Political Notebook: Redistricting Called Key Political Problem

Farmfest forum crowd

By Don Davis

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. — Everyone seems frustrated with congressional gridlock, and a couple of politicians at Farmfest think they know the problem: the every-10-year drawing of new U.S. House district boundaries.

The redistricting process, required to keep districts the same size, creates some “incredibly safe districts,” U.S. Rep. Tim Walz said. Those districts mean congressmen in them are pretty safe from a challenge from the other party, so there is no need for incumbents to compromise in Congress since they do not need support from the other party.

Districts should be drawn so they better represent the people, not putting like-minded voters in the same district, the southern Minnesota Democrat said.

“That is very central to the problem,” agreed Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president and former North Dakota agriculture commissioner.

Without specifically mentioning the party, Walz also criticized a small group of Republicans whose governing theory is “let’s blow the place up at all costs.”

Johnson, based in Washington, offered a way to help bridge the partisan divide.

Since Republicans tend to watch the conservative Fox News Channel for most of their news and Democrats pick liberal MSNBC, Johnson suggested that those in the two political extremes make an effort to watch the opposite news channel.

“Try to figure out how to connect those two world views,” he offered.

Otherwise, Johnson added, each side will only listen to its own views.

The public can help move Washington, Johnson said. “We have got to be a much more active citizenry.”

Boehner’s problem

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is the key to whether a farm bill will pass this year, or next year.

Several politicians told Farmfest audiences that Boehner has a rule that he will not bring up a bill unless he is sure his Republican House majority can pass it without Democratic votes.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he is pretty sure there never will be enough GOP votes to pass a farm bill after a compromise with senators, so the question is whether Boehner will break his own rule and bring up the bill and allow it to pass with mostly Democratic votes.

“That’s a problem for Boehner all over again,” said President Roger Johnson of the National Farmers Union, and a former North Dakota agriculture commissioner.

It is a problem because Boehner could be perceived as not being a strong enough leader to get his party to pass a bill. And the right-wing segment of his party already does not like many things the speaker has done.

The problem goes still deeper.

Farm bills generally are fairly easy to pass, prompting Peterson and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., to use the same phrase when looking ahead: “If we can’t pass a farm bill, what can we pass?”

The Franken Five

State Farm Bureau President Kevin Papp saved five acres of his corn crop to be harvested a few years ago until U.S. Sen. Al Franken could join him in the combine.

Papp said it was a good time for Franken, a city kid, to learn more about agriculture. Franken said he was worried.

The problem Franken feared is that since Papp held the crop that it was too late for it to be good quality. The first-term Democratic senator said he was afraid that Minnesotans for years would call whatever turned out bad “The Franken Five.”

He was relieved when the corn tested just fine.

Seifert signs

Former state Rep. Marty Seifert, whose district was near the Farmfest grounds, was not at the event as governor candidate, but the only campaign signs spotted along roads leading to the vent were for him.

“Draft Marty Seifert for governor,” proclaimed a pair of hand-painted signs. Seifert failed to win the party’s endorsement in 2010.

Republicans already have a crowded field of would-be Gov. Mark Dayton slayers, but Seifert apparently has yet to make up his mind.

Dayton two step

A television reporter was balancing her tripod while reaching down to pick up her camera bag during Farmfest when Gov. Mark Dayton reached down and picked up the bag to carry it to wherever he did his news availability after delivering the keynote speech.

A shocked reporter said she could handle it, but Dayton insisted.

No sooner had Dayton picked up the bag than his aide said the news media could set up right there. So after just two steps, the governor gave up his reporter-assistant duties.

But he launched into another job: He checked to make sure the vehicle he would stand beside was American made. It was, being a GMC.