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Minnesota state Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, talks with a fellow lawmaker in June of 2011 while awaiting the start of committee discussiion on budget issues. He is one of the Legislature's most vocal supporters of rural policy. (Forum Communications photo by Don Davis)

Capitol Chatter: Hamilton takes on task defending rural Minnesota

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ST. PAUL -- Rod Hamilton is becoming an outspoken cheerleader for rural Minnesota.

Last month, the Republican state representative from southwestern Minnesota criticized House Democrats for electing Minneapolis and St. Paul lawmakers as their leaders. Now he complains about an anti-agriculture attitude from too many in politics.

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"They try to demonize agriculture," Hamilton said. "It is unfortunate. People within the ag field, or everybody who has a vested interest ... we need to start pushing back and pushing back hard on that."

He asked: "Why on Earth would you want to bite the hand that feeds you?"

Hamilton said he worries that Democrats will push initiatives such as those that require genetically modified products to be labeled, making them appear unsafe, and telling farmers how to raise livestock.

"It is absolutely demonizing a noble profession," said Hamilton, who describes himself as "just an uneducated hog farmer."

He was an agriculture committee chairman when Republicans ran the Minnesota House.

Democrats say Hamilton and other rural Minnesotans need not worry about how they handle rural issues. Rural Democrats lead committees that deal with more than 80 percent of the state budget.

House Majority Leader-elect Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, grew up in a small Wisconsin town and Democrats say House Speaker-designate Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, understand the entire state.

Hamilton said his philosophy is borrowed from a 100-year-old man he talked to in Worthington: "Don't spend any more money than that you have. Understand needs vs. wants. Make sure you fully understand the results of your actions."

The lawmaker also said he thinks that after the Legislature takes action, officials then need to conduct "a postmortem" and admit to a mistake if it did not work.

A farm cliff

The Minnesota Farmers Union fears lack of a federal budget deal that includes farm spending would hurt farmers.

Funding for many farm programs stopped on Sept. 30.

"In order for these very important programs -- five of which of which deal with conservation efforts and eight are related to renewable energy production -- to continue, funding must be authorized in a new farm bill and they will continue to be dormant after Jan. 1," the farm group said in a summary of what could happen.

Dairy programs could revert to 1938 and 1949 laws, which would force up dairy prices, good for farmers in the short-term but forcing consumers to look at dairy alternatives in the long-term, the Farmers' Union said.

Without a farm bill, farmers are hesitant to make plans for the next growing season.

The farm bill is held up in talks about how to avoid a "fiscal cliff" of higher taxes and spending reductions. Federal leaders cannot agree on how to avoid the cliff.

No unions

Rep. Mary Franson is fighting attempts to unionize people who care for family members.

The Alexandria Republican said she plans to introduce the Family Freedom Act when the 2013 Minnesota Legislature begins next month.

She said that she expects Gov. Mark Dayton and other Democrats to push legislation requiring unionization of family personal care attendants and home childcare providers.

Public unions are big donors to Dayton and other Democrats, Franson said. "Dayton is facing a tough re-election and he needs as much money as possible from the unions, and he's planning on getting it by forcing moms to pay dues."

Seeking wind credit

Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon joined lieutenant governors from eight other states in asking Congress to extend a law providing tax credits to wind energy producers.

"As we continue to count the progress this tax credit has delivered, and the tens of thousands of jobs it has helped create, this is not the time to lift our foot off the pedal," Prettner Solon said. "The Production Tax Credit is an investment in American jobs, and an important down payment on our clean energy future."

The comeback kid

Just call U.S. Rep.-elect Rick Nolan the comeback kid.

Roll Call newspaper said the northeastern Minnesota Democrat is the comeback candidate of the year.

"There is something appealing about a politician who loses or retires into obscurity and yet has the fortitude and tenacity to mount a comeback effort," Roll Call wrote. "It could be a never-say-die attitude or, possibly, simply a refusal to take no for an answer."

Nolan served three terms in the U.S. House in the 1970s and came back to politics this year to win a three-way Democratic primary and the Nov. 6 general election.

He "walked away from the House in 1980 to 'remake' his life, and he wasn't on anyone's radar when he decided to run this cycle to end his more than three-decade hiatus," Stuart Rothenberg wrote in Roll Call.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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