The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

February 21, 2014

Reporter's notebook: Ag gathering laugh draws attention

NORTH MANKATO — It's the laugh heard around the world. During the Ag Symposium Wednesday at South Central College, Congressmen Tim Walz, Collin Peterson and Sen. Amy Klobuchar were asked a question about the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act.

“I thought the Affordable Care Act would save $2,500 per family. What happened?” asked an audience member.

Peterson quipped: “I voted ‘no,’ so I’ll let these guys handle that.”

Peterson's comments were met with laughter from the packed crowd of area farmers and from the Democratic lawmakers. Walz and Klobuchar subsequently gave their responses to the question.

“This health discussion has got to be broader, it’s got to point out where there are weaknesses and failures, it’s got to make sure we’re not leaving people behind or distorting the system,” Walz said at the event. “But don’t pretend there was some type of safe harbor before this where everything was just peachy keen.”

There was no immediate criticism or complaint reported about the incident from the audience.

However, state Republican lawmakers and activists quickly seized on a video clip shot by television station KEYC to criticize the lawmakers. Republican activists characterized the lawmakers as laughing about the problems with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and at the question, instead of at Peterson's comments. The video quickly surged through state and national conservative websites. The criticism overlapped with the messages being pushed by national Republican organizations, such as the National Republic Congressional Committee.

National network Fox News eventually posted the video on its website and contacted The Free Press, which had a reporter at the symposium, for details about the audience reaction. (He gave them a boring, straightforward answer: "They laughed.")

Blue Earth resident Jim Hagedorn and state Rep. Mike Benson of Rochester, who are both Republicans running to challenge Walz for Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, each issued a statement criticizing the incident.

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