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Minnesota District 7 candidates argue over ag, health care issues

A debate between Democrat Collin Peterson and Republican Dave Hughes, the two candidates for the U.S. House in Minnesota's 7th congressional district, highlighted their differing stances on agriculture policy.

A debate between Democrat Collin Peterson and Republican Dave Hughes, the two candidates for the U.S. House in Minnesota’s 7th congressional district, highlighted their differing stances on agriculture policy.

The debate, hosted by Prairie Public and co-sponsored by AARP, is posted online and will be broadcast on KFME at 8:30 p.m. Friday, according to Prairie Public’s website. Peterson would serve a 14th term in Congress and continue to represent a wide swath of western Minnesota if he defeats Hughes on Nov. 8.

Asked about what he would do for the district’s agriculture sector, Hughes said he’s “moderately in favor” of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, although there were parts of the massive trade deal he said he needed to read. He called the opportunity to expand trade a “positive.”

Peterson, the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, suggested working on the Farm Bill early. It expires in September 2018, he said.

“It has a fairly decent safety net, but it’s not going to be adequate, in my opinion, to deal with what we’re dealing with right now,” Peterson said. “I’m concerned about the younger farmers, keeping them on the land.”

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Hughes, who describes himself as a constitutional conservative, said the agricultural sector needs “free market reforms,” and the U.S. needs to look around the world for best practices.

“I think we need to innovate more,” he said.

Peterson said “there is freedom within the farm program,” but there are many “outside factors” in agriculture, such as high costs to plant crops.

“The kind of risk that you have to take, you need the crop insurance, you need the safety net to go to the bank to get finance to get the cash to put that crop in,” Peterson said. “That’s what I’m trying to do here, is improve that safety net so people have a better chance of doing that.”

On congressional gridlock, Peterson called for going back to “regular order,” allowing committees to work on issues without them being “hijacked” by congressional leadership.

“If every committee operated like we do, including the budget committee, we’d be in much better shape,” he said.

While Hughes agreed on the need for regular order, he said he’s heard from people in the district who complain Peterson only serves on one committee. He said that shows a lack of focus on other issues.

“I want to remind Collin that he’s a U.S. representative -- he’s not the ag emperor for the western half of Minnesota,” Hughes said.

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Other issues

The candidates also sparred over health insurance laws. Hughes called for repealing the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, and replacing it in “piecemeal measure.” Peterson pointed out he didn’t vote for the bill in the first place because he felt it wouldn’t work.

“And unfortunately, I think I was proven right,” he said. But Peterson said the political climate makes it difficult to replace the policy, given that it’s President Barack Obama’s “signature issue.” He called for fixing the law on a bipartisan basis.

“But you had a situation where one side wanted to get rid of the whole thing, and the other side wanted to keep the whole thing, and there was no ability to discuss in the middle what needed to be done,” Peterson said. He said the debate could be approached differently after the election.

Hughes countered that Congress could override a veto from Obama. He argued the law funds “elective abortion,” an apparent reference to a 2014 Government Accountability Office report that found insurers had plans that were not segregating funds to cover abortion from federal subsidies, according to Politico.

“Collin runs as a pro-life guy, and apparently his voting record supports that,” Hughes said. “But if you’re going to stand up and say you’re pro-life and that you’re an ostensible Blue Dog Democrat, I don’t see how you can support Obamacare.”

Peterson countered that he doesn’t support the law and reiterated that he didn’t vote for it, but he does support certain provisions, such as allowing people to stay on their parents’ health plans until they’re 26 years old.

Both candidates signaled support for permanent flood protection for the Fargo-Moorhead area, despite recent regulatory decisions that have muddled the future of a diversion project. Three weeks ago, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources denied a permit for the Fargo-Moorhead flood-diversion dam.

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Hughes questioned how much the federal government should be involved in the debate.

“Perhaps the state should take a bigger part of all that,” he said.

Peterson said he has tried to warn people that the diversion project needed to be changed to get Minnesota on board.

“That’s going to be the challenge here, is how can we get a project that protects Fargo-Moorhead that we can get the DNR to permit?” he said.

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