of campaign.)
courtesy of campaign

There are now four candidates for Congress in Minnesota's vast 8th Congressional district in northeast Minnesota. 

Thirty-three-year-old Leah Phifer, a native of Two Harbors and current Isanti resident who stepped down from her job as an intelligence analyst for the FBI in May to explore a run for office, has announced she will challenge incumbent Congressman Rick Nolan for the DFL endorsement. 

Phifer spent 80 days touring the district in northeast Minnesota this summer, logging 7,000 miles on her motorcycle. She heard a lot of anxiety about health care, she said, and about what she called a lack of transparency in politics. 

"A frustration over where the money is coming from, how decisions are made, feeling left out of the process," she said. 

Minnesota's eighth district has become one of the most hotly contested congressional districts in the last two election cycles. 

Incumbent DFL Congressman Rick Nolan defeated GOP challenger Stewart Mills by less than half a percentage point last year in one of the most expensive races in the country. 

Nolan also defeated Mills in a tight race in 2014. Mills hasn't announced yet whether he will run a third time. 

But Republican St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber has already launched his campaign, as has Green Party Candidate Skip Sandman. 

Several divisive development proposals in northern Minnesota are poised to be key issues in the 2018 race-- Enbridge Energy's proposed Line 3 oil pipeline project, PolyMet's bid to open the state's first copper-nickel mine, and the potential development of copper-nickel mines in the Superior National Forest just south of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. 

Phifer acknowledged the issues have at times bitterly divided the DFL-base, between those concerned with the potential impact the proposals could have on the region's prized lakes and rivers, and those eager for the economic stimulus and jobs the projects would create. 

Phifer doesn't take a definitive pro or con stance on the proposals. Rather she argues the current regulatory process should be allowed to play out in determining whether the mines and pipelines should move forward. 

Therefore, she said she opposes current efforts in Congress to fast-track a federal land swap for the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine, which would thwart several pending lawsuits, as well as proposals to prematurely end an environmental analysis of copper-nickel mining within the watershed of the Boundary Waters--both ideas that have been supported by Nolan.

Those proposals conflict with due process, she said. "The judicial, executive and legislative branches all have a role to play in looking at these big, big issues."  

If elected, Phifer would be one of only a handful of millennial members of Congress in the country. She said currently only five hold seats in Congress. 

"We should occupy approximately 97 seats if we were to represent the portion of the population that we are," she said. "So we are really looking at an inadequate representation of our demographic in Congress."