Governor hopefuls court rural votes

August 10, 2018

For the first and only time before the primary election, all five candidates for governor appeared in a forum together Wednesday in front of a standing room-only crowd in the Wicks Building at Farmfest.

Political forums at Farmfest date back to 1990, and the event has become a mandatory stop for state candidates looking to win the rural vote.

The candidates included former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, Attorney General Lori Swanson and former House Majority Leader Erin Murphy. They fielded questions from WCCO Radio host Dave Lee on a variety of issues affecting rural Minnesota and its agricultural industry.

The format of the forum never allowed for it to turn into a debate, but candidates occasionally used responses to rebuff ones made by their opponents.

Agreement on trade

Opinions on President Donald Trump’s approach to trade relations were addressed, with candidates from both parties voicing concern over the effect it’s had on commodity prices.

The DFL-endorsed Murphy said recently offered aid packages should be seen as a temporary. She said she would work as governor to find new markets for trade.

“We’re going to have a problem here in Minnesota with pork farmers and soybean farmers in the immediate future when we see the loss of sales to China and Mexico,” Murphy said. “And that will continue onto next year when we’ll have depressed bean prices, and that will spill over into corn.”

Swanson echoed those concerns, saying that cutting off foreign markets will lead to markets for Minnesota farmers getting cut.

Pawlenty said he agreed with the Trump administration being tough on China, but took issue with the kind of damage it was causing to the bottom lines for Minnesota farmers.

Renewable fuels

The state’s soybean and corn industries benefit from government-mandated fuel blends.

All the DFL candidates voiced their support for renewable fuels, but none of them as much as Pawlenty, who lauded himself for his hand in improving similar kinds of mandates during his two terms as governor.

“There’s an unquestioned champion of renewable fuels as a governor in this state and in the modern history of the country, and he’s talking to you right now,” Pawlenty said. “Look at my record, no one has ever surpassed a commitment and drive to help greater Minnesota and rural America with those kind of approaches.”

Pawlenty’s primary opponent and the GOP-endorsed Johnson offered a different kind of response on the issue. Johnson said he was skeptical of the government doing any business with the renewable fuel industry. He then backtracked to say he wouldn’t go as far as working to get rid of the mandates.

“I’m not going to pull the rug out from under that,” Johnson said. “Because you should never treat people who rely on government and something that has created a market.”

Rural versus metro

After DFL candidate Tim Walz shared his vision for being a “One Minnesota” governor that would reach all kinds of communities, Pawlenty took aim at the claim.

“The problem that’s really going on with my Democratic friends on this panel, is they want one Minneapolis,” Pawlenty said. “Higher taxes for everybody, more spending out-of-control for everybody, they want sanctuary cities and sanctuary states, they want government to take over their health care.”

Swanson followed Pawlenty’s remark with a more collaborative viewpoint.

“We do best as a state when we don’t pit the rural against the suburban and the metro,” Swanson said.


Megan Falvey of Clarkfield was holding a sign that appealed for candidates to provide realistic solutions for health-care issues. She wasn’t convinced by any of their responses.

“I thought the questions were kind of canned,” Falvey said. “And not coming from the public, but coming from the organizations that put on Farmfest.”

Next to Falvey was Glenn Gelhar, who operates a small farm on the ridge just south of Clarkfield. After a successful career in health care, he returned to the land that he said his family has farmed since the 1880s.

Gelhar said it was helpful to hear all the candidates speak in the same forum, but no candidate persuaded him that they were capable of getting the agricultural industry out of its current dire state.

“Now it’s boiled down to the small farms competing with Big Ag, and it’s a crisis,” Gellar said. “For my family, I’m going to feel real bad if I’m the last one farming this land.”

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