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Capitol Chatter: Candidates agree to talk before introducing rules

Rural Republicans, including many here in the Minnesota House, say Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has waged a "war on agriculture" because of regulations he has promoted on farmers. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—Major Minnesota governor candidates agree they would handle making regulations different than Gov. Mark Dayton.

Mainly, they say, they would talk to those affected early in the process.

Dayton has got into hot water, especially with farmers, by making proposals before vetting them with those affected. Rural Republicans in the past couple of years often accused Dayton of waging a "war on agriculture."

The most notable time was when he announced at a pheasant summit that he wanted to require a grass buffer strip between cropland and water to keep out pollution. That took most farmers by surprise, even though an existing law already required buffers.

Dayton also announced a ban on fall use of nitrogen fertilizer in parts of the state, and his Department of Transportation opted to add regulations to the long-established practice of allowing farmers to mow grass in road ditches so they can feed it to livestock.

"I would give them a seat at the table and listen to them," Attorney General Lori Swanson said, and only after that write rules.

The Democrat said that people who would be affected by a regulation always should be consulted.

"Government can't be robotic," Swanson said. "The truth is, not every situation is the same."

Former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, running again, said farmers are right in saying they have not been included in the process.

Also, Pawlenty and some other candidates said farmers should be paid if they are forced to take land out of production. "If you are going to ask farmers to set aside land ... they should be fully compensated for that," said Pawlenty.

Democratic candidate Erin Murphy said if elected she will establish eight regional offices, which would keep her in touch with people around the state.

Communication needs to improve, she said, and a governor should "not just to go out and make an announcement and come home."

Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz said his plan would be to have a good relationship with people affected, "building their coalition on the front end."

The congressman, the only candidate who lives in greater Minnesota, said he expects a good relationship with farmers. "What is different about me is they have worked with me on farm bills."

Jeff Johnson, a Republican, said the question about regulations is related to one of his prime topics. "The biggest difference is going to be the attitude of our state agencies."

Johnson said he would make sure state workers know they work for the public and should not put up roadblocks. "It is more about the attitude: Are you actually including the people who will be affected?"

Dayton says his administration held meetings with farmers on the issues before final rules were written, and even agreed to buffer law changes to please farmers.

Pawlenty, Johnson feisty

The first public Pawlenty-Johnson debate was lively, with the Republican governor candidates even going after each other personally.

"Jeff Johnson is a poser," Pawlenty said early on, setting the confrontational tone. "He pretends that he's for all these things and that he's going to get all these things done, but he's been in politics most of his adult life, and he's done none of them."

Pawlenty said Johnson was "taking up space in the Minnesota Legislature and then on the Hennepin County board. ... If you want to be a leader, you have to accomplish something."

In the Minnesota Public Radio debate Friday, Aug. 3, Johnson responded by saying he would not call the former two-term governor names.

However, he said, GOP voters are not very interested in Pawlenty. "It's because there's disappointment in your governorship."

Johnson said Pawlenty's first television commercial, which hammered Johnson, "is the most dishonest ad I have seen in politics."

The two agreed or nearly agreed on many issues in the 45-minute radio appearance. However, they did differ on guns.

Johnson's position on guns was short and simple: He would not be open to any changes in gun laws.

Pawlenty, however, said he would like to make bump stocks illegal; they can turn a rifle into something akin to a machine gun. He also would favor keeping guns from mentally ill people who may be dangerous if they have access to guns.

No sign of the times

It is illegal to place political signs on the highway right of way.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has issued its regular reminder that the signs cannot be placed on state, county, city or township right of way.

Department crews are required to remove the signs. Campaigns could be fined.

State law also "prohibits placing advertising materials on public utility poles, trees and shrubs, and painting or drawing on rocks or natural features," MnDOT reports.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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