Minnesota House candidates strive to help farmers
REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. - It is no surprise that U.S. House candidates speaking to farmers will say they support agriculture, but on Tuesday, six of them delivered subtle signs of differences.
In southern Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, for example, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz strongly supported a farm bill awaiting House action, Allen Quist opposed it for being too heavy on food stamps and not paying enough attention to farmers, and Mike Parry fell in the middle.
In western Minnesota's 7th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said finding money to make needed transportation improvements "will be difficult in this climate," while challenger Lee Byberg said the money will come if farmers and businesses are allowed to grow.
The comments came Tuesday as candidates spent more time wiping off sweat and fanning themselves than they did arguing during a Farmfest forum. U.S. Senate candidates will be on the hot seat today.
Farmfest opened near Redwood Falls on Tuesday for a three-day run and, like in all election years, politics filled the air in the midst of an event where farmers see the latest machinery, crops and other agriculture information.
In addition to, the 1st and 7th District races, the 2nd district, to the south of the Twin Cities, was represented. Democrat Mike Obermueller answered questions, but U.S. Rep. John Kline turned down Farmfest's offer to appear.
Republican Byberg and Democrat Peterson are in a repeat of their 2010 race. Peterson has been in the House since 1991, and is the top-ranking Agriculture Committee Democrat.
Byberg's philosophy is of allowing farmers and businesses freedom to earn more money. He said in an interview that he is building a coalition of those groups to support his race.
Jobs are produced locally, Byberg said, not by Washington politicians. He said congressional leaders have just "stood by" over the years and not taken action to help businesses.
"Bring free enterprise back, empower the people to ... innovate," Byberg told the farmers.
Also, he said, too many young Americans would rather "take checks than jobs." Leaders need to change that by example, he added.
In a separate interview, Peterson said that farmers are in the best position they have seen since he entered the House, some of it due to federal decisions.
Crop insurance, a federal-private partnership, is a prime example of how farmers have benefited, he said. Peterson said he no longer is farming because he had to leave the profession due to lack of crop insurance at the time.
While some want to move away from crop insurance, Peterson disagreed. "This is not the time to be changing things," he said.
When he was talking to the tent full of farmers, Peterson repeatedly talked about things he has done to help them.
For one thing, he said he talked to the leader of the Environmental Protection Agency when it appeared the agency would force farmers to enact dust-control procedures. Peterson reported that she said an underling in the agency suggested that, but it was not in the works.
Byberg called for cutting some agencies, such as the EPA, in half and making regulations among agencies more consistent.
"The largeness of the federal government cannot be sustained," he said.
Southern Minnesota's House battle has been heated, but in the hot Farmfest tent the trio agreed more often than disagreed. In fact, during a break, Walz and Parry were laughing together.
Parry and Quist are battling for the Republican nomination to take on Walz in the Nov. 6 election. A Tuesday primary will decide the matter.
In an interview, Quist said he is "very optimistic" that he will win, saying, "at this point, Parry is not a major player."
When asked how he knew that, Quist replied; "We do polling."
Quist made the most outspoken remarks of the six on the Farmfest panel, disputing others who support a bipartisan House farm bill.
"There is no farm bill," he declared. "There's a food stamp bill with a farm rider."
Quist claimed that 80 percent of the bill's funding would go to food stamps, with just a little for farmers.
"The food stamp portion is so bad," Quist said, that he could not vote for the bill.
Walz drew rare applause from the farm group when he reminded Quist that most of those who receive food stamps are older than 65 and younger than 3.
Of the candidates, Walz was the strongest farm bill supporter, especially because it continues a crop insurance program.
"All of you know, you can't control the weather," Walz said.
"Pass the farm bill now," he added.
For Parry, most of the farm bill appears OK, although he said he has "some issues" with it.
However, he urged Congress to pass the bill before the election.
House leaders plan few meetings before Nov. 6 and it is unknown if the farm bill will come up for a vote.
Parry and Walz appeared close to agreeing on the need for federal aid in renewable energy, while Quist said he needs to wait until Friday to decide because that is when a report comes out about the 2012 corn crop.
Parry said the federal government has helped fund development of every energy source, so it should continue with renewable fuels such as ethanol.
"I think the taxpayers' role in developing renewable energy should be limited to providing tax incentives ... to encourage development of all forms of energy," Parry said.
Walz said the country should support renewable energy instead of sending so much money to oil-producing countries "that hate us. They will hate us for free."
The congressman supported new federal health-care laws, saying without them, too many more people will receive their major treatment in expensive emergency rooms.
Already, he said, the new laws have allowed 26 million to obtain coverage.
But Parry said rural Americans still face the worst problems.
"What we are not addressing now is the cost of health care," he said.
Quist called for allowing Americans to deduct all health expenses from income taxes.
"We have never improved a system by having the government take it over," he said.
Obermueller said he fears disputes among farmers could hurt renewable energy's expansion.
For example, while corn farmers like making more corn-based ethanol, that can raise prices for livestock producers who rely on corn as feed.
"The goal ought to be is we need to figure out how to do it by ourselves," said Obermueller, who grew up on a farm.
Don Davis is the Minnesota Capitol reporter for Forum Communications