Leah Phifer, who has Ely family ties, enters race for U.S. House seat

Nolan faces DFL challenge

by Tom Coombe
Republicans aren’t the only ones gunning for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by Rick Nolan.
A Democrat with Ely family ties announced last weekend that she’d challenge Nolan for the party endorsement.
Leah Phifer, a former FBI counter-terrorism analyst, hopes to unseat the third-term Democrat and enters the race after a 7,000-mile motorycyle tour in which she visited with residents in all 18 counties in the spacious Eighth District.
Phifer, 33, grew up in Two Harbors and lives in Isanti on the district’s southern edge, but she also has some Ely roots.
She’s the daughter of 1977 Ely High School graduate Jackie Jensen Moen, and her grandparents include retired Ely elementary school teacher Jack Jensen and Sharon DeLeo.
Phifer has also staked ground opposite from Nolan on the contentious issue of copper-nickel mining in northeastern Minnesota.
While stopping short of taking a stand on the projects themslves, Phifer said she’s opposed to Nolan’s bid to end a process that could lead to a 20-year mining ban on national forest land in the region, as well as the incumbent’s support of a federal land swap that’s critical to the PolyMet project near Hoyt Lakes.
Phifer charged that Nolan is bypassing due process in both efforts.
In a news release announcing her candidacy, Phifer said she has heard from residents on both sides of the issues.
“The DFL base in the district is hurting right now,” Phifer said. “We’re still healing from the 2016 election and now we’re faced with some significant proposals that are pitting people against one another.”
She added “It’s our responsibility to work through these differences, unify and put forth the best possible candidate in November 2018. That’s why I’ve decided to seek and respect the DFL endorsement – it’s up to us to find the best path forward.”
Phifer left her FBI position in May to explore a run for Congress, riding her motorcycle throughout the district in what she dubbed a “district-wide listening tour.”
She said the tour reinforced her belief in “Minnesotans’ ability to meet any challenge,” while finding “many divides along political fault lines.”
Phifer said she believes political partisanship threatens the effectiveness of the nation’s policies as well as its values and safety.
She also contends that national security is “more than protecting Americans from threats abroad.”
“Our nation isn’t secure if our citizens lack reliable access to health care, food and housing,” said Phifer.
A graduate of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Phifer spent nearly a decade in a national security career.
She started with the Department of Homeland Security in 2008 before working in counter-terrorism for the FBI in the Minneapolis Field Office.
She currently teaches immigration policy at Augsburg University in Minneapolis.
Phifer is set to hold a campaign kick-off party Sunday in Two Harbors as she pursues party support across the district in advance of precinct caucuses in early-2018.
She joins Nolan in the race for the DFL nod.
Earlier this year, Republican Pete Stauber, a St. Louis County Commissioner from Hermantown, announced his own Congressional bid. The Green Party’s Skip Sandman is also running.
Nolan won the Eighth District seat in 2012 and won a pair of tight re-election campaigns the last two cycles against Republican Stewart Mills.