Capitol chatter: Candidates use forum to drill home specific points

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. -- Farmers listening to the two major-party candidates for U.S. Senate may not have understood just where they stood on some issues after a Farmfest forum, but they could not have missed two points:...

Don Davis
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co. from St. Paul.

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. -- Farmers listening to the two major-party candidates for U.S. Senate may not have understood just where they stood on some issues after a Farmfest forum, but they could not have missed two points:

  • Republican challenger Kurt Bills is a teacher, a fact he managed to work into nearly every answer during the 90-minute forum.
  • Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar works with Senate Republicans on a range of issues, something she squeezed into many answers. It was obvious that each candidate went into the debate, their first face-to-face encounter, with a goal of drilling home one essential point.

    Bills did not just mention he was a teacher. He made sure listeners, who turned out in smaller numbers than for political Farmfest forums in past years, knew he was an economics teacher at Rosemount High School.

    Talking about being a teacher with a union background is designed to broaden the conservative's appeal to Democrats and independents.

    Klobuchar tossed around names of Republican senators such as Charles Grassley of Iowa and John Hoeven of North Dakota as those she has worked with to pass bills.

    As a whole, farmers tend to lean conservative, and thus Republican.

    The third Dakota?

    Minnesotans don't quite know what to think about North Dakota.

    Republican politicians long have said pro-business North Dakota and South Dakota tax policies hurt Minnesota. While a survey of officials in Minnesota's western neighbors failed to turn up any major business moves to the Dakotas, top Minnesota GOP legislators often express that fear.

    Earlier this year, Viking super fan Larry Spooner attracted attention during Minnesota's legislative stadium debate when he unfurled a banner proclaiming: "Let's not become the 3rd Dakota." The Dakotas, he said, do not have a professional stadium.

    Even if Spooner did not think much of North Dakota, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kurt Bills longs to make Minnesota more like the state with a much smaller population but with a big-time oil boom.

    "Are we going to have a North Dakota economy or a Washington economy?" Bills asked during a Farmfest Senate forum, preferring the oil patch version because the government is involved less.

    Popping news

    It may not have had anything to do with farming, but allegations that the governor popped 15 or 16 pills during a meeting certainly was a hot Farmfest topic.

    That especially was true since Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and state Sen. Mike Parry, the Republican who made the remarks, were at Farmfest the same day.

    While they apparently did not meet at Farmfest, the few political reporters there had a chance to talk to both about the incident. And both were willing to talk at length.

    Dayton deals with depression and alcoholism, which he told voters long before he was elected in 2010, and now has stomach problems that he says are worse when legislators are in St. Paul.

    Dayton said he takes medicine, sometimes in front of others, but called taking 15 or 16 pills a lie.

    Farmfest was abuzz with talk about the incident, and even many Republicans questioned the wisdom of Parry making the comment.

    Then there was the tweet from Dayton Chief of Staff Tina Smith: "I'm hungry, does anyone have any M and Ms? Thought I might pop a few."

    Primary polls

    Minnesotans voting in Tuesday's primary election can go online to find their polling places, some of which have changed in the last year.

    The secretary of state maintains for election information.

    Livestock vs. grain

    A split between grain and livestock farmers was a major discussion point at Farmfest, with politicians urging the sides to work together.

    With ethanol and other biofuels taking a larger percentage of grain production, especially corn, grain prices have gone up over the years. That, of course, affects livestock farmers who buy grain to feed their animals.

    With a drought in some places around Minnesota, grain prices will go even higher, and less will be available. Politicians from both parties said they fear that could drive a bigger wedge between the sides.

    Years ago, farmers often raised livestock and grew grain. So the wedge would be less likely.

    Now, however, poultry and pork producers often do not plant grain. In the Midwest, most beef producers still run crop operations.

    Don Davis writes from the Capitol for Forum Communications.

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