Minnesota Soybean Business

The survivor: Can Collin Peterson prevail once more in Trump country?

September-October 2020

Collin Peterson has survived some tight elections, and by all accounts the 2020 race to represent Minnesota’s Seventh District in the U.S. House will be close again.

The 76-year-old Democrat, who was first elected to Congress in 1990, is seeking a 16th term, hoping to keep his seat blue, even as his district becomes more red. The Seventh District covers a wide swath of western, central and northwest Minnesota, and is one of the nation’s top agriculture-producing regions. As of late September, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report forecasted the Seventh District race as a “Democratic toss-up.”

Peterson, the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, voted against impeaching President Trump and is perhaps the last of the moderate “Blue Dog Democrats” in Congress. He has the most-bipartisan record in Congress and presides over the House’s most-bipartisan committee, one whose members on both sides of the aisle continue to work in relative unison.

“One thing I’m really proud of is the Ag Committee does not get into partisan fights,” he said. “We just don’t do it. We sit down and figure out ahead of time what we can live with, where we can compromise and we figure out how to do it.”

Peterson’s challenger is Michelle Fischbach, the Republican Party-endorsed candidate who emerged from the Aug. 11 primary, defeating, among others, David Hughes. Hughes lost narrowly to Peterson in 2016 and 2018.

Fischbach, of Paynesville, served in the Minnesota Senate to 2018 when she was elevated to lieutenant governor. She was the first woman to serve as president of the state senate.

Former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach was the first female to preside over the Minnesota Senate.

“The Seventh District is a great place and has great people and we need to make sure that it continues to be a place that families can live, work and raise their children together,” Fischbach said.

During a virtual Farmfest candidate forum, Peterson, Fischbach and two of Fischbach’s four primary challengers answered ag-related questions, along with candidates for the District Eight race between incumbent Pete Stauber, a Republican and his Democratic foe Quinn Nystrom.

The coronavirus pandemic and its effect on agriculture, COVID-19 relief funds and trade were the big issues of the discussion, but the candidates also talked about transportation, clean air provisions, farm credit and rural broadband.

“COVID has caused lots of problems,” Peterson said. “No more so than in agriculture.”

Both candidates support relief programs, although, Peterson said, while important, they can’t last forever.

“This is not a good situation going long-term,” he said. “We can’t just rely on the federal government to keep farmers in business. We’ve got to get the trade thing straightened out, and we’ve got to get some other things straightened out.”

Said Fischbach: “A robust economy is the only way to have long-term stability in our agriculture sector and throughout our rural communities.”

On trade, Peterson said he warned against allowing China into the World Trade Organization and giving the country most-favored-nation status. He also said the Trump administration made a mistake by withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“Farmers are probably hurt with what happened in China because we had built a market over there, and these tariffs have been a big problem,” he said.

Fischbach said she believed President Trump was making progress on China before the coronavirus hit.

“Of course, China is the elephant in the room,” she said. “They are an incredibly large customer. But it has become abundantly clear that they are an unreliable and untrustworthy actor. … We have to make sure to maximize every market possible to keep from being overly dependent on China.”

Minnesota Soybean Growers Association President Jamie Beyer asked about the conversion of farm acres to publicly owned lands.

Peterson said the issue is largely one the state needs to tackle, adding that he’s tried to rein in the federal government on the issues but hasn’t been able to find too many allies in either party.

Fischbach said those practices especially hurt new and beginning farmers.

“We’re seeing more farms sold to absentee and foreign investors,” she said. “We need to curb that practice of taking those acres out of production, and we need to encourage and help our next generation of farmers.”


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