Politicians debate agriculture, rural issues

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Kids get excited, hoping the pig with the right color band wins at the pig races at the 2018 IDEAg Farmfest at Gilfillan Estate Aug. 7. See page 3A for more on Farmfest.

GILFILLAN ESTATE — U.S. Senate and congressional candidates debated agricultural and rural issues with gusto in morning and afternoon forums at the 2018 IDEAg Farmfest Aug. 7.

Candidates fielded a question on how they would communicate trade issues in the Senate. Answers became spirited fast.

“We need a permanent solution, not a $12 billion band aid,” said Democratic Sen. Tina Smith. “Agriculture is our history and our future. The 73,000 Minnesota farms put food on the table and fuel in the tank for millions of people around the world.”

Democratic challenger Richard Painter called the recent federal tariffs “an unmitigated disaster” like the Tariff Act of 1930, commonly known as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff that raised U.S. tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods.

“Let’s not repeat that mistake by Republicans before that led to a 10-year recession and threw Europe into the throws of fascism,” Painter said. “This president is conducting a reckless trade war. Farmers will lose their farms if we don’t turn this situation around. We can’t allow this president to use fascist rhetoric to insult our trading partners. We have to bring this situation to an end now.”

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Four-year-old Kyson Christensen of Sleepy Eye participates in the Kids’ Pedal Pull at the 2018 IDEAg Farmfest at Gilfillan Estate Aug. 7.

“It’s scary and adds another layer of uncertainly for farmers. But nobody can benefit more from a fair trade agreement than farmers,” said Republican challenger Karin Housley. “We have to be patient when it comes to trade issues. Hopefully the president can get this done sooner rather than later to ease the anxiety that is happening.”

Republican challenger Bob Anderson said he’s a big supporter of the president on free trade.

“We’ve been on the short end of so many trade deals,” Anderson said. “I appreciate somebody who is bold and will fight. If we’re patient, it will pay off.”

Twin Cities attorney Nick Leonard, a Democratic challenger from Walnut Grove, said our trading partners should be held to the same accountability standards that we do here.

Regarding renewable fuels, Painter said they are better than gasoline but that the current administration is in the back pocket of oil companies, favoring big oil companies over agriculture.

“The Democratic party needs to bring farmers back into the party because the Republican party has abandoned them with its trade policies, favoring the oil industry over ethanol,” Painter said.

Housley disagreed, saying the president supports allowing E15 to be sold year around.

However, Housley said she disagreed with the administration’s handing out “secret” waivers to big oil refineries so they don’t have to include renewable fuels in their fuel blends.

“I just think that’s flat out wrong. I’ve been fighting that. It’s not good for our country,” Housley said.

Leonard said it’s time to look at using ethanol on a larger scale.

Housley said the biggest gripe she’s heard across Minnesota about Washington is that politicians don’t work together to get things done.

“People are disgusted with Washington extremism,” Housley said.

Anderson agreed, saying people are too worried about the power of the party.

Painter said he favors single-payer health care insurance and Medicare for all.

“We need single-payer insurance premiums based on income to bring costs down. We need to costs of medical devices and drugs,” Painter said.

Housley said health care costs would come down if they were opened up to the free market.

Anderson said he would like to make Minnesota Care (health care for low-income residents) open to everyone.

Painter favored a 10-year Farm Bill that he said would be more stable, and supported Medicare for all.

Smith talked about the need to fight a federal requirement that people with pre-existing conditions would not be covered by health insurance.

Housley said opening up the health care insurance market would reduce cost.

Anderson said it’s time to break the stigma of mental health disease being a character flaw.

Leonard touted incentives like loan forgiveness for health care professionals.

Leonard said it’s time to end the divisiveness and hate that is growing in the federal government.

Seventh District Democratic Congressman Collin Peterson said he thinks the Farm Bill will be approved in Senate but “it won’t be as good as it needs to be.”

Peterson said he is skeptical of the trade war and doesn’t see a way out of trade issues with China.

Seventh District Republican challenger David Hughes said President Trump’s short-term leverage will yield good long-term results.

“They’re trying to right the ship, correct it to free trade. We need an agreement with China by the end of the year,” said Sixth District Republican Congressman Tom Emmer.

Second District Democratic challenger Angie Craig said you can’t negotiate trade on Twitter.

“I understand we need strong, fair trade agreements and China is a trade offender, but the WTO (World Trade Organization) is the way to go,” said Craig.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.