Walz, Republican opponents debate at Farmfest
REDWOOD FALLS — First District DFL Rep. Tim Walz and two Republicans fighting for the chance to take him on this November squared-off Wednesday during a candidate forum at Minnesota Farmfest.
Republicans Jim Hagedorn, a Blue Earth businessman, and Aaron Miller, a Byron Army veteran, are both running in the Aug. 12 primary. The winner will take on the four-term DFL congressman from Mankato. They joined eight other congressional candidates on stage in a red machine shed for the forum, which drew hundreds of farmers.
Sporting a camouflage baseball hat, T-shirt and jeans, Walz emphasized the need for members of Congress to work across the aisle and touted his efforts to get the bipartisan farm bill passed. He said farmers understand the need to work together.
"It's a place where bickering and rhetoric doesn't matter. Results matter. It's a place where you come together to solve problems," Walz said.
Hagedorn told the crowd that government overreach is hurting farmers and small businesses and action needs to be taken. He went after Walz for supporting Obamacare and a cap-and-trade proposal aimed at curbing carbon emissions.
"The Obama administration has put a bullseye on small business, a bullseye on farms, a bullseye on consumers and driven up their costs. I want to go to Washington D.C. to put my foot down," Hagedorn said.
Miller emphasized the importance of pushing for free-trade agreements to open up more markets for southern Minnesota farmers, increasing access to credit and repealing the estate tax.
"The problem is the number is so low (for the estate tax) right now; it affects small family farmers and it is affecting small businesses," Miller said.
During the forum, the candidates were asked about proposed changes to the Renewable Fuels Standard, which would lower the total amount of biofuels that must be blended into the nation's gasoline supply. Walz said he has always been a strong supporter of the Renewable Fuels Standard and opposes efforts to lower the requirement. He said this type of renewable energy is key to helping America become energy independent.
"What America does right is taking something from nothing and creating an industry in ethanol, and all we're asking is set the standard so it can be there and let us play on a level playing field," Walz said.
Hagedorn said his biggest problem with the proposed rule change is that it would be dramatic and gives ethanol producers little time to adjust.
"I don't have any problem reviewing this program from time to time, but changes of this magnitude need to be phased in," he said. "We can't allow a big swing here or there because our farmers, our rural economy, people who live in rural areas, are going to suffer."
Miller said he supports the Renewable Fuels Standard but believes ethanol would succeed without it.
"I believe that ethanol would stand on its own because of the fact that ethanol is the best way to increase octane," he said.
The candidates were also asked about a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency that would increase regulation of farming practices with the goal of protecting water quality. All three candidates agreed that the EPA's proposal goes too far.
"I think the EPA stands for Ending Productive Agriculture," Miller said. "Every practice and policy they come up with is just another expansion of an overreaching government into our lives here in southern Minnesota."
Hagedorn said these proposed water rules are just one example of federal overreach by bureaucratic agencies. He backs a proposal that any regulation that costs at least $100 million be reviewed by Congress.
"You cannot tweak Washington, D.C. You have to take its power and bring it back home," Hagedorn said.
Walz said farmers care deeply about clean water and urged those in the crowd to contact the EPA to weigh in on these proposed rules.
"Write them and tell them we want clean water, we'll give you clean water. But don't give us the excessive overreach that doesn't clean the water, and I'll continue to fight for that," he said.
At no time during the forum did Hagedorn or Miller criticize each other, despite next week's primary election. Miller avoided directly going after Walz during the forum.
2nd Congressional District candidates
Two candidates running against 2nd District Republican Rep. John Kline also joined in the forum. Kline did not attend.
Democrat Mike Obermueller, of Eagan, and Independence Party candidate Paula Overby both talked about growing up on farms.
Obermueller repeatedly criticized Kline for failing to show up at the forum and promised if he is elected, he will make an effort to talk to and listen to farmers.
"We need to send people out to Congress that aren't afraid to show up and listen to the things that are going on in the farm community," he said.
Overby said she is deeply concerned about what she called a "corporate takeover of America." She added, "We need to end the excessive influence of wealth in our political process."