U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson has six offices in his district — a necessary amount considering the 7th Congressional District spans from nearly the top of Minnesota to the bottom.
Elected in 1990, Peterson is pursuing a 12th term in Congress, but he must first beat second-time Republican challenger Lee Byberg.
The mostly agricultural district extends from Roseau at the Canadian border to Pipestone in the southwest corner of the state.
University of Minnesota marketing sophomore and Moorhead, Minn., native Amanda Casselton said the 7th District needs a “community-focused” representative.
“It’s a kind of place where people take care of each other,” Peterson said. “If somebody has a problem, everyone pitches in and helps out.”
Casselton, who said she is strongly tied to her hometown, is voting absentee in the 7th District.
Although business sophomore Josh Campion agrees his home in Fergus Falls, Minn., needs a representative with a “drive to make progress,” he will be voting in the 5th District come November.
“I haven’t lived in Fergus for years,” Campion said. “I intend to vote in the University’s district.”
Peterson grew up on a farm near Glyndon, Minn. He said he has the right qualifications to continue to represent district residents.
“A lot of people here are like me and have lived here all their lives,” Peterson said.
He said his long-term knowledge of the district benefits constituents.
“Agriculture is the biggest part of our economy, and with my background, I know what needs to be done,” he said.
Peterson replaced former Republican Rep. Arlan Stangeland in 1990.
“Peterson has won decisively since the early ’90s based on his personal relationships, name recognition and his conservative to moderate voting record,” said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Before being elected to Congress, Peterson graduated from Minnesota State University-Moorhead with bachelor’s degrees in business and accounting.
He served in the North Dakota National Guard, worked as an accountant and small business owner in Detroit Lakes and served 10 years as a Minnesota state senator.
Peterson is the ranking minority member on the House Agriculture Committee in Washington.
“Since beginning in Congress, I’ve been at the table working on issues that affect agriculture,” Peterson said. “Agriculture is the biggest part of the 7th District, so it’s the right thing for me to work with.”
His opponent, Byberg, was born in Chicago and spent his childhood in countries overseas as his parents were missionaries.
Once he graduated high school, Byberg moved to Minnesota and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from the University.
After working as an accountant, economist and general manager, Byberg currently works in Willmar as the vice president of operations for Life-Science Innovations, a firm that manages and funds affiliated companies in agricultural technology.
“I’m a business leader. I don’t have to run,” he said. “I just couldn’t watch what was happening to our economy any longer.”
Byberg is coming from a “normal job” and said Peterson has been in office so long that he has lost the vision that is needed to bring change.
“We need to have leaders that are willing to bring resolutions instead of just worrying about getting re-elected,” Byberg said.
His background in economics makes up for his lack of political experience, he said.
“If people decide to elect business leaders to Congress, it will bring discipline and an understanding of economics to Washington,” Byberg said. “It’s time for business leaders like me to get involved so we get on track.”
Both candidates for the district agree the employment opportunities in the agricultural region are not scarce —especially for recent graduates.
“One thing that’s good about the 7th District is we have very low unemployment,” Peterson said. “I have employers every day talking to me about how they have a hard time finding people to fill jobs.”
Byberg said the district is continually seeking people to fill engineering, science and agriculture positions.
“We want these students [at the University] to come back home where they are from when they are done getting their degrees,” he said.
Byberg said areas affected by the national deficit can learn from the 7th District’s strategies to improve the economy and lower unemployment rates.
“It’s about rebuilding the nation from the bottom up — beginning with each local community,” Byberg said.
Peterson agrees a main issue for the district’s representative is providing reform at the national level in terms of the poor economy.
“We’re not going to get it fixed overnight,” Peterson said. “It’s about heading it in the right direction and having a plan where we can resolve it over time.”
Locally speaking, Casselton said the district’s education system is a key issue because of the “district’s strong population of young people.”
“Education is very close to my heart since I just recently graduated from the district,” she said. “I hope the programs continue to prosper.”
Nevertheless, Peterson reiterated that the “most pressing issue right now is the Farm Bill.”
The bill, which is passed every five years by Congress, is a collection of legislation aimed at farming, among other things — issues very important to the district.
“For whatever reasons, the House leadership decided not to put the bill on the floor earlier this fall,” Peterson said.
The congressman said the fight to give agriculture more policy-driven structure is far from over.
“I’m going to try to push to get leadership to put this on the floor and get it passed and completed before the end of the Lame Duck session,” Peterson said.
District and livelihood
Both candidates take pride in their district’s “hard-working attitude” and “rural roots.”
“I can’t speak on behalf of other districts, but we’ve got great people here,” Peterson said, “people with strong values.”
He said the district’s wildlife, terrain and hunting opportunities are other factors that make the region “preferable.”
“We don’t have all the traffic like they have in some places,” Peterson said with a laugh. “I prefer things like this.”
Although Jacobs said the district has been historically conservative in nature, he said Peterson has won as a Democrat due to name recognition and advertising.
Regardless of past elections, — Byberg garnered almost 38 percent against Peterson in 2010 — the challenger said a win is possible.
“This race is winnable,” Byberg said. “It’s just about getting the message to voters.”