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Minn. congressional hopefuls stress their farm bona fides

By Brian Bakst

FarmFest’s famous cattle call forums for Minnesota congressional hopefuls moved online Wednesday, with a dozen candidates aiming to prove their know-how about agriculture and promote their connections to rural America.

Two sessions spanning almost three hours will be the last chance some candidates have to reach a big audience before next Tuesday’s primary election.

A trio of Republicans vying to flip a congressional seat in western Minnesota tried to distinguish themselves. They’re aware that only one will advance to take on 15-term Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, who faces only a nominal challenge for his party’s nomination.

Endorsed Republican Michelle Fischbach, third-time candidate Dave Hughes and Dr. Noel Collis took part in the virtual forum.

Fischbach, a former state senator and lieutenant governor, presented herself as an accomplished lawmaker versed in issues such as broadband Internet and economic vitality of small towns amid unprecedented challenges.

“I want to go to Washington and I want to fight for the 7th District and I want to fight for our way of life,” she said.

Collis, who had his own medical practice and started a medical device company, said he’s a political outsider with lifelong district ties.

“In Washington, we need a doctor in the House, someone who knows business, someone who grew up in the district and that’s what I offer,” he said.

Hughes, a military veteran, said he’s primed for a win after two close races against Peterson when he was the GOP nominee in 2016 and 2018. He lumped Fischbach with Peterson in describing them as “career politicians” and said he won’t be “subject to the swamp.”

Hughes said the incumbent’s own maverick streak is no longer good enough for the district, which President Donald Trump carried by almost 31 percentage points in the 2016 election.

“Try as he might, the problem with Collin is his party,” Hughes said. “His party is totally against the things that would make agriculture more profitable, whether it be overregulation reduction, tax policy.”

For his part, Peterson stressed his political independence, and he said the House Agriculture Committee he leads displays the kind of unity Washington could use more of.

“One of the things I’m really proud about is the ag committee does not get into political fights. We just don’t do it,” Peterson said.

“We sit down and figure out ahead of time what we can live with, where we can compromise and we figure out how to do it.”

Peterson’s district is a top Republican target. He’s the only Democratic incumbent to oppose both articles of impeachment against Trump.

Differences over trade policy fueled some sharp exchanges between the rivals for a southern Minnesota congressional district.

DFL challenger Dan Feehan criticized 1st District Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn as unwilling to confront Trump during international trade disputes that slashed farm exports.

“My opponent does not have the courage to stand up to Washington’s disastrous trade policy. And that’s part of the reason we’re in this situation right now,” Feehan said. “And in Congress, I commit I will stand up to any president, Republican or Democrat, that’s going to recklessly put our economy and way of life at risk with chaotic, scattershot trade policy like we’ve got right now.”

Hagedorn, a first-term lawmaker, touted trade pacts with Mexico and Canada that he was fully behind as well as his support of payments to farmers stung by a standoff with China.

“I do find it fascinating the way my opponent goes after the president of the United States and not the communist Chinese,” Hagedorn said in response to one Feehan jab. “It’s the communist Chinese who have used our farmers and retaliated against our farmers.”

Their race is a rematch of a close 2018 contest.

Another first-term incumbent, Rep. Angie Craig, was among several forum participants to say they’re on guard for rollbacks of renewable fuel standards through waivers the Trump administration has granted some oil refineries.

The 2nd District DFLer said the Environmental Protection Agency is under too much pressure to relax the rules.

“You know that the largest employer in my district is an oil refinery and I’m telling you that the administration needs to prioritize family farmers over Big Oil,” Craig said.

Her fall opponent, Republican Tyler Kistner, said the ethanol industry has been hit like other industries by a drop in demand as travel slowed during the pandemic.

“We need to allow for more freedom and ingenuity and innovation in our fuels in a way that farmers are able to use their crops to best support the American economy,” he said. “But the success of the American farmer should not depend on bureaucrats in Washington literally listening to the advice of oil industry lobbyists.”

Republican Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota’s 6th District says the delegation is intent on protecting the renewable fuel standard from waivers that undermine it.

Other FarmFest forum participants were former television news personality Tawnja Zahradka, the DFL-endorsed candidate against Emmer; 8th District Republican Rep. Pete Stauber and his Democratic opponent, health-care advocate Quinn Nystrom.