Rural issues will be prominent in new Minnesota legislature

Blois Olson

Blois Olson offered his insight on Minnesota legislative issues at MCGA’s pre-resolutions meeting on Thursday in Mankato.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association’s (MCGA) pre-resolutions meeting is where corn farmers set policy priorities and discuss hot-button ag issues for the upcoming year. It’s also an opportunity for corn farmers to get legislative perspectives from insiders plugged into the Minnesota political scene.

Blois Olson, a prominent political reporter and commentator in Minnesota, opened his remarks at Thursday’s pre-resolutions meeting in Mankato by highlighting how Minnesota often bucks national trends every election cycle. While most of the country was electing republicans in November, Minnesota re-elected a democratic governor, democratic senator and two democratic representatives who were in competitive races.

However, republicans took control of the Minnesota House, thanks in large part to a strong showing in rural areas. Olson says rural issues will play a big role in the upcoming legislative session.

“Republicans are going to try and do big things in rural districts,” he said.

Rural vs. Urban?

One of those “big things” will be transportation. Rural legislators will likely argue that we can’t continue funding urban mass transit projects such as the light rail at the expense of rural roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

We’ll also probably see rural vs. urban showdowns on taxes (rural legislators will want property tax reform, urban will push for income tax reform) and school funding (examining funding formulas to ensure rural schools have access to technology and other resources found in urban schools).

You might be thinking, “Great. In addition to partisan democrat vs. republican bickering, now we’re going to be divided based on whether we live in the big city or a small town?”

Not necessarily. Olson noted how democratic senate majority leader Tom Bakk is from Greater Minnesota. He’s not going to let republicans drive the narrative in rural areas, and is likely developing ideas for his party to rebound in rural Minnesota.

Despite the republican wave in the House, Gov. Dayton also won in Greater Minnesota.

“Rural Minnesotans might not love Gov. Dayton, but they trust him,” Olson said.

This is also probably Dayton’s final term in office. He’ll want to cement his legacy and not go out on a sour note of partisan bickering and rural vs. urban gridlock.

Populist issues

Of course, in this day and age, it’s difficult to forecast how the future will unfold at the state capitol. Recently, populist issues like gay marriage and Sunday liquor sales sprang up out of nowhere to divide voters and cross party lines.

“The mood of the voter is very confused. It’s anxious and confused,” Olson said. “These populist issues that arise are volatile. Volatility makes you do things quickly.”

Federal outlook

Tom Sell from Combest, Sell & Associates focused most of his remarks on the new farm bill that was passed in February.  He went over some of the decisions farmers will have to make in the crop insurance provision, and said some work will need to be done to defend farm bill programs during the appropriations process.

He also noted that agriculture was the only part of the budget that contributed to deficit reduction during the last congress.

Other federal issues

Farmers continue pushing back on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule. Sell expects there will be a rider on the omnibus spending bill that blocks funding for the implementation of WOTUS.

The fight over the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) carries on. Who knows when a final ruling will be issued on the RFS, but Sell says corn farmers need to get back to showing people how ethanol s a solution.

“Six years ago, we were promoting ethanol as an answer to our energy issues,” Sell said. “Now, we’re defending it. We need to get back to promoting it as an answer.


If you want more of Olson’s insights on agriculture news and policy issues, be sure to subscribe to his Ag Take e-newsletter.

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