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Challengers in the 7th Congressional District listen to incumbent U.S. Rep. Colllin Peterson during a Tuesday FarmFest forum. From left are Peterson, Lee Byberg, Alan Roebke and Glen Menze. Photo by Don Davis, Forum Communications.

Peterson opponent: U.S. on collision with bankruptcy

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By Don Davis

State Capitol Bureau

MORGAN, Minn. -- The two major candidates to represent western Minnesota in the U.S. House show relatively few differences on farm policy, but the challenger says U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson is part of the congressional leadership that is tilting politically left.

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Republican Lee Byberg said Peterson endorses President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a time when Americans are tired of liberal politics.

"We are on a collision course with bankruptcy," Byberg said. "We have never been this close to the disaster this country is facing."

That anti-establishment attitude is what Byberg expects to push him into contention after Republicans have barely challenged Peterson in the past.

But Peterson painted himself as the portrait of fiscal conservatism.

The House Agriculture Committee he leads hit its budget target, the only committee to do so. He said if all other committees had followed his lead, the country's debt would be trillions of dollars less in the next decade.

"There should be no new spending" until the budget is fixed, Peterson said.

"I guarantee you that there isn't any program that can't be reduced," he added.

If he had his way, the Environmental Protection Agency, often hated by farmers, would be one cut.

"There is no question the EPA is out of control," Peterson said. "I am trying to figure out if there is any way we could cut their budget in half."

Byberg blamed a Peterson vote for cap and trade as one of the reasons the EPA is a problem. Cap and trade, sold as way to reduce fossil fuel use, would give the EPA too much power, Byberg said.

The 7th Congressional District discussion came as part of a FarmFest candidate forum on the first day of the annual ag show in southwestern Minnesota.

Forums continue Wednesday, with leading governor candidates, and Thursday, when experts will advise the next governor what should be done to help agriculture in the state. Also Thursday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty will deliver his final FarmFest speech.

Alan Roebke, who is challenging Byberg for the GOP nomination, and former Republican Glen Menze, running as an independent, also were on the FarmFest stage.

Roebke called for Congress to require all gasoline sold in the U.S. to contain 10 percent corn-based ethanol, a requirement that Minnesota pioneered. He also said that his priority is: "We have to have a strong loan program. That is what I am all about."

Menze was critical of Peterson, saying that every time he has run against Peterson the two appear to be on the same page. But, Menze said, when Peterson returns to Washington he tends to vote with liberals.

Byberg, endorsed by 7th Congressional District Republicans, said one unaddressed farm issue is the estate tax, which often prevents sons and daughters from taking over farms. Laws are needed "to make sure the next generation has the means to take over the farm moving forward."

He also said he fears that Washington is doing too much regulation, much like he sees in Western Europe, where farmers cannot decide how to farm for themselves "because of excessive regulation."

The hottest debate at FarmFest, as hot as the mid-90s weather, was between Tim Walz and Randy Demmer, seeking to represent the southern part of Minnesota.

The Walz-Demmer divide began on their first question and continued well after the forum ended.

A "cap and trade" policy in front of Congress is a good start to an energy policy, said Walz, the Democratic U.S. House incumbent. But, challenger Demmer said, it is nothing more than an energy tax.

Two Republican incumbents did not attend the forum: U.S. Reps. John Kline and Michele Bachmann.

One of Kline's opponents, Shelley Madore, said she grew up on a farm and would press ag issues while Kline does not.

State Sen. Tarryl Clark, running against Bachmann, was critical of the incumbent for voting against the farm bill that determines federal ag policy. She said her state Senate district, around St. Cloud, includes a lot of farms and she understand the situation.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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