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Congressional candidates vie for Farmfest voters
By Mark Steil
Minnesota Public Radio
August 7, 2002


Congressional candidates from Minnesota's agricultural belt 1st and 7th Districts talked about the federal deficit, farm policy and other issues at the trade show near Redwood Falls.

Steve Andreasen, 1st District DFL candidate
(MPR Photo/Mark Steil)

The two districts include the heart of Minnesota's farm areas in western and southern Minnesota. Together they form a huge letter "L", stretching from the Canadian border to Iowa, then east to the Mississippi River.

Both seats are held by long-time incumbents. Republican Gil Gutknecht's initial win in the 1st District in southern Minnesota came in 1994. At Farmfest, Democratic challenger Steve Andreason went on the offensive against Gutknecht. He linked the Republican to the growing federal budget deficit.

"What I'm concerned about at the federal level is that we've adopted budget and tax policies that have put a tremendous strain on our federal budget," he said.

"We've had dramatic one-year turn around. A situation where we had a $5.6 trillion surplus projection for 10 years. Four-trillion dollars of that is gone. And now we're into deficit spending this year of about a $160 or $170 billion."

Gil Gutknecht, 1st District Republican candidate
(MPR Photo/Mark Steil)

Andreason spent most of the last 20 years on the staff of the National Security Council in Washington before moving to Rochester to run for congress. He criticized Gutknecht and the Republicans for a tax cut which he says worsened the deficit problem. Andreason says Gutknecht helped squander the budget surpluses in place during most of his time in Congress.

But Gutknecht said the current federal deficit was not caused by the tax cut.

"When I was first elected to Congress in 1994, we were not engaged in a war on terrorism," he said. "We had not just suffered the worst attack since the War of 1812. We were not in a recession and we had a $250 billion deficit.

"Now all of those things have happened in the last 12 months and we will have a deficit this year. But we will get back on a strong fiscal footing very fast."

Greg Mikkelson, 1st District Green Party candidate
(MPR Photo/Mark Steil)

Also in the 1st District race is the Green Party's Greg Mikkelson. He told the Farmfest crowd he entered the race because he because he doesn't like what is happening in agriculture. The Lake Crystal farmer says corporations are taking over. Mikkelson says federal farm policy could reverse that trend, but only if grassroots candidates like himself are elected.

"People need to take responsibility for their government," he said. "They need to be part of their local coop board, their school boards, their township government, their county government, state government. And I've elected to take my responsibility to Washington D.C. to be a U.S. congressman."

Dan Stevens, 7th District Republican candidate
(MPR Photo/Mark Steil)


In Minnesota's 7th Congressional District incumbent Democrat Collin Peterson faces Republican Dan Stevens, currently a state senator. Stevens says if elected he will work to sell more U.S. farm products overseas.

"We have one out of every four corn rows going for export," he said. "One out of every three rows of soybeans going for export. Fifty percent of our wheat crop. You bet trade is important and we have to work on that."

The 7th District includes most of western Minnesota. Collin Peterson has held the seat since 1990. Peterson told the Farmfest crowd there are no easy answers to farmers' problems.

Collin Peterson, 7th District DFL candidate
(MPR Photo/Mark Steil)

"The best thing we could do probably is to try to figure out how to get profitability back into agriculture. But that's a tough nut to crack. And the farm bill's going to help," he said.

"But the truth of the matter is: if you're going to survive in farming today you're going to probably have to get bigger. And that means there's less people required."

Peterson says one of the best ways to help farmers is through energy programs. He says the energy bill in congress now would help boost production of ethanol and other farm based fuels. He says if its passed it could help small and midsize farmers hang on to their land.

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