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How Rep. Pete Stauber — a GOP freshman in the Democratic-controlled U.S. House — has managed to get some bills passed

Stauber’s been willing to work with Democrats on legislation.

Rep. Pete Stauber
Rep. Pete Stauber votes against the GOP position about 13 percent of the time, putting him among the Republicans that buck their party most often.
MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein

Why would a freshman Republican congressman work with one of GOP’s primary targets for 2020?

U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber has not tried to buck his party on pivotal issues like health care or immigration. But unlike his two Republican colleagues in the House, the Eighth District congressman has worked closely on legislation with Democratic Rep. Angie Craig. Craig, who represents Minnesota’s Second District, is a top target for House Republicans in 2020.

Also unlike his two Republican colleagues, Stauber is the only Republican in the Minnesota delegation this Congress to have a bill pass the House.

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Bipartisan bills

The way Craig tells it, the partnership with Stauber sprang from a chance meeting on a train.

The two were traveling to the U.S. House retreat for freshman members when they met. Quickly, they learned they had something in common: both have school-age children with special needs.

Rep. Angie Craig
Rep. Angie Craig
That connection inspired a bill: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Full Funding Act. Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), which became law in 1990, schools were promised federal funding to cover 40 percent of the cost of services for special education students. The government has never lived up to that promise, and current projections place IDEA funding in Minnesota sometimes at just 8 percent of costs per student. Stauber and Craig’s bill would force the government to meet that obligation.

But that’s not the only issue on which Craig and Stauber have found common ground. Craig is one of two co-sponsors on Stauber’s Clarifying the Small Business Runway Extension Act, which would require the The Small Business Administration to revise certain requirements for prescribing the size standards for small business.

Stauber’s willingness to work with Democrats has yielded some results: This year, two pieces of Stauber’s legislation have passed the House.  The Notice to Airmen Improvement Act of 2019, which was cosponsored by California Democratic Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, requires the Federal Aviation Administration to establish a taskforce on an essential flight operations notification system called Notices to Airmen; and the Small Business Payment for Performance Act of 2019, which has five Democratic cosponsors, would provide partial payments to small business contractors requesting an adjustment due to a change in the terms of a contract with federal agencies. Both are awaiting a vote in the Senate.

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Overall, Stauber votes against the GOP position about 13 percent of the time, putting him among the Republicans that buck their party most often. Even so, he has many positions that match up with the Republican orthodoxy, on everything from abortion to the president’s border wall spending.

But Craig said that still leaves a lot of room for them to agree. “We may disagree on 15 to 20 percent where we can’t find common ground,“ Craig said. “But if you talk to someone long enough, you can find something that you agree on and you can commit to work with them in the future.”

The Eighth District

When it comes to explaining his approach to legislation, Stauber uses hockey as a metaphor: “I believe coach Herb Brooks was the best college hockey coach in our nation. He said: ’The name on the front of the jersey means more than the name on the back. If we all walked on the House floor with jerseys that said USA on the front, no name or label on the back, we could move mountains.”

Mountain-moving aside, Stauber’s willingness to work with Democrats may stem from a more basic consideration: survival. Prior to Stauber, Minnesota’s 8th District has been represented almost entirely by Democrats. While Republicans have been making gains in the district over the years, Cook Political Report, a non-partisan group that rates the competitiveness of House races, still calls Stauber’s seat competitive in the 2020 cycle.

Timothy Lindberg, a professor of political science at University of Minnesota, Morris, says that having an established record of bipartisanship makes a difference on election day. “There are incentives for members to work across party lines because partisans are increasingly unlikely to vote for even incumbents of the opposite party,” he said. “This means that there are fewer swing voters in most districts to potentially influence. In moderate districts, however, there tend to be more of these types of voters and their support is more likely to make the difference between winning and losing an election.”

“These swing districts, which are increasingly rare nationally, create important incentives for incumbents to claim they aren’t just following blindly what the president or congressional leaders want.”