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Candidates debate rural issues

Walz, Demmer meet in first debate

August 4, 2010
By Fritz Busch Staff Writer

GILFILLAN ESTATE - Congressional candidates agreed on some issues and differed on others in the forum tent as Farmfest 2010 got under way.

First District Congressman Tim Walz and his GOP challenger, state legislator Randy Demmer, clashed Tuesday over their respective experience in government - how much and what kind.

It was the first debate between the congressional candidates.

Article Photos

Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Democratic 1st District Congressman Tim Walz makes a point to media Tuesday outside the Farmfest 2010 Forum Tent.

Demmer alluded to Walz's experience in Washington, blaming the Democratic-controlled Congress for farmers' frustrations over issues like the uncertain future of ethanol tax credits. Both he and Walz said they support extending the subsidies for corn-based ethanol and other biofuels, which amount to about $6 billion a year, according to the Associated Press. It's a key issue in rural Minnesota, which has more than 20 ethanol plants.

"All the things you're talking about not getting done are not a result of some sort of bipartisan gridlock," Demmer said. "It's a result of inactivity and the inability of the current Congress to get things taken care of."

Walz brought up Demmer's almost two decades of experience in government, including the state House and his local school board. Walz said voters are tired of partisan bickering and Demmer can't claim to be an outsider trying to change Washington. Walz, a former high school teacher and retired National Guard command sergeant major, said he has been standing up for his constituents as their representative.

"Everybody up here is sure trying hard to get to Washington if they hate it," said Walz, who is seeking a third term.

Demmer said he's not trying to run as an outsider, but he did point out that besides his legislative years he has served on boards for his church council and the Lions Club.

Walz said America's failed energy policy supports buying oil from countries that want to kill Americans.

"They'll hate us for free. We don't need to buy oil from them," Walz said.

Demmer called Cap and Trade a tax that will increase income taxes by 15 percent and cost each American $1,500. The Cap and Trade system involves trading of emission allowances, where the total allowance is strictly limited or 'capped'. A regulatory authority established the cap which is usually considerably lower than the historic level of emissions.

"It's income redistribution that's very tough on agriculture," Demmer said.

Few candidates voiced support for No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Walz said he taught under NCLB and said it stressed accountability but needs to be replaced with local instead of national standards.

"First it was a Texas-based policy. Now it's a Chicago-based policy, neither of which are good," Walz said. "We need community-based policies."

Demmer said students achievement should be measured on more of a continual basis instead of just a snapshot after a test.

"Local school boards need more control," he added..

Seventh District Congressman Collin Peterson said creating a new Farm Bill while asking for less U.S. Food and Drug Administration funding was a virtue other government agencies should follow.

Peterson's Republican challenger Lee Byberg of Willmar said addressing the estate tax issue and cutting regulation were important rural issues.

"Western European countries can't produce enough food for themselves due to expensive regulations," Byberg said.

Byberg said U.S. energy demand will double in 20 years.

"Incentives are needed for all new energy sources including nuclear," he added.

Alan Roebke, who is running in the GOP primary against Byberg, said all states should follow Minnesota's lead in selling 10 percent ethanol and offering octane blending pumps.

Peterson agreed, calling for greater market access of blender pumps and increased availability of flex-fuel vehicles.

All candidates agreed the U.S. border needs to be secured for safety and economic reasons.

Byberg went further, calling English the language to learn for an American experience.

The Governor Candidates Forum on Rural Minnesota begins at 10:30 a.m. today in the forum tent.

Participating candidates are Democrats Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Mark Dayton, Matt Entenza; Republican Tom Emmer; and Independence Party candidates Tom Horner and Rob Hahn.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.



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