A familiar voice in insulin debate, Quinn Nystrom jumps into 8th District race

Bernie Sanders holds a vial next to a woman in a pharmacy.
Sen. Bernie Sanders holds an insulin vial as he talks with Quinn Nystrom at the Olde Walkersville Pharmacy on July 28, 2019, in Windsor, Ontario. Democrat Nystrom launched a congressional campaign Thursday against 8th District Republican Pete Stauber.
Carlos Osorio | AP Photo file

Quinn Nystrom has been knocking on doors since she was 10 years old, raising money for diabetes after her younger brother was diagnosed with the disease.

Now, 23 years later and with her own Type 1 diagnosis, Nystrom is advocating for insulin affordability, an issue that she says has drawn her into the race for Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.

“I did not think one day I'm going to run for the United States Congress, but this year the issue of insulin affordability has reached a fever pitch,” she said. “I’ve received dozens of messages from Minnesotans who literally don’t know how they are going to live another day because they can’t afford their insulin.”

Nystrom officially launched her campaign for Congress on Thursday, running as a DFLer against first-term incumbent Republican Rep. Pete Stauber. She said she first considered running against Stauber earlier this year after a meeting with him on the issue of the rising cost of insulin, which she uses everyday to manage her diabetes. Between 2012 and 2016, the average price of insulin roughly doubled from $234 a month to $450 a month, according to the Health Care Cost Institute.

At their meeting, Nystrom said Stauber promised to hold a town hall on the issue back in the district, but it hasn’t happened yet. She thinks accessible health care and affordable prescription drugs will be the No. 1 issue on the campaign trail this fall.

“I thought back to that meeting with the congressman who represents me, and I thought, I could give a much better alternative to the people of the 8th District,” she said. “I not only get dozens of messages from people about insulin, they come up to me so they can they tell me stories about how they can’t afford their cancer drugs, their inhalers, their EpiPens. Fill in the blank.”

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Nystrom is a regular around the Minnesota State Capitol, where she’s pushing for a state program that would provide emergency insulin to those who can’t afford it. Two Minnesotans have died in recent years from rationing their insulin supply. Nystrom speaks professionally on insulin prices and diabetes around the nation, and she’s led trips to Canada for people who can’t afford their prescription drugs in the United States.

She’s the first DFLer to announce in the race, after former state DFL lawmaker Joe Radinovich, who ran last cycle, announced he doesn’t plan to run again. Stauber beat Radinovich by 5.5 percentage points last fall, taking over after former DFL Rep. Rick Nolan opted not to seek reelection.

The 8th District is sprawling, stretching from exurban communities north of the Twin Cities up Lake Superior’s North Shore to the Canadian border. And it’s been politically volatile, flipping back and forth between Republicans and Democrats in recent elections. But some say it’s shifting more reliably red: The district went for President Trump in 2016 by a margin of 15.5 points.

Nystrom is still undecided on her position on two proposed copper-nickel mining projects in the district — PolyMet and Twin Metals. She has already reached out to officials at both sites and plans to tour the projects this fall. She will also meet with environmentalists who are opposed to the projects.

“The last thing I want to do is make a quick rush to judgment because I’ve just read a couple of articles in the newspaper or I’ve read a couple of Facebook posts where people are arguing back and forth,” she said.

She’s also not taking a stance yet on the impeachment inquiry underway by House Democrats in Congress, though her opponent, Stauber, has called the inquiry “irresponsible.”

Stauber is a former county commissioner and police officer who made his first run for Congress two years ago. Minnesota Republican Rep. Tom Emmer, who is leading campaigns across the country for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Stauber reflects the values of the 8th District and all Republicans will benefit in 2020 with Trump’s investment in Minnesota.

It’s Nystrom’s first run for Congress, but not for elected office. She served one term on the Baxter, Minn., City Council and challenged Republican Rep. Josh Heintzeman for his seat in the state House in 2016. She lost to him by nearly 20 percentage points in the GOP-stronghold, but Nystrom said she outperformed Hillary Clinton by nearly 10 percentage points in the district.

“I would not be running for Congress if I did not think we could win this seat,” she said. “I think for people, affordable and accessible health care and affordable and accessible prescription drugs is going to be one of the number one issues again, just like we saw in 2018.”