Update: Will Collin have a competitor?
By Scott Wente
St. Paul Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL - Glen Menze says U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson has sold himself as fiscally conservative to his western Minnesota constituents, but his record in Congress does not reflect that.
Menze, a Starbuck accountant and former farmer, announced Tuesday he will try to knock off Peterson in the November election. Menze said he will challenge the Detroit Lakes Democrat on fiscal issues and his positions on federal farm policy. It is Menze's second run for Congress.
"I'm a conservative," the Republican said, "and Collin runs as a conservative but the truth is that he's not."
The announcement comes just days before 7th Congressional District Republicans gather Saturday in Moorhead to decide whether to endorse a candidate to oppose Peterson. Party officials say there could be other candidates seeking the endorsement.
Peterson was tapped to lead the House Agriculture Committee when Democrats took control of Congress last year. The chairmanship was considered a plum assignment for Peterson as Congress started writing a new farm bill in last year - a process that continues this week.
That farm bill debate has exposed Peterson as something other than a fiscal conservative, Menze said, because the congressman has voted for tax increases and opposed efforts to tighten agriculture subsidy payments. Limiting federal farm payments to wealthy Americans would mean less need for taxpayer dollars, or the ability to direct those funds to help new and young farmers, Menze said.
"It's a lack of leadership, and this was touted as the thing that was really going to help farmers" in Minnesota, Menze said.
Peterson has said some farmer payment reforms are needed, but major changes could jeopardize support for new agriculture policy. His approach toward writing a new farm bill was praised by Democrats and Republicans alike, though final negotiations sputtered for months.
The sprawling 7th District extends from the Canadian border to south of Marshall in southwestern Minnesota.
Peterson did not immediately return messages for comment on the race. He is expected to be endorsed for his 10th term in Congress at a May 17 Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party district convention.
Menze is no stranger to a congressional race. He ran against Peterson in 2000, losing by nearly 40 percentage points. Since he was elected to Congress in 1990, Peterson has won nearly all of his reelection contests with more than 65 percent of the vote.
"Regardless of who does run against him, it's an uphill battle," Erik Haapala, 7th District GOP chairman, said of beating Peterson.
"To successfully run against him," Haapala added, "you would have to have a good Republican candidate that could articulate the Republican message and also explain that while Collin does a good job of talking (Republican) issues, when it comes right down to it he's caucusing with Nancy Pelosi and some of the more left-wing members of the Democratic Party."
Menze may not be alone in seeking the GOP endorsement this weekend. Haapala said there could be at least one other candidate, but he refused to identify that person other than to say it is not a current elected officeholder.
"I can tell you if this other person would run, I think we would have a chance to put up a good challenge to Peterson," Haapala said.
Also, news reports earlier this year indicated Alan Roebke of Chaska intended to run as a Republican in the 7th District. However, GOP officials point out that Roebke was once convicted of fraud, may not live in the district and has not contacted key Republicans ahead of the convention.
Roebke's photo appears on a Web site for Independence Party candidates, but party Chairman Craig Swaggert said Tuesday he did not know how Roebke's name and photo got on the site.