By Jim Spencer
Nero fiddled as Rome burned. Tuesday night, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson struck a few hot licks on his electric guitar ahead of a potential government shutdown.
The longtime Congressman from the rural Seventh District wasn’t ignoring trouble. He was celebrating the unveiling of his portrait in the House Agriculture Committee hearing room, where he wielded the gavel as chairman from 2007 until this year, when Republicans took control of the House.
Indeed, if Peterson’s portrait party was anything, it was a celebration of bipartisanship missing almost everywhere else these days on Capitol Hill.
The crowd that packed into the hearing room to see the painting by Minnesota artist Leslie Bowman included half of Minnesota’s Congressional delegation – Democrats Peterson, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz and Republican representatives John Kline and Chip Cravaack, as well as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and a parade of politicians from both sides of the aisle, all of them ready to say something nice about Peterson.
Here stood John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House locked in mortal combat with Democrats over the federal budget, praising Peterson, and, of course, weeping over Peterson’s devotion to family as Peterson’s kids and grandkids looked on.
Here stood former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recalling the “heartland values” Peterson brought to the security committee on which the two served. Then, doing her best version of a Minnesota accent, Pelosi fondly recalled eating a pork chop on a stick while touring Minnesota with Peterson.
Finally, it was time to rock and roll with The Second Amendments, Peterson’s band. In the spirit of collegiality, the players included the cowboy-booted, neatly coiffed Peterson, a blue dog Democrat, on guitar and vocals, conservative Michigan Republican Rep. Thad McCotter on guitar, Tennessee freshman Republican Rep. Steve Fincher on bass and former Missouri Republican Rep. Kenny Hulshof on drums and vocals.
The set list included everything from Del Shannon to the Eagles as House Minority whip Steny Hoyer, among others, swayed to the tunes.
But it was hard to escape politics or the farm bills hammered out in the committee room in the shadow of the Capitol. As the band wrapped up a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” Hulshof asked Peterson, “Brown sugar, does that get a government subsidy?”