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Phifer announces plan to move forward with her campaign for Congress

Oct 13, 2017 03:22PM ● By Editor
By Brian Larsen from The Cook County News Herald - October 13, 2017

Leah Phifer In a phone conversation two weeks ago Leah Phifer said she would have to sit down and talk with Rick Nolan, the incumbent DFL congressman who is running for re-election in the 8th Congressional District, before she made a final decision to run against him or drop out. 

“We had a nice chat on Saturday (October 7) evening,” said Phifer. “He was pleased that I was continuing with my plans to run and my plan to abide by the endorsement of the party. We both agree that we want a Democrat to continue in this position.”

With that announcement, Phifer, a 33-year-old native of Two Harbors and current resident of Isanti, put the public on notice that her “Around the 8th in 80 days” motorcycle tour was more than a listening tour. She is in the race to make a difference.

Phifer, who spent 10 years working for Homeland Security and the FBI, joins Nolan, Republican St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber and Green Party Candidate Skip Sandman in the race. 

“It was never my intention to run against Rick. I decided to explore running for his seat when he announced that he was looking at running for governor. We had a very amiable talk. Our views on universal health care and debt-free college are almost the same. We agree on a majority of the issues.”

In her travels around the district Phifer logged 7,000 miles. During that time she heard about a lot of subjects, but three stood out: the need to reform health care, issues surrounding mining, especially copper and nickel near the BWCAW, and the need to change the way campaigns are financed.

“There’s too much money in political races. And too much of that money comes from out of the district,” Phifer said. “The public is frustrated over where the money is coming from, and how decisions are made. They feel left out of the process,” she added.

“Rick and I have different strategies and approaches to our campaigns. The one thing I won’t engage in is vitriol and drama. This type of negative politics scares people away. It especially scares away young people, and we need their voice.”

Phifer and Nolan disagree on some subjects. Phifer would like to see a Nolan-backed act of Congress that would fast-track a federal land swap for the proposed PolyMet copper nickel mine dropped. She said the act conflicts with due process. “The judicial, executive and legislative branches all have roles to play in looking at these matters, “ Phifer said. “If we cut them out we are undermining the core of our democracy.”

Phifer isn’t opposed to mining. She’s neither pro nor con. As a member of four generations of miners, Phifer said she is emotionally drawn to supporting the industry.

But, as she noted, “I’m not a hydrologist. I’m not a geologist. I have to rely on opinions of people who work in those fields to help guide me and then I have to rely on my legal training to help me make the best practical decision possible for the public.”

When Leah stopped in Cook County on her tour of the district she was operating on a shoestring budget. She had quit her job as a counter-terrorism officer for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Minneapolis Field Office to explore her candidacy. She had $500 in her bank account and was crashing at relatives’ houses across the Iron Range to lessen the cost of her 80-day tour. Since then she has picked up a job teaching a course titled “Immigration Policy” at Augsburg University in Minneapolis and she is seeking campaign funds.

At this time unpaid volunteers are aiding Phifer. She said these are people who have run for office themselves or worked on previous campaigns. “They have a lot of experience and they are working really hard to raise funds and help me coordinate my campaign efforts.”

When enough money is brought in Phifer will hire some staff.

On hot button issues which seem to be pulling the DFL party apart like the Enbridge Energy’s proposed Line 3 oil pipeline project or future copper-nickel mines are built, Phifer asks that the regulatory process be allowed to play out before any decisions are made.

While her volunteer-driven campaign ramps up, Phifer will continue to seek information from the public. Currently she is setting up a question and answer page on Facebook to help connect to voters.

She is holding a fundraiser at Carmody 61 on Highway 61 in Two Harbors on Sunday, October 15 at 4 p.m. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and meet her.

The DFL party endorsement 8th District DFL Convention will be held in Duluth on April 14. Nolan defeated GOP challenger Stewart Mills by less than half a percentage point last year in one of the most expensive races in the country. No word yet on whether Mills will enter the race for a third time. If he does enter, will he face Nolan? Or Phifer? 

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