VIDEO: It’s politics at the pumpkin patch

Published 10:07 am Monday, July 27, 2009

What do politics, barbecue pork sandwiches and horse-drawn wagon rides all have in common?

On a warm Saturday evening in Austin, they were all part of Politics in the Pumpkin patch, as 10 DFL gubernatorial candidates came to Farmer John’s Pumpkin Patch for an informal meet-and-greet.

The brainchild of state Rep. Robin Brown, DFL-Moscow Township, and her husband, superintendent of the Grand Meadow Independent School District Joe Brown, Politics in the Pumpkin Patch was a new event this year designed to generate grassroots interest in the party and do it in a fun way.

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Joe Brown said the event reminded him a bit of the Iowa caucuses, and there was even a straw poll to make that comparison more complete — won by Sen. John Marty of Roseville, who edged former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton by one vote.

“If you wanted to meet 10 candidates, you had that opportunity,” Joe Brown said. “The event was as good as the weather.”

Those 10 candidates come from all over, representing the Twin Cities, the Iron Range and areas in between.

They also have a wide array of experiences — the group consists of a county attorney, two mayors, two state senators, a former state representative, two current state representatives, a former state senator and a former U.S. senator.

And with Gov. Tim Pawlenty announcing that he won’t be running for re-election, the 2010 race figures to be wide open.

“There’s a huge buzz among DFLers,” former state Rep. Matt Entenza said.

Entenza said he is the lone southern Minnesota candidate —he grew up in Worthington — and added that he best understands rural issues.

Chief among those, Entenza said, is devoting more time to rural economic development, namely alternative energy.

Entenza said wind energy could be a big plus for Minnesota but the state is currently lagging behind Iowa because not enough time is being spent on the area.

“We need someone to focus on rural communities every day,” he said.

Other issues that got plenty of talking time were health care, jobs and education.

Marty said the current health care system needs changing.

“We shouldn’t have to have fundraisers for people who get sick,” he said, a reference to high medical costs.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said supporting education is key because it can spur the job market and, ultimately, the economy.

For someone representing a big city like Coleman does, making connections in rural Minnesota is very important — and the mayor thinks he’s capable.

“We’re one Minnesota,” Coleman said. “You can’t have a healthy St. Paul and an unhealthy Austin and have a healthy Minnesota.”

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was also going beyond the big city looking for support.

He said creating jobs is the key to Minnesota’s future — something he said he’s accomplished while running the state’s largest city.

“I know how to get big things done,” he said.

Coming from the Iron Range were Rep. Tom Rukavina and Sen. Tom Bakk.

Rukavina, the chair of the House higher education committee, spoke on Thursday at Riverland Community College about education costs and has said education is a primary issue in 2010.

Bakk said creating jobs is a top issue.

“I’m a person that believes the most important thing is that on Friday, you have a paycheck,” he said.

Both Dayton and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said they have the experience needed to be governor.

Dayton said his 10 years experience of managing different state agencies, plus his time in Congress, gives him a leg up.

Gaertner said her experience prosecuting tough cases has made her a courageous leader, ready for the job.

“I intend to be governor for all of Minnesota, not one particular region,” she added.

People like Lenore Fries of Albert Lea were at the pumpkin patch Saturday, attempting to weigh all the candidates and their claims.

Fries said Saturday she hadn’t yet settled on a candidate, but knows she’s looking for an honest candidate who will deal with the state’s budget.

“Our budget is a mess,” she said. “How can (the new governor) fix it?”

Also in attendance was at-large City Council member Janet Anderson.

Anderson said it was exciting to see such an important political event come to Austin.

Like Fries, Anderson said she was still undecided on a candidate.

“I’m still listening, learning,” she said.

Anderson is particularly looking for a governor who can work toward “one Minnesota” through local government aid and other measures, she said.

With roughly 200 people showing up, Joe Brown said Saturday’s event was a success. And with farmer John Ulland saying he’d love to host the event again, plans are already underway for the next Politics in the Pumpkin Patch.

“I guarantee right now, we’ll do this again,” Joe Brown said.