GILFILLAN ESTATE - Six candidates for Minnesota's first, second, and seventh congressional districts submitted to a round robin of questions from representatives of Minnesota's agriculture sector at Farmfest near Redwood Falls on Tuesday.
The panel included U.S. Rep. DFLer Collin Peterson from the 7th District and his Republican challenger Lee Byberg; Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz from the 1st District and challengers Mike Parry and Allen Quist; and Democrat Mike Obermueller, who is challenging incumbent John Kline in the 2nd District.
The candidates were divided into two response groups of three.
Photo by Steve Browne
Seventh District DFL U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, left, speaks during the political forum at Farmfest on Tuesday. Peterson’s challenger, Lee Byberg of Willmar, is seated next to Peterson.
Though questions were not submitted ahead of time, candidates were informed the majority of the questions would concern several broad policy areas including the 2012 farm bill, drought and disaster relief, renewable energy policies, free trade agreements, rural development initiatives, environmental and humane regulations, estate taxes, health care and the federal budget deficit.
There was substantial agreement on some issues, including burdensome regulations by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the threat to livestock operations by animal rights activists, continuing the farm exemption for estate taxes and the need to keep rural post offices open.
But when the candidates were asked if they supported passage of the 2012 farm bill, disagreements emerged.
"Absolutely!" Walz said. "Pass the farm bill now, it's that simple."
Parry limited himself to saying the farm bill should be brought to the floor, and it needed to be done before the election because of the need for drought relief.
Quist expressed strong disagreement.
"I'm looking down the line and I'm the only active farmer on the panel," Quist said. "The first thing we need is to get the language straight - it's not a farm bill, it's a food stamp bill with a farm bill rider. Eighty percent of the funding is for food stamps. We need to justify that other 20 percent to the taxpayers."
Later in the forum in response to another question, Walz countered Quist with a claim the majority of food stamp recipients are over 65 or under three years of age.
A question on what emphasis candidates placed on renewable energy and the Renewable Fuels Standards evoked a number of responses.
Parry said though the long-term solution to a secure energy supply lay in the free market, he claimed all energy sources were originally subsidized and suggested the role of government should be limited to tax incentives.
Quist said the RFS played a vital role in American agriculture and suggested support for subsidized renewable energy would depend on the crop report estimates of corn yields.
"Ask me again on Friday," Quist said. "Congress thinks they can change the laws of chemistry and physics, it doesn't work."
Walz said while he agreed on the importance of the RFS, energy was a national security issue as well as an economic issue.
"We send a billion dollars a day to countries that hate us," Walz said. "They'll hate us for free."
Peterson said he agreed with Quist and noted corn was subsidized for years when it was $1.98 per bushel and not worth growing without a subsidy, but today's prices are considerably higher. Peterson cautioned that agricultural interests could not afford to let the RFS divide them when representatives from agricultural states needed to stand together as a voting block.
Byberg spoke consistently from a strong free market position throughout the forum.
"We live in this fantastic country, in a gem of a state," Byberg said. "I believe in an energy plan based on incentives, different from the rest of the world. Peterson served us 20 years but he's changed three times and introduced measures based on penalties."
Byberg cited Obama's health care plan as an example of a government measure based on penalties rather than incentives.
When asked a specific question about health care, Walz and Peterson came out for some version of the administration's plan.
Quist however expressed skepticism of the government's ability to improve the healthcare situation.
"I wish I had an hour instead of two minutes on this," Quist said.
Quist suggested a number of remedies including a 100 percent tax deduction for health care costs and ending marriage penalties.
On the question of transport infrastructure spending, there was wide agreement for the necessity of infrastructure, but questions of how it could be funded.
Obermueller said he would make it a priority to see locks and dams were funded.
Peterson said that locks and dams on navigable waterways needed upgrade and repair, but finding the money would be difficult after the expenses of the federal stimulus.
The issue of the federal deficit, which Quist in his closing remarks referred to as "the 900-pound gorilla under the forum tent," impacted infrastructure and many other issues at least tangentially.
"Our national debt stands at $16 trillion," Quist said. "Twenty cents on every tax dollar goes to pay interest. We need to get our financial house in order."
Byberg spoke of the need to grow local economies to enhance revenue for infrastructure, make regulatory agencies accountable and reduce the size and complexity of government.
"We have a wonderful opportunity for Americans to come together and realize the largeness of the federal government cannot be sustained," Byberg said. "We've got to bring free enterprise back and make government accountable."
Peterson ended his remarks emphasizing the need for bipartisan action to get the farm bill passed.
Walz strongly agreed and said he had a proven record of bipartisan cooperation in congress.
Obermueller expressed concern that regulators were acting without input of those regulated and the need for bipartisan action and attributed the problem to both parties.
"What's wrong is, we've got people focusing on preventing others from getting things done," Obermueller said. "The federal government is broken."
Parry said to address the budget deficit, Congress must take back the power it ceded to bureaucrats and spoke of the need for transparency.
"We can replace congressmen," Parry said. "We can't replace bureaucrats."