Political noebook: Collin Peterson re-election decision pending

By Don Davis

Being a vital cog in passing a major U.S. House bill generally is an exhilarating experience.

But for U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, passing the farm bill may have been less excitement and more relief.

“Today, after nearly four years of work, the House is finally considering the 2014 Farm Bill conference report,” the western Minnesota Democrat said as debate opened on the bill Wednesday. “It’s been a challenging and, at times, frustrating process. …”

At the end of his speech, he provided another insight to what was going on in his mind as lawmakers began to consider a conference committee agreement that was the end work of the farm bill.

“This process has been going on far too long; I urge my colleagues to support the conference report,” he said.

In the past few years’ work to prepare the farm bill, which began with Peterson as Agriculture Committee chairman, Peterson at times has sounded frustrated not only with problems getting the farm bill finished, but with Congress in general.

Now Washington is watching him decide whether to run again.

Right after the House approved the farm bill, rather easily at that, reporters began asking him if he would seek re-election. He promised a decision by March.

“I have been in limbo here, in farm bill hell for three years and it affects you,” The Hill newspaper reported him saying.

News sources that cover federal politics such as The Hill and Roll Call have watched Peterson closely, not so much that they are concerned about the farm bill, but they are interested in which party controls the House next year. If western Minnesota goes Republican, it could cement the GOP’s hold on the House.

Peterson is a Democrat, although a conservative Democrat, in a Republican district that stretches from Canada south nearly to Iowa. The thinking is if Peterson decides that 24 years is enough to serve in the House that could leave the district in Republican hands.

State Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, is running in the western Minnesota district and has attracted GOP attention nationally as the strongest-yet challenge to Peterson’s reign.

Republicans appear confident that if Peterson steps aside that Westrom will have a reasonably clear path to victory in November.

If Peterson runs again, he no doubt will run on his work on the farm bill. He was one of four chief negotiators and if he campaigns again, western Minnesotans should expect to hear him talk about working with both political parties.

“The report before us today represents a compromise,” Peterson told his colleagues. “I know this is rare in Washington but it is what is needed to actually get things done. I didn’t get everything I wanted, the chairman didn’t get everything he wanted; but that’s how compromise works.”

Candidates OK with endorsement

Two of the four Republican U.S. Senate candidates say they will accept the decision of GOP convention delegates and not run in a primary election.

St. Louis County Commissioner Chis Dahlberg and state Sen. Julianne Ortman promised to abide by the state convention’s endorsement. Businessman Mike McFadden and state Rep. Jim Abeler have not made that promise.

McFadden might be able to use his own money to finance a primary election campaign, giving him an advantage over other candidates who must seek donations. It is not nearly as expensive to court convention delegates as it is to attract a wider range of primary voters.

“Trust is a two-way proposition,” Ortman said. “Therefore, I am announcing today that I will trust and abide by the Republican endorsement decision, and I will continue to work to gain the support and trust of Minnesota Republicans and Minnesota voters all across the state.”

Many Republican activists say they prefer a candidate who abides by the endorsement and such an announcement usually wins a few delegate votes.

“I was honored at age 18 to be elected as a delegate for the 1980 state convention, where I first saw the importance of Republicans uniting behind one strong candidate,” Dahlberg said. “I still see the importance of respecting that process, and that’s why I am pledging to abide by the party’s endorsement.”

Paying for wrong convictions

Two legislators say they want a law to pay people who were wrongly convicted of crimes.

Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, and Rep. John Lesch, D-Saint Paul, are behind a bill to compensate people who were cleared of crimes after they were convicted and imprisoned.

“While there is no amount of money that can give back the years spent behind bars as a result of a wrongful conviction, the state should at the very least offer some sort of compensation to help them get back on their feet,” Latz said.

Twenty-nine other states have such laws.

“We are fortunate to have one of the fairest justice systems in the world, but mistakes still can happen,” Lesch said.

Dayton sets tone

Mark Dayton’s first video of this campaign sets his gubernatorial re-election theme: “building a better Minnesota.”

The YouTube video shows pictures of a diverse population, with a voice in the background saying things like Dayton “improved the state with better decisions and less red tape:”

“For the first time in years, Minnesota is rising, stronger and better than before,” the video declares.

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