Minnesota’s Democratic party has a unique official name: the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. But the “F” in DFL has become rather faded.
The latest manifestation of this came last week when the dean of the state’s congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, was defeated in his bid for a 16th term. It may turn out that the voters of Minnesota’s 7th District should have been more careful about their wishes.
Peterson has represented the 7th District — a sprawling geographical district that covers most of western Minnesota, stretching from the borders of Canada and North Dakota to Sibley County in this area — since 1991. With that lengthy tenure in the House comes power and influence.
His electoral loss to Michelle Fischbach means the heavily agricultural district has booted the chairman of the House ag committee for somebody who will be not only at the bottom of the seniority list but a member of the minority to boot.
What’s more, Peterson was an increasingly rare creature in the House: a Democrat from a farming district. The party’s problem in rural America is not limited to Minnesota. It is not certain who will follow Peterson as chairman of the ag committee, but next on the seniority list is Rep. David Scott of Georgia, whose district is in the suburbs of Atlanta. Another prominent possibility is Rep. Marcia Fudge, who represents an urban district in northeast Ohio.
To be sure, a third veteran of the panel, Rep. Jim Costa of California, would be a more traditional, commodity-oriented chairman for the panel. But scan the roster of the Democrats on the ag committee, and you won’t find many from districts whose economies are rooted in corn and soybeans.
That Peterson would eventually pass the torch was inevitable; nobody holds office forever, even if the electorate cooperates. But his departure from the nation’s Capitol underlines the growing geographic and demographic divide between the two major parties: The Democrats are increasingly multicultural and urban; the Republicans are increasingly white and rural.
When the House majority has few rural members — as is the case now and will be in the next Congress — it is less likely to prioritize the concerns of rural America. That has obvious implications for agriculture policy.