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Some needs and concerns of rural America got their 15-minutes (actually two hours) of fame on Saturday at the Ideas for America’s Heartland Forum in Storm Lake, Iowa, which was attended by four of the 17 Democrats seeking their party’s nomination in 2020.
Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, ex-HUD Secretary Julian Castro under Obama, and former U.S. Representative John Delaney all made the trek to Buena Vista University to opine on how they would help the hinterlands and to take audience questions.
A dominant theme of the event was the increasing monopoly control exerted by corporate power in almost every economic sector. As books like Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction and Monopoly Restored: How the Super-Rich Robbed Main Street have shown, if the robber barons of the last Gilded Age came back today, their heads would spin at the degree to which antitrust enforcement has been left to rot since the end of the Carter administration.
Senator Warren showed her inexperience with and indifference to issues affecting agriculture and rural constituencies with vague answers or responses scripted out of her stump speech talking points. Asked how she would address the farm income crisis happening (and worsening) right now, Warren said that “Congress should provide some relief” with disaster aid but did not spell out how much or where she would get the money. Warren stumbled badly on a question about how she would “lower the barrier to young and new entry farmers,” to which she went off on her diatribe about student loan debt. Maybe Warren should learn more about existing programs for the next time she visits farm country. During Warren’s six years in the Senate she has spent almost no time in Massachusetts’s rural communities or learning the challenges faced by Bay State farmers.
Castro, one of two Texans running, said he “would appoint people to the EPA who believe in environmental protection.” Republicans have used issues such as the Obama Waters of the United States rule to demonize the Environmental Protection Agency as an enemy of farmers and ranchers, which has contributed to the severe damaging of the Democratic Party brand in the boondocks. Castro also pledged to use the authority in Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration to “make sure that farmers are well capitalized.”
Delaney, who began running in 2017 and is polling at 1 percent or less, also mentioned the need for investment in small towns and rural counties. Touting his background as a wealthy financier, Delaney said “doing things to make sure capital is flowing to rural America” would be the “cornerstone” of his vision of rural revitalization. Delaney’s old Maryland 6 district in the western Maryland panhandle is 7.4% rural.
Senator Klobuchar, the only Midwesterner at the forum, cited her experience on the Senate Agriculture and Judiciary Committees in laying out her priorities for food and farm policy and on how to bring back competition to the economy. She noted her past support for payment limitations of commodity price supports so they go to those in need “not to zip codes like 90210” in Beverly Hills. As ranking member on the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, she bemoaned that 78 percent of all crop seeds are now controlled by two companies and that four railroads claim the freight rail market – “the same number as on the Monopoly (game) board.”
Klobuchar was asked to respond to how she would tackle the vertical integration crisis in agriculture as outlined in an article by Alan Guebert Walmart and Costco become farmers which describes how these retail behemoths use milk (Walmart) and chicken (Costco) to control the entire production and marketing process for these commodities. Klobuchar referred to the Grange movement that fought monopolistic grain transport practices in the decade following the Civil War and helped light a fire of prairie populism across the Great Plains. She said she would concentrate on jump starting investigations with the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission because she argued that with Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, “they will not allow relief through the courts.”
U.S. Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who has not declared his candidacy, also spoke at the forum. Recalling how President Trump won rural voters to his side in 2016, Ryan exclaimed “in Ohio there was no exciting rural outreach.” You are correct congressman, and there still isn’t any rural outreach of any kind from your party in this election cycle.
Matt L. Barron of MLB Research Associates is a rural strategist and frequent Daily Yonder contributor.
Opinions expressed in “Speak Your Piece” are those of the author, unless otherwise noted. Would you like to speak your piece in the Daily Yonder? Contact Tim Marema at firstname.lastname@example.org about contributing an op/ed style column on a rural topic.