DULUTH, MN / WASHINGTON - “They don’t make these type of skates anymore,” quips U.S. Representative Pete Stauber, as he pulls out a vintage pair of Daoust 501’s from his dusty hockey bag. “When I retired from the Detroit Red Wings, they gave me a new pair.”
The first-year congressman from Minnesota is sitting in his House of Representatives office in Washington, just a few hours before he skates onto the ice for a charity hockey game.
It’s a little slice of home in his pressure-packed day of Capitol Hill meetings, committee and floor votes, and personal appearances.
Reagan-motivated public service
Pete Stauber started playing hockey at age 4. He went on to play professionally for the Detroit Red Wings for three years. His 1988 national champion college hockey team was invited to the White House. He says his meeting with then-President Ronald Reagan inspired him to eventually enter public service.
For more than two decades, Pete Stauber worked as a Duluth, Minnesota, police officer, then as a city and county commissioner. But he wanted more. He and his wife had a heart-to-heart talk about a possible run for U.S. Congress. Jodi Stauber is retired from the Air Force. After serving in Iraq, she became the highest-ranking enlisted person in Duluth's 148th Fighter Wing and the first woman to hold that job.
The Staubers have never led a typical 9-to-5 family life, so they adjusted by “juggling those different times,” says Jodi, “and carving out those special moments when we can, making them even better and more precious to us.”
Jodi stays home in Minnesota to care for the couple’s four children – as most female spouses of Congressmen do – including their 16-year-old son Isaac who has Down syndrome.
Balancing controversial issues with local needs
Stauber’s congressional district is mainly rural, located in northern Minnesota. He is a staunch Republican who got a boost when U.S. President Donald Trump campaigned for him and promised to “restore mineral exploration.”
The first bill that Stauber introduced, if enacted, would remove final obstacles for the first copper-nickel sulfide mine in an area of Minnesota called the Iron Range – a storied mining district known for its rich iron resources.
The $1 billion project would potentially create 360 mining jobs, with spin-off opportunities that could bring the total to 1,000. In addition, the mine would bring millions of dollars in investments and fulfill Stauber’s campaign pledge to “unleash the economic engine” in Minnesota’s 8th District.
The challenge, however, has been to balance that growth with environmental worries.
The proposed mine is upstream from the Indian reservation of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The band uses the nearby St. Louis River and Lake Superior for hunting and fishing and claims the mine will have “devastating impacts” on those waters.
Chairman Kevin DuPuis says that his Fond du Lac Band isn’t against mining, but that “if mining is going to happen, have it be responsible mining.”
Otherwise, “if we lose the ability to fish … it’s everybody that loses the ability to fish," he adds.
In early February, the bill was sent to a House Natural Resources subcommittee, where it still sits. The committee leadership will decide whether or when to act on the measure. But with the Democrats in control, there is no telling when a bill sponsored by a Republican will get a hearing or vote. Ironically, Stauber's predecessor, Democrat Rick Nolan, tried to get a copper mine bill through a Republican-controlled congress. It passed the House but was never put to a vote in the Senate.
Migrants versus borders
Stauber seems at ease as the flatbed tractor rounds the corner of the dairy barn. Wearing a camouflage knit hat and blue denim coat, Stauber is getting a tour of Enchanted Dairy, a 1,800-head, family-owned dairy farm in Little Falls, Minnesota, which boasts a 40-cow rotary parlor for milking.
In a discussion over cheese bites and milk from Land O' Lakes, a member-owned cooperative, local farmers discuss the importance of Hispanic migrant workers and getting an immigration policy that works. "The president's system obviously is broke," states Enchanted Dairy owner Ron Miller.
A month later, Stauber flew to Arizona to see what officials need to secure the U.S. border with Mexico. In a tweet, Stauber stands at the edge of the Colorado River and shows how “between 100-150 illegal immigrants come up this bank every single day.”
When VOA asked how he planned to reconcile his conservative immigration stance with the farmers' needs for more workers, Stauber dips back to his experience as a 23-year police officer: “We are a nation of laws…and we enforce the laws. I don’t get to pick and choose which laws.”
Stauber suggests that more teenagers take two-year vocational degrees to bring more Americans into those farm openings.
Near the end of the charity hockey game, Stauber commits the only game penalty. He tells VOA he deserved it, “It was a good penalty…..I tripped a guy, hooked a guy, and the ref [referee] caught me.”
Hockey is a very rough sport, and learning to cope with its rules and other challenges helps him in the new arena on Capitol Hill. “Your off-the-ice conduct was just as important as your on-ice conduct…. And you have to learn to win and you have to learn to lose.”