Republican Representative Pete Stauber went to Washington D.C. this year with a reputation for defeating the long-reigning Democrat party in northeast Minnesota. After briefly playing with a minor league affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, Stauber became a Duluth police officer and then a St. Louis County commissioner, before taking the helm of the Eighth Congressional District.
With support from President Donald J. Trump, Stauber entered into Congress as part of a state team that included three Republicans and five Democrats including media magnets Representative Illhan Omar and presidential candidate Senator Amy Klobuchar.
As The Star Tribune pointed out earlier this month, Stauber has mostly voted in line with fellow first-term GOP Representative Jim Hagedorn in their siding with Trump on immigration and trade. In such efforts, he documented his trip to Arizona via social media to tout his party’s talking points of securing the U.S.-Mexico border. He also backed the president’s ongoing trade scrap with China, a move that earned him a thumbs up from the Iron Range officials with U.S. Steel and Cleveland-Cliffs.
But Stauber has also voted across party lines to support Democratic measures regarding the Affordable Care Act, pay increases for federal workers and the Violence Against Women Act. He recently told the Tribune that he “will never blindly follow any political party.” Citing former Ohio Gov. John Kaisch, he explained that “the Republican Party is my vehicle; it is not my master. So I have to vote my district and my conscience.”
After nearly six months in D.C., Stauber spoke on Friday afternoon over the phone with the assistant editor from the Hibbing Daily Tribune. The following are excerpts from that conversation which have been lightly edited for content and clarity.
Q: Congressman Stauber, how do you define your politics in relation to the Republican Party? How do you fit into the bipartisan team of Minnesotans in Congress?
A: I’m going to do what is best for the constituents in the Eighth District. That’s the focus. I want to focus on job creation, moving the economy forward, the opioid crisis, education and strong border security. There are a whole number of bipartisan issues that I want to tackle and that’s why the constituents sent me to Washington.
I didn’t bring a red playbook to Congress. I didn’t bring a blue playbook. I brought a playbook that puts American first.
Q: The Star Tribune’s editorial, “Why the Trump administration secrecy on BWCA mining study?” dated May 24 suggested you “should recognize how the perception of secrecy jeopardizes public confidence in the entire approval process. That’s not helpful for Twin Metals or other mining projects.” Considering Representative Betty McCollum’s own opinions, do you take issue with the Trump administration not yet releasing scientific information gathered during the review of copper mining’s impact near the Boundary Waters?
This week, McCollum, the chair of a House subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Environmental Protection Agency, applauded the release of documents showing EPA scientists had serious concerns that the PolyMet copper-nickel mine wouldn’t meet state and federal water quality standards under the Clean Water Act.
Where do you stand on the public’s right to know in these two instances?
A: Any process has to be transparent to the public. But understand that in the waning days of the Obama administration, our president arbitrarily removed and took away those [Twin Metals] mineral leases. The fact is the study that they wanted or put forth wasn’t part of the initial process; that was after our president decided to take a run at our way of life. Our livelihoods and in northeast Minnesota is greatly dependent on mining. Mining is our past, present and future. And using 21st century techniques and technologies, we are doing safer and better at keeping safe and secure. We know and demand that mining companies follow environmental standards.
Even Senator Klobuchar understood that that was the wrong thing to do. (Editor’s note: The Congressman explained that he was referring to a Wall Street Journal column, “A Democrat Deflates a Trump ‘Scandal,’” dated June 6. The columnist notes that last year Klobuchar told then Obama Agriculture Secretary via email that the president’s decision had “floored me” and “it should have been handled through the normal process.” She thought the incoming president would reverse the decision.)
Q: The Iron Range has long been a pro-mining region, where many of your constituents support plans from PolyMet and Twin Metals to bring jobs to the area. Still, data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development shows that mines in the seven-county Arrowhead Region minus Duluth employs only about 4,000 directs and several thousand other in-direct jobs out of 84,536 total jobs. What is your opinion of job diversification which some officials say would help boost the region’s economy?
A: We talk all of the above approach to emergency production and I believe we have to look at all of the above approach to job creation as well. We can focus also on tourism and timber and small businesses. One example is rural broadband deployment. In rural Minnesota, when the new lottery system came out for the Boundary Waters wilderness, the permits were first come, first served. If you couldn’t get into timely fashion, then you couldn’t participate. Those are things we need to help with in rural Minnesota, including the Iron Range.
With tourism, we have hundreds of thousands of people coming to northeastern Minnesota for the outdoor recreation and activities like hiking, biking, camping, and fishing. We must continue to develop tourism and encourage people to come up to northeastern Minnesota.
Q: As a former police officer, county commissioner and now politician, how do we fight against a lack of resources for alcohol and drug treatment and mental health on the Iron Range?
A: As a police officer for 23 years, I’ve seen the addiction and opioid crisis. I’ve seen it devastate families. I’ve seen it take lives of people and seen it devastate communities. We have to be ready for these addicts when they call for help. Our doors have to be open when they call for help. There has to be a resource available. Otherwise, if they’re scheduled to come in 30 days later, their decision might change. Timely treatment is critically important. We can’t arrest ourselves out of this equation.
Nobody wakes up in their life and says, ‘I want to be an addict.’ It happens. So, there needs to be prevention. We as a society have to understand that illegal drug use is wrong. We have to talk to our kids about prevention, we have to make sure treatment is there when we need it, and then prosecution. We have to prosecute drug dealers that are killing our kids. Drug dealing is not a victimless crime.
Also, we have to understand one in five adults will have a mental health crisis one time in their life. We have to remove the stigma of having a mental health crisis or mental health issue. We have to remove the stigma. We have to support them. Nurture them. Get them through. In whatever treatment and method appropriate so they can become functioning members of their society again.
Q: What should we expect from you come this next six months in Congress? What are your focuses moving forward? And how would such focuses benefit the district?
A: Jobs and the economy. We talked about getting an infrastructure package put forth. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi controls the floor. We’re trying to push her hard on a really robust infras package on this nation. I don’t want to push this need for updated and new infrastructure on this nation down to our kids and grandkids. We need to make this investment. For example, the deployment of rural broadband is extremely important. Broadband is not a luxury anymore. It’s a necessity. It can help ensure small businesses and manufactures can line up in rural Minnesota. What I’m pushing for in Washington is that rural Minnesota and rural America matter.