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After finishing farm bill, Peterson pondering new term

ST. PAUL — Being a vital cog in passing a major U.S. House bill generally is an exhilarating experience.

But for U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, passing the farm bill may have been less excitement and more relief.

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“Today, after nearly four years of work, the House is finally considering the 2014 Farm Bill conference report,” the western Minnesota Democrat said as debate opened on the bill Wednesday. “It’s been a challenging and, at times, frustrating process.”

At the end of his speech, he provided another insight to what was going on in his mind as lawmakers began to consider a conference committee agreement that was the end work of the farm bill.

“This process has been going on far too long; I urge my colleagues to support the conference report,” he said.

In the past few years’ work to prepare the farm bill, which began with Peterson as Agriculture Committee chairman, Peterson at times has sounded frustrated not only with problems getting the farm bill finished, but with Congress in general.

Now Washington is watching him decide whether to run again.

Right after the House approved the farm bill, rather easily at that, reporters began asking him if he would seek re-election. He promised a decision by March.

“I have been in limbo here — in farm bill hell for three years — and it affects you,” The Hill newspaper reported him saying.

News sources that cover federal politics such as The Hill and Roll Call have watched Peterson closely — not so much that they are concerned about the farm bill, but out of interest in which party will control the House next year. If western Minnesota goes Republican, it could cement the GOP’s hold on the House.

Peterson is a Democrat — a conservative one — in a Republican district that stretches from Canada south nearly to Iowa. The thinking is if Peterson decides that 24 years is enough to serve in the House, that could leave the district in Republican hands.

State Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, is running in the western Minnesota district. He has attracted GOP attention nationally as the strongest-yet challenge to Peterson’s reign.

Republicans appear confident that if Peterson steps aside, Westrom will have a reasonably clear path to victory in November.

If Peterson runs again, he no doubt will run on his work on the farm bill. He was one of four chief negotiators and if he campaigns again, western Minnesotans should expect to hear him talk about working with both political parties.

“The report before us today represents a compromise,” Peterson told his colleagues. “I know this is rare in Washington, but it is what is needed to actually get things done. I didn’t get everything I wanted, the chairman didn’t get everything he wanted; but that’s how compromise works.”