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Agweek region considers ag politics before Nov. 9 election

HAZELTON, N.D. -- North Dakota's anti-corporate farming policy is still at center stage in the state, with policies dating to the 1930s, during the Non-Partisan League days. The Republican-dominated North Dakota Legislature in 2015 passed an exce...

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HAZELTON, N.D. - North Dakota’s anti-corporate farming policy is still at center stage in the state, with policies dating to the 1930s, during the Non-Partisan League days.

The Republican-dominated North Dakota Legislature in 2015 passed an exception for swine and dairy feedlot operations, then the North Dakota Farmers Union successfully led an election to refer the exemptions to the voters and won with 75 percent voting against it. There is nothing on the ballot about this on Nov. 8, but it had its effect on some legislative races.

The Nov. 8 election will focus on regulatory issues, and state agencies are often the surrogates for federal laws involving clean water and labor issues. In some cases, candidates in the primary were affected by their stance on hot button issues such as anti-corporate farming.

Jeff Magrum, a plumbing contractor, grew up on a farm where he developed a 100-head cow-calf beef operation. The candidate says his stance against anti-corporate farming exemptions seemed to have helped him gain some voters in the 28th District, which includes parts or all of Emmons, Logan and McIntosh counties, and parts of Burleigh, LaMoure and Dickey counties.

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Beating all Magrum won 33 percent of the primary vote, besting three-time incumbent Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, by 31.4 percent, and beating long-time incumbent William Kretschmar, R-Venturia, and challenger Bart Schott, by 17.7 percent. Schott is a former president of the National Corn Growers Association. Magrum and Brandenburg are now unopposed in the general election.

Part of his primary success was geographical representation, Magrum acknowledges, but the anti-corporate farming issue "was one of the key issues that we discussed when I was out campaigning." Magrum believes family corporations in farming have gotten large enough. "There are enough family corporations in agriculture already,” he says. “I don't like to see it go any further than it is already."

He says some people in his district might have been influenced by conversations with visiting pipeline construction workers from other states. One farmer from Arkansas told him he was worried about growing his farm further because of the "pressures of big corporations coming into Arkansas, buying everything they could get their hands on or running the rents up." He has "fears" that any "foot in the door" on corporate farming would be followed by pressures to increase acreages.

"It'll get too big," he says. "We all know corporations are designed to grow. They'll find a way to get more growth out of their investment."

Effect minimal Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union speculates the impacts from the anti-corporate farming stance of a legislator would be minimal. People determine votes on a variety of factors, he says, but some legislators or candidates who "pushed it hard" could have been affected.

North Dakota politics is generally conservative, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans. He doesn't think the issue would be enough to affect the Republican supermajority.

The North Dakota Farm Bureau filed suit in early June, just before the primary election, challenging the constitutionality of the anti-corporate statute. On Oct. 12, the NDFU filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, with interest in participating in the litigation against the NDFB suit.

The anti-corporate farming law recently has figured into the nationally-recognized Dakota Access Pipeline demonstration, where an oil pipeline is planned under the Missouri River, south of Bismarck-Mandan. The oil company announced it would purchase 7,000 acres of ag land in that neighborhood, and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem will be a key figure in deciding whether an oil company legally can use the land to produce agricultural crops.

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Pipeline link The North Dakota Stockmen's Association and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring have complained that protesters have obstructed farming and ranching families, and set a bad precedent for legal property development. It is unlikely the election will change that.

Current Gov. Jack Dalrymple is a Republican who still runs large land holdings that date to the Bonanza farming era in the state and led a cooperative pasta company that he converted to a corporation. He signed the anti-corporate farming exemptions.

Dalrymple's likely successor is Doug Burgum, another corporate CEO. Burgum has made a point of emphasizing his farm roots. He famously said he "bet the farm" to start Great Plains Software company - a business-to-business software company - which he sold to Microsoft for $1.1 billion. He is from an Arthur, N.D., and sits on the board of Arthur Companies Inc., a 110-year-old grain handling and agribusiness.Burgum's running mate, Brent Sanford, is the mayor of Watford City, and a car dealer.

Describing his position on the anti-corporate farming law, Burgum says that is a "globally competitive business, and it is vital that farmers and ag producers in North Dakota have the same access to capital as other businesses." He wants the state to focus on value-added ag products and specialty crops to help insulate our state’s agriculture sector from commodity prices, which we cannot control.

Other hands Burgum's main competition is Rep. Marvin E. Nelson, D-Rolla, a crop consultant, and his running mate, Sen. Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, a retired teacher.

Nelson, who would be up for House re-election in 2018, says he's in favor of changing the state constitution to allow the Legacy Fund to invest in North Dakota projects, such as a large nitrogen fertilizer plant at Grand Forks. He wants to shore up the state's mental health services to be of help for farmers in the economic downturn. He voted against the anti-corporate farming exemptions, saying it would not help existing farmers and would make it possible for nonprofit foundations to "tie up land" for their own environmental priorities.

Burgum says he wants to push back on federal regulations that hamper the state's agriculture industry.

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Watne says the bigger issue will be smaller than budget cuts and whether agricultural research and extension will be bigger. "The willingness to cut the programs and cut that budget and take money out of ag research is a mistake,” he says. “We need that money. It's one of our assets that we do to try to compete in this world of very low crop prices. I don't want that to be industry-led research. I want that to have government-backed research so we can get unbiased research to try to help farmers through these interesting times."

Extension budgets are more vulnerable to cuts because they don't have any mechanism such as tuition rates to shore up

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is likely to win re-election to his second term, after serving 10 years as governor. Among other things, he sits on the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which will begin addressing a new farm bill in 2017. Hoeven recently announced a bill to increase amounts for farmers guaranteed loan programs, a bill to stop a new federal rule on anhydrous ammonia, and to keep ag exemptions from certain Clean Water Act regulations.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., is running for his third term, but does not sit on the agriculture committee.

The Nov. 8 ballot includes a state measure to require state legislators to live in their district for 30 days prior to an election, and continue living there through their term.

Nov. 8 ag impacts in Agweek country FARGO, N.D. - The Nov. 8 election comes against a stunning economic downturn in agriculture.

Depending on how long the slump lasts, state departments of agriculture might figure into mediation, stimulus and other measures that were developed in the 1980s. State leadership in the Dakotas and Montana must interface with federal officials who control many environmental policies and others affecting farmers.

Here is a look at state ag issues that might be affected by the election:

MINNESOTA - Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, in 2015 proposed 50-foot buffer strips along waterways to protect water quality for no financial compensation. He backed off on that topic in January 2016.

In August 2016, he issued an executive order that would limit the use of neonicotinoids, a chemical often applied to seeds to prevent soil-borne insects from attacking them. The proposal requires a "demonstrated need" for the control before they can be applied, and increased inspection and enforcement. Dayton would create a 15-member board to advise the administration on implementing an executive order for reduction in neonicotinoid pesticides that could hurt bees and other animals.

Dayton, elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, is serving his last term. The Minnesota Senate is controlled by the Democrats and the House is controlled by Republicans.

Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, a sugar beet farmer and assistant majority leader, says the Dayton plan "will add layers of bureaucracy to farming, an industry essential to the health of our state's economy."

Kiel says it’s important to keep the House in Republican hands to be a "buffer" against "attacks where people aren't aware of agricultural practices." Republicans had 73 members to the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party with 61 members in the last Legislature.

The buffer requirements are still being worked out, Kiel says, with the Department of Natural Resources generating maps for review. Dayton wants guidelines to come from recommendations from Soil Conservation District officials. Details might involve control of pests and weeds in those ditches, as well as tax implications.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is running for his 14th term for the sprawling Seventh District. He is the ranking Democrat on the Republican-controlled House Agriculture Committee. Depending on who wins the presidency, he could return to the chairmanship when the panel starts hearings for a new farm bill in 2017. This is important for the Dakotas, whose representatives currently are not on the agriculture committee.

SOUTH DAKOTA - South Dakota is one of 23 Republican "trifecta" governments in the country, where a single party controls the governorship and both branches of a legislature. The election is not likely to change that.

In September, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard proposed tax cuts for landowners who establish buffer strips. Buffer strips would be assessed at 60 percent of the land's agricultural income value. A draft of the bill will be presented to a legislative task force. Daugaard earlier vetoed a bill that included a different way to provide tax incentives. Daugaard, who was elected in 2014 with 81 percent of the vote and in 2014 with 70 percent of the vote, is serving his last term.

There are 10 items on the ballot other than legislative and national elections. The South Dakota Farm Bureau opposes Initiated Measure 22, which would revise the state campaign finance laws, and create a $12 million fund for campaigns. The SDFB also opposes Measure 23, which would allow groups (labor unions) to charge non-union members for certain perceived benefits. "It would end our right to work situations in South Dakota," says Scott VanderWal, SDFB president from Volga, S.D.

The SDFB is also opposed to Constitutional Measure T, which would take the drawing of political districts out of legislative hands and put the responsibility with a new nine-member commission, appointed by the South Dakota Elections Board, which is appointed by the South Dakota Secretary of State.

The South Dakota Farmers Union opposes this.

The SDFB also opposes Amendment V, which would make all elections nonpartisan, other than the U.S. president and vice president. "Party designations give you an idea of what a candidate's philosophy is," VanderWal says.

The SDFB hasn't taken a position on a provision that would reduce the minimum wage for non-tipped employees to $7.25 an hour, down from $8.50 an hour, a rate voted in November 2014.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., is expected to easily win re-election. He chairs the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and is on the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., first elected in 2010, serves on Ways and Means, and formerly served on the Agriculture Committee.

MONTANA - Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, is running for re-election a state with split partisan control. A lawyer, Bullock was elected to office in 2012 with running mate John. E. Walsh is a retired National Guard brigadier general. When Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., resigned unexpectedly in 2014, Bullock appointed Walsh to replace him. Walsh started a campaign as an incumbent for the Senate but dropped out of the race because of a plagiarism scandal from his college days. In 2016, Walsh was appointed director of Montana’s USDA Rural Development office.

Bullock and running mate Lt. Gov. Michael R. "Mike" Cooney, are opposed by challenger Greg Gianforte, a Republican from Bozeman who became wealthy as a software engineer and businessman. He chose a rancher, Lesley Robinson, a Phillips County commissioner from Malta, Mont., as his running mate.

Gianforte has drawn criticism for conservative stances. Notably, opponents have criticized the fact that his Gianforte Family Foundation in 2009 helped fund the $1.5 million creationist dinosaur museum in Glendive, Mont., which depicts dinosaurs in a tableau with Noah's ark. He also opposes marriage for gay and transgender Montanans. He was also involved with a property boundary dispute regarding CRP land.

Bullock won his last election with 49 percent of the vote. Gianforte says Montana's business tax is "the most regressive" he knows of, and is more about the "maximum wage" than the minimum wage.

On agriculture, Bullock says he'd promote rural growth "through responsible development of our vast energy resources and attract new businesses, like high tech companies, to invest here." He supports the Keystone XL pipeline. Ballotpedia.com says Bullock supports expanding free trade, but opposes prioritizing green energy.

Republicans in the last Legislature controlled the state Senate with 29 seats to 21 Democrats. Republicans control the state House with 59 seats to 41 seats for the Democrats. There are four ballot items, but none having to do with agriculture.

 

 

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