Weather Forecast


Ag dispute at the heart of Minn.'s 7th District race

ST. PAUL -- Glen Menze picks at Collin Peterson's biggest accomplishment -- herding the 2008 farm bill to passage, and repassage over a presidential veto.

Menze, a Republican trying for the second time to unseat western Minnesota's Democratic congressman, complained the farm bill contains too much pork, but said it did not help pork and other livestock producers.

"It really picked winners and losers," Menze said. "If you are in livestock, you not only didn't gain anything -- there wasn't really anything in there for hog and beef -- but you found out that the disaster program, for example, is going to require a lot more money."

Veteran lawmaker Peterson, finishing his second year as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the farm bill was a good compromise.

"There wasn't any pork in there," he said. "We had no earmarks in the farm bill that passed the House."

However, senators insisted on some earmarks -- funding for specific programs.

"It was the price I had to pay to get the bill passed," Peterson said. "That is just how the Senate operates. I fought it as long as I could."

Such relatively minor disputes illustrate the 7th Congressional District race, where Menze and Peterson compete to represent a large chunk of western Minnesota from the Canadian border south almost to Iowa.

The two are seeking a job paying $169,300 annually.

Peterson is known as one of the House's most conservative Democrats -- and 13 years ago helped form the Blue Dog coalition of conservative and moderate Democrats.

Menze, a former farmer and like Peterson an accountant, is not as strict a conservative as Republicans often put up to fight Peterson, but on most issues he is to Peterson's right.

The federal government should offer disaster insurance to farmers, Menze said, instead of the current subsidies farmers receive. At some point, he added, private insurance companies should take over the program.

Farmers could take out the type of insurance they want -- flood, tornado, pest, etc. -- under the Menze plan.

"In a farm bill, what we really should be doing, is providing affordable risk-management tools," Menze said.

Menze's goal is to get rid of subsidies, although he did not say that was possible immediately.

"I am interested in the parts of the ag bill that we use as a carrot that we use people to do the environmentally right things to do on their property," he gave as an example of government's role.

Peterson said southern congressmen prevented as big a change in farm policy as he would have liked.

"Farm bills are evolutionary, not revolutionary," he said.

A new voluntary program is the biggest advancement in the new farm bill, Peterson said. It would allow farmers to enroll in the program that guarantees crop revenue equaling 90 percent of that obtained the previous two years.

While he complained about Peterson's farm bill, Menze also paid the incumbent a compliment. "On ag issues, he is effective."

The two western Minnesota candidates came close to agreeing on the financial institution bailout bill. Peterson voted against both versions debated in the House, and still opposes it. Menze said he might have voted for the measure, but would have much preferred to see private money spent to rescue troubled banks.

"It is almost like saying things are so bad that only the government can solve this problem," Menze said. "When it comes to financial matters, I know there is private money out there that can solve these problems. ... It is not a real easy choice on this one. If they are going to do it, I hope they are going to do it right."

In an editorial page column Peterson wrote after the second bailout vote, he said the bill was "very unlikely to solve the actual problem."

Spending in the bill is not funded, he said, so just makes the country's national debt larger.

"The bailout bill will probably add billions more, though the president and others say lots of it 'will be paid back.'" Peterson said. "I certainly hope so, but I'm not optimistic about it."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.