Back in December, Bluestem wrote that in Representation Rod Hamilton to defend rural Minnesota against his own worst fears, that you were positioning yourself as the Republican lead to warn rural Minnesotans about how much Democrats in Minneapolis hate us, especially those who are tillers of the soil and the keepers of livestock.
This frame was something we recognised from past years when former Marshall-area state representative Marty Siefert, and Steve Sviggum before him, led the Republican caucus in the house, although in those days, those dirty hipsters mostly just didn't share rural social values as the caucus defined them.
It wasn't so much about agriculture during their tenure--and that would have been a hard one for Kurt Zellers to pull off from Hennepin County. Those appeals to those social values didn't pan out so well in November, however, so on to the Old McDonald defenders riffs it is.
Since the first day of this session, Bluestem's been sad to see you more than live up to our expectations, as you go on and on (and on and on) about agriculture committee structure and leadership. You've gone on the floor of the House, in letters-to-the-editor of rural papers serving swing districts where Democrats were elected, and in your own column.
Bluestem would like to draw your attention to a couple of passages in the final item, Could rural Minnesota be this session's biggest loser? which was published in the Worthington Globe.
Let's start with this one:
Most Minneapolis lawmakers spend their careers thinking the only important activities happen within the metro area, and telling folks in Greater Minnesota how to live.
Forgive us if we find that a little hard to believe. The last time Bluestem's editor saw Rep. Jean Wagenius, whom others in your caucus (Rep. Drazkowski comes to mind) call an "environmental extremist," she was at the Minnesota Farmers Union convention just before Thanksgiving, taking time to listen to farmers. While exceedingly civil in the tradition of the organization, those farmers weren't shy about sharing their concerns.
I can't say I heard her tell anyone how to live.
Help for Beginning Farmers: You Know You Want To
Nor does that seem to be the preoccuption of Speaker Thissen, unless you consider some of the past legislation he's introduced as telling us how to live. I suppose that we could see HF 3290 from the 86th session that way.
That's an bill in which there are:
Income tax credits provided to encourage beginning farmers, beginning farmer program administered by the Rural Finance Authority modified, and money appropriated for beginning farmer individual development accounts.
Pretty rough stuff by a guy from the mean streets of Minneapolis telling people in Greater Minnesota how to live, I thought, until I read the bill and thought it sounded familiar.
It's pretty much identical to HF0860, a bill which you introduced in the 87th session, in which "Beginning farmer program tax credits provided." My former state Representative, Ron Shimansky, was a co-sponsor, as were DFLers Terry Morrow and Kent Eken.
That the sponsorship passed from Thissen to you with the change in control of the House isn't surprising. What is disappointing is that the Legislature hasn't passed the bill. Bluestem can't think of any group of farmers organized in Greater Minnesota--from the Land Stewardship Project to the Farm Bureau--that doesn't want programs to help beginning farmers.
It's even more apparent that the state should be working on this, given the unfortunate fact of Congressional ag leaders--and funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program--being left out of the fiscal cliff deal.
Getting together with Speaker Thissen and Representative Eken and re-introducing this legislation--then getting it passed through both ag policy and the environmental, natural resources and agriculture finance committee--might be a better use of your time than drafting divisive, urban-bashing columns.
Where the Ethanol Dollars Flow
You also write:
Had I continued to serve as chair of the now eliminated House Agriculture and Rural Economies Finance Committee, I planned to use the majority of these funds (Agri Fund) for rural development and ag literacy and education programs — things like 4-H, FFA, and Farm America. Now they appear to be gone in favor of economic development programs which may or may not assist rural Minnesota.
Really? That's a foregone conclusion? You so lack ability as a legislator that you can't make the case for 4-H and FFA? Or other types of rural development that helps the whole state? We're willing to bet that you can, if you spend less time submitting letters newspapers in swing districts and grandstanding in front of the cameras in the House chamber. Or writing inflamatory sentences like:
Minnesota cannot survive without our farmers and agriculture, so why is the House majority attempting to demonize the men and women who put food on everyone’s table?
The Ag Policy Chair Responds
Jeanne Poppe, chair of the ag policy committee, responded to your column with a letter of her own in the Globe, Hamilton shouldn't 'fan political flames':
. . . I was disappointed to read my colleague Rep. Rod Hamilton’s letter in this newspaper attacking specific DFL legislators over the issue of how the agriculture committees are structured and accusing DFLers of not representing our rural districts. The session is barely a week old, yet Rep. Hamilton would rather fan political flames than join together in working productively on important agriculture issues.
Traditionally, we have successfully advanced agriculture issues in the Legislature in a bipartisan fashion. For example, in 2011, the agriculture budget was the only finance bill we passed with broad bipartisan support before the state shutdown. Rep. Hamilton’s negative tone is not the right approach. As Chair of the Agriculture Policy Committee, I believe that we will present a stronger voice for rural Minnesota by working together as both Democrats and Republicans.
Challenging the advocacy skills or commitment of rural members just because they are DFLers and now are the majority caucus of the Minnesota House is not helpful in getting to the outcome we all desire.
Poppe's concerns are echoed by Wagenius's vice chair, Andrew Falk, in an article in today's Sauk Centre Herald. Now, Bluestem not only knows young Falk, but his father, Murdock-area farmer Jim Falk, so it's hard to imagine any of the Falks not standing up for farmers and rural Minnesota, much less engaging in "demonizing" farmers.
Vice Chair Andrew Falk in Sauk Centre's Paper
In Agriculture committee issue draws concern from Republicans, staff writer Randy Olson reports:
Representative Andrew Falk (DFL-Murdock) is the vice-chair of the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance committee. He has been an active farmer his whole life, and has served in the legislature since 2008.
"I really believe that Rep. Hamilton is trying to make hay with this simply because he's upset about no longer being chair of the Ag Finance committee," Falk stated.
Falk stressed two important points on the matter.
"First, Dennis Ozment, who retired in 2008, was chair of the former House Ag, Environment and Natural Resources committee in the 2005 and 2006 sessions. While I haven't served with him, I've since gotten to know him and think highly of him," Falk said. "This structure was not an issue while Republicans were in charge. This seems like petty partisanship to me.
From 2007 to 2010, agriculture finance was a part of the House Agriculture and Veterans Affairs Finance committee. Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar) chaired that committee before he lost re-election in 2010.
Ozment, a fire captain, represented Rosemount and Dakota County, which, although part of the metro area, still includes farms, and parts of Goodhue and Washington Counties. The committee also had the same name for a stretch in the 1990s, when it was chaired by former St. Paul representative C.Thomas Osthoff.
Indeed, Osthoff chaired the committee at height of the "Hog Wars" in Renville County. While some tried to frame the controversy as simply city folks moving out to the country without anticipating the smell of manure, if we're honest about the fight, we'll recall that the citizens of Renville County ended up electing DFLer Gary Kubly in that fight, certainly no ally of "Big Pig" but no enemy of farmers, either.
And the Sauk Centre Herald article goes on, with Farmer and Representative Falk adding that he'd like to talk to you and Rep. Wagenius, who holds some farmland of her own, about your concerns:
"My point is that throughout the years, agriculture has been included with other committee focuses," Falk said. "I know Rep. Wagenius. She has a farm in Douglas County with 50 acres. Between the work of her and myself as vice-chair, we won't let agriculture be diminished."
And Falk's quite willing to work with you on preserving that funding from ethanol payments for rural projects:
When asked about Hamilton's concern about agriculture funding, Falk replied, "If he knows of specific bills being introduced that take funding away from ag and put it to other areas, I'd like to know about them. In terms of something like the expiring ethanol producer payments, I'd like to focus on gearing that funding towards next-generation renewable energy. I don't want us to get into these rural vs. metro fights, especially in the opening week of the session."
Bluestem looked up the funding you're concerned about, Representative Hamilton, and it looked like the enabling legislation funds rural development projects through five years.
Write More Pro-Rural Legislation, Fewer Partisan Letters
If someone drops a bill in the hopper proposing to change that, take Vice-Chair Falk up on that. You and the Caucus might have to forego setting up your 2014 campaign rhetoric to do this, but maybe really working for rural Minnesota, rather than a return to power on the part of your caucus, is more important--especially given the demographic loss of power for all of rural America, regardless of party.
You haven't introduced any bills yet, as far as your page and the revisor's office reveal. Those proposals for ag youth education from last session? The ones you didn't have a co-sponsor for? They're good ideas.
Maybe you should talk to the chair and the vice-chair of the committee whose structure and leadership you scorn and see if they'll co-sponsor them. Of course, FFA and 4-H don't have to be just rural organizations; indeed, engaging urban kids in agriculture education is the bee's knees, if you ask us.
But Bluestem might not be the ones to help you out with that, Representative Hamilton. Reach across the aisle and chambers to check out freshman Senator Foung Hawj, from St. Paul's East Side. He's on the right committees and prior to getting elected, he received an award from the USDA for efforts related to urban agriculture. You might have some common ground.
In short, write fewer letters and more legislation for farmers.
P.S. Speaking of common ground, Representative Hamilton: please quit framing urban and rural as environmentalist versus farmer. We've been going to watershed meetings and listening to farmers talk about erosion and water quality. We're pretty sure we heard farmers in the Le Sueur River Watershed say that they'd rather see the soil staying on their creeksides than becoming sediment choking Lake Pepin. Dividing people upstream and down doesn't help anybody.
Graphic: A Rod Hamilton meme.
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