Voter guide: Where the 8th District candidates stand on the issues

Side by side portraits of a man and woman.
8th District Rep. Pete Stauber, the incumbent Republican, and his challenger, DFLer Quinn Nystrom.
Tony Saunders | MPR News and Courtesy of campaign website

The election is only days away, but there is still time to learn about the candidates. MPR News editor Mike Mulcahy hosted the candidates running in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District for an on-air debate.

The 8th District includes Duluth, the Arrowhead, the Iron Range, North Branch, Cambridge, Little Falls and Brainerd. In the past, the 8th District seat has been held by a Democrat, up until two years ago when Republican Pete Stauber won his first term in Congress. 

Stauber is a former police officer, former county commissioner, and he is running for reelection this year. His DFL opponent is former Baxter City Council member Quinn Nystrom who helped pass an emergency insulin program by advocating in the legislature.

Here’s a look at the positions each candidate took during the debate hosted by MPR News.

Opening statements

Stauber: “My life has compelled me to public service,” said Stauber.

Stauber was a police officer for 23 years, 22 of those years serving in Duluth. He has four children, one of whom has special needs. He also owns a small business with his brother. He was born and raised in the 8th District, and enjoys hunting, fishing, biking, camping and canoeing.

“I'm not only fighting for our way of life, I'm living it,” said Stauber.

Nystrom: Nystrom is in the fourth generation of her family to be born and raised in Crow Wing County.  Nystrom became interested in health advocacy after she and her younger brother were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes over 20 years ago.

“We have a huge health care affordability crisis in this country. And that was pre-COVID. And now post-COVID, that has only been further exasperated,” said Nystrom. 

She said she’s running for congress, because she’s already done all she could as an advocate for lowering prescription drug costs and protecting people with preexisting conditions. Now, she wants to tackle these issues firsthand on a legislative level. 

COVID-19

Stauber: He said when addressing the issue of COVID-19, we need to put extra caution to protect the elderly with underlying health conditions since they are the one who are most affected. Stauber encourages folks to follow social distancing guidelines, wash their hands and wear masks. According to Stauber, Minnesota’s economy can open back up while still protecting vulnerable communities. 

“We've created 11.4 million jobs over these last couple months by opening safely and responsibly. And we're not through this yet, we still have a ways to go,” said Stauber.

Nystrom: pointed out that the elderly are not the only ones being diagnosed with COVID-19. 

“We need to have an all hands on deck response. We need a much stronger response by the federal government,” said Nystrom. 

Nystrom stressed that the nation needs more PPE, especially the 8th District who is still rationing them. She also mentioned our health systems need more rapid testing kits, antibody tracing and a safe, affordable and accessible vaccine. Until then, she supports hosting only outdoor events and mask wearing requirements. 

“Every single person's life is valuable in this district. And we need to take it seriously,” said Nystrom. 

Stimulus packages

Stauber: In the past months, Stauber has been working in Congress on COVID-19 relief. One of the actions he was a part of was the CARES Act. According to Stauber, there are still several billion dollars that haven’t been used yet. Stauber supports using this remaining funding to help small businesses.

Nystrom: Nystrom emphasized that the next stimulus package needs to work on a bipartisan basis. In the upcoming package, she supports additional funding for PPE, COVID-19 tests and vaccine research. She also supports further funding for Minnesota farmers and teachers who are both struggling right now according to Nystrom.

Health care

Stauber: He supports the idea that Americans should have the right to choose the type of health care they want including the quality and cost. He also supports protecting people with preexisting conditions. In the past, he’s co-authored legislation that protects individuals with preexisting conditions and allows continuous coverage for them. 

“My son has two preexisting conditions, and I know what people go through, and I will always protect preexisting conditions,” said Stauber. He also opposes surprise medical billing which he blames on Obamacare. 

Nystrom: She disapproves of the elimination of the Affordable Care Act, because it would be devastating for those with preexisting conditions such as herself. 

“We must have a way to cover all people and give people access in the United States to affordable and accessible health care,” said Nystrom. 

She said if we do not cover Americans now, society will end up paying even more later through emergency department costs. “I believe we need a stronger voice in D.C. representing the people of this district, so that we ensure that nobody with a preexisting condition is going to wonder about how their clinic visits are covered,” said Nystrom.

Economic development and protecting the environment

Stauber: Stauber supports adhering to scientific facts to dictate all economic projects. He has supported environmental assessment statements and transparent processes. He believes labor groups and environment groups can work together to find solutions that benefit both of them. He brought up the mining industry in the state, and how it has not only brought in $500 million of economic activity, but also good paying, middle class union jobs. He supports the replacement of Line 3 which will create 5,000 jobs according to Stauber.

 “Mining is our past, our present and the future,” said Stauber.

Nystrom: Nystrom supports the replacement of Line 3 as well. However, she is hesitant to support copper nickel mining because it is the first time Minnesota has ever done this. She said that she can’t make a decision on something until she knows all the facts, and the forestry report completed by the Trump administration about copper nickel mining has many blacked out sections. 

“I want to see all the facts before I'm asked to approve of a project. Otherwise, to me, that's a red flag,” said Nystrom.

Indigenous voices

Stauber: Stauber highlighted his work with Minnesota tribes. 

“They understand that they are sovereign nation, and so do I,” he said. 

In Congress, he supported the Savannah’s Act and the Not Invisible Act. He said it’s extremely important to recognize that Native American girls and women are ten times more likely to be trafficked than any other group, and he is working in Congress to stop this. 

“So our Native communities know that I have their backs. I'm working with them, and I have great relations. And in the 117th Congress, I'm going to continue to work with them and continue to build up those relations,” said Stauber.

Nystrom: She recounted a recent trip she took to Leech Lake Reservation where she spoke with their chairmen and council about their pressing needs. She’s also met with the elders at Fond du Lac to hear their thoughts on the Line 3 project. 

“To me what's really important is that we are listening. We're giving them the opportunity, and as the next congressman for this district, that we’re elevating their voices,” said Nystrom. 

She also committed to hiring a Native person to serve as an open line of communication between Washington and the reservations. 

Closing arguments 

Stauber: “Two years ago, I made a promise to all of you that I would be an independent voice in Washington and I have lived up to that promise,” said Stauber.

He said he’ll continue to fight for economic drivers that built the 8th District, other good paying jobs and affordable prescription drugs. As a former officer, he said he will continue to stand with law enforcement that helps keep communities safe.

“I want you to know, you are my priority,” said Stauber.

Nystrom: Nystrom closed by once again stating that she supports a stronger federal response to COVID-19 and promised that if elected, she will take the pandemic seriously. She also said she would work on a bipartisan basis unlike her opponent. 

“We need somebody who's going to reach across the aisle to work together. Once elected to Congress. I'm committed to fighting to lower the cost of prescription drugs, protecting people with pre existing conditions and getting this out of COVID,” said Nystrom.

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