Q&A with 8th Congressional District candidate Jen Schultz
The Democratic candidate spoke with the News Tribune about newly redrawn district boundaries, taking on Pete Stauber and copper-nickel mining.
DULUTH — When state Rep. Jen Schultz announced her candidacy for the 8th Congressional District in March , she became the DFL's first major candidate to challenge Republican incumbent Pete Stauber, of Hermantown, this election cycle.
In her first interview since then, Schultz, who holds a doctorate degree in economics and is a professor at the Labovitz School of Business and Economics at the University of Minnesota Duluth, speaks with the News Tribune about newly redrawn district boundaries, taking on Stauber and copper-nickel mining.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why are you running for the 8th Congressional District?
I've spent four terms — close to eight years in the Minnesota Legislature — where I've championed everything from health care reform, to tax provisions that reduce corporate tax loopholes and passing really historic health and human services bills that invest in people, especially our most vulnerable populations in the state. And now I want to solve problems at the federal level. So I'm running for Congress to do just that, and to continue working on health care reform and solving problems for people throughout the 8th District.
FiveThirtyEight estimates the newly redrawn district has a 15-point partisan lean toward Republicans. Do you think you can defeat Stauber? How will you try to close that partisan gap?
I think I'm a strong candidate. So I do have a good shot of beating Stauber and he has taken, I would say, votes that are against the people of the district. He voted "no" on the infrastructure bill. He voted "no" on the PRO (Protecting the Right to Organize) Act twice, which is a pro-labor provision. He voted "no" on affordable insulin. He voted "no" on broadband. … The infrastructure bill is $7 billion for the state. And it's a jobs bill and an investment in our roads, in our bridges, in our infrastructure. And he voted "no" and people are really, really upset, so I think that it is a winnable district, especially after redistricting, and people are very unhappy with Stauber playing political games and not getting the work done for the district.
What do you see as the biggest issues facing the district? And, if elected, how will you address them?
The district is really large, as you know, and different parts of the district have different needs. So my goal is to listen as much as possible throughout the district this summer. I've been doing that for the last few weeks and I continue to do that. But a lot of the same needs are throughout the district, and those are pocketbook issues. So people want good, affordable health care. They want high-quality education for all, they want access to strong broadband or 5G, and we saw how important that was during the pandemic, when people needed it for education, kids needed it and for telehealth. And for people who work from home … they need strong internet connection. They want to have good-paying jobs; they want affordable housing; they want us to address climate change. So I think those are all common themes that I'm hearing so far across the district.
Do you believe Stauber is addressing those issues?
No, I do not believe Stauber is working on those issues. He’s done very little for the district in his two terms, four years in Congress.
When you filed to run for this seat, the Stauber campaign said you were a “card-carrying member of the Twin City liberals” with “failed socialist policies.” How do you respond to that?
Well, I have been committed to solving problems. That's what I'm known for: identifying problems and coming up with solutions. And that's what I'm doing. And that's what I have been doing for the last eight years. I've been able to accomplish many things, especially bringing back all of our bonding projects, our local development projects to Northeast Minnesota, especially in my district. And I'm very effective. In my tenure as a legislator, I've only been in divided government, and I'm able to accomplish all of these great things for my district, working across the aisle, working with members from all parties, because we have more than just two parties in the Legislature. We have Republicans, Democrats, new Republicans and independents. And I'm known to be a very effective legislator. Stauber can call me whatever he wants, but I'm bringing jobs to the district and I'm passing legislation that improves everyone's lives.
The newly redrawn district includes all seven Anishinaabe reservations in Minnesota. What effect will that have on the district as a whole?
There is a lot of work to do with our tribes and our bands and they all have different needs — all unique needs. And I'm going to soon be going on a listening tour with all tribes and bands and listening to their needs, and being as effective as I can to represent them in Congress. I think that they don't trust either party, and I need to start building those relationships so they can trust elected officials again, and put their trust in me to get things done for their members.
Help me understand your position on copper-nickel mining.
My position on all mining is that I support our miners. I support our mining industry. And you know at its core, I think this issue is mostly about jobs. People want long-term, sustainable jobs, so they can support themselves and their family. And I understand the need for things like nickel for renewable energy, for batteries, for electric vehicles, but mines must be environmentally sound. So I support my mining and the strong regulatory process and a strong environmental process that allows mines to be evaluated scientifically, but it's critical to protect the environment. And, I think it's been used politically to the detriment of our region. We have strong regulatory bodies. I also believe in a lot of public input and scrutiny and that's what we're seeing today. But I believe everyone understands the importance of clean water and I believe also everyone understands the needs for these minerals.
The non-ferrous mine permitting process, as it exists now, do you believe that works? Is it stringent enough? Or is it taking too long to get these mines open?
I'm not a scientist; I'm an economist. So I would have to rely on the scientists and the experts to tell me if that process is thorough and reliable and accurate. But the permitting process is happening for several mines, and when there's issues, it goes to courts. And so I really need to rely on what the experts say about the permitting process.
As they stand now, do you support PolyMet, Twin Metals, Talon Metals?
I just said that I do support mining and miners and our mining industry as long as it can be done responsibly.
PolyMet is the furthest along, do you believe they’ve proven they can do it responsibly?
I think that it’ll be the courts that decide that as it’s being litigated today.
You’ve previously signed on as a cosponsor of the "Prove It First" bill, which would have delayed that type of mining in the state for 20 years, and you pushed for a human health impact assessment for PolyMet. How do you respond to folks who will point those out as examples of opposition to mining?
It’s not anti-mining because everybody wants clean water, and these mines are safe. People are saying that they're safe, there should be no concern at all. Mining is happening not just in Minnesota, but in other states — think of the Eagle Mine in Michigan. So we are already learning a lot about the safety of these types of mines. But when we do it, it has to be safe because clean water is non-negotiable. And going through a process now to determine the safety of it is what's responsible … we all want clean water, we all want good jobs and we all are going to be very reliant on minerals going forward into the future.
Sounds like you are trying to strike a balance between environment and industry. Do you think you can court both the environmental wing and trade union wing of the DFL around this issue?
I think this is a problem, and I am known for coming up with solutions. And the solution is to use science to solve this problem, and the solution is to invest in the science. That means bringing back federal money to make those investments so we can come up with a solution, and we have that in our backyard with (the Natural Resources Research Institute) and there’s other entrepreneurs working on the problem too. So yes, I believe the problem can be solved to the satisfaction of both the mining industry and environmentalists.