This Week in Politics: Tina Smith's Washington agenda

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Minnesota Senator Tina Smith was sworn into office in early January with former senator and vice president Walter Mondale by her side.
Smith was selected by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton to complete the term of former senator Al Franken, who resigned amid allegation of inappropriate conduct.
With four months now on the job, Smith is in the thick of the legislative process with, among other things, the new farm bill on her plate. "In southwest Minnesota and all of Minnesota our economy....the foundation for our economy is agriculture whether it's Corn or Soybeans or pork producers and it’s a huge part of our economy."

Smith says any farm bill must strengthen small family farmers by giving them a program that allows them to better weather the effects of any storm...both literal weather disasters and the figurative pitfalls that can derail a family operation. "When you think about the pressures that farmers are experiencing in agriculture; low commodity prices, input prices are high, costs are high, a lot of worries about healthcare costs. There's a lot of stress in farm country and we need to get a farm bill done to give them some predictability."

But beyond what may be seen as the traditional elements of a farm bill, Smith says she is also going to work to champion better nutrition programs that are typically association with farm bill legislation; programs that help people who may not be able to help themselves right now.
But Smith then says there is a third component she is trying to work into the farm bill. "Our farm bill needs to include strong rural development programs like, for example, what I'm proposing to help expand rural broadband."

That broadband component is becoming more and more of an issue for rural areas.
Iowa's lieutenant governor Adam Gregg is working on a similar bill specific to that state.
For rural families, broadband access comes down to a practical quality of life issue; the ability to download music, movies and the ability for farmers to quickly and easily connect to the internet for everything from market quotes to supply purchases.
But having easy access to broadband in rural areas also makes those areas more likely to land new businesses and new residents. Without out it can seem like the technological dark ages. "My broadband proposal I hope will be in this legislation."

It's not just the farm bill that Tina Smith is keeping an eye on.
She also has on her political radar the future of the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System. "The Lewis and Clark project is extremely important. When I was lieutenant governor I worked very hard to get the state funding to build the project out and it's one of the reasons we have the pipe finished in Worthington by the end of this year."

Smith worked very hard to get state funding to complete the Minnesota section of the Lewis and Clark project.
But the fact she had to do that is a result of a hiccup in the process. The feds were supposed to kick in a large amount of money as part of an agreement with Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa.
The feds did not do that...leaving it to the state's to not only contribute their portion....but the federal government's portion as well. "The state has been backfilling the funding that the federal government was supposed to be providing. So we really have to make the federal government stand up to its agreement. This project is authorized. It's approved. So now the federal government needs to put its money where its mouth is on this."

So far the feds haven't done that and it has cost the state of Minnesota $41 million and climbing.
Smith says rather than get into a political staring match about it, Minnesota decided to provide the funding to jump start not only the flow of water but what will hopefully be an eventual flow of money into southwest Minnesota as well. "This is such an important economic development tool for southern and southwestern Minnesota. Not having access to water means that businesses can't grow and communities can't grow and its really needed."

And while Smith prepares for the upcoming November election, she does so with the hope that what she does here in Washington with just a couple of months under her belt will be enough to convince voters that she could handle the job for a full six year term.