GILFILLAN ESTATE - Five gubernatorial candidates answered questions from a panel of ag and rural leaders as part of Farmfest's annual political forum Tuesday. The forum included GOP-endorsed candidate Jeff Johnson, his three primary opponents, Scott Honour, Marty Seifert and Kurt Zellers, and Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet. Noticeably absent from the event was Gov. Mark Dayton, and his opponents made it clear they did not approve of him missing the forum.
"Let me express my disappointment that the governor didn't have time to come down to Farmfest for this forum," Seifert said. "I don't care if you're Democrat or Republican, you deserve to see your governor at a forum. Backing out of the State Fair and Farmfest is wrong."
Seifert's comments brought a response of cheers and applause from the crowd attending the forum.
Photo by Anna Haecherl-Smith
Gubernatorial candidates, from left, Republicans Scott Honour, Kurt Zellers, Marty Seifert, Jeff Johnson and Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet took part in a debate at Farmfest on Tuesday at Gilfillan Estates near Redwood Falls.
"I'm with Marty, by God, he (Dayton) should have been here today," said Zellers of the governor's absence. "This is one of the biggest and best agricultural outlets in the state and this forum, he should be here with you today."
As a local and rural candidate, Seifert struck a chord with most attendees. He related to the crowd by making references to his childhood home, a farm just a few miles from the festival grounds. Seifert reminded the crowd, on multiple occasions, that he was the only candidate from rural Minnesota. He told the audience he had visited all 87 counties during his campaign and also used his experience as a teacher to promote better education funding for rural Minnesota.
"I'm the one rural guy here who has been a public school teacher, and our kids here in rural Minnesota get funded to the tune of thousands of dollars less per kid than the kids that go to Minneapolis," Seifert said.
Farm-familiar candidates took turns reminiscing about their worn FFA jackets or their time spent picking rock, but statements about regulation and the federal government brought the most applause from the crowd.
"There is a culture among agencies of regulate and punish," Johnson said. "That seems to be what every one of these agencies thinks to be their job. That's not their job. It is absolutely the issue of a governor to say, 'Mind your own damn business' to the federal government."
"The Pollution Control Agency is out of control," Seifert said. "From the Board of Water and Soil resources to the EPA on the federal level, the ECA, the DNR... We have too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to government regulations."
Zellers also took at jab at the federal government and the DNR for his reply to the question on regulation.
"The federal government should not be coming out here and telling us what we should do with our water," Zellers said. "The DNR should not all of the sudden be coming out and telling us that the wells we've used for generations that they're not sure you've been doing it right for the last three or four decades, and you did something wrong.
"This boneheaded idea that those of us who grew up and live on a farm are going to use all our resources up, so five years down the road we won't have water to water our corn..." Zellers added. "The governor should be standing in the way of those agencies coming in."
Property taxes and agriculture advocacy were also hot topics at the forum, and all of the candidates seemed to agree that tax reform would be necessary to continue to support the state's agriculture sector.
"I think that farmers are treated unfairly from the perspective of any other business," said Honour. "The fact that you are taxed on that capital that you use to produce crops of livestock and taxed again on earnings, it fundamentally doesn't make sense."
"As the price of corn drops, the tax man doesn't come and say, 'Congratulations we're going to drop your property taxes proportionally,'" Zellers said. "Farmers want to pass their farms onto their kids, and the inheritance tax and the death tax and the estate tax is making it harder."