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Governor candidate Jeff Johnson says at Farmfest Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, that he grew up in greater Minnesota, so understands issues there. Don Davis / Forum News Service

Farmers crowd into hear Minnesota governor candidates at Farmfest

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn.—Minnesota's five major governor candidates bent over backwards to show they are on farmers' side during the first forum with them all.

Each told farmers at Farmfest near Redwood Falls about their connections to greater Minnesota, hoping to win votes in the Tuesday, Aug. 14, primary election and the Nov. 6 general election.

For Republicans, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he was was the farmers' champion when he served before and Jeff Johnson said he grew up in greater Minnesota, so understands the issues.

On the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party side, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz said his background working on federal farm legislation would help him, state Attorney General Lori Swanson said she has served farmers for a dozen years in her current job and state Rep. Erin Murphy said she grew up on a small Wisconsin farm and in 12 years as legislator has traveled the state to learn issues everywhere.

Farmers and agri-business people were eager to hear what they had to say, with all 1,000 seats filled and another 500 to 600 standing around the forum building. Forum organizer Kent Thiesse, who has done the job since 1990, said the only candidate forum that may have been the same size was 20 years ago, when Jesse Ventura, Norm Coleman and Hubert H. "Skip" Humphrey were governor candidates.

WCCO radio broadcast Wednesday's forum.

Pawlenty wasted no time patting himself on the back for his agricultural accomplishments in his earlier eight-year stint as governor.

He said that as far as governors go, he was "the undisputed champion of renewable fuels," reminding the audience that it was under his watch that state law required diesel fuel to be blended with soybean or other plant-based oil.

Now, Pawlenty said that he supports requiring the sale of gasoline mixed with 15 percent ethanol, usually made from corn. Regular gasoline now has 10 percent ethanol.

Besides biofuels, Pawlenty promoted his work on other forms of non-fossil fuel energy. "No one has done more on that than me."

Johnson might not think that is a good thing.

The Detroit Lakes native says he will not increase state spending and on Wednesday said he does not support the government spending to help business propositions such as ethanol and biodiesel.

However, Johnson said, since the renewable fuel industry already is up and running, "I will not pull the rug out from under it."

Democrats also were ready with their rural sales pitches.

Swanson said that while Pawlenty may have had a hand in introducing biodiesel, "I went to court to defend the biodiesel mandate." Truckers and other machinery operators question the use of plant oil in diesel, especially in cold months.

The attorney general promised to lobby Trump's administration to change plans that let many oil refiners skip blending ethanol in their gasoline. She said that means 250 million bushels of corn is not going to ethanol.

Murphy said she supports an even higher biodiesel blend. "We should continue to push ourselves forward."

Walz disagreed with those who claim government set up the biofuel industry, instead giving credit to the "inventiveness of Americans."

Also at the forum:

• Murphy said she wants to eliminate the urban-rural split because "we are going to have to compete against each other for what you need."

• Walz said research by the University of Minnesota more often should be used to give farmers more variety, including growing industrial hemp.

• Johnson promised to appoint a farmer as agriculture commissioner, complaining that now ag policy is set by bureaucrats and instead of favoring farmers they write rules for butterflies, birds and bees.

• Pawlenty and Johnson said they would like to cut farmers' property taxes.

• Walz, a former teacher and coach, complained that while rural schools struggle to replace leaky roofs, suburban districts build sports centers with domes and artificial turf.

• Murphy said that when Pawlenty was governor, his pledge not to raise state taxes meant local governments were forced to raise property taxes.

• While the two Republicans said they favor reducing regulations, Swanson said she wants to make sure "regulations do make sense."

• Walz said he would consider raising the gasoline tax, something Republicans strongly oppose.

• Murphy, a nurse, called for opening the state-run MinnesotaCare health insurance program for anyone, with Walz agreeing and Swanson sounding like she supports something a bit less. Republicans opposed the idea.

• Swanson said 75 percent of healthcare costs can be due to drugs, so she proposes letting Minnesota buy medicines from the state program, which gets it for less.

TPaw: 1 term? No White House

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn.—Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he will not run for president if elected to a third term and he may only want one more term.

Surrounded by fans after a Farmfest governor candidate forum, Pawlenty told Forum News Service Wednesday, Aug. 8, that he might not want a fourth term. However, he quickly added, he has not decided on that.

He was certain on another question. "I promise" that there would be no presidential campaign during a third term, like there was in his second term.

Pawlenty, a Republican, was governor 2003-2011. At the end of his second term, he started running for president. When that ended unsuccessfully, he began managing a financial services organization in Washington, D.C.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.