*We are continuing our Meet the Candidates conversations for the November 3rd 2020 elections. We recently talked with Quinn Nystrom (DFL) candidate for Congressional District 8. You can see her facebook page here.
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*KAXE/KBXE News and Public Affairs Director Heidi Holtan recently spoke with Quinn Nystrom. The following transcript has been edited for clarity. The audio of this interview is available at the top of this page.
(Heidi Holtan) Q: Quinn Nystrom is the DFL candidate for Congressional District 8. She is a fourth generation resident of Crow Wing County, and she's been a member of the Baxter City Council. She's also been an advocate for healthcare and affordable prescription drug prices. She's running against Republican incumbent, Congressman Pete Stauber. Quinn, thanks for being with us today.
(Quinn Nystrom) A: Thank you so much for having me, Heidi.
Q: So why are you running for Congress?
A: I decided to run for Congress after having met with my opponent, Congressman Pete Stauber, in Washington D.C. I spent the last 18 years of my life advocating for affordable and accessible healthcare as somebody who's lived with Type 1 diabetes for over 20 years. And so my travels as an advocate brought me to DC to meet with our new representative. I asked him if he would vote to lower the cost of prescription drugs, if he would vote to protect people with preexisting conditions. And if he'd hold a healthcare roundtable back in our district to hear from the people who are struggling the most financially with our healthcare crisis. He looked me in the eyes and he said yes to all three. But unfortunately he lied to my face, and his subsequent voting record shows he's voted five times not to lower the cost of prescription drugs. He voted against people with preexisting conditions. And he would never hold this healthcare roundtable.
I decided that we deserved better representation in the 8th District that are going to represent the people and not just the corporate donors. And that's why I'm committed to running, to really carry on my plight, to fight for people who long have not been heard.
Q: I suspect that as you have met with constituents, that that message of prescription drug prices has been hitting home for them. What are you hearing from people?
A: I was hearing - when we launched our campaign just over a year ago - people would tell me all over the district that they couldn't afford their prescription drugs. And now that we've been in this global health pandemic since early spring, we've been further exasperated. A woman on the North Shore, a senior, told me, she has to only pick up her medicated eye drops every other month because she can't afford it. So she's rationing, and could cause complete blindness by not taking this thoroughly. I've talked to parents who have to afford multiple inhalers for their children. They can't afford it. Or another gentleman I just spoke to last weekend...he said that he can't afford theEpiPen that he has to continually buy every couple months. They're too expensive, at about $400 a pop. And then again, I was in Little Falls on Saturday. I talked to a gentleman whose 67 year old brother just died this last year in Grand Rapids because he was rationing his insulin. We should not live in the most prosperous country in the world and literally be killing off our citizens because of corporate greed and corruption. And that is what compels me every single day to run hard for this race. It's individuals like those, where I hear their stories, where we need to put a stop to this. And I plan to create legislation once sworn into Congress.
Q: A lot of media, when they focus in on US Congressional District 8, define it solely as the Iron Range, but it's a huge district and includes voters from North Branch to Cass Lake, to Brainerd, to Duluth, to Bemidji. What have you come to realize when it comes to the economics and the jobs within District 8, outside of iron mining?
A: Our campaign, two weekends ago we launched an 18-county tour with 20 stops. It's important to me that a representative reflect all of the unique needs, depending on if that's up on the North Shore, or if that is all the way south to North Branch and Cambridge. Each county needs to be equally represented because they have different unique needs. And so, you know, something that's affecting Cambridge may not be affecting Bemidji or Hibbing. My husband's from the Iron Range. I have great respect for the people of the Iron Range. We also need to make sure that we're lifting and elevating other people's voices and concerns. And I think a big part about keeping our economy very healthy in all parts of this mass district is by making sure that we're diversifying economic opportunities. In talking with the Duluth executive director for the port, they said that, of course, you have sort of seasons like this, where things dropped, but what really saves them is if they can diversify their cargo loads. And so that's just one example of what I think we need to continue to strive for. Instead of just being singularly focused on something
Q: We're talking with Quinn Nystrom. She is the DFL candidate for US Congressional District 8. Some candidates use the phrase, "our way of life." We're speaking the day after you had a televised debate with Pete Stauber, and he said, "protect our way of life." What does that mean to you? And do you think there is a "way of life" for the people of Congressional District 8?
A: I think there's certainly a way of life for the people of the 8th district, but I don't think it's Pete Stauber's way of life. Pete Stauber's way of life is making over $170,000 a year and having Cadillac health insurance through the federal government. When I travel around this district, I hear from so many people who have lost everything due to this pandemic. Not only have they lost a family member.. You know, a dear friend of mine committed suicide. He was a veteran. He was serving the army during this, because treatment had been stopped...devastating things like that. Or talking to the person on Main Street here in Brainerd, right? Their dry cleaning business, they had to fire all their employees. They couldn't pay them, and they can barely pay their own bills. Everything that they've worked for...you know, "our way of life." I don't know what he's referring to because people are struggling. People are desperate for help, and he, time and time again, has not voted for a second relief bill, which we know our farmers need, our neighbors need, our small business owners need. And our way of life, I think, is we must help each other out, but we need to recognize that people are having struggles all over this district. And I just wouldn't take my advice from him.
Q: As a candidate for office, right now during a pandemic, it's got to be a strange thing to kind of plan this whole thing, and to be safe. I follow a lot of candidates on social media, including you and Pete Stauber. You have a different approach when it comes to meeting with your constituents. You're masked, always. Pete Stauber is some of the time. And, most of the people that are in his photos are in a group and not masked. I wonder if you could speak to that a little bit. How have you approached this, and how you approach the pandemic personally?
A: So, to me, we have to listen to public health officials. The CDC director, who was appointed by Trump, has said that wearing a mask will prevent the spread, and possibly keep you from getting it, even more than when a vaccine comes out. So just because Pete Stauber's over the pandemic, doesn't mean the pandemic is over. To me, shame on him for continuing to go around this district without a mask on. I just saw a photo of him from this last week. He's in a 200-person packed ballroom, and nobody's wearing masks including himself. We know that he was directly exposed to the president at the Duluth super-spreader event, then got on an airplane the next day. I have said this from the beginning: no vote or interaction with a constituent is worth somebody's life and their overall safety.
And so for [my campaign], absolutely I want to get out, I want to talk to voters. I want to be out and about. You know, I'm an extrovert, but we have to put people's safety first. So we have followed all CDC guidelines. We launched this 18-county tour, but we said we're doing all outdoor rallies, rain or shine. We would require people to wear a mask. We would take temperatures. We would have people sign in for a COVID waiver, and so we can track people. You can still do these things in a safe way. But I think what this district needs is a leader. And a leader who listens to science and fact, and shame on him for the carelessness he has shown for human life. And, we have the oldest district by median age. Those are the people that are most at risk. And to me, it just shows a complete lack of respect for any individual in this district. And I just won't do that.
Q: I know it is a state issue, whether businesses can open at full capacity. Earlier this week, state Republicans had a public announcement about trying to lift the...I don't know if it was the mask mandate, or to lift some of the restrictions that are on businesses and churches. I wonder what you think of this in terms of the escalating [COVID] numbers, and escalating numbers in rural places, as well as the Twin Cities.
A: I think it's a real tricky thing that we're kind of in the middle of. Again, I've repeatedly said that I think we have to listen to public health officials. We need to listen to Dr. Fauci, and I think we have a wonderful [Minnesota Department of Health] commissioner in Jan Malcolm. So yes, I think it's a careful balance, because, certainly... Look, as a small business owner myself, I lost 90% of my income this year because of this pandemic. There's nothing more that I'd rather have than for me to be able to make a paycheck. I want to work. I want to make an income, so I can provide for my family. But we can't do that to the extent where we're going to [increase] the spread. We've had ten straight days here in Minnesota of cases diagnosed at over a thousand. I think the last four days were over 1,500 [cases per day]. The economy will never open back up and thrive again until we have a much stronger federal response, along with state responses that sort of work collaboratively. But we need, on a federal level, to have more tests. We need to have more PPEs. I was talking to nurses yesterday who were picketing that Essentia here in Brainerd, who said these PPEs, they were donated by [inaudible] have been double-locked in their department. That's just unfathomable for most of us to think of our frontline workers. We need rapid testing. We're going to need a safe vaccine. And until all those things happen, I just don't believe that this economy can once again open up fully and thrive.
Q: Before we go, I do want to ask about the issues of the Iron Range, your thoughts on copper-nickel mining. I know often it gets defined as the environmentalists from the Twin Cities are against it [and] everybody [who] lives in the district is for it. I wonder your thoughts on the kind of complexity of the issue of copper-nickel mining.
A: Absolutely. My father-in-law worked at Hibbing Taconite for over three decades. I understand and respect what the mining industry has done to build the Iron Range, but we've also proven that we can do taconite mining in a safe way for workers and for the environment. Now, copper-nickel mining is a brand new way of mining for us here in Minnesota. Just like when I sat on the [Baxter] city council, I'm very pragmatic. I believe that we have to look at every single individual project that is brought before us, and make sure that we are putting it through a rigorous test. When I look at Twin Metals, and I'm asked, "Do you want to green light this?", I think it is very concerning - especially because it is right on the doorway of the BWCA, some of the most pristine water in the world - that there is a completely blacked-out and redacted 60-plus page US Forestry report by the Trump administration. If they don't have anything to hide, then release the full report. But until then, I couldn't live with myself if I just rubber stamp that project. And that's where Congressman Stauber and I disagree. I'm not against copper-nickel mining, but I think, as an elected official, you are elected to do the due diligence to protect everybody's interests and their health.
Q: Quinn Nystrom is the DFL candidate for Congressional District 8. You can find more information on her campaign at quinnforcongress.com. Thanks for taking time today.
A: Thanks so much, Heidi.