If ever there was a time needed for experience on the House ag committee and in the halls of Congress, it is now.
The 117th Congress meets in Washington, D.C., in January, and most of its members have no connection to food production. They will be relying on young, urban staff who filter what their senator or representative will read, and who they will meet.
Everything that gets done in the people’s city boils down to who you know.
Outstate Minnesotans must have been too focused on party politics and not have considered that fact when they ousted longtime Rep. Collin Peterson, D-7th Congressional District.
Peterson, seeking his 16th term in the House, lost to Trump-backed candidate and former Minnesota Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach. Fischbach won the race with 53% of the vote, to Peterson’s 40%.
According to The New York Times, only five of the district’s 38 counties went with Peterson: Norman, Clay, Beltrami, Kittson and Mahnomen. Fischbach carried Meeker, Lake of the Woods, Roseau, Sibley, Stearns, Todd, Douglas, McLeod, Clearwater, Redwood, Pipestone and Murray, with 23% to 40% of the votes in those counties.
Peterson, the last of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, was one of two party members in the House to vote against Trump’s impeachment inquiry. He served on the powerful House ag committee, earning the chairman’s seat along the way. He worked on the last three farm bills. He took care of his constituents in the largest ag district in the state. Peterson understood intricate sugar, dairy and ethanol policies, and could talk dairy marketing and economics like an ag economist.
Ag world misses Peterson, promotes possible new role
In a recent media webinar, Mary Kay Thatcher, senior lead for federal government relations at Syngenta and a former American Farm Bureau lobbyist, noted that everyone in agriculture was mourning the loss of Peterson as House ag committee leader.
She noted how the opposition tried to build a case against Peterson by linking him with the liberal views of the U.S. speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Television ads in Minnesota spouting one-sided opinions filled the airwaves this summer and fall.
What was portrayed as coziness was good old-fashioned collaboration.
Peterson knew when and how to reach Pelosi, Thatcher explained.
“We hear ‘Oh, Nancy Pelosi!’… but she voted for every farm bill, supported crop insurance and supported numerous disaster bills for agriculture,” Thatcher noted. “She never sided with HSUS [The Humane Society of the United States].” Pelosi, respectful of Peterson’s leadership and opinions, listened.
While Minnesota agriculture has lost its champion in Congress, there are efforts among some farmers to promote Peterson as the next USDA ag secretary. Numerous posts on social media have called for farmers to reach out to President-elect Joe Biden and others to nominate Peterson to the post.
One can only hope, at this point, that rural Minnesota will not rue the day they ousted local agricultural experience and collaboration.