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Ag issues priority at legislative debate

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 11/21/2012 1:05 PM

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MILTON TOWNSHIP, Minn. — Legislative candidates emphasized their connection to agriculture during a Tuesday night debate at the Milton Town Hall.

Nine legislative candidates gathered for the debate on agricultural issues. Questions were asked by Ron Durst, representing the corn and soybean growers; Jim Checkel, representing Dodge County Farm Bureau and Mike White, representing Minnesota Milk Producers.

The northern Dodge County township is in Senate District 25 and House District 25A. In redistricting, Dodge County was divided into four Senate districts, 21, 24, 25 and 27 and five House districts, 21B, 24B, 25A, 27A and 27B. Candidates from Senate districts 21, 24 and 25 and House

districts 21A, 21B, 24A, 24B, 25A and 25B were invited to the debate. Issues discussed included biofuels, permitting of livestock facilities and transportation, particularly a four-lane upgrade of Highway 14 from west of Dodge Center to east of Owatonna.

What they had to say:

Steve Drazkowski, candidate for House District 21B: He doesn't support an ethanol mandate and said the best way to move forward with biofuels is to let the free market work. He said baby steps were made to make reforms to the state's permitting rules in 2012. More work is needed to give business certainty, he said, so they expand in Minnesota. Drazkowski said if roads and bridges were prioritized in the bonding bill, Highway 14 would get done.

Bruce Montplaisir, candidate for House District 21B: Montplaisir referenced his background as superintendent of schools. He said both sides need to work together and know what to expect on issues. He said he would compete for money for rural Minnesota.

John Bacon, candidate for House District 21A was a late arrival. He apologized and blamed his GPS.

John Howe, candidate for Senate District 21, said Minnesota's ethanol mandate was put in place to encourage business growth. He supports renewable fuels, but said they have to make sense without government subsidies. "It seems that government subsidies everything," he said. Government needs to step away from that model and see what it can afford to subsidize. Subsidizes have to make sense, he said. Howe, who is vice chairman of the Senate transportation committee, said the focus of the Legislature has shifted to rural areas and roads and bridges.

Matt Schmit, candidate for Senate District 21, said he supports the ethanol industry and is open to mandates. He supports a diversified energy portfolio. Schmit put roads and bridges near the top of his priority list. He said the gas tax is not covering current transportation needs so it needs to be leveraged through partnerships to go farther.

Vicki Jensen, candidate for Senate District 21: Jensen said she will include the groups represented at the debate in her decision making. Farmers need to know there are people looking out for them, she said. Jensen said Highway 14 needs to be finished as the east to west corridor is vital. This region has the most interstate miles and bridges to be maintained, so there is never enough money to go around, she said. Jensen said Rochester isn't on board to support the upgrade.

Patti Fritz, candidate for House District 24B: Fritz said she's not in favor of additional mandates for renewable fuels at this time, but she is open to listening. The governor appointed a study group regarding permitting issues and she's following the group's progress. She said Highway 14 should be a priority. The problem, Fritz said, is there isn't enough money available in transportation funding to fix all the roads that need fixing.

Duane Quam, candidate for House District 25A said he favors blender pumps over a mandate. Give drivers flexibility and let agriculture drive the business, he said. Quam said he is committed to work on a bill that sets up an independent review board to hear permitting related complaints. He said MnDOT took Highway 14 off its 20-year list and it was a battle to get it put back on. It's been a battle for decades to get Highway 14 completed. Other legislators point to Interstate 90 and question the need for another four-lane in southern Minnesota.

Judy Ohly, candidate for Senate District 25, said she believes in farmers and energy independence. That's the reason she invested in an ethanol plant and bought an E85 vehicle. She has since sold her shares, but she still drives an E85 vehicle. Ohly said she's in tune with feedlot management by working on feedlot issues as a county commissioner. She's also involved with several water-related committees and is a founder of the Zumbro Watershed Partnership. The transportation question included a reference to the Elk Run interchange, which Ohly defended as saving Olmsted County taxpayers a lot of money. She said all cities and townships along Highway 14, including Rochester, need to band together to get the highway updated to a four-lane.

There were about 30 people at the town hall. It was also broadcast live on KDHL Radio. KDHL farm director Jerry Groskreutz was the moderator.