Al Franken and Norm Coleman faced off in Redwood County yesterday at Farmfest, an annual event that has been bringing agricultural workers, neighbors and political leaders together for 27 years. The festival offers information on ag-related programs and technological advances, including exhibits and demonstrations, and provides a forum for policy discussions.
Independent hopefuls Dean Barkley and Steve Williams were also on the panel of the U.S. Senate Candidates’ Forum on Agriculture and Rural Issues, but Franken and Coleman took center stage. Understandably, energy was one of the main issues to be discussed, and Franken took the opportunity to reveal Coleman’s ties to Big Oil. Since 2002, Norm Coleman has received more than $245,000 from the oil and gas industry (source: Center for Responsive Politics).
Unable to refute the receipt of oil money, Coleman responded by saying he has voted to help farmers. However, Coleman supported CAFTA which would have hurt sugar beet farmers, and has actually voted to lower payments to dairy farmers. Further, it has only been during the past two years that Coleman’s senate votes have digressed much from the Bush Administration’s favored policies (source: WCCO TV). Both candidates supported the most recent farm bill.
At one point, Coleman said, “These are my people,” referring to the agricultural crowd. As a member of the Senate’s Agricultural Committee, Coleman should, indeed, have had a major advantage at the debate, but Franken spoke as an informed – and concerned – denizen of a state whose economy depends on its agriculture.
The next debate is as yet unscheduled. Senate candidates typically hold a debate during the Minnesota State Fair. Al Franken is amenable to the idea, but Norm Coleman has expressed a preference to forego it.