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Jen Schultz, DFL Candidate for CD-8, Talks Politics, Stauber's "No" Votes, and the Future of Northern Minnesota

Jen Schultz speaking into a microphone
Jen Schultz, professor of Economics at UMD and four-term MN House representative, is running to unseat Pete Stauber in Minnesota's 8th congressional district

Heidi Holtan: Jen Schultz is the DFL endorsed candidate running for CD 8, running against Republican incumbent Pete Stauber. Jen Schultz is serving her fourth term representing MN House District 7A. She also serves as the commissioner on the Great Lakes Commission. I’m Heidi Holtan, and Representative Jen Shultz joins us now on KAXE/KBXE. Thank you for your time today.

Jen Schultz: Thank you thank you for having me today, Heidi.

Heidi Holtan: So, Congressman Pete Stauber has served two terms in congress. Why are you running for this seat?

Jen Schultz: I decided to retire from the state legislature, and after 8 years of serving folks asked me to run. They've been very disappointed in Pete Stauber's work in DC. They're upset that he's taking a lot of "no votes" on important legislation that would benefit the people of the 8th. So, they asked me to run. They know that I have been a very effective state legislator. I work across the aisle and I'm known for solving problems and getting a lot done and accomplished. I've only served in a divided legislature. So, I know how to work across the aisle and I know how to be an effective legislator and that's what they want in DC. There's been a lot of gridlock; there's been a lot of divisiveness and people just want to elect representatives that will get things done that will benefit themselves and their families.

And that's why I'm running, to really benefit the people of the 8th. The 8th District is really special. I've been traveling throughout the 8th and realizing how beautiful it is. We have the Headwaters of the Mississippi. We have Lake of the Woods. We have the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We have the shores of Lake Superior. And honestly, some of the best state parks and trails in the country. But what's truly amazing is the exceptional people that we have here. And the region and the people deserve someone better to represent them, to bring back resources to the district.

Heidi Holtan: You mentioned some of the “no votes” that Congressman Stauber had done in Congress. What were some of those issues that people have mentioned to you?

Jen Schultz: The first issue that got Labor really upset was the infrastructure bill. So, Pete Stauber voted “No” on the bill that is bringing back 7 billion dollars to the region and that means thousands of jobs. And that was money for roads and bridges and broadband high-speed internet, [which] is really important for people of the 8th. And it would've been, it is making a big deal, it's investing in our port, which is really important economically for the region and the state. It made significant investments in our regional airports which are really important now that people can relocate, many can work from home and live anywhere in the state or country, that access to an airport is essential. And Pete Stauber was going around the district taking credit for these projects that he voted “No” on. So, people got upset.

He voted “No” on what's call the PRO Act twice. This was a bill to strengthen unions and support workers. He voted “No” on affordable insulin, which passed and is benefiting many people. He voted “No” on affordable childcare. He voted “No” on the Women's Healthcare Protection Act. So, he voted “No”, setting policy and rights back 50 years. “No” to access to contraception and he voted “No” to reproductive rights. And that has been really upsetting for many people. The number 2 issue in the district is reproductive rights. And there’s a long list of bills he voted “No” on.

Veterans are really upset because he voted “No” twice on extending coverage to veterans exposed to burn pits. This actually passed, it's called the Pact Act. You know, veterans contacted me and they were really outraged by Stauber's “No” votes. I don’t understand why he voted “No” on these important bills. All I can surmise is that he's voting “No” with his party and it's become very partisan. He must be aspiring to do other things, to get more credibility in his party. And he also thinks he's in a safe district, but this district has been DFL controlled for 70 of the last 76 years and I'm going to flip it back to a DFL district.

Heidi Holtan: That's Jen Schultz, the DFL candidate for CD 8. So, you mentioned a few things in there that he voted “No” against things that have to do with health and healthcare. you have a PhD in Health Economics, that's an area that a lot of people do not understand. What does that mean, your PhD, and how does it inform the work that you've done in the MN House and what you hope to do in congress?

Jen Schultz: I do have a PhD from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. I am an economist. I'm a Full Professor at UMD. I've been there since 2004. That's my day job, and my state legislator job is part-time in MN. But I've been for over 20 years I've been working on healthcare reform to make sure everyone has access to affordable high-quality healthcare and I’ve done that work and championed that at the state level. I was chairing Human Services, Finance, and Policy [committee], I’ve served on the Health Finance [and Policy] committee, Taxes, Redistricting, and Weighs and Means. And in all those committees, I’ve tackled healthcare access. And we've been very successful even this year when it has become very partisan and Republicans in the senate refused to pass any of our investment bills including a really important tax bill that had bipartisan support out of the committee that would’ve eliminated the social security tax on income that 33% of Minnesotans pay. They refused to negotiate any of those bills. They did not want to spend one penny investing in people across our state.

But we were successful in Human Services in passing a 500 plus page policy bill with some spending in it, and then a mental health spending bill of over 100 million dollars. So even when it became partisan, I was successful in negotiating many of those bills and getting them across the finish line. And last year, we invested over 700 million dollars from federal money and state money in mental health and human services, so we've done a lot of important work. I was able to successfully get bipartisan to support to extend MN Care to those people who do not have affordable family coverage through their employer. This was historic, this was what's called the Family Glitch Fix in the Affordable Care Act and Minnesota is the first state to extend this coverage to families that can’t get affordable health coverage through their employers. We've made a lot of progress in my 8 years at the state level. I want to take that to the federal level and work on health care, but also work on the bread-and-butter economic issues that are on the top of mind for many voters this fall.

Heidi Holtan: You mentioned about congressman Stauber about some of his “No” votes may have been because of party affiliation. So, you are part of the DFL, but your constituents are not one party or another. So how does it change for you, from campaigning to when you are in office?

Jen Schultz: Well, I try to put the people above the party. I’ve actually voted against my own party many times. One good example is when this year, both parties wanted to extend reinsurance to insurance companies. It was basically a billion-dollar subsidy to wealthy health plans. I wanted that money to go directly to consumers and give them a direct discount on their health insurance premiums. And I voted against my party. And many republicans were with me on that, not many, the majority of folks wanted to pass that subsidy. I wanted to restructure it so it would benefit consumers more than our private health plans.

But I always try to do what's best for people of the state and I do not put my own self-interest above anyone else's. I served very hard for 8 years, worked very hard for my constituents, and I expect I will do the same for the 8th district. And an example is, I'm not taking any corporate PAC money as a campaign. We are only taking individual donations because I am going to be accountable to the people not the corporations. My opponent Stauber takes a lot of money, millions of dollars, on both independent expenditures side and his official campaign side, from corporations, from CEOs. And so, he is going to be held accountable by those donors, whereas I am not. I'll be able to vote my values, and the values of the district.

Heidi Holtan: Let's talk a little about employment and labor in CD 8. Often in media or in political campaigns the issue of jobs is pitted against environmental concerns, especially as it relates to proposed copper nickel mining. Of course, things are always more complex than that. What's your understanding of this issue and the constituents of district 8 are thinking, not that they all think the same, of course.

Jen Schultz: There's a lot of diversity, and we for a very long time, mining has really divided communities. And I really want to serve as the bridge between our labor groups and our environmental groups. And I’m' getting endorsed by both. I've gotten most of all labor union endorsements. And I'm getting all of the environmental group endorsements. And I don't know if there's ever been a candidate in this race who has received both. So, I'm working very hard and talking to everyone, visiting the mines and visiting with the environmental group.

And what I'm discovering is that no one wants to pollute the water, our surface water or our ground water. That is what is common across all groups. And so, this is a problem that needs to be solved, which I am eager to take on that challenge of how do we mine so we don’t pollute the water. How do we do it safely and what has to happen? And even though Stauber says he's for mining, he's really for mining corporations. I support miners 100 percent, I support our mine industry 100 percent, and what we need to do is bring back federal funding for the research to invest in the technology that has been discovered to expand that technology so we can make sure any mining going forward does not pollute the water. NRI is institution affiliated with the U of M Duluth. They have a technology that takes sulfates out of the water. It's a bacterium. They need federal money to scale that up to test it to see how effective it is. And then we have other entrepreneurs working on technology that can help clean the water. But what we need are the federal dollars.

And what Stauber is not doing, is he is not leveraging the Defense Production Act that President Biden has used. We should be manufacturing steel on the Range. We should be recycling steel and copper on the range. We should be doing more domestic production and leveraging federal dollars to do that, which are available. And I'm speculating that Stauber does not want President Biden or the Democrats to take credit for that, so he is not seeking those federal funds to expand mining. The other issues: We have a little disagreement between Cleveland Cliffs and US Steel that needs to be resolved. And we don't want HibTac idling like Northshore. So, we need to work with those two large companies to figure out what the issue is there. I have some ideas but I'm hoping to meet with both US Steel and Cleveland Cliffs soon to investigate this, but we need to do what's best for the community and that's taconite mining. We've done taconite mining for a long time. we need to make sure we can extend the life of those mines by another 20 years. That means that US Steel and Cleveland Cliffs need to come to the table and figure out how we can keep HibTac from idling and get the Northshore back up.

Heidi Holtan: Talk a little bit about the role of misinformation or disinformation, it has always been an issue in politics, but now more than ever, whether COVID or Jan. 6 attacks or the elections system. There are Republicans who have used these issues and false information to campaign, so as a DFL Candidate, how do you address disinformation and its role in this campaign?

Jen Schultz: What I'm hearing when I'm talking to folks across the district is that they're really tired of the lies and disinformation. And this is really divided families and communities. And what we need to make sure that people are getting the facts and people are educated about the issues. And it doesn't help that Pete Stauber is spreading lies and disinformation. And there's a very little facts behind what he's saying especially about things like the Inflation Reduction Act that just passed. Why we’re investing in the IRS to go after corporations and the very very wealthy. This IRA act was very good for families across the country and the Republicans, including Stauber are really misrepresenting what the goals and objectives of that Inflation Reduction Act are. But we have to stop with that.

People really honestly want the truth. They want politicians to tell them the truth. They're sick of the lies. They want elected representatives that they can believe and, you know, sometimes the truth is hard and people don't like it but it's important that we talk about the facts and the truth and be done with the lies and the propaganda. And you know, Stauber, the worst thing he's done is he sign on to the Texas lawsuit to invalidate President Biden's election. That means he's failed and has not upheld his oath to the constitution. Everyone has a right to vote and he's not upholding our fundamental right to vote by saying that the election, there was something wrong with the election when there absolutely was not. It was a fair election and there was no fraud. So, we have to really call that out because our democracy is under threat, and recently there was a poll by the New York Times that said the biggest issue for people right now is the threat to our democracy. So, they're really concerned about their rights, especially the right to vote. And Stauber is part of that problem of spreading those lies about the election. We need people to have faith in our democracy but also fight for it and that's what I will do. I will uphold our constitution, I will make sure people have the right to vote, and their vote is counted.

Heidi Holtan: Before we go, I wonder if, looking ahead to CD 8, what do you see in the next five years when it comes to energy and electric vehicles and that kind of thing?

Jen Schultz: The Inflation Reduction Act was a huge accomplishment in terms of addressing climate change and carbon emissions. So, it makes historic investments, it reduces carbon emissions by roughly 40% by 2030. It lowers healthcare costs by extending the subsidies for the Affordable Care Act, which many people benefited from. It reduces the cost of insulin for those getting Medicare. It allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which will benefit those on Medicare, but those who get insurance from their private plans that will base prescription drug reimbursement based on the reimbursement for Medicare. It will close corporate tax loopholes for the very very wealthy. It makes big investments to try to reduce our deficit by over 300 billion dollars so it's a really good piece of legislation that benefits many people and that President Biden was successful in getting passed.

So, I really see a resurgence in the 8th. I see a lot of people who want to move to the 8th. We've had an exodus of young people, aged 18-24, and what people really want is they want their children to get educated in the 8th and find good paying jobs with benefits in the 8th. To buy a house in the 8th and to raise their family in the 8th district. And I see that happening. I see a lot of people who want to move here. We have a significant housing shortage across the 8th that we need to address. We have a healthcare workforce shortage. We have shortages in other areas, industries, so we really want to make this a place where people can live and thrive. And I am really optimistic about the future of the 8th. But we do need someone fighting for that, for those goals, in congress to get the work done that will make those investments in our infrastructure like high-speed internet, that we'll need to attract people to the 8th.

Heidi Holtan: That's Jen Schulz she's running for Congress Dist 8. you can find more information at JenSchulzforcongress.com Thanks for your time today.

Jen Schultz: Thanks a lot Heidi. I appreciate it!

Heidi Holtan has worked at KAXE/KBXE for over 20 years. She currently helms the Morning Show as News and Public Affairs Director. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North. In 2018 Heidi received the “Building Bridges in Media” award from the Islamic Resource Group for her work on KAXE/KBXE hosting conversations about anti-Muslim movements in rural Minnesota.
Max Philbrook (he/him) is a Producer at KAXE focused on telling the stories of the people, events, and organizations that make up the fabric of northern Minnesota. Based out of Grand Rapids, Max spends his time reading fiction at the library, seeing sports and live music, and supporting the arts and cultural events in the area. Get in touch with Max if you have a story to tell, an event to publicize, or just want to chat about life in the northland.