Candidates spar at Farmfest debate

James Nord

Redwood Falls, Minn. — Republican-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, championing less governmental regulation, lower taxes and systemic reform, won the most applause of any 2010 candidate at the Farmfest forum Wednesday.

With the primary elections less than a week away, the three DFL candidates were vying for the hearts of the roughly 1,000-strong crowd.

Emmer won cheers when speaking to the crowd about lowering taxes and cutting government regulations where he said it would best help farmers.

"If we are your governor, I will work with you to take every enforcement and regulatory agency that touches on agriculture — whether it be the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the DNR, you name it — and put them under the Department of Agriculture, because guess what?  They have to work for the farmers, with the farmers, instead of against agriculture," he said.

But DFLers Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Mark Dayton said the plan could give an unbalanced amount of power to one government agency, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

Kelliher, the DFL-endorsee, followed Emmer in popularity.  She won cheers talking about her background in the 4-H Club, which she mentioned at least three other times during the course of the debate.

Each candidate noted the importance of agricultural production to Minnesota’s economy.  They sparred over issues of concern to the state’s rural citizens, ranging from corn-based ethanol subsidies to women in agriculture. 

Matt Entenza and the other DFL candidates said they would support continuing state ethanol subsidies until they end in 2013, at least, while Independence Party candidates Tom Horner and Rob Hahn spoke against them.

Solutions for balancing the budget remained stuck behind party lines, with Horner taking the middle ground.

The University of Minnesota’s Extension service, in addition to the 4-H program littered the forum. Entenza led the candidates in stressing the importance of the Extension for farmers throughout.

“Extension is so important because it not only helps farmers produce more, but Extension has a big role in rural communities and helping with rural economic development,” he said afterward. “I believe we need to be building back Extension, not cutting it.”

Senior Associate Dean of Extension Michael Schmitt he wouldn’t reveal any details about a candidate Extension would prefer, but he did say the office is extremely interested in the race’s outcome.

“A lot of our funding comes from state allocations, etc., so this is a very important process,” he said. “It’s a very important position, just due to our [higher education] allocation and our state special allocation.”

Dayton revealed small details about a proposed 2011 bonding bill, which include building dairy and turkey research facilities.  He didn’t know if they would involve the University, he said after the forum.