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Don Davis, Forum Communications, Published August 10 2012

Farmers to politicians: Work together

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. – Gene Stengel and Roger Dale sprinkled seasoning on pork chops, then grilled them to just the right temperature to serve to hungry Farmfest visitors.

But they cranked up the heat while roasting politicians of all stripes, in Washington and St. Paul, because they cannot work together.

“People are getting disgusted out here,” Dale said.

That attitude could affect voter participation in this year’s election, he said. “Some people don’t give a rip anymore.”

Stengel is president and Dale vice president of the Yellow Medicine County Farm Bureau and lean to the political right. Similar comments came from those on both sides and in the middle throughout Farmfest, which drew farmers from the region to the rural Redwood Falls field where the agriculture trade show is held annually.

The disgust, as Dale called it, was noticeable in several ways during the Tuesday-through-Thursday event.

Candidates from both major political parties played on voters’ frustration.

During a 90-minute U.S. Senate candidate forum, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat facing Republican Kurt Bills, frequently mentioned her efforts to work with Republican senators. She also used that tactic at her party’s convention in June, later wondering how it played in front of a room full of Democrats to emphasize her work with the GOP.

At Farmfest, such comments played well.

Farmfest is meant to attract farmers to look over new machinery, seeds and other agriculture necessities. But dotted among those displays are political booths, especially in election years. Statewide and farm-country candidates generally make Farmfest a must-attend event.

The most-heard comment at the Democratic-Farmer-Labor booth? “Frustration with inaction in Washington,” said Paul Wright, the 7th Congressional District chairman from Hutchinson.

Nearby in the Republican booth, visitors were more interested in signing petitions about social issues than talking about candidates.

Few Democrats stopped by. “You kind of preach to the choir,” said Ray Thull of Lucan, a banker for more than 50 years before retiring in June.

The Minnesota GOP faces a bit of a problem because presidential candidate Mitt Romney has little presence in the state, although Thull said “he’s going to ramp it up.”

Thull said he heard a lot of farmers complaining that Americans do not realize that 80 percent of the farm bill actually goes to nutrition programs such as food stamps.

But while Republicans like to complain about the federal government spending too much on such welfare-type programs, Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson pointed out that during a U.S. House forum, Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat representing southern Minnesota, received the most applause of the day when he told the audience that the bulk of that nutrition funding goes to those older than 65 and younger than 3.

Farmers often complained about both parties for not being able to pass a new farm bill to replace federal farm policies that are expiring. They said Washington politicians have kicked the can down the road too long.

“They are going to wear out that can,” Thull joked.

Peterson said there is enough blame to go around, “People who 10 years ago were very positive about the political process now are down a notch or two,” he said. “The civility has disappeared. ... Everybody has their own facts these days.”

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