The Motivations Behind a Campaign: Rachel Bohman and Jen Schultz

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Both Rachel Bohman of Rochester (District 1) and Jen Schultz of Duluth (District 8) are attempting to unseat anti-choice incumbents in the 2024 U.S.Congressional elections in Minnesota. Both districts cover vast geography.

We joined each of them on a day of conversations with community members, to learn more about the values, vision, and backgrounds of two U.S. Congressional candidates who are campaigning in areas of the state where it has been difficult for women to get elected.

Rachel Bohman, District 1

Rachel Bohman (photo by Sarah Whiting)

Rachel Bohman, who is seeking to unseat Rep. Brad Finstad (GOP), an anti-choice incumbent in southern Minnesota, was in two voter discussions on a Saturday morning in Mankato before returning to her hometown of Rochester, a 1.5-hour drive away, for a networking event. She is mother to two daughters.

As she said to one group, her incumbent opponent has indicated to voters that she is a “fancy lawyer from Rochester” who does not know enough about farming and other southern Minnesota needs. “My answer to that is, I grew up in poverty with a single mom,” Bohman says. “She worked very hard. But she also struggled with addiction at times. We lived off of food stamps. I didn’t have a car. We didn’t have a TV. We didn’t have a dining room table. I lost a brother to the opioid crisis when he was 22.

“But my mother also managed to get a technical degree at Rochester Community and Technical College. I put myself through college. I put myself through law school,” Bohman continues. “I wanted to always give back, because it was the good people of southern Minnesota who gave us rides [and] Christmas baskets and clothing.”

Bohman says that the area has great schools and teachers and sets industry standards in science and technology, due in part to Mayo Clinic. Family farmers are feeding Minnesotans. “But we are still struggling with critical issues like access to health care,” she says. “We are still struggling with affordable child care, and being able to pay for gas and groceries.”

She says she and her opponent differ about their approaches to having open and accountable government, access to clean water, and women’s rights. Denying reproductive health care “is unacceptable to me. I believe that when people decide to start their families, that is not an issue for the federal government.”

She announced her candidacy in late February, a few weeks after a friend called and urged her to run. “I had actually been up most of the night with a sick kid, so I said I needed a little time to think about it.” She had been politically active — including in Hennepin County after her college years — and called some friends to test out the idea and gauge potential support. “Everything seemed to fall into place. It seemed like it was the right time to step out. I’m really enjoying doing this. I love connecting with people. I love talking about issues. I’m okay about having debates.”

As a Rochester township officer, she did not need a party affiliation to run. As a congressional candidate, she needs the backing of the DFL delegation, but hopes to raise issues of commonality with voters, regardless of political affiliation. Bohman says she wants to bring back the acknowledgment and strength of small-town vibrancy, with entrepreneurs and farmers supported by local consumers.

“I know what it feels like to struggle paycheck to paycheck, which I grew up with,” she says. “I also know [the district] is full of people who work hard and take care of one another. When we work together, we can build beautiful things.”

Jen Schultz: District 8

Jen Schultz (photo by Sarah Whiting)

District 8 is currently represented by Rep. Pete Stauber (GOP). He is an anti-choice, pro-Trump supporter representing the northern swath of the state, which is as large as West Virginia. It includes Bemidji, Brainerd, Duluth, Forest Lake, Hugo, and the North Shore and Iron Range regions.

Schultz grew up in a small town. Her mother raised Schultz and her sister as a single parent, before reconciling with their father later in life. Her father, who struggled with addiction after serving in the Vietnam War, worked as a firefighter before dying of cancer at age 60. Schultz says the experience of her parents’ marriage bolsters her belief that compassion, determination, and community connections with others can improve anyone’s life. She has a doctorate in health economics, served four terms in the Minnesota legislature, and is raising two sons with her husband.

While on a tour with corrections officers and social workers at the Crow Wing County Jail, Schultz responded to the story of a man who burglarized in the winter to get off the streets and into the warmer jail. “Addressing poverty doesn’t cost very much,” she said, adding that the undergraduate economics students she teaches at the University of Minnesota Duluth are required to read Matthew Desmond’s book Poverty, by America.

The book outlines how poverty is the problem behind many public safety issues, how it can be fixed, and what that will cost ($175 billion) — which is less than the expense of dealing with crime.

While at the Crow Wing County jail, Schultz talked about a program called HARP (Health and Re-Entry Project), which formed in 2022 — its national board convenes multiple stakeholders for policy recommendations. The focus is on how to offer smoother transitions to Medicaid for formerly incarcerated individuals, which enhances public safety. Currently, people in jails or prisons tend not to have medical assistance for medications.

Schultz says she is traveling a lot to do listening sessions like the one she had in Brainerd. “There are a lot of areas that feel neglected. We were in Mahnomen County recently. They need a new hospital. It’s their number one priority, requiring $35 million, but local legislators, their state senator, and the state representative are not advocating for it. Their building is very old. They told me it is basically held together by duct tape. Being fiscally conservative does not mean not spending money to meet needs. The nursing facility attached to the hospital is the only facility that serves multiple counties in that rural area, and it is filled.”

While visiting, she sat down with local elected officials and community members in the county, which includes the White Earth Reservation. “There is a lot of history there, and tension. I sat down with many folks to hear about issues they wanted me to understand.”