Peterson, Barrett favor ethanol development, differ on government role

WILLMAR -- U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and his Republican opponent Michael Barrett agree on renewable energy issues, but not on the war in Iraq as they compete to represent Minnesota's 7th District in Congress.

WILLMAR -- U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and his Republican opponent Michael Barrett agree on renewable energy issues, but not on the war in Iraq as they compete to represent Minnesota's 7th District in Congress.

On the surface, the race would appear to be a mismatch. Peterson, 62, who stands to be chairman of the House Agriculture Committee if Democrats win control of the U.S. House, has a well-known name and has raised far more money than Barrett.

Barrett, 54, said in October that he thought he could make up for the difference by appealing to voters in a district that tends to lean Republican. The challenge is that the district also tends to vote strongly for Peterson. He defeated his 2004 opponent by a 2-to-1 margin.

The 7th District stretches from the state's northern border to Redwood, Lyon and Lincoln counties in the southwestern part of the state. It includes 35 counties in the western half of Minnesota. The largest cities in the district are Moorhead and Willmar.

Campaigning in a district so big can be difficult. Barrett said it's a big challenge for him. He is the only pharmacist at the hospital in Long Prairie, and it can be difficult sometimes to leave during the day. It helps that he's centrally located in the district and has a good vehicle, he said. He's put more than 14,000 miles on it during the campaign.


Peterson said he tries to get to as many towns in the district as possible and to attend community events. He flies his own plane when traveling in the district.

Campaigning has been a little tougher this year, because of his position as ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, Peterson said. He tends to do more traveling and has been asked to campaign for other House members around the country.

However, fundraising is easier lately. "All of a sudden, I've got people calling me," he said. "They think I'm going to be chairman."


Barrett and Peterson both support the development of alternative energy in rural areas.

Barrett sums up a chief difference between them: "He believes in government mandates; I don't."

Barrett said he doesn't like Minnesota's ethanol mandate or any others. However, he would support the use of subsidies to encourage development of alternative energy.

The ethanol mandate and a limited capacity to blend ethanol and gasoline at refineries can lead to problems with higher gas prices, he said.


The fact that farmers own the co-ops that are producing ethanol and other alternative energy is good for the industry, Barrett said. He hopes similar arrangements can be used for the next generation of alternative energy, possibly hydrogen power.

"The federal government has a role, but it's a limited role," he said.

Peterson believes the federal government should play a strong role in encouraging the development of alternative energy industries. He hopes to influence federal policies in the next farm bill.

Ethanol and other alternative energy sources have the potential to transform the nation's rural economy, he said.

Corn ethanol industry has been successful, but future growth is needed in ethanol made from cellulose in straw or grasses.

Cellulose will be important in the future, because grasses can be grown in more areas. It's important to keep options open for local ownership of ethanol plants, he added.

"This next farm bill is going to be crucial in developing the right policies; we need to make sure we don't screw this up," he said. "In agriculture, our future is not going to be in growing commodities -- we will need to own the plant."

War in Iraq


Neither candidate favors the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, but their views of the war do differ.

People don't talk to him about the war in Iraq that much, "which is surprising," Peterson said.

"I think that's partly because we've got so many kids over there," he said. "People just don't want to talk about it. ... Just about everybody knows somebody that's over there."

Peterson said he believes it may be necessary to commit more troops for a time, "to get the situation under control." He's made no secret of his belief that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should have been fired some time ago, and he'd like to see a change in strategy.

"What really bothers me is we're not paying for this," Peterson said. "These kids who are doing such a great job for us over there, they're going to end up paying for this. It's not right."

The American people have not been asked to sacrifice for the war effort, and many people are searching for ways they can help, he said. He suggested that many people probably wouldn't object to a war surcharge on their taxes, possibly $50 a year, that was used to support and equip the troops.

Barrett agreed that the country should provide the troops with "every tool necessary," but he was critical of Peterson's idea to pay for the war and called it a hidden way to raise taxes.

Barrett said he also doubted Peterson's views on the war, because they differ so much from some of the Democratic Party's leaders.


In a conversation about Congress and the war, Barrett frequently referred to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California who, in his words, advocates a "cut and run" philosophy toward the war.

Barrett said he was concerned that Peterson would vote the way party leadership wanted him to but then say something different in the district.

As he travels in the district, he finds strong support for the war effort, Barrett said.

"I think the politicians need to shut up, let the generals fight and win, then bring the troops home," he said. "This is not a short-term struggle."

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