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Minnesota Republican governor candidate Rob Farnsworth talks issues with a Minnesota State Fair visitor as the 2013 fair opens. Don Davis | Forum News Service

Capitol Chatter New candidate happy to talk to fair visitors

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FALCON HEIGHTS — Rob Farnsworth was a bit on the lonely side as the Minnesota State Fair opened.

It may be that 15 months before the next general election, Minnesotans are not very into politics this year. And the Farnsworth name is not a draw like "Dayton" or "Klobuchar."

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But the 35-year-old Hibbing special education teacher was happy to talk to anyone he could as he runs for the Republican governor nomination.

Farnsworth may be spending more time at the fair (two long weekends) than any other candidate and has one of just a handful of political booths at the fair. Many other candidates are visiting the fair, but generally are not spending days there.

One visitor to the Farnsworth booth was eager to pepper the candidate with questions about where he stood on raising the minimum wage.

"It’s it now $6.25?" Farnsworth asked haltingly as he began his answer.

The visitor shot back that it is $1 higher than that, and a governor candidate should know the answer to a question about such a major issue.

When Farnsworth said that an improved education system, not a higher legal minimum wage, is the answer to low wages, the visitor said he would not vote for the GOP candidate and left.

Farnsworth talked about his education ideas, including combining into one agency the state Education Department, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, the University of Minnesota and the Office of Higher Education. When asked about how he would deal with the University of Minnesota, which has a special status in the state Constitution, the candidate hesitated awhile, then declared that the Constitution would have to be changed.

The teacher, who spent his first eight classroom years instructing social studies, said the No. 1 fair question he received was: "Who are you?" followed by "Are that special education teacher who is running for governor?"

As for the guy whose job he wants, Farnsworth said of Gov. Mark Dayton: "I like him. I think he is a nice guy."

However, the new candidate declared that "Mark Dayton is going to beat himself" because he sought tax increases when there was enough revenue rolling into the state to fund its needs.

Taxing time at fair

Gov. Mark Dayton wanted to avoid political talk, but drink lots of chocolate malts, at the Minnesota State Fair.

"This year’s different," he told reporters shortly after arriving for his first of several planned visits. "I’m not in campaign mode."

But some political questions cannot be avoided. Standing feet from the Minnesota Farmers’ Union booth, the logical question was what would he tell farmers about his failure to convince Republicans to fold a farm implement repair tax repeal into the Sept. 9 special legislative session agenda.

"I will tell them I am very sorry," Dayton said. "I wanted to eliminate the tax and couldn’t get an agreement to do so."

Dayton said Republican leaders could not guarantee that they could keep their members from bringing up other tax issues.

Not far away, state Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, was beginning his tour of duty at the Minnesota House fair booth.

"It’s a shame," he said of the lack of agreement to bring up the farm tax.

The failure followed House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt telling him that he wanted the tax repeal on the special disaster session agenda, Torkelson said.

While Torkelson said the tax is a big deal for farmers, few have talked to him about it when he has been out in public, such as at county fairs in his area.

"So far, I have heard from only a few dealers," he said.

But when harvest winds down, farmers will begin taking implements in for repair and the bills that already reach into the thousands of dollars will include an added tax. That is when Torkelson expects to hear about it.

Minnesotan missing

When Minnesota State Fair visitors walk into the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party booth, they can’t miss life-size photo cutouts of the president and first lady, with Hillary Clinton nearby.

Clinton is a popular figure and potential presidential candidate. But when a DFL official was asked why there wasn’t a U.S. Amy Klobuchar figure there, since she is being discussed more and more as a presidential possibility, the official could only stammer that there is a big Klobuchar sign out front. The Minnesota senator recently visited Iowa, the first of what will be a long string of potential presidential hopefuls in the first caucus state.

Prisons to slots

A couple who held top Minnesota prison jobs now own a Montana casino, the Billings Gazette reports.

Dennis and Jessica Symmes Benson bought what they call The Warden’s Casino. The Gazette says one corner is filled with leg irons, prison locks and cell keys.

Dennis Benson, a former warden, was the No. 2 corrections official when he retired, and was a regular testifier at legislative committees. Jessica Benson moved up to be warden at the state’s maximum security prison after starting as a prison typist in the 1970s.

The couple bought the casino from Dennis Benson’s former college roommate.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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