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Westrom running for Congress after 18 years in Legislature

State Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, responds to questions during an interview Thursday at the West Central Tribune in Willmar. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR — State Sen. Torrey Westrom said he believes he sees a mess in Washington, and he wants to help clean it up as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

After 18 years in the Minnesota Legislature, Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, has embarked on a campaign to defeat incumbent Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson in the November election.

Peterson, ranking member of the House Committee on Agriculture, was first elected to Congress in 1990.

Westrom, 41, was first elected to the Legislature at the age of 23. He said he and his family decided to move on to a new challenge.

Westrom was the first blind person known to have been elected to the state Legislature. If elected, he would be the second blind person Minnesotans have sent to Congress.

“The direction of this country is a growing concern for everybody,” he said. “My children’s future is at stake, like it is for other voters.”

Accompanying Westrom on a visit to Willmar Thursday was Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The organization recently designated Westrom a “Young Gun” for the 2014 campaign.

The NRCC chooses candidates deemed to be effective and to have a good chance of winning, Walden said. The committee offers assistance with organization, planning and strategy tailored to the individual congressional district.

“It really says to the bigger community, ‘from our perspective, this is a winner,’” he said.

“It’s a catchy title,” Westrom said with a smile. “It certainly brings additional notoriety to the campaign.”

Westrom and Walden acknowledged that the Young Gun title can help with fundraising. Westrom estimated the cost of a campaign in the huge Seventh District would cost from $1 million to $2 million.

According to the Federal Elections Commission website, Westrom’s campaign reported that it had total contributions of $204,458 and cash on hand of $170,728 as of March 31

Westrom said the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, is a government overreach that has been harmful to farmers and agribusiness. A number of farmers have told him they got cancellation notices or can’t purchase policies like their old ones, because they don’t meet the law’s requirements.

The current crisis in the Veterans Administration, with veterans waiting months for care, is unacceptable, he said. “Unfortunately it’s an example of what government-run health care can turn into.”

Westrom criticized Peterson for voting against some attempts to change or repeal the Affordable Care Act. Peterson did vote against the law when it was originally passed.

However, Westrom criticized him for voting against efforts to repeal the law. Peterson said last year that he thought the bill had flaws but could be fixed rather than repealed. He also criticized Republicans at the time for focusing on repealing the law instead of working to improve it.

Another issue that concerns him is the national debt, Westrom said. “I want to see a balanced budget amendment; it’s badly needed in the federal constitution,” he said. “People know we need to begin living within our means.”

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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