POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: FarmFest produces interesting politics
MORGAN, Minn. -- If Minnesota farmers are as successful producing crops as this year's FarmFest was at producing political news, grain elevators had better expand their capacity this fall.
The main jobs of the all-things-farm show in southwestern Minnesota is not to display politicians, but that is what happens every election year in forums held in what this year was a sweltering tent in the middle of the FarmFest grounds.
Observers speaking privately said there were two surprises among candidates: U.S. Rep. Tim Walz was especially fired up and former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, a governor candidate, was not.
Perhaps Walz's passion was meant less for his constituents and more for fellow congressmen back in Washington. Walz strongly hinted that he may be in the running for a leadership position if he is elected to a third term.
"I think we will see some changes," he said.
Of course, that is a good campaign line when he is seeking re-election in what appears to be a hot race with Republican Randy Demmer.
Observers also wondered what was up with Dayton, who has led recent polls in a three-way race for the Democratic-Farmer-Laborite governor contest.
One Democratic insider wondered if Dayton was trying to play it safe headed into Tuesday's primary election. The insider was puzzled why Dayton did not play up his experience on the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, which could have given him instant respect by the farmer-audience.
'I'm a farmer'
A candidate tradition at FarmFest is to show all possible connections to agriculture.
DFL governor candidate Matt Entenza talked about his forefathers' farms in the state, but opponent Margaret Anderson Kelliher had a more conversation-invoking line as she greeted farmers: "There never has been a former dairy princess as governor."
GOP governor candidate Tom Emmer was ready. He has heard the criticism that he would not be a good governor for farmers, so he proposed moving all state functions "that touch" agriculture into the Agriculture Department, an agency that is farmer friendly.
Earlier, as soon as he spotted a Forum Communications reporter, he was ready with a list of things that connect him to farming.
Emmer said he baled hay last fall, and doubted other candidates had done that. He said he thinks he has the only offspring who was in 4-H (she is too busy with other activities, so dropped out).
"By the way," Emmer said, "I suck at baling hay."
He admitted he did a better job waiting tables last month in the midst of a controversy over whether tips should be considered wages.
Tom Horner said it is time for his fellow governor candidates to find new discussion topics.
Horner, the endorsed Independence candidate, criticized DFL and GOP candidates for re-arguing debates of the past eight years. Instead of arguing about who has been right, he said, candidates should discuss what is right to do. Many of the DFL television commercials are critical of Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican not running again.
"The critical issue of the 2010 election is leadership," Horner said.
Congressional candidate Randy Demmer sometimes gets mistaken for governor candidate Tom Emmer in parades.
The names are just too similar.
But does it help Demmer, who is running for U.S. House in southern Minnesota? "It cuts both ways," he admitted.
Demmer, a Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, said he suggested to Emmer that they buy an electronic billboard with a "D" that flashes on and off.
Everyone in Minnesota is talking about two issues, according to Rob Hahn, an Independence Party candidate.
One is the money the state sends to local government, which they say needs to be changed, and the other is the need to build a Vikings' stadium, Hahn said.
Former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton promised that if elected governor that he would try to get state funding for a turkey research facility in western Minnesota.
The state is the country's leading turkey producer.
Matt Entenza knows a good line when he hears one.
In southwestern Minnesota, a stone's throw from his home town and that of his wife, the DFL governor candidate told farmers from the area that he is "a son of Worthington married to a daughter of Marshall."
Listening to Tom Horner and Tom Emmer the other day was a bit like being in a broken family gathering, when the divorced parents are forced to sit next to each other.
During a FarmFest candidate forum, Horner, a former Republican, noted Emmer's extra-loud speaking tendency: "Saying things louder does not make things better, does not change the policy."
Republican Emmer responded: "I'm sorry if I say it a little louder; I am very passionate about it."