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CAMPAIGN '08 / MINNESOTA: Ag dispute part of 7th District race

ST. PAUL -- Glen Menze picks at Collin Peterson's biggest accomplishment -- herding the 2008 farm bill to passage, and repassage over a presidential veto.

ST. PAUL -- Glen Menze picks at Collin Peterson's biggest accomplishment -- herding the 2008 farm bill to passage, and repassage over a presidential veto.

Menze, a Republican trying for the second time to unseat western Minnesota's Democratic congressman, complained that the farm bill contains too much pork, but said it did not help pork and other livestock producers.

"It really picked winners and losers," Menze said. "If you are in livestock, you not only didn't gain anything -- there wasn't really anything in there for hogs and beef -- but you found out that the disaster program, for example, is going to require a lot more money."

Veteran lawmaker Peterson, finishing his second year as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the farm bill was a good compromise.

"There wasn't any pork in there," he said. "We had no earmarks in the farm bill that passed the House."


But senators insisted on some earmarks -- funding for specific programs.

"It was the price I had to pay to get the bill passed," Peterson said. "That is just how the Senate operates. I fought it as long as I could."

Such relatively minor disputes illustrate the 7th Congressional District race, where Menze and Peterson compete to represent a large chunk of western Minnesota from the Canadian border south almost to Iowa. The two are seeking a job paying $169,300 annually.

Peterson is known as one of the House's most conservative Democrats -- and 13 years ago helped form the Blue Dog coalition of conservative and moderate Democrats.

Menze, a former farmer and like Peterson, an accountant, is not as strict a conservative as Republicans often put up to fight Peterson, but on most issues he is to Peterson's right.

The federal government should offer disaster insurance to farmers, Menze said, instead of the current subsidies farmers receive. At some point, he added, private insurance companies should take over the program.

Farmers could take out the type of insurance they want -- flood, tornado, pest etc. -- under the Menze plan.

"In a farm bill, what we really should be doing, is providing affordable risk-management tools," Menze said.


Menze's goal is to get rid of subsidies, although he did not say that was possible immediately.

Peterson said southern congressmen prevented as big a change in farm policy as he would have liked.

"Farm bills are evolutionary, not revolutionary," he said.

A new voluntary program is the biggest advancement in the new farm bill, Peterson said. It would allow farmers to enroll in the program, which guarantees crop revenue equaling 90 percent of that obtained the previous two years.

Davis writes for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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