Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Obama announces 'Rural Tour' that he's not on

UPDATE, July 2: Peter Nicholas of the Los Angeles Times notes that the tour "includes several politically competitive districts, which would give the Obama administration a chance to make its case to people who voted Republican in past congressional races but are now represented by Democrats up for reelection in 2010. ... White House spokesman Shin Inouye said the itinerary was not shaped by political considerations."

President Obama announced yesterday that 10 members of his Cabinet and other administration officials will make stops on a "Rural Tour," starting today in Wattsburg, Pa., where Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Vice President Joe Biden will discuss extension of high-speed Internet service. For a report from the Erie Times-News, click here. For the new federal Web site on that subject, click here.

The tour will be "a series of discussions on how communities, states, and the federal government can work together to help strengthen rural America," a White House news release said. It will include three more stops in July, three in August and two in late September. Other secretaries listed as participating are Steven Chu, energy; Shaun Donovan, housing and urban development; Arne Duncan, education; Ray LaHood, transportation, Ken Salazar, interior; Kathleen Sebelius, health and human services; Eric Shinseki, veterans affairs; and Hilda Solis, labor. "Vilsack will hold listening sessions in additional states with local and state elected officials," the release said.

Conspicuous by his absence is the president himself, who broke his Iowa campaign promise to hold a rural summit in the first 100 days of his administration. Nevertheless, he included himself when he said yesterday, “We’re going out to hear directly from the people of rural America about their needs and concerns and what my administration can do to support them.” Events have been scheduled in Alaska, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. For the release, with cities and dates, click here.

UPDATE, July 1: Vilsack is the leader of the tour, scheduled to make every stop. He writes on the Rural Tour Blog, "I want to listen to the thoughts, concerns and stories about each community’s vision for its future. We will collect ideas about how the USDA could be better serving these communities." The Daily Yonder says, "We at the Yonder wonder why elected officials feel like a visit to any community outside a city should be called a 'tour'? Isn’t a tour for tourists? And for politicians, why is it now always a 'listening tour'?" (Read more)

On the Appalnet list-serve for Appalachian issues, West Virginia native Brad Woods, a doctoral student in rural sociology at Penn State, writes, "I find it odd (and disturbing) that central Appalachia," particularly West Virginia and Kentucky, are not part of the tour, "especially given the climate and concern about natural resources." Lee Mueller, former Eastern Kentucky reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader, replied, "One way to find yourself absent from an office-holder's post-election discussions is to vote against him. If you listen closely, that flapping sound you hear is a chicken coming home to roost in West Virginia and Kentucky," which John McCain carried strongly.

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