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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published October 13 2012

Minnesota Political Notebook: Obama, Romney engage in brief ag exchange

ST. PAUL - The two major presidential candidates broke their silence on rural issues, if only briefly.

Republican Mitt Romney used a Tuesday stop near Des Moines, Iowa, to deliver his first major speech on farm policy. That drew a quick response from Democratic President Barack Obama.

However, after the Van Meter speech, rural issues again got the silent treatment as the candidates returned to their standard campaign speeches.

“Romney’s plan stresses four main points: reforming taxes on farmers, expanding farms’ access to trade, changing regulatory policy to better help family farms and achieving energy independence by 2020,” Politico reported after Romney’s Iowa appearance.

The Romney campaign also released a 16-page agriculture policy plan, which is at http://tinyurl.com/romneyrural. Obama’s rural stance is at http://tinyurl.com/obamarural.

Soon after Romney’s Iowa speech, Obama’s campaign shot back: “In Iowa, Mitt Romney told a series of falsehoods about the president’s plan for rural America. And unsurprisingly, he failed to detail specific plans of his own.”

The exchange came days after many Forum Communications newspapers printed stories about the lack of rural policy discussion on the campaign trail. Forum Communications asked both campaigns multiple times in recent weeks about where the candidates stood on rural issues, but received no information for the stories.

In front of 1,200 people near Van Meter, Romney said that he wants to eliminate the estate tax, “death tax” as Republicans call it.

“You paid for the farm once,” Romney said. “You shouldn’t have to pay for it again.”

Obama’s response did not touch on estate taxes, although he has said that his plan would eliminate them on most farms and small businesses. Instead, the president’s comments emphasize tax cuts that lower costs on 97 percent of small businesses and farms.

While one of Romney’s main issues is to reduce federal regulations, Obama’s campaign claims the Democrat wants “fewer, more thoughtful regulations.”

Romney blasted Environmental Protection Agency and Agriculture Department rules, saying “the regulatory burden under this administration has just gone crazy.”

In front of a white barn, red Massey Ferguson tractor and green John Deere combine, Romney said: “I commit this to you, when I become president, I will do everything in my power to strengthen the family farm.”

The Romney-Obama exchange only touched on agriculture, not mining, forestry, rural development or other rural issues.

Absentees popular

More than 100,000 Minnesota voters have requested absentee ballots, and more than 41,200 have been filed out and returned.

Voters may request absentee ballots by mail or go to election offices to vote in person. Ballots must be in election officials’ hands by Nov. 5, the day before the election.

“I urge voters who will be out of their precincts on Election Day and who wish to cast a ballot to fill out their absentee ballot applications and send them in today, or visit their county auditor’s office to cast their absentee ballots in-person,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said.

Voters who are not registered still may vote absentee by filling out a registration application with the absentee ballot.

‘No outside help’

State Sen. Scott Newman rejects claims that he and Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer received marching orders from groups outside of Minnesota as they prepared a proposed constitutional amendment to require voters to produce photographic identification.

“This is Newman,” the Hutchinson Republican said. “There is nobody telling me what to put in there. I have not dealt with any national organization.”

Newman said he and Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, received no help or suggestions from national groups.

The senator said he has asked Protect My Vote, a Minnesota group, for statistics and other information. “They have not been involved in drafting this legislation.”

Democrats charge that voter ID efforts, common across the country, are attempts by Republicans to suppress the vote. They also claim much of the work is coordinated by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that, among other things, provides sample legislation to Republican lawmakers.

Newman said that he has had no communication with ALEC and the group did not influence the proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment, which will be on the Nov. 6 ballot for voters to decide.

Funding mammograms

The Minnesota Health Department provides free breast and cervical cancer screenings, including mammograms, for uninsured or underinsured women 40 and older.

“We think many women are not receiving these life-saving screening tests because they have no health insurance or their insurance has deductibles or co-payments they cannot afford to pay,” the Health Department’s Jonathan Slater said.

Women wondering if they qualify for the aid may call (888) 643-2584.

Locations sold

A report Sen. Al Franken requested shows that some mobile application developers and wireless carriers sell information about where their customers are located.

The Government Accountability Office report said wireless companies are not telling customers enough about how they use and share location data.

Location information is used to provide targeted advertising.

“I believe Americans have a fundamental right to privacy: to know what information is being collected about them and to be able to control whether or not that information is shared with third parties,” Franken, D-Minn., said. “And this report clearly shows that mobile industry companies often fail to respect that right, giving out consumers’ location data without their knowledge or explicit consent. The report makes a strong case that legislation is needed to better protect our privacy, and I’ve authored a bill to do just that.”

Party or principle?

When Minnesotans look over names of 10 presidential candidates on their Nov. 6 ballots, they may not know if labels represent a candidate’s party or his principle.

Dean Morstad, one of the 10 candidates, was not happy that he was listed as a member of the Constitutional Party.

“I actually do not belong to any party,” Morstad said. “The Minnesota ballot petition required that I list my ‘party or principle,’ so I listed the ‘principle’ of constitutional government.”

Ballots do not differentiate principle from party.

Ethanol adds $5 billion

The Minnesota Agriculture Department says the ethanol industry generated more than $5 billion in economic activity last year and supported at least 12,600 jobs.

Minnesota’s 21 ethanol plants can make more than 1.1 billion gallons of ethanol annually, giving Minnesota the fifth largest capacity in the country.

Most ethanol today is made from corn, although work is progressing on making the use of other plant matter economically feasible. The Agriculture Department report says that ethanol added $912 million in value to the state corn crop.

The report’s author, department economist Su Ye, said the ethanol industry continues to have a critical role in bringing increased returns to the state’s largest agricultural crop.

“While there have been ups and downs in the ethanol industry, the fact is it’s a huge advantage for us to keep more of the value of the corn we produce rather than ship it to another state or country as a raw commodity,” Ye said. “The ethanol industry is an important economic driver that adds value to every bushel of corn grown by the roughly 11,000 farmers who supply it to the plants.”

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Don Davis reports for Forum Communications