Tuesday, July 26, 2011

White House brings in rural leaders to talk about its Rural Council and what it can do

The White House Rural Council, comprising officials from cabinet-level and other major agencies, sparked some skepticism when it was announced in June, since it has no offices or staff and the Obama administration has been largely urban in character, reflecting the weak support the president got from rural voters.

This week 24 invited rural leaders, from a wide range of perspectives, met for an hour with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who co-chairs the council with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and two White House officials. A story about it appears today on the Daily Yonder, published by the Center for Rural Strategies, whose president, Dee Davis, attended the meeting. He was a source for the story, Yonder Co-editor Bill Bishop told us. Attendees are listed at the end of that story.

Vilsack told the group that the federal government must "do a better job of focusing on the needs of rural America," and that is why the council was created. It is supposed to give Obama "a specific set of recommendations . . . in the areas of rural opportunity, innovation, quality of life, and natural resources," the Yonder reports. "Further, the secretary announced that there would be a series of cabinet level 'listening sessions' to be held across rural America in the coming year."

Charles W. Fluharty of the Rural Policy Research Institute "asked if the council were sustainable, given the drive to reduce the size of the federal government. Secretary Vilsack is practiced at answering questions about farming and he put on a brave face in response to Fluharty, but he didn’t provide much in the way of an answer," the Yonder avers.

But Vilsack "expressed some optimism that breakthroughs . . . are imminent" on concerns expressed at the meeting that tribes face regulatory obstacles in developing wind and solar power. He also answered questions about rural philanthropy, said he is attending a Council on Foundations meeting about rural philanthropy in Kansas City this week, and suggested that the council could help create a plan to guide and encourage rural philanthropy. (Read more) For Vilsack's blog item about the meeting, click here.

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