CD1 candidates Finstad, Munson face off in Farmfest debate after Ettinger tests positive for COVID
The conversation about agriculture and rural issues came a week before the special election in southern Minnesota as well as the primary to determine who will be up for the next full term.
REDWOOD COUNTY, Minn. — A positive coronavirus test prevented two front-runners in a southern Minnesota congressional contest from squaring off Tuesday, Aug, 2, just a week before a special election.
Candidates running to fill out the rest of the term of late U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn spoke during the panel at Farmfest.
But Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate and former Hormel Foods CEO Jeff Ettinger in a message said he couldn't participate because he tested positive for COVID-19.
"Despite having taken appropriate precautions and being fully vaccinated, this morning I tested positive for COVID-19," Ettinger said in a note read aloud, noting that he would skip in-person campaigning while ill. "I'm committed to the vitality of the farm economy and am disappointed I cannot attend the event."
The announcement just before the debate reset the dynamic between the remaining candidates. And it gave those in attendance a chance to see the differences between Republicans Brad Finstad and Jeremy Munson.
Finstad beat out Munson in the GOP special primary election this spring and is set to compete against Ettinger next week along with legal marijuana candidates. The winner will hold the seat representing southern Minnesota through early 2023.
Munson, meanwhile, has rekindled his campaign in recent weeks in hopes of beating out Finstad in the quest to complete the full term that begins next year.
Both the special election and primary election for the 2023 term will appear on the 1st Congressional District ballot next week.
Finstad during the debate sought to cast himself as a farmer who would go to Washington to get work done, not throw political bombs or seek headlines. Finstad is a former state legislator and U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development state director under the Trump administration.
“I’m a farmer and a problem solver and that hopefully was made clear, these are trying times for my friends, families and neighbors in southern Minnesota and there’s a lot of real issues that are affecting us,” he told reporters following the forum.
“I’m committed to working on solving some of those things," he continued. "I’m committed to doing that instead of the political sideshow that breaks out all too often.”
Having both the DFL and GOP candidates at the table would've given voters a chance to compare and contrast their positions, Finstad said. But the candidate wished his DFL opponent well in dealing with his illness.
Without Ettinger on the stage, Munson, a state lawmaker and businessman, got more of a chance to contrast himself with Finstad. And he urged those in attendance to pick him to serve the district starting next year saying he too had a background working in agriculture and would not be afraid to take a hard conservative stance in Congress.
"We need someone who is going to go to Washington and be a fiscal conservative, who's not going to spend money we don't have, who is going to vote on issues and understands agriculture," Munson said. "We need to do better. That means less government, less regulations on you and making sure we have a balance between regulations and subsidies on agriculture."
Legalize Marijuana Now candidate Richard Reisdorf and Democrat James Rainwater, who did not receive his party's endorsement, also spoke at the forum.
Both said they supported efforts to maintain crop insurance programs, boost support for small family farm operations and grow trade opportunities abroad.
"My interest is reestablishing the small family farm as much as possible and reinvigorating our small towns," Reisdorf said.
Ettinger in his note read aloud at the forum said he would use his professional experience to address top issues in Congress and to drive down costs.