Redwood Falls, Minn. -- Republican gubernatorial hopefuls appearing in an agricultural forum at the annual FarmFest trade show said they would be advocates for farmers by promoting international trade of Minnesota crops and livestock, improving infrastructure to move goods and easing environmental regulations they said harm farmers.
With a week left before the August primary, the candidates are trying to woo farmers attending the three-day event in southwestern Minnesota.
In the hour-long forum, candidates offered their positions on topics that included positions the labeling of genetically-modified foods, distribution of state dollars to rural counties and funding of agriculture education programs.
Participating Tuesday were Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, former House Speaker Kurt Zellers and business executive Scott Honour who is running for elected office for the first time.
Notably absent Tuesday was DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who declined to participate in the forum. Dayton is expected to attend FarmFest Thursday, but that didn't stop the Republican candidates from denouncing his absence from the gubernatorial forum.
"This is one of the biggest and best agricultural outlets in the states," Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said. "He should be here with you today."
In an emailed statement, the Dayton campaign said that the governor would partake in six debates beginning after Labor Day once a GOP nominee is determined.
"Six debates are near the top of the usual range for a Minnesota statewide election and more than in virtually every other state," said Dayton's campaign manager Katharine Tinucci in the statement. "We believe they will provide Minnesotans with good opportunities to hear and compare the candidates’ views.
Tuesday's forum was well-attended and some of the candidates touted their rural roots in an effort to woo farmers.
Seifert, who grew up in nearby Marshall, appeared to have home-court advantage eliciting the most applause from the crowd.
"I’ve stayed my entire life here," he said. "I’m not going anywhere. If I go to St. Paul, I’d be visiting there not living there."
There was little disagreement between the candidates in the question-and-answer forum. On the labeling of genetically-modified foods, they said that it's important to have a blanket policy rather than a state-by-state patchwork of laws. That approach, they said, would make it costly for Minnesota food companies such as Cargill Inc. Hormel Foods Corp.
The candidates pledged to promote the state's agricultural industry abroad. Zellers pointed to growing demand in China, a country with a burgeoning middle-class but a lack of arable land. The candidates also said they would invest in the state's roads and bridges to help facilitate the movement of the state's agricultural products.
Greg Bartz, a 60-year-old corn and soybean farmer from Sleepy Eye, a town 30 miles southeast of here, came to the trade show specifically to attend the forum. Who the governor appoints as agency heads is important, he said, because farmers have to abide by state rules in the day-to-day operations of their business.
He thought the Republican candidates did well in Tuesday's forum but he singled out Seifert for his performance.
"He seemed to be the most knowledgeable and more connected to the issue," he said.
He declined to say who he plans to vote for next Tuesday, but said the forum cemented his views on the GOP candidates. "I've been following the race and I think the forum probably reinforced my thoughts that they are similar."
The head of the one of the most powerful Democratic groups in Minnesota will move to one of the most powerful unions in the state.
Carrie Lucking, who has been executive director of the Alliance for a Better Minnesota since 2011, will become Education Minnesota's director of policy, research and outreach.
"I absolutely loved it here and it was a really difficult decision to go," Lucking, a former teacher, said.
But both the Alliance and Education Minnesota have been heavily involved in politics -- and each other. Education Minnesota spent nearly $5 million on political causes since 2008.
The Alliance, which has spent more than $10 million since 2007, has supported Democrats in their election quests. The Alliances' funders received much of their money from Education Minnesota and other unions, the Democratic Governor's Association and Alida Messinger, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's ex-wife.
Since 2010 Education Minnesota has given at least $660,000 to Alliance's funders and Messinger has donated more than $2 million.
But Lucking said her new job, which will start in September, will not be directly involved in politics and political spending.
"I’ve been living and dying by the election cycling for ten years," she said. "It turns out that’s a long time."
Lucking said the Alliance will be bringing on an extra set of hands to help out during the election and naming a new interim director soon.
Lucking is married to Bob Hume, Gov. Mark Dayton's communications chief.
She said getting distance between their two jobs -- hers at the Alliance in independent political spending -- and his working for a governor the Alliance supports was not one of her considerations in taking the new job.
At home, the couple, who had their first child this year, largely talks about the things all new parents discuss, she said -- food, the baby's inputs and outputs and other domestic affairs.
Updated with contributions from Glenn Howatt
Following a pattern Gov. Mark Dayton set when he was first running, candidates who wish to unseat the DFLer are releasing their tax returns to the public.
After Dayton released his more recent tax information last week, both Republican Jeff Johnson and Independence Party's Hannah Nicollet released theirs voluntarily.
Minnesota requires candidates for office to disclose very little about their personal finances. The now-traditional tax return release allows Minnesotans to delve a little more deeply into their income and tax information.
According to Johnson and Nicollet's release, both earned less than Dayton, paid less in taxes but gave a greater percentage of their incomes to charity.
Republican-endorsed candidate Johnson and his wife earned $221,458 last year; paid about $40,000 in state and local taxes and gave away $16,390 to charity.
Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Hannah Nicollet and her husband brought in about $68,000 in both 2013 and 2012. They gave charities about $9,500 last year and $15,500 the year before.
Other candidates' tax information is not expected to be immediately forthcoming.
Republican Scott Honour's campaign said he would release his tax information eventually. Republican Kurt Zellers' campaign said he would release his but not until after the August 12 primary, because that contest will take the campaign and candidate's energy.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert last year and this one said he would not release his taxes because he said that information is no one's business.
Here's Johnson's release:
And here's Nicollet's:
This post has corrected the spelling of Nicollet's last name.
By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glenn Howatt
Outside groups -- unions, Democratic and Republican supporters and PACs set up just to support a single candidate -- have raised at least $15 million since the 2012 election.
Those outside groups, which had been slowly raising cash in preparation for the 2014 elections, began piling on money in earnest this summer. Since June 1, the largest independent spending groups raised more than $2.6 million, according to reports released Tuesday.
As with previous election cycles, union organizations are gearing up with big cash. Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers union, led in fundraising among outside groups with $1.8 million already raised. All told, union affiliated PACs have raised more than $4.6 million to train on the 2014 election.
Much of that cash will benefit Democratic candidates and the Democratic Alliance for a Better Minnesota, which, with its supporters, has already brought in more than $1.8 million.
Republicans-leaning outside groups have already raised $2.6 million. The largest among them, the Freedom Club, launched a major television ad campaign against Dayton in July.
See a breakdown of the fundraising by some of the major outside groups below:
By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glenn Howatt
Facing an August primary, Republicans are spending money quickly but DFL Gov. Mark Dayton hoarding more cash until the GOP sorts out its contest, according to recent campaign finance reports.
In the required pre-primary reports, Dayton has held on to nearly $850,000 of the cash he has raised despite spending more per day on his campaign operations than his would-be Republican rivals.
Republican Scott Honour, one of four men with organized campaigns for the GOP primary next month, spent nearly as much per day and had more than $540,000 left to spend in the build up to the primary. Honour, a first time candidate whose background, has brought in nearly $1.8 million for his campaign, half of it from personal loans to his campaign.
Dig into all the numbers -- including those from Republican-endorsed Jeff Johnson, Rep. Kurt Zellers and former Rep. Marty Seifert -- below:
In other constitutional officer contests, the numbers show the impact of both incumbency and a contested DFL primary race for auditor. In the auditor's race, DFL primary challenger Matt Entenza poured $255,000 of his own cash into his campaign against DFL Auditor Rebecca Otto.
View all the numbers below:
|Vikings (7)||Health care (1)|
|1st District (143)||2nd District (140)|
|3rd District (113)||4th District (85)|
|5th District (163)||6th District (535)|
|Funding (668)||Health care (241)|
|Minnesota U.S. senators (580)||Minnesota campaigns (1513)|
|Minnesota congressional (818)||Minnesota governor (1711)|
|Minnesota legislature (2008)||Minnesota state senators (844)|
|National campaigns (486)||President Obama (401)|
|State budgets (831)||Celebrities (1)|
|Anoka (1)||Fridley (1)|
|2012 Presidential election (323)||7th District (103)|
|8th District (218)||NHL news (1)|
|Gov. Tim Pawlenty (455)||Political ads (97)|
|Recount (97)||Gov. Mark Dayton (1261)|
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|Voter ID News (2)||Budget news (4)|