Four Republican candidates and one Independence Party hopeful took the Farmfest stage Tuesday morning for the first forum of the annual three-day event.

Four Republican candidates and one Independence Party hopeful took the Farmfest stage Tuesday morning for the first forum of the annual three-day event. The candidates, including Scott Honour, Jeff Johnson, Marty Seifert and Kurt Zellers, who are vying for the chance to take on Gov. Mark Dayton in the general election in November, and Hannah Nicollet of the Independence Party, talked about ag issues as prompted by a panel of five individuals who asked questions about every thing from taxes to transportation. All five candidates ex-pressed their commitment to agriculture during the debate held one week prior to the primary election. The Republican candidates agreed on most of the topics being raised, as they talked about tax reductions, government overreach and limiting the size of government in Minnesota. Each also tried to create some form of connection with their farm audience, as some proudly claimed their farming background and others admitted their more metro upbringing. Siefert, who grew up just a few miles from the site of Gilfillan, received a majority of the applause as he spoke during the event, which one would expect from a candidate with the equivalent of home field advantage. Candidates also took their shots at the one noticeable absence from the forum – Gov. Mark Dayton. 

“You deserve to see your governor here,” said Seifert. Dayton is scheduled to make an appearance Thursday at Farmfest, as he offers a keynote address at 1:15 p.m. After talking about the efforts to help improve everything from the way government interacts with the public to getting the right people in the right leadership roles under their administration, each of the candidates had a chance to offer a brief wrap-up of their campaign. Honour talked about the uniqueness he brings to the table as one who comes from the business world. “I come from the private sector, not a career in politics,” he said, adding that gives him an advantage as there’s nothing beholding him to special interests. Zellers talked about ensuring a bright future for the next generation, adding he would fully utilize his experiences in government to best serve the state. “As governor I would serve all of Minnesota,” said Zellers, adding the state is not experiencing that with the current governor. Seifert encouraged everyone to make their way to the polls this coming Tuesday, adding he experience in a broad variety of areas from education and politics to the business world make him a balanced candidate. “I want (rural Minnesotans) to have a fair shake and to be treated equally,” said Seifert, adding that equality reaches to ethnic, demographic and socioeconomic status statewide. Johnson said he stands as the candidate who was endorsed by the leadership of the Republican Party at its state convention. “The leaders believe I am the best candidate to beat (Mark) Dayton,” said Johnson, adding he would work to ensure every child gets a good education and patients and doctors are making medical decisions, not insurance companies or the government. For Nicollet, being governor is like being a good referee, adding that means not picking one side or the other but doing what is best for the state as a whole. “I love my state,” said Nicollet. “I am a big believer in being fair, and right now when it comes to rural concerns there is a huge unfairness issue.” The public is reminded to vote in the primary election which is taking place this coming Tuesday and to find out where and when they are able to vote during that upcoming election.