On Dec. 16, 1995, a bullet blasted into the confines of a Duluth Police Department squad car and struck the head of Officer Pete Stauber. Two years later, during a hostage situation, he stared into the barrel of a pistol and the perpetrator pulled the trigger.
The gun misfired.
Now, after more than two decades, Stauber is running for the 8th District congressional seat-though, his near-lethal brushes with gun violence have hardly left him gun shy when it comes to the debate raging at the national level. However it's framed-gun rights or gun control, arguing particulars of firearm regulations or hashing out the semantics of what constitutes an "assault weapon"-Stauber is a staunch proponent of the Second Amendment, through and through.
"I am Second Amendment supporter after having been the victim of two violent gun crimes," Stauber said during a phone interview Friday, April 6-characterizing the issue, on one hand, as a mental health problem, on the other as a product of a society that doesn't value life the way it should. "You see, the individuals who used these guns to try to kill me were criminals. There isn't a person I know who wants a criminal or drug addict to have a firearm."
One answer? Medical record transparency, the 23-year veteran of law enforcement said, and that means across state lines-where, for example, he said, a three-day wait period can be avoided or a history of mental health issues never accounted for, by simply hopping over to Ohio or Wisconsin.
Beyond that, he added, it's a matter of building relationships between law enforcement and the communities they protect.
"How can we better react to the information we get in real time? How do we-local, state and federal government-work together in stopping any potential future school shootings or what have you?" Stauber said. "When the three agencies-local, state and federal-and collaborative partners work together, react in real time, that would be very helpful."
These solutions are indicative of his position as a political outsider, Stauber said-answers to questions that often ring in the marble halls of Capitol Hill, but answers drawn from a mix of experience and common sense.
Now making a run for the District 8 seat, Stauber, 51, hopes to elevate a long career of public service including 22 years as police officer in Duluth (with his retirement in August 2017), eight years as a council member of the Hermantown City Council and two stints as a commissioner for St. Louis County. He's rarely strayed far from Duluth and Lake Superior, graduating from Denfeld High School in 1984, then attending Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., then a three-year run with the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League-before he briefly worked in Cottage Grove, then returned to Duluth as the beginning of his law enforcement career. Stauber has been married to his wife, Jodi, a former military officer, for 22 years and is father to four children between the ages of 12 and 18.
A relative newcomer, Stauber was the presumptive Republican candidate when Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Crosby, still stood to run for a fourth term. Upon Nolan's surprising announcement in February he would not seek re-election, Stauber has remained the lone GOP candidate-in stark contrast to the Democratic-Farmer-Labor side, which has five hopefuls currently vying for the party endorsement and, as of yet, no clear frontrunner.
As a "son of the 8th District," Stauber said, it's his background and his grounded, practical approach to politics that set him apart as a candidate in what looks to be a pivotal swing district and will ultimately propel him into office come November.
"I have a passion to serve the people and I've done that my entire life. I want to leave this world in better shape than I found it," Stauber said. "My resume fits the district. I'm a blue-collar, common-sense conservative."
Assessment of Nolan
When Nolan announced his retirement, Stauber thanked his opponent for his service to the district and praised Nolan's support of mining in the region-though, during a phone interview Friday, Stauber offered a more critical assessment of the man he hopes to replace should he be elected.
Stauber said Nolan could have been "stronger" on his support for PolyMet Mining, Twin Metals Minnesota LLC and the whole of precious metal mining (such as iron ore or copper-nickel, and other forms of mineral extraction) throughout District 8 in prior years-a position, he noted, which was a point of contention within the DFL and among Nolan's voter base during the course of the Crosby-based politician's three terms in office.
On an international note, Stauber said he also took exception to Nolan's support of the Iran nuclear deal finalized in 2015, characterizing its stated purpose to halt Iranian initiatives to develop nuclear weapons and curtail their influence in the region as largely a failure.
"It was not in the best interest of this nation or the world," Stauber said. "It's not right and Congressman Nolan voted for that. I just feel the DFL is out of touch."
Representing mining country
"We have been mining for 135 years. We've kept the environment safe, the water clean and we're going to do it with precious metals mining," said Stauber, who characterized the Cuyuna Range as an example of lost opportunities.
While mining along the range largely vanished in the 1980s and the Brainerd lakes area as a whole gradually shifted to a recreational tourism-based economy, Stauber said, the region could have leaned on both mining and tourism as economic pillars, if the right efforts and decisions had been made at the time.
Mineral extraction and precious metal mining remains a viable economic engine for District 8 going forward-the initiatives of which, Stauber reaffirmed at multiple points of the interview, he strongly backs.
"I support PolyMet and Twin Metals. It will go through an extensive environmental process to ensure that our air and water are kept clean. PolyMet is in their 14th year and I believe that very shortly they will get their mining permit. Twin Metals will follow shortly after," Stauber said, citing a study that projected economic revenue in the ballpark of $500 million to be made by PolyMet over the course of 25 years. "Mining is extremely important. We are blessed with these minerals in our congressional district. We can mine safely, we will mine safely and put miners back to work and really have an economic boom."
Environmentalism in the state of 10,000 lakes
"Up in our 8th Congressional District we hunt and fish, we want clean water and we want regulations. We don't want those reduced," Stauber said. "In some cases, people think as a conservative we want to slash our environmental regulations. That couldn't be further from the truth."
In terms of the state's push for renewable energy, Stauber pointed to the connection between mining and green energy-a relationship manifested in the copper components of wind turbines and the precious metals associated with power cells in solar and geothermal energy.
Health care in District 8
Stauber said he disagrees with notions of a single-payer health care system-pointing to entities like the Veterans Health Administration and Obamacare as examples of government-run systems, the dysfunction of which is evidence of the inherent impracticality of universal health care. Stauber noted he is in favor of a privatized, free market-based system of health care.
"We know Obamacare and MNsure are not working. If Obamacare was the answer, we would not be talking about health care nine years later," said Stauber, who called the Obama administration promise that patients could keep their plans "the lie of the year."
Stauber said Obamacare is driving up the cost of health care-an escalation, he said, that would be mitigated by forces of competition in a free-market system that places the onus of care in the hands of patients and doctors, not politicians in Washington, D.C.
"Whoever comes out of the DFL competitive primary, every one of them wants single-payer," Stauber said. "I say, we have single-payer-it's called the VA and it's not working so good. There's 26 million people under the VA system in this country. There's long waits, they're dying in the waiting rooms, they're not getting proper care."
Spurring economic growth
"One of the biggest exports out of the 8th District is our youth," Stauber said. "I want to stop that. I want our young people to have the opportunity to stay in our 8th Congressional District, to live, work and raise a family in what I would say is one of the greatest regions in the country."
This means supporting local small businesses, Stauber added, drawing upon 28 years of being a small-business owner. Stauber identified the Dodd-Frank Act as a piece of legislation "decimating" the local, small community lending systems across the nation. In Minnesota, Stauber said about 80 local banks in the state were driven out by the regulations implemented by the act.
Instead, fostering an environment promoting the entrepreneurial spirit and supports the endeavors of local businesses is the way forward, Stauber said.
"My goal to the greatest extent possible is to remove Washington from as much of our everyday life as we can and allow our state houses to have more influence in our regions, because we know Washington is broke," Stauber said.
The opioid epidemic
The number of Minnesotans who succumbed to drug overdoses rose from 129 to 637 between 2000 and 2016, according to a report published this September by the Minnesota Department of Health. In 2016 alone, 395 deaths and more than 2,000 hospitalizations were directly tied to opiate abuse-though these statistics do not capture other indirect social impacts.
Characterizing the epidemic as one that affects every individual, family and facet of society, Stauber looked back at his career in law enforcement and noted the loss of "talents and treasures" that die with the individuals lost to a crisis that claims more lives per year than the entirety of the Vietnam War.
"We cannot arrest ourselves out of this situation," Stauber said. "We need to make sure that we have the facilities and the treatment and the professionals in place to help these addicts get off their addiction and become productive members of society."
Much of this comes down to a societal discussion on the dangers of drug use and the profound damage to a community that occurs with each overdose, he said.
In 2010, student loan debt surpassed credit card debt as the largest form of debt in the United States-while this may inhibit economic mobility and opportunities for young Americans in an individual sense, it also poses a threat to the long-term health of the economy. With more and more money delegated to paying off loans, and less disposable income, commerce may suffer as a result.
A large chunk of student debt is essentially worthless, Stauber said, because it burdens people who didn't or weren't able to complete their desired degree.
Nationally, according to a report by the National School Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research center, 31 percent of college students drop out and are no longer enrolled within six years, while 63 percent complete their degrees in a four-year track. Nearly half of community college students-47 percent-do not complete their degrees. The same report stated six years after enrollment,12 percent of students were no longer enrolled without completing their degrees.
"A four-year college degree is not for everyone. There are people that would do better by attending our technical schools to get those technical skills in order to join the workforce," Stauber said. "I would be a proponent of making sure our industrial arts programs are back in our high schools-our wood shops, our electrical engineering, our sheet metal working, the building and construction trades."
Stauber said there needs to be a comprehensive offering of options, whether prospective students want to attend a four-year school, or if they want to pursue a technical school, learn a trade or acquire some other form of certification.
At the same time, making college affordable is a primary goal, Stauber added, and public loan repayment programs-which can expedite loan repayment and reduce loan costs-may be necessary to usher more young people into productive roles in the workforce who might otherwise find it impossible.