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A Congressman Ponders Retirement

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Rep. Collin Peterson Ponders Retirement

Should I or shouldn't I? As Cherie Slayton, my chief of staff, tells reporters, I say I'm running again until I'm not running again. But I guess it's time I tell people what I'm going do after 24 years in Congress.

I'm the senior member of the Minnesota congressional delegation, been here since 1991, representing the good people of the 7th Congressional District. It's the Gopher State's largest district, covering 38 counties and some 35,000 square miles of western Minnesota. It's separated from North Dakota by the Red River of the North, and stretching from the Canadian border almost to Iowa.

My district is unique. The mighty Mississippi River starts out as a little stream at Lake Itasca, and it includes the place where Leif Ericson and his Vikings visited the New World in the 14th century (don't believe those who say it's a hoax). And the hometown of Sinclair Lewis and the model for his novel "Main Street" with its acid portrayal of small town America is there, as well as the hometown of Lone Eagle aviator and isolationist Charles Lindbergh.

Its farms and small towns are filled with the German Catholics and Norwegian Lutherans that live in Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon; Sears Roebuck got its start in Redwood Falls, and Laura Ingalls Wilder based the "Little House on the Prairie" in her hometown of Walnut Creek. And two of my district's towns claim to be the lutefisk capital of the world (don't ask what lutefisk is), and the 7th District is the nation's leading producer of sugar beets and turkeys.

It took me four tries to get to Washington after ten years in the Minnesota State Senate before I beat a Republican incumbent who got involved in a messy scandal with a female lobbyist who was not his wife. (One of my Democratic predecessors, Coya Knudson, lost her seat in 1958 when her husband pleaded for her to come home.) After a couple of close contests, I've won reelection by wide margins ever since, and there's no reason to think I couldn't do it again in November.

True to my state's populist tradition (there's a reason why we're called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party), I never marched to drum of my national party. I've justly earned the reputation of a maverick, voting with Republicans when it suited me and founding the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats with Rep. Gary Condit of California (don't ask what happened to him). I'm pro-gun and anti-abortion. I've crossed swords with Tom Foley and Nancy Pelosi when they were Speakers and I once threatened to quit unless Pelosi got the rule changed so members like me could fly their own planes to their districts. She got it changed.

But I've always looked out for the farmers and small town business people and folks of my rural district. Until Republicans took over the House in the 2006 election, I served as chairman of the Agriculture Committee and I've been ranking Democrat ever since. I played a central role in cobbling together a compromise between the House and Senate that secured enough votes to finally pass the five-year farm bill that President Obama signed into law this month. I'm proud that the Fargo Forum called me "the most knowledgeable member of Congress when it comes to farm bills and farm policy."

But the fact is that I'm accomplished everything I could for rural America, and I'm not going to be chairman again because Democrats aren't going take back the House next year, and maybe not for several more elections. At least 15 senior House Democrats, including the longest serving member in history, John Dingell, are packing it in.

Of course, I don't relish the idea of sitting on my ass (I've always talked like my rural constituents) as a member of the minority in the next Congress, when Republicans may control the Senate as well, and when little will be accomplished in advance of the 2016 presidential election.

And let's face it. I'm not getting any younger and I'm going to be 70 in June. As the Almanac of American Politics put it, I've been known as a free spirit, wearing cowboy boots and playing guitar in a band with four Republican members,(I once thought I was good enough to be another Bruce Springsteen but decided to become an accountant instead), but I think the 114th Congress won't be a place for free spirits.

So you've heard it here first, I've decided to - well, I really don't know. I think I won't run again but then, I think I will. What do you think? Let me know at .