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Former South Dakota senator Tom Daschle spoke on behalf of an absent Barack Obama before a meeting of rural organizers, scholars, and activists in Washington last week — a joint meeting of the Rural Assembly and Stand Up for Rural America. (John McCain was a no-show, too. )
Photo: Shawn Poynter
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama met privately with a group of mayors over the weekend to talk about urban issues and, of course, politics. He emerged from the gathering to address the U.S. Conference of Mayors, where, according to the Los Angeles Times, “he promised, if elected, to use both federal money and muscle to address the urban needs for affordable housing, roads and funding for schools that he said have been neglected by the Bush administration.”
Obama huddled with mayors just a few days after more than 300 people met in Washington, D.C., to discuss a “rural agenda” for the first 100 days of the next administration. Sen. Obama could have made it a two-fer last week, addressing rural concerns on Tuesday and urban ones on Saturday. But, the discussion of rural America was put off by both Obama and Republican John McCain. Both sent surrogates to the National Rural Assembly, and both surrogates — Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas repping McCain, former Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota speaking for Obama — talked only vaguely about rural policies.
Sen. Obama’s reluctance to delve into rural issues or visit long in rural places has become the subject of some political discussion recently. (Sen. John McCain this spring toured rural Alabama and the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky.) In The Politico over the weekend, writers Charles Mahtesian and Amie Parnes listed the “five places Obama and Clinton should go.” Number 4 on the list was Mingo County in southern West Virginia — a region where Clinton clobbered Obama in the primary. “Appearing with Clinton in the heart of the anti-Obama belt…would be a bold statement about his intention to address the vulnerabilities the primary season exposed in his candidacy.”
(In a profile in The Weekly Standard, Democratic strategist Dave “Mudcat” Saunders said much the same thing — although in a more colorful way: “My take on it is very simple. Who you gonna vote for if you live in Kentucky and the candidate takes off for Oregon? You read in all the local papers that Obama ain’t comin’ out here and getting your vote, ’cause he don’t think he can win it. Are you gonna vote for the (fellow)? Hell no!”)
Instead, Obama went to Miami.
The half-hour private meeting with the mayors (many of whom had supported Sen. Hillary Clinton) focused on immigration reform, among other “pressing needs of many of America’s largest cities,” according to the Times. In front of the entire Conference of Mayors, Obama chided McCain for voting against water projects and promised to “increase federal funding for local law enforcement and education, as well as grant money for housing programs and aid for homeowners facing foreclosure.”
Cities should be the focus of development efforts, Obama said. “Yes we need to fight poverty; yes, we need to fight crime,” Obama said. “Yes, we need to strengthen our cities. But we also need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution. Because strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America.”
“I think the speech was wonderful,” Don Slesnick, mayor of Coral Gables, Florida, told the Los Angeles Times. “I also think it was very ambitious — a little too ambitious.”
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) represented presidential candidate John McCain at the Rural Assembly in Washington, DC, June 17
Photo: Shawn Poynter
Ambition is not a word that would apply to the policy prescriptions that Brownback and Daschle handed to the Rural Assembly. The Rural Assembly did, however, piece together its own recommendations for what the next president could do in rural communities during his first 100 days in office. Here’s a sampling of what those attending the Rural Assembly want out of the new administration. (You can find more about the Rural Assembly here.)
“¢ Make the Title 1 formula fair to low-income rural districts.
“¢ Support teachers who are willing to work in rural communities that have a tough time attracting staff.
“¢ Eliminate federal rules that encourage the closing of small schools.
“¢ Change the No Child Left Behind act to include measures that would encourage rural community development.
“¢ Ensure that military veterans can find health care in rural communities.
“¢ Allow the Department of Agriculture to guarantee loans to non-profit health care providers.
“¢ Charge the Federal Communications Commission to study rural internet broadband.
“¢ Adopt policies that address global warming with renewable energy.
“¢ Enforce federal anti-trust laws to ensure fair and competitive markets for farmers and ranchers.
“¢ Hold a White House summit on rural America.
“¢ Increase funding for the Department of Agriculture’s rural development program.
“¢ Adopt a goal of universal access to broadband by 2012.