U.S. Sen. Al Franken and four candidates seeking his job laid out ideas for helping Minnesota farmers Wednesday during the annual FarmFest trade show in Redwood Falls, addressing proposals that would require labeling on genetically modified foods and overcome a railcar shortage that has strained agriculture interests.
The panel was the Democratic incumbent's only appearance with his challengers before GOP voters pick his fall opponent in next Tuesday's primary. Republican candidates Mike McFadden, Jim Abeler and David Carlson participated, as did Independence Party candidate Kevin Terrell.
The candidates found some common ground, agreeing that policies to requiring labeling genetically modified organisms in food should be made at the national level to avoid a patchwork of different state regulations. They all said they support renewable fuel standards, which set quotas for production of ethanol and other biofuels.
But while his fellow Republicans concluded the forum by asking for support in the primary, McFadden — the party's endorsed candidate and favorite heading into the GOP primary — focused on setting himself up to take on Franken in November.
McFadden repeatedly hammered Franken on energy issues McFadden said have harmed farmers. He tied the Minnesota Democrat to a years-long holdup in approving the Keystone XL pipeline, proposed to carry oil and other natural resources from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. Lack of pipeline capacity, McFadden said, has pushed more oil to railroads, causing a railcar shortage that has frustrated farmers trying to move crops for months.
"You caused this with your energy policy," McFadden said to Franken. "Senator Franken has only supported renewables."
Franken did not engage McFadden, instead highlighting his work in the Senate in the last five years. He pointed to his support of the farm bill Congress passed earlier this year, a bill "that you all said you needed," he told the crowd. Franken said he supports a "diverse energy portfolio" and called for an extension to a tax credit for wind energy production. His four challengers agreed.
The agriculture-focused forum also waded into issues like climate change and immigration reform, which the candidates agreed needed action but differed on execution.
Seeing dim chances in the U.S. House of a path to citizenship for children brought to the United States illegally, Terrell suggested offering green cards to those kids as a compromise. Carlson said Congress should pass a bill immediately to secure the nation's border with Mexico.
Abeler said the whole nation first needs to make up its mind about what action Congress should take.
"We don't know what we think as a country. As a country, we have to get to a consensus," he said.