Peterson seeks to keep up the good fight in House bid

MADISON -- Three generations of the Peterson family have carried a rural, populist message to the hallways of the state Capitol. "You have to go down there and scrap,'' said Aaron Peterson. His father, Doug, served in the House from 1991-2003 and...

MADISON -- Three generations of the Peterson family have carried a rural, populist message to the hallways of the state Capitol.

"You have to go down there and scrap,'' said Aaron Peterson. His father, Doug, served in the House from 1991-2003 and his grandfather, Harry, served in the House from 1965-73. Aaron Peterson, 36, finds himself in a scrap in his bid for a third term as a DFL legislator. The state's Republican Party has targeted the 20A House race and has endorsed one of Peterson's former school teachers as his opponent.

Peterson said he has been "disappointed'' by what has been tossed at him. He expected a campaign that would be all about debating the issues. Instead, Peterson charged that he's been the victim of a negative "whisper'' campaign. Some are claiming that the home he and his new bride, Leah, own near Marsh Lake is not his real residence, said Peterson.

He calls the allegation "ridiculous.''

No doubt, people driving by his house during the legislative session saw the windows darkened more often than lit, he said. That's because he's at the state Capitol on weekdays through the legislative session, just where he should be, he said.


"Why my opponent decides to make that an issue when it's not even true, I don't know,'' he said.

Peterson has other topics that he prefers to raise on the campaign trail.

He starts by talking about "respect'' and "fair treatment'' for rural areas. He charges that rural Minnesota has been short-changed by the Republican majority in the House and by the governor. They have made budget cuts that have hurt rural areas most of all.

While the "fairness'' issue is central to his campaign, there is no question about the issue that runs his motor. He's convinced that renewable energy is not a question of "if,'' but of whether "we want to be part of it or not.''

He points to the state's role in supporting ethanol, and its rewards: greater demand for corn and more value-added earnings for farmers and rural communities. He cited the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company in Benson as an example of the benefits provided by renewable energy.

Peterson is just as passionate about the emerging wind industry. He believes the state should play a role like it did for ethanol and help develop the industry. He proposed legislation calling on utilities to obtain 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. House leaders didn't allow the bill to move forward.

When he talks about the fairness issue, education and property taxes are at the top of his list.

Peterson said the state is not keeping its 2001 deal to fund a greater portion of K-12 education. He also wants the state to do more to lower higher education tuition costs.


He'd raise more revenues for schools by closing the tax loophole for offshore corporate holdings. Peterson said he is not aware of any industries in his district benefiting from the tax break.

State reductions to local government aid have meant property tax increases for communities throughout his district and reductions in services, he said. In Benson, he said the cuts in local government aid funding have meant the loss of the equivalent of 1.5 police officer positions.

Peterson said he represents a district with an aging population, lots of nursing homes, and many hard-working, low-income families. That makes health care reform a priority issue for him, he said.

He wants changes to reduce the paperwork and administrative costs of health care. He'd also give the state power to negotiate prescription drug costs.

He opposes the cuts that have been made to MinnesotaCare, the state's taxpayer-supported health insurance plan for those who can't afford private insurance but make too much to qualify for other subsidized programs. He argues for a Massachusetts-style program. All Minnesota residents would be covered by health insurance. Low-income residents would pay based on what they could afford, with the state making up the difference.

Like his father and grandfather before him, Peterson relishes the campaign and the one-on-one opportunities with constituents. He said lots of issues come up -- education, health care and renewable energy more so than most -- but certain themes remain constant no matter where he goes. He said rural residents want "respect and fair treatment'' and are looking for leaders that will stick up for them in St. Paul.

Peterson tells voter that's exactly why he wants to return to St. Paul.

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