Minnesota Soybean Business

Squaring off: A look at the Smith-Lewis senate race

September-October 2020

In more than 2 ½ years as a United States Senator, Tina Smith has seen a lot of bipartisan cooperation when it comes to agriculture.

It’s “traditionally not a place where there are big Republican and Democratic divides,” said Smith, who serves on the Senate Ag Committee. “(Agriculture is) a place where Republicans and Democrats come together.”

However, there is a significant divide between Smith and her Republican challenger in this November’s election, former U.S. Congressman Jason Lewis.

Lewis served one term, representing Minnesota’s Second District from 2017 to 2019. Smith, the former lieutenant governor, is finishing a partial first term after then-Gov. Mark Dayton appointed her to the seat in 2017 following Al Franken’s resignation. Smith won 2018 special election to complete the term. A recent Star Tribune showed Smith leading by eight percentage points over Lewis.

Back in August during a virtual Farmfest forum, the opponents discussed and debated a wide range of issues, including trade, rural health care, new and beginning farmers, and temporary work visas. However, one topic – the coronavirus pandemic – cast a shadow over most of the others.

Both candidates were supportive of further coronavirus relief aid for farmers and others in the ag industry, although Lewis, who repeatedly called for the end of lockdown policies that have resulted in market disruptions, notably in the meat-processing industry.

Smith said she supports further support for livestock processors and USDA aid for turkey farmers and ethanol producers, and Lewis said he’d like to see crop-insurance programs expanded for livestock.

GOP Senate candidate Jason Lewis served in Congress from 2017 to 2019.

Their views began to diverge on trade policy. Both supported the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which went into effect July 1. It’s a deal, Smith said “improved by the bipartisan work that went into it” but one, according to Lewis, that Democrats delayed while he was in the House. Lewis praised President Trump’s trade policy with China, saying the U.S. is starting to see results with the Phase One agreement.

“You’re not going to get there if you’re not willing to do the tough negotiating, and that’s what this president has done and I support that,” he said.

Smith disagreed, quoting a farmer who said lost market share won’t simply bounce back with a flip of a switch.

“The erraticness and chaos of trade negotiations and these tariffs over the last several years have been a real challenge for Minnesota agriculture,” she said.

Smith criticized Lewis for being the only member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation to vote against the 2018 Farm Bill. Lewis noted that he voted for the original House version.

On renewable energy, Smith said she supports more blender pumps and expanding blends of biodiesel and ethanol. Pointing out that “not a penny of” federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry comes to Minnesota, she said solar and wind energy could diversify revenue streams on Minnesota farms.

“Renewable energy is rural energy,” Smith said.

Lewis declared his support of an all-of-the-above energy policy.

“Farmers still have to relay on diesel tractors and combines that run on all sorts of energy,” he said.


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