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.