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Rep. Collin Peterson visits Bemidji

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson (left) talks with Superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools Jim Hess in front of other educators on Wednesday at the Hampton Inn in Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI—U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson spoke with local leaders in education on Wednesday, shuffling through his opinions on topics including private funding of political campaigns (opposed) and attempts to relax health requirements for school lunches (in favor).

Peterson, a Democrat representing Bemidji and most of western Minnesota, spoke for about an hour in a conference room at the Hampton Inn & Suites.

Perhaps most relevant to the audience of educators, he voiced support for a Senate bill that would loosen whole grain requirements, and extend a deadline to cut sodium levels. Other meal standards created by the Obama administration would remain in place.

"It sounds like schools like it better. Schwan's likes it better," he said. "It's good for everyone."

Superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools, Jim Hess, asked Peterson about safety measures schools could take in a time of intensifying gun violence.

"I'm not a big believer in gun control," Peterson said, adding he's also not interested in bringing guns into schools—believing it would deter potential shooters.

"Background checks are fine, but how do we get at people with mental illnesses, at illegal guns? You saw what happened in Red Lake. It can happen everywhere."

He said schools should develop plans so they are ready in case of emergencies.

Hess asked Peterson about challenges preparing students to enter the workforce.

"In northern Minnesota, we need workers," Peterson said. "It's the No. 1 issue everywhere I go."

He said many jobs here pay well and don't require college degrees.

Other topics had few direct ties to education.

Peterson reminisced about the heyday of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate congressional Democrats that reached peak power in the 1990s and early 2000s.

"We used to have 50, 60, 70," said Peterson, a founding member. Now the group is down to 14. "And half wouldn't have gotten in back then," when the group was more conservative.

He said the parties have drifted toward the poles, and few representatives drift from their party.

"There's nobody in the middle," he said. "I don't see that changing."

Peterson said our elections are poisoned by money and special interests. Campaigns should be two months, he said, and publically funded.

He said Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are a little like him, because they speak their minds.

"I tell the truth," he said. "whether or not people want to hear it."

Peterson plans this week—a slow one in Washington— to hit a few different spots in his district. He had been scheduled to visit Bemidji on Tuesday, but waited due to inclement weather.