Thursday, June 09, 2011

Obama creates White House Rural Council; observers greet it with considerable skepticism

President Obama today created a White House Rural Council, chaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, right, and made up of representatives from other agencies, mostly Cabinet-level. Vilsack called it "a truly historic moment for the nation and "an unprecedented commitment to rural America."

In a conference call with reporters, Vilsack denied that the council was a response to Republican criticism of the administration's policies on issues related to public lands in the West, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar denied that it was created to enhance Obama's chances for re-election. Both said the administration has been better for rural America than its predecessors, or at least some of them. "It has been a forotten America," Salazar said. Vilsack added, "We need to do a better job, obviously, of reminding folks of what’s been done," which he also did in a White House Blog post.

Vilsack told reporters the focus of the council will be "innovative strategies to grow the economy in rural America," and Salazar said it would "help ensure that small towns and rural counties remain front and center in our policies and priorities." In response to the question about Obama's re-election, Vilsack said the council would "go out and listen to folks," and in his blog post said it would be "a means of connecting with rural America." Such activities were not mentioned in Obama's executive order.

Bill Bishop of the Daily Yonder wrote that he was left unclear about just what the council would do, started a discussion on the Yonder's Facebook page and said Lynda Waddington of the Iowa Indepednent had some ideas. The White House has an Office of Urban Affairs. For Obama's press release, click here.

UPDATE, June 12: Miryam Ehrlich Williamson of The Back Forty suggests the council will have too many agencies and not enough decision-makers at the table, since the agency heads can deisgnate subordinates to represent them. She speaks from experience as a congressional aide. For her blog post, click here. One of those subordinates, acting Assistant Energy Secretaryn Henry Kelly, reports on the Energy Department's blog about the council's first meeting and writes about an energy-efficiency grant that is helping a Kentucky dairy farmer. For that story, click here.


Anonymous said...

This smacks of pre--re-election pandering to rural voters, a great many of whom have stopped supporting the White House. Obama could not even bother to show up at the rural summit he pledged to have back in October 2007 in Iowa as a candidate.

Also, until we see the names of those who will be appointed and which states they are from, I'm going to be skeptical.

Obama talks a good game about helping the hinterlands but lets not kid ourselves. He is an urban guy and he really does not give much thought to those of us in the boondocks.

The clearest example of this is how as the leader of the Democratic Party, Obama has sat on his hands and done nothing to bolster rural Dems. The DNC Rural Council has been left to wither and die under Tim Kaine and there is nobody at the DCCC or DSCC who gets rural politics (or cares).

Al Cross said...

As the item indicates, the membership of the council is all internal, within the administration. This is not an advisory council with outside members.

Anonymous said...

Are any actual rural people on it, or only urbanites who think they know something about rural issues.