Opinion editor’s note: The Star Tribune Editorial Board operates separately from the newsroom, and no news editors or reporters were involved in the endorsement process.
Effective representation in the U.S. House is important to all 435 congressional districts across America. But sound and attentive federal policy is particularly vital to rural economies and communities, whose needs often are not well understood in urban America.
As a result, no part of Minnesota has more at stake in choosing a House member than the sprawling and fertile Seventh District bordering the Dakotas, one of the most agriculturally focused districts in America. Its voters need a representative with the Washington savvy and clout to protect their distinctive interests. They have that in 15-term incumbent Democrat Rep. Collin Peterson. He merits re-election.
Peterson, 76, is the only Minnesotan ever to serve as chair of the powerful House Agriculture Committee, and only the third House member ever to serve two separate terms in that influential leadership post. His expertise in rural issues affecting all parts of America give him wide credibility on Capitol Hill, as does his exceptional reputation for bipartisanship and independence.
Peterson was one of only two House Democrats to vote no on both articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. He voted against passage of the Affordable Care Act a decade ago, but has since opposed repeated GOP efforts to repeal the health care law. He explains these votes — like others that lead to his consistent ranking among the least partisan lawmakers in Washington — as simply reflecting the interests and values of his district.
In 2018, as ranking member on the Ag Committee in a Republican Congress, Peterson played an instrumental role in negotiating a sound farm bill when the complex legislation was nearly derailed by GOP demands for food stamp restrictions too severe to win sufficient bipartisan acceptance. Peterson explains to rural audiences that keeping means-tested nutrition programs linked to agricultural supports is crucial to winning urban liberals’ sympathy for farm country priorities.
Congress produced that sort of welcome, pragmatic compromise more often years ago, when conservative farm country Democrats (like liberal, big-city Republicans) were not so uncommon. Today, Peterson, an influential Democrat with right-of-center views on regulation, gun rights, abortion and more, is part of an endangered species rural America needs to protect.
This fall Peterson faces perhaps the most formidable challenge of his long tenure. Republican Michelle Fischbach served 20 years in the Minnesota Senate, rising to become the state’s first female Senate president. In 2018, she served as lieutenant governor after Tina Smith’s appointment to the U.S. Senate.
Experienced, knowledgeable and well-known across the district, Fischbach, 54, is running a spirited campaign focused on criticizing Peterson’s alignment with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and on looking forward to rural Minnesota’s future needs, such as broadband and value-added agriculture.
Peterson, as noted, has as independent a record as any House member of either party. As for concrete issue differences, Fischbach strongly favors repeal of the ACA, while Peterson would keep working on improvements. It’s also fair to say that on trade, taxes and other issues, Fischbach is more of an ardent ally to the Trump administration. Peterson has endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president.
We recommend that Seventh District voters do what they’ve done over many election cycles: look past party labels, personalities and negotiable differences to the enduring interests of their communities, and keep in place a capable lawmaker who is attuned to his constituents’ concerns and has achieved a powerful position from which to champion them.