By Don Davis
Rod Grams, wearing a blue plaid shirt and blue jeans, stepped onto a shiny new tractor to make his entrance into the 2000 Minnesota Republican state convention.
It was one of the most memorable entrances at a state political convention.
Grams’ ride lasted just 26 seconds, but it spoke volumes about the man, especially his ability to stay connected to his farm roots despite eight years in Washington and his love of tractors — although he preferred to work on old ones instead of the new one upon which he hitched his ride.
Minnesotans likely will remember such things about the former television anchorman, U.S. representative and U.S. senator who died of cancer Tuesday at 65.
He remained humble and sensitive to others to the end.
An example of the kind of man Grams was comes from a political reporter who called the former senator a couple of months ago to get his take on next year’s U.S. Senate race.
Grams answered the reporter’s questions, and only after that topic was fully vetted did he mention that he was in the final stages of his life. To Grams, it was more important to respond to the reporter than turn the spotlight on himself.
In a partisan, divisive political world, people of all stripes ignored those barriers and expressed sadness upon hearing of his death.
“Sen. Grams exemplifies how in Minnesota, people from humble beginnings can step up, get involved in politics and make a difference,” Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said. “He will be remembered for his years of service to our state.”
A man who worked for Grams, state Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said Minnesotans should learn from “his example of leadership and work to improve the state and country we love. …”
Minnesota congressmen of both parties honored Grams on the U.S. House floor.
“Rod lived life to the fullest and successfully navigated the real world, which shaped his views before serving Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District and then the entire state of Minnesota in the U.S. Senate,” U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., said.
Liberal U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., added: “I always found Rod Grams to be a kind and engaging man who cared deeply about Minnesota. The public service provided by Sen. Rod Grams is to be honored and respected. He was a conservative who cared about Minnesota and its people.”
Republicans delight in fueling rumors that U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson is retiring.
The western Minnesota Democrat has done little to deflect that talk in Forum News Service interviews, but after serving in Congress since 1991, he says he will not make up his mind about running for a new term until next year.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is a main promoter of the retirement talk.
“Rumors about Collin Peterson’s 2014 prospects continue to circulate and his latest disastrous fundraising quarter just adds more fuel to the fire,” the GOP committee recently wrote.
Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, reported that Peterson, “who spent $1.5 million for his 2012 re-election, has reported another quarter of low fundraising receipts for the 2014, and is far below his usual war chest balance at this time of the election cycle.”
The $82,852 he raised in the third quarter of this year left him with $227,388 in the bank.
Peterson tends not to be a big fund raiser, other than the years when he was House Agriculture Committee chairman and Democratic leaders encouraged him to put more effort into that.
The author of a University of Minnesota’s political blog, Eric Ostermeier, says Roll Call is wrong in calling Peterson’s campaign bank account small. “Peterson’s off-year fundraising tally is actually up in 2013 compared to his average hauls over the last decade.”
Peterson, who will be 70 next year, raised more money this year than in most other non-election years, Ostermeier reported.
“Peterson’s 2013 tally is actually up 13.4 percent from his average tally over the last decade at this stage of the campaign…” the nonpartisan Ostermeier said.
The congressman’s 7th Congressional District is heavily Republican and the GOP would have a good chance of winning it if the moderate Peterson does retire.
Off school, on farm
The Minnesota Agriculture Department has an idea for what the state’s school children can do when they have a few days off for the annual teachers’ union conference.
“Visiting a farm is a great way to experience fall in Minnesota and there are activities for all ages,” said Jessica Miles of the Minnesota Grown Program. “A trip to the farm is often just the beginning of the fun.”
A Minnesota Grown directory at www.minnesotagrown.com can point people to hundreds of farms that welcome visitors.
More than 100 apple orchards, 140 pumpkin patches and 22 corn mazes are among the places kids and parents can visit.
A conservative Minnesota organization launched a Website to collect information about problems stemming from new federal health care laws.
Minnesota Majority set up MyHealthcareStory.com, asking for stories about issues people find with the so-called Obamacare.
“Providing a voice to the victims of Obamacare” is how Minnesota Majority describes the site. It can be used by Americans in any state.
First Dayton endorsement
The union that could benefit from Gov. Mark Dayton’s efforts to allow it to organize some child care providers gave him his first major endorsement for next year’s election.
AFSCME Minnesota Council 5, the state’s largest public employee union, gave Dayton its 2014 backing.
“Four years ago, AFSCME Council 5 was first to endorse Mark Dayton because we knew he could make Minnesota work again,” Executive Director Eliot Seide said. “With Gov. Dayton’s strong leadership, Minnesota has regained every job lost during the recession. We put fairness back in our tax system and ended a decade of deficits and state shutdowns.”
AFSCME is trying to organize childcare workers, but faces federal court hurdles first.
‘Bad’ tax news
The director of Minnesota’s largest small-business group says a new national ranking proves Democratic tax increases are bad news.
The state ranked 47th in a national survey of tax climates, down a bit from before Democrats passed tax increases earlier this year.
“We are clearly moving in the wrong direction,” said State Director Mike Hickey of the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “Minnesota went from bad to worse in this survey and I can guarantee that business investors all over the country are taking notice.”
The Tax Foundation survey cited those tax hikes as the reason for the new ranking.
“We are very quickly developing a very bad national reputation and that is very dangerous,” Hickey said.