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DFL, GOP squabble over committee handling of agriculture issues

MinnPost photo by James Nord
GOP Rep. Rod Hamilton: "We want to have a strong rural presence, a strong rural voice."

House Democrats rejected a Republican-backed measure Monday aimed at preserving agriculture’s “autonomy” in state budgeting and policymaking.

GOP legislators wanted to separate oversight of farm issues from a committee that also has jurisdiction over environment and natural resources funding.

 Republicans have raised concerns about combining the sometimes-conflicting interests under one finance committee.

The fight at Monday’s Rules Committee hearing proved to be the first major political scuffle for House lawmakers this session.

Republicans argued that agriculture issues should be spun off from the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee because it makes up such an important part of Minnesota’s economy.

They painted metro Democrats, including Rep. Jean Wagenius, the Minneapolis DFLer who chairs the committee, as an environmentalists out of touch with the issues important to rural Minnesotans.

“We want to have a strong rural presence, a strong rural voice,” GOP Rep. Rod Hamilton, said in a passionate speech. “Again, it’s standing up for rural Minnesota.” Hamilton last session chaired a combined agriculture policy and finance committee.

 Democrats criticized Republicans for politicizing concerns over agriculture. House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, who represents St. Paul, said the request to change the committee structure became a “distraction” after debate stretched on.

 They also said it makes sense to keep agriculture and the environment combined under one committee because the issues often overlap, and argued that metro Democrats recognize the importance of farming in Minnesota.

 “Metro members can be strong advocates for Minnesotans’ farming economy,” said Rep. Melissa Hortman, chairwoman of the House Energy Policy Committee. “A lot of us care deeply about this industry.”

 The Rules Committee voted down the measure 15-12 along party lines, despite Hamilton’s insistence that agriculture transcends party divisions. If Republicans had their way, control over the sector would have fallen to Rep. Jeanne Poppe, a rural DFLer.

 Former House Speaker Kurt Zellers called the current structure “a slap in the face to agriculture.”

 “I’m the eternal optimist, so I was hoping for some support from the Democratic Farmer Labor Party,” Hamilton joked after the hearing.

 Despite pleas to consider the livelihoods of rural Minnesotans, even outstate Democrats pushed back against Republican arguments.

 “You think we’re demonizing something,” DFL Rep. John Persell said. “Now you’re talking me down, and I don’t like that.”

 Both Republicans and Democrats criticized each other for divisive politics so early in the session, but neither side backed down.

 “It’s unfortunate to start out the year talking about our differences,” DFL Rep. Rick Hansen said. “We have a lot we can do, a lot we can accomplish and a lot we can do together.”

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 01/15/2013 - 11:37 am.

    Told you so

    I wrote about this about a month ago. I hope the Mpls and St. Paul DFL crowd understand that with too many mis-steps like this they will not be in control in 2015. Outstate DFL’ers and suburban DFL’ers need to be re-elected and they won’t be if the headlines out state are “DFL puts MInneapolis Liberal in charge of Agriculture”. The article will go on to ask if she has ever been on a farm. Any long range thinking going on in the House DFL caucus?

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 01/15/2013 - 11:21 pm.

      These republicans

      Should be upset and angered over the republican speaker of the US House of representatives and the Senate minority leader for shutting down the federal farm bill which would have saved billions. Just political nonsense which is the highlight of the republican party today.

  2. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 01/15/2013 - 11:52 am.

    The solution comes every 2 years, in November.

    “We want to have a strong rural presence, a strong rural voice,” GOP Rep. Rod Hamilton, said in a passionate speech. “Again, it’s standing up for rural Minnesota.”

    If more rural Minnesotans, especially those who work directly in agriculture, would run for the Legislature (and win, of course), that issue takes care of itself.

  3. Submitted by Mike Worcester on 01/15/2013 - 01:03 pm.

    Politcal Theatre

    That’s all this is – political theatre. Makes for great headlines, copy, and video.

    Take a look at the membership of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee and decide for yourselves is there is some sort of metro cabal against agriculture.

    (I’d post the link but that is not allowed on here, so go to www dott leg dott state dott mn dott us and look under committees)

  4. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 01/15/2013 - 02:11 pm.

    Agriculture funding issues belong in this context, of the environment and natural resources. Perhaps now, in that context, Minnesota can begin to address the single major factor polluting the Mississippi River below its confluence with the Minnesota River: agricultural run-off and all the herbicides, pesticides and erosion caused by simple cultivate-every-inch farming methods. You don’t get to have your own select circle, where you can ignore science and the evidence (I think of the film project, “Troubled Waters,” and a recent study of the state’s majors rivers for pollutants). Let’s see if Minnesota’s farmers can rise to this occasion.

  5. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 01/15/2013 - 05:03 pm.

    This is why the Republicans were so worthless the last 2 years

    This is all show and no go.

    There is nothing here that is an issue other than the way it might appear to someone living in Greater Minnesota who isn’t paying attention and thinks that intelligent people are incapable of talking about two important things in a relatively short amount of time.

    No wonder the Republicans got absolutely NOTHING done in the last two years. Oh, I guess that’s not 100 percent true. They did manage to raise property taxes to hurt those on fixed incomes. OK, considering what they did they SHOULD have done NOTHING for the last two years.

  6. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 01/15/2013 - 08:29 pm.

    Ms. Wagenius…

    Grew up on a farm. The real fight is that the finial part of Ag was merged with PCA and big Ag does not like this. Nothing more or less.

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