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Emmer says he'd give ag dept. more power if he's elected gov.

Tom Emmer, center, meets Tuesday with the public at FarmFest in Morgan. Tribune photo by Don Davis

MORGAN -- Republican Tom Emmer says he will move all parts of state government that regulate farming into the Agriculture Department.

The governor candidate used a FarmFest au-dience to make one of the first concrete an-nouncements of his campaign.

"That's the promise I will make to you," Emmer told hundreds of farmers under a tent in Wednesday's nearly 90-degree heat. He said people connected to farming can make better decisions than those in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, for instance.

He also pledged to launch a review of farming regulations to make sure that while the state continues to protect the environment that jobs will receive a higher priority than they do today.

"All Minnesotans have an interest in keeping our water and air clean, but we have to make sure our regulations make sense and are balanced with job creation and expansion," he said.

Emmer made his announcement in closing remarks at a FarmFest governor candidate forum in which he was one of a half-dozen participants.

While much of the attention is focused on next week's Democratic-Farmer-Laborite primary election, with three major governor candidates, many of the DFL candidates' comments were directed at Emmer, who on Wednesday made his first appearance in a major candidates' forum.

Besides Emmer and the three top DFL candidates, Independence Party hopefuls Tom Horner and Rob Hahn answered questions on the FarmFest stage.

Hahn drew laughs when he twice said he was forced to agree with Emmer, obviously the outcast on the stage.

"It must have been what was in my coffee this morning," Hahn said.

But Emmer was the best received candidate by the crowd, which traditionally is a Republican-leaning group of farmers.

Emmer said that to help farmers, taxes must be lowered and crop land should not be so heavily taxed: "Tillable land should not be supporting every service the government provides."

Emmer did not provide specifics about how he would change the property tax system.

The Republican has voted against some biofuel bills, supporting ethanol and biodiesel, and for others. But, he said after the forum, sometimes he voted against them because of provisions contained in the bill, not the concept.

He said he would not end current ethanol subsidies, which are being phased out, and left the door open must a little to future biofuel assistance.

"Petroleum has all the advantages," he said.

Emmer promised to listen to farmers and others involved in biofuels before making a decision.

"You will have to go a long ways to convince me that (subsidies) make sense," he added.

Hahn said he does not think ethanol subsidies, or anything like it, should continue.

Horner said the state needs to "transition away from" subsidies, but said he will not have a firm proposal until later in the campaign.

Horner sounded like his Republican roots when he joined Emmer in criticizing state regulations on agriculture.

"We need to get bureaucracy out of the way," Horner said to an answer on what each candidate would do if animal rights organizations proposed livestock production restrictions.

"It is important to let the local community take the lead."

To the same question, Hahn said: "I would adhere to my open-door policy and give them about 15 seconds."

Republican, Independence and DFL candidates agreed that they would not put up with more livestock restrictions.

Horner blamed the Legislature, with House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher on one side of him and Rep. Emmer on the other, for increasing property taxes.

He said counties have few options other than raise taxes when the state places mandates on them. About 40 percent of county property taxes are due to state mandates, he said.

Horner's running mate is Jim Mulder, the former head of the county association.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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.