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Candidates face long days in 22B
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Democrat Richard Peterson is running for the House seat in District 22B in southwest Minnesota. (MPR Photo/Mark Steil)
One of the open seats in the Minnesota House is District 22B in southwest Minnesota. Republican Elaine Harder is retiring after serving five terms. It's a conservative part of the state heavy on agriculture. Both candidates say health care is the main concern of voters.

Jackson, Minn. — Democrat Richard Peterson is harvesting both crops and votes this fall. It makes for a long day.

"We usually start around six o'clock in the morning," says Peterson. "And last night we ran until one o'clock this morning."

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Image Dee Nestegard

The time was spent harvesting soybeans. On this day he plans to leave the field by six, so he can door knock in town during the evening as part of his campaign for the house seat. Sitting in his grain truck parked in a farm field in Jackson County, Peterson has time to talk while his brother drives the combine. Peterson says he's been involved in politics since he was a boy. He had a neighbor who was in the state legislature.

"We'd go in his old GMC pickup and we'd go and put his picture with his name underneath it just about every telephone pole in the country," says Peterson.

When that neighbor was in the legislature during the 1950's about 30% of house members were farmers. Currently only 6% of the house are in agriculture. Peterson hopes to boost that percentage a little. He says farm issues, like ethanol production, are important. But if elected he expects to spend most of his time on non-farm issues, like health care. He says people are worried about everything from cost to quality of care.

"I think the biggest concern is, the way the premiums are going up, if they can afford to have health insurance at all." says Peterson.

That concern was evident during a candidates forum at a nursing home in Jackson. Many employees of the home were in the audience. Dee Nestegard said she has a hard time hiring nurses because wages are so poor.

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Image Republican Rod Hamilton

"Nurses are coming and applying but we can't give them what they're getting at the hospitals so they're going elsewhere to work," says Nestegard.

The Republican candidate in the 22B House race was also at the forum. Rod Hamilton told the audience in Jackson that health care is the number one issue he hears about. He said he favors better pay on a merit basis for nursing home workers.

"If you're exceeding expectations, you deserve that pay increase," says Hamilton. "And so as far as the dollars once again, where can we get those funds? That's what legislators are going to have to do, find those funds so you can reward the individuals that are doing their job."

Hamilton says he's concerned the quality of nursing home care will drop if state funding isn't adequate. State regulation plays an important role in nursing home funding. He says if elected, he will make sure southwest Minnesota gets the state dollars it deserves, even if it means voting against his party leadership.

As part of that independent streak, Hamilton refused to sign a no new taxes pledge; something the state's top elected republicans have done, including the governor and congressional delegation. Democrat Peterson also is at odds with his party on some issues. One example, he opposes abortion.

Besides their independent side, the two share something else: long hours. Republican Hamilton raises hogs and is past president of Minnesota Pork Producers. After the Jackson health care forum ends at about nine in the evening, Hamilton says he has one more stop before he makes it home.

"We got a couple barns that we're trying to get ready for pigs," says Hamilton. "And we weren't able to get those done today and I know there's a couple of guys working back there yet and I want to make sure we check on them. Because I tell you what, if they're working hard they expect everybody else to be there also."

As Hamilton leaves the meeting room at the nursing home he passes his opponent, democrat Richard Peterson. Hamilton pats Peterson on the back as they exchange good nights. The day is not over for either one.

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