Collin Peterson on the Erosion of Rural Democratic Voices in Congress

Source: By Chris Clayton, Progressive Farmer • Posted: Sunday, November 13, 2022

Former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, a devout “Blue Dog Democrat,” saw his western Minnesota district flip from blue to red in 2020.

This year, Democrats lost a seat on the House Agriculture Committee with the Iowa loss of Rep. Cindy Axne to Republican Zach Nunn. Axne’s loss also turned the Iowa congressional representation fully Republican and continues the erosion of Democratic representation in agricultural districts. Axne lost all of her rural counties, but won Polk County, which is Des Moines and its suburbs.

Peterson sees a problem for agricultural policy when all of the agricultural districts are dominated by one party, even though rural Americans are casting their votes in that direction.

“I’ve been telling people for the past year that the most important, overarching problem in agriculture is the lack of any Democrats in ag districts,” Peterson said Wednesday at an event hosted by North American Agricultural Journalists. “That is a huge problem.”

There are no good answers right now on how Democrats regain a rural foothold. “I don’t know what the answer, is, and I hate to say this, but maybe have to have a farm crisis in order to change the politics out there. I hope that’s not the case.”

Peterson said it’s hard to draft farm policy with just one party and get a bill passed. That’s one reason nutrition policy is so important because on Democratic side of the House right now because there will be so few Democrats in the House who focus on production agriculture in their district. In Minnesota, Rep. Angie Craig won her district, in the Illinois 17th District, the northwest corner of Illinois, Democrat Eric Sorensen won the seat that retiring Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos held. And in California, Rep. Jim Costa represents a large dairy district.

Describing what voters in rural districts hear about Democrats, Peterson said, “You’ve got guns, you’ve got abortion. You’ve got Critical Race Theory, and transgender bathrooms, and that’s what we hear a lot out here in these rural districts, and it works.”