Saturday, October 27, 2007

Candidates discuss rural issues at interactive forum

Four candidates for president, including the three Democratic front-runners, took questions from rural voters young and old today at a forum at the 2007 National Summit on Agriculture and Rural Life at Iowa State University in Ames.

Sen. Hillary Clinton joined the forum by video link from New York, giving the forum four venues linked by Apple Computer's iChat technology. In addition to the audience in Ames, young voters at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and at a community college in Raleigh, N.C., were able to ask questions of the candidates, who appeared individually.

Clinton took the opportunity to release her rural platform, something done previously by the other Democratic candidates at the forum, former Sen. John Edwards and Sen. Barack Obama. She told the forum that she would "advocate policies to keep rural America and agriculture globally competitive," including creation of a $50 billion fund for renewable energy, to be financed by eliminating tax breaks for oil companies and cozy treatment of those that pump oil from federal land.

The "digitial divide" between rural and urban America was a major theme of the summit, and Edwards told the forum, "It's the responsibility of the president to close this digital divide," illustrated by the fact that less than a third of rural Americans have high-speed Internet access in their homes. Edwards said closing the gap is "absolutely critical" for rural economic development and stanching the out-migration of young people from rural areas. He also repeated his call for a moratorium on confined animal feeding operations. (Photos by Tim Marema, Center for Rural Strategies)

Obama gave a 14-minute, prepared address to open his 35-minute segment. "We need to show that small farming is a big part of the next generation," he said, proposing incentives for young people to get into farming and tax breaks for selling land to first-time farmers. He also said corn may not be the best resource for making ethanol, and "wood chips, switch grass or pond algae" should be explored. "He says the country needs to figure out how to make money off of food crops," reports the Daily Yonder. For more Yonder coverage of the forum, click here. For an agriculture-oriented report from Peter Shinn of Brownfield Network, click here.

Chicago businessman John Cox was the only Republican to attend, though five other GOP candidates were at the Iowa Republican Party's annual Ronald Reagan Dinner tonight. Cox told the dinner crowd that he said at the forum that rural America won't get the investment it needs without changes in the tax system. He told the forum that Democrats' plans to finance rural programs with capital-gains and other taxes would be counterproductive.

The forum was sponsored by the League of Rural Voters and the Main Street Project with the support of the Media Democracy Fund and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Al Cross of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues was master of ceremonies and Jeanene Beck of Iowa Public Radio moderated. Other sponsors included the Center for Rural Strategies and GenerationEngage, a nonpartisan initiative that connects young Americans with political and civic leaders.

The summit was preceded by a National Rural Youth Summit, and Ben Adler of wrote about the event as an illustration of college-aged voters who aren't in college as "a potentially untapped source of energetic support." For the story, click here. For a report on a Saturday morning panel discussion about rural issues, from Daily Yonder blogger Richard Oswald, who was among the questioners at the forum, click here.

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