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Why Democrats Should Visit Farm Communities

2020 Election Activities, Business News/Analysis, Federal Legislation, Opinions, Policy, White House
May 1, 2019

by Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post)  A new report confirms that President Trump is causing the most pain in areas of the country that were the most supportive of his 2016 campaign.

Personal income for farmers fell by the most in three years in the first quarter, as losses to U.S. agriculture mount from President Donald Trump’s trade wars.

The Commerce Department on Monday cited the steep decline in farm proprietors’ income as a key factor weighing on the nation’s overall personal income growth in March, even though agricultural producers represent only about 2 percent of total employed Americans.

That last statistic is true, but the services that support them, the local governments that depend on their tax revenue and the communities in which farmers live feel real economic pain. On this, they have only Trump to blame.

“Trump’s budget cuts would lower federal subsidies for crop insurance and small growers. The spending plan for 2020 he submitted for Congress would reduce subsidies for crop insurance premiums to 48 percent from 62 percent and limit current subsidies for growers who make less than $500,000 annually.”

Then there is the impact of extreme weather, a byproduct of climate change, which Trump and his willfully ignorant supporters deny.

Democrats have been looking for the key to unlocking the rural vote. This however should be a layup for them. Other than progressive protectionists who rather like trade wars, Democratic contenders should be at every farm and farm town in Iowa, as well as a lot of other states where agriculture is a critical part of the overall economy (e.g., Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, Wisconsin, Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio).

Klobuchar (Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)) will be quick to remind you that, during her Senate reelection campaign, she won a slew of rural conservative counties.

Klobuchar can pull off visits to small towns and rural areas because she knows agriculture (she sits on the Agriculture Committee) and the people who work in it. She knows the ins and outs of soybeans and dairy farms. Not every candidate is going to be at ease stomping around a farm, but there are plenty of townhalls, Farm Bureau meetings and 4-H events.

The argument is easy: Trump talks a good game, but has inflicted financial pain on rural America (all the while supporting plans to raise their health-care costs). Any candidate could put together a common-sense package of proposals — ending the seemingly forever trade wars, working to lower prescription drug costs, focusing on climate change, helping — as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has done — fund education (remember that recent teacher strikes have hit redstates), expanding broadband coverage and making sure rural areas get their fair share of infrastructure projects.

Trump claims that urban elites don’t “respect” rural America. In fact, it’s Trump who treats them like rubes — taking their votes and then picking their pockets.  READ MORE

‘Approachable’ Beto makes his Iowa pitch (Des Moines City View)

Fuel groups use election stops to educate politicians (Iowa Farmer Today)

Rep John Delaney and Lt Gov Patty Judge Tour Biofuel Facility (River Cities’ Reader)

As Democrats woo rural voters, some say why bother (Washington Post/Houston Chronicle)

Still traumatized from 2016 loss, Democrats weigh how much to reach out to rural America (Washington Post)

Amy Klobuchar’s complicated political inheritance (Washington Post)

POET Ads Spotlight Farm Crisis (Energy.AgWired.com)

Democratic presidential contenders make plays for rural votes (High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal)

Trump’s ethanol edge (Washington Examiner) 

 

Excerpt from Des Moines City View:  (Beto)O’Rourke — in response to a question from Seth Johnson, an operations supervisor for the Renewable Energy Group in Ralston — challenged the Trump administration’s granting of small refinery waivers for petroleum producers as an assault on the Iowa-commodity-boosting Renewable Fuel Standard, which is designed to not just assist farmers but promote cleaner air quality.

“It reflects the president’s disconnect from science,” O’Rourke said.

He later added in a session with the media at Kerps that Trump’s comment about the noise from wind-energy turbines causing cancer also is out of step with facts.

Big picture, O’Rourke, who campaigned aggressively even in the remotest of Texas counties, said rural America needs partnerships with government, not handouts. That means extension of high-speed Internet to rural America and better trade deals, he said.

“Democrats used to be the party for rural America,” O’Rourke said.

Some of O’Rourke’s more fierce rhetoric came on immigration, something the fourth-generation Irish-American sees as a strength for America, and a topic on which he has personal familiarity as a resident of El Paso, Texas, a border town. O’Rourke said millions of undocumented residents living in the shadows are boosting the United States economy and should be given a path to legal status.

Later in the day, in Denison, O’Rourke drew a crowd of 120 people, about half of them Latino and many of them young people who are not regulars at political events. Latino leaders in Denison said the enthusiasm for O’Rourke, who is fluent in Spanish and conducted a full interview using his second language with Iowa’s La Prensa Spanish newspaper in the Crawford County seat, is greater than what they saw there for then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008.

“Watch out for this guy,” said Lorena Lopez, the editor of La Prensa, who interviewed O’Rourke.

Matt Wetrich, a naturalist with Carroll County Conservation, said after the Carroll event that one of O’Rourke’s strengths is his understanding of the humanity and economics of immigration.

“Who better than somebody that’s literally first-hand on the ground to talk about immigration, to talk about the wall and the pros and cons, bringing real statistics, bringing first-hand experiences of things, and talking about helping the legalities of immigrants, and helping them to contribute more rather than being in the shadows?” said Wetrich, who also is a Jefferson City Council member. “The wall and immigration is such a huge topic through this administration, right? Somebody from Boston’s not going to be able to do that.”  READ MORE

 

Excerpts from The Washington Post:  J.D. Scholten has gotten phone calls from former Rep. Beto O’Rourke. He’s campaigned with Sen. Cory Booker. He held a town hall with entrepreneur Andrew Yang and toured an ethanol plant with Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

The presidential candidates are eager to meet with Scholten, hoping he holds the key to a secret that increasingly bedevils Democrats: how to win rural voters, who seem to be firmly in President Trump’s camp. Scholten, a former minor-league baseball star, challenged GOP Rep. Steve King in Iowa last year, driving around in a beat-up motor home. He lost, but just barely, in a heavily conservative rural area.

Scholten tells Democrats the party is too focused on upscale urban voters. “We’re becoming the Whole Foods party, when we need to figure out how to win in Dollar General districts like mine,” Scholten said. “You don’t have to win, but you should be able to compete.”

Democrats like former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack say the party can’t simply cede small-town voters again. “If we are losing rural counties as we have in the past . . . I don’t give a damn how much you run up the vote in the inner cities and in the suburbs, we’ll be right back where we were in 2016,” he said.

O’Rourke, in his own stop in rural Iowa, noted that there was a time when farming communities were often Democratic. “Democrats used to be the party for rural America,” he told voters. “The little gal, the little guy, the farmer, the rancher in Texas, the producer, those who feed and clothe not just this community but so much of the rest of the world.”

“It’s not just about me,” he (Spenser Jorgensen) said. “I want someone with a vision for the industry, for the community. . . . It doesn’t matter if they are Republican, Democrat, Independent. I want someone who really gets what’s going on out here and who has the best plan for the future.”

But Vilsack warns that even when Democrats reach out to small town America, they often blow it. Sitting in the front row of a recent candidates forum on “rural issues,” Vilsack became frustrated waiting to hear, as he put it, “some articulation of a vision” for rural areas and the people who live there.

Vilsack, who served as Obama’s agriculture secretary, did not discount the need to appeal to farmers, but he warned against a simplistic view.

“Unfortunately the candidates think that by talking to farmers, they are talking to rural America. But it’s not just farmers,” Vilsack said. “They are important, but there are a whole lot of other people in these small towns. There are teachers. There are nurses. There are carpenters.”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who lost reelection in 2018, made a similar argument. She recently launched the One Country Project, a nonprofit aimed at helping Democrats sharpen their message to small-town voters.

One of its first moves was to release a projected voter map for the 2020 election. It showed the Democrats’ gains in 2018, including in many suburban districts — but also rural districts in western Iowa, Upstate New York, Maine and Pennsylvania.

Heitkamp said that even if Democrats boost their urban turnout in 2020, Trump would narrowly win the electoral college if the party does not improve its performance in rural America.

“Urban and rural voters are different,” Heitkamp said. “But what a cabdriver in New York wants for his family is no different than what a small grocery store owner in a town of a 1,000 people wants.”

Some blame polarization, but many voters were disappointed by Obama, who they felt didn’t deliver on his transformational message of fixing Washington. In 2016, they turned to Trump in hopes he could be the agent of change.  READ MORE

 

Excerpt from High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal:  The most comprehensive plan to date comes from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. Speaking in Osage, Iowa, recently, he outlined several proposals, including breaking up big agribusinesses and enacting a moratorium on mergers by large agriculture companies. He also called for scrapping current farm programs in favor of a word we haven’t heard much about since the 1980s—parity. He wants to set price floors and limit the amount of crops and livestock products sold so farmers will be guaranteed the cost of production. It’s a very comprehensive plan, including support for immigrants already in this country, more funding for rural broadband and a $15 minimum wage.

Several candidates have records of pushing bills or taking votes directly dealing with agriculture policy or rural issues. For example, Sen. Cory Booker has introduced legislation opposed by animal ag groups but supported by the Humane Society Legislative Fund. In February, Booker, who is a vegan, told Vegnews.com, “the planet simply can’t sustain billions of people consuming industrially produced animal agriculture because of its environmental impact.” During the 113th Congress, Booker supported legislation prohibiting the slaughter and export of horses for meat consumption. He has also supported strengthening protections for federal lands and public wilderness areas.

Booker is also known in ag circles for his efforts on checkoff reform with Utah Republican Mike Lee. Their bill—which the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said was pushed by “militant vegans”—would ban checkoff groups from contracting with organizations that lobby on farm policy, but it has not become law.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary in the Obama administration, Julian Castro, has been strategizing to win over rural Iowa Democrats and minorities living in smaller towns. He’s traveled the state pushing his “People First” Immigration policy, which focuses on a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, something the dairy sector in Northwest Iowa heavily relies on. He’s also pushed to improve psychiatric care in rural hospitals to improve mental health. READ MORE

 

Excerpt from Washington Examiner:  President Trump’s ethanol policy could help him outpace competitors in the 2020 presidential election in Iowa, according to ethanol’s biggest supporter in the Senate, Republican Chuck Grassley.

The senior senator from Iowa believes Trump ran on ethanol and is delivering on his promise to expand sales of the fuel with a new plan slated to be finalized June 1. This gives the president a leg up over his challengers, who can’t claim nearly the same support for the corn-based fuel and farm country, according to Grassley.  READ MORE

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