Bills, Klobuchar debate at Farmfest
Minnesota's endorsed Republican U.S. Senate candidate says American farmers should be left alone, with less federal support, much like oil producers in western North Dakota.
"My goal is to become North Dakota, not Washington, D.C.," Kurt Bills said Wednesday, referring to that state's oil boom that he said occurred with little government assistance.
The woman whose job he is trying to take away, however, said the oil industry receives federal aid and it is not fair to cut renewable fuels aid unless that, too, is cut.
Bills, a Rosemount resident and Rosemount High School teacher, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat seeking her second term, appeared with Glen Menze of the Independence Party during Farmfest, an agriculture trade show near Redwood Falls.
The Senate candidates used their first joint appearance to show stark differences in how they would handle farm policy and their approaches to government in general.
While Bills painted a picture of a dramatically reduced federal presence, Klobuchar said she strongly supports a Senate-passed farm bill that trims overall federal ag spending.
The candidates spoke in front of a half-full tent, one of the smallest political forums in recent Farmfest history. The candidates received a smattering of applause from the mostly farmer audience.
The Farmfest event was the first time Bills has appeared with Klobuchar, although he has called for a series of debates. Klobuchar said her campaign is working to schedule more, but would not say how many debates she wants.
All three candidates said crop insurance, which pays for crop losses, should be in any federal farm policy.
Since the Senate-passed farm bill (the House has not passed a new version) eliminates some payments to farmers, Klobuchar said crop insurance is more important.
"We cannot afford to go down in crop insurance any more," she said.
While Bills said he wants the insurance, too, he wants it more specific. "We need to be there for the small farmer and the ones who need help."
Bills said he trusts farmers and "we need to put more faith in them" with the federal government reducing its involvement.
Menze said a drought that has affected much of the farm belt proves "we simply cannot get rid of those types of programs."
Bills and Klobuchar, who both face what are thought to be token opponents in Tuesday's primary election, dramatically differed on the federal role in renewable fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel -- blends of petroleum-based fuels and plant oil.
Klobuchar said she is a big supporter of renewable fuels since they now make up 10 percent of the country's fuel supply.
"We have seen a decline in our dependence on foreign oil," she said.
As long as the federal government subsidizes oil companies, she said, renewable fuels also need government aid.
"I go the opposite direction," Bills said, calling for the elimination of all federal renewable fuel help.
The GOP candidate said the federal government helped to start the renewable fuels industry. "It is jump-started and I think it is time to phase it out."
Klobuchar told the audience that she visited western North Dakota's oil patch with U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and was impressed by what she saw there. But, she added, oil companies that are drilling there have federal help.
Bills said that free markets should govern agriculture, adding that is what he long has taught his high school economic students.
"Get rid of every last stinkin' subsidy," Bills said, and productivity will rise.
Klobuchar called rural America a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy economy. And part of that, she said, is because federal farm policy has been consistent.
"People know how to invest when they know what the policy is going to be," she said.
Menze, who has lost the last three elections to U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, told farmers they should support him because with his rural Starbuck farm, he is one of them.