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Firefighter running as Democrat for Heidi Heitkamp's Senate seat

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DRISCOLL, N.D.—Wildlands firefighter and Driscoll resident Dustin Peyer is jumping into North Dakota's U.S. Senate race, officially launching a campaign on Thursday he says will fight to implement a "Medicaid for all" system, to leave marijuana and hemp regulation to states and to place tight caps on election fundraising.

Peyer, 32, is a married father of two and a graduate of Washburn High School. A 2016 Democratic-NPL candidate for the North Dakota Senate, he also served as a delegate to the state Democratic-NPL convention on behalf of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

"I'm for simpler government. I'm a big supporter of getting rid of the blue laws in the state—that kind of mentality," said Peyer, who is seeking the Democratic-NPL primary endorsement. "I think the states are more powerful than the federal government. We should be reliant on our own laws and doing things on our own terms (and) the state should trickle that down to the township level."

The Senate seat Peyer seeks is held by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat who has not announced her intentions for 2018.

Peyer is an advocate of a "Medicaid for all" system, arguing not only against the influence he says insurance companies have on politics, but from personal experience, too. He said that his son Noah, 6, was born premature with heart and lung problems. Noah's costs have been previously covered by Medicaid, which Peyer described as helpful support that ought to be available to everyone.

"Every child should have that opportunity to have (these) options," he said.

Peyer plans to officially launch his campaign at an April 20 "Marijuana Reform Rally" he's organized at state Capitol grounds. He argues that marijuana regulation should be left to the states and argues that the tax benefits of legalizing the marijuana and hemp industries are significant.

"Do you know how much tax money has been spent on locking people up?" he said.

Peyer offered broad criticism of political finance in his interview with the Herald. At the national level, he argued that both Heitkamp and Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Republican who may seek the Senate seat, have both received donations from PACs affiliated with DTE Energy, Aetna and others.

"Do you think that, when the same super PACs give to the same parties, do we have a two-party system?" he said, proposing a $250,000 cap on fundraising per election cycle for federal candidates.

Heitkamp representatives were unable to be reached for comment.

Peyer said he plans to run his campaign on small, individual contributions, and criticized Heitkamp, and many other incumbent officials, for taking campaign money from corporations and PACs.

"It just seems like if we want to drain the swamp, we need to drain the money, and you have to look to who's taking," he said.

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108