|Art Cullen greets Amy Klobuchar at the Heartland Forum|
(Des Moines Register photo by Bryon Houlgrave)
Several got a chance to do that on Saturday at the Heartland Forum on rural issues, hosted by Art Cullen, editor and co-owner of the twice-weekly Storm Lake Times in the northwest Iowa town of 10,700.
UPDATE, April 2: "No one really had an answer about what to do to help farm country right now," Cullen writes for The Washington Post.
Most major candidates were invited, but only five attended: former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Cullen said candidates' attendance — or failure to attend — the forum spoke volumes about how much they really care about rural voters. Though Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders launched his campaign with promises to help rural America, he did not attend. "If he cares about rural issues, then why isn't he here?" Cullen told the Des Moines Register, which did a story looking at his role in the caucuses.
Cullen had similar words for former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who only appeared in a short video before the forum. "He has time to dance with Oprah, but he doesn't have time for the Iowa Farmer's Union?" Cullen told the Register. "That pisses me off — excuse me, it disappoints me."
Cullen won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing and the Tom and Pat Gish Award from the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues in 2017 for the twice-weekly paper's coverage of local water pollution caused by agribusinesses. Those honors helped catapult Cullen into the national spotlight as a voice for rural America.
Candidates who did attend shared their visions for rural America. "For Warren, whose campaign has embraced the senator's focus on policy, the event was preceded by a rollout Wednesday of her plan to support family farmers. The proposal calls for a rollback of regulations that prevent farmers from repairing their own equipment, limiting of foreign ownership of farmland and breaking up agribusiness conglomerates -- the latter reminiscent of her earlier pitch to dismantle large technology companies," Adam Kelsey reports for ABC News.
Last week, Delaney released a plan called the Heartland Fair Deal, which his campaign says contains more than 20 policies to strengthen the economy, infrastructure, and health care in rural areas. At the forum, he called for updating anti-trust laws to increase competition in ag markets, Kelsey reports.
Klobuchar agreed with strengthening anti-trust laws, and said, "If we stifle competition through monopolies, we’re not just going to bring up the prices for consumers, we’re going to stifle entrepreneurship," Alexandra Jaffe reports for The Associated Press.
Most candidates at the forum also endorsed increasing investments in rural hospitals, especially to provide mental-health care for farmers, Kim Norvell reports for the Register. "We absolutely need a better conversation about how to prevent suicide by gun, but we also need to work on the stigma and the care that people can receive as they have suicidal thoughts and that goes to our health care policy and the investments that we make," said Castro.
Castro said rural populations could grow by welcoming immigrants, and noted that in Storm Lake the population is majority Hispanic because so many immigrants work at the local Tyson meatpacking plant. Delaney promised to pass immigration reform that would create a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, Norvell reports.
"Most candidates also called for gun reform, including comprehensive background checks, prohibiting access to persons on the terrorist watch list and closing loopholes that allow firearms to be transferred by licensed dealers before background checks are completed," Norvell reports.
Candidates who didn't attend the forum have spoken out on rural issues, too. "In a video shown at a rally for family farmers, Sen. Cory Booker also endorsed a 'Farmers Bill of Rights,' which his campaign described as 'a series of commitments that will restore opportunity and competition in rural communities across the country," ABC News reports.
As the mayor of mid-size city South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg (pronounced "boot-a-judge") has few rural bona fides, but he has leaned on his status as a Midwesterner. In a recent interview with KQED-FM in San Francisco, Buttigieg said coastal voters don't seem to take seriously the concerns of Trump voters. In places like California, he said, "I feel sometimes like I’m an emissary from the middle of the country just pointing out that things look a little bit different in rural communities, industrial communities like mine and that we really need to find ways to knit this picture back together into one America."
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state has made fighting climate change his signature issue. He noted in a recent interview with New Hampshire Public Radio that renewable energy is creating many new jobs in rural areas, and could be an even bigger instrument of rural economic revival.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California agreed with Inslee that climate change hurts rural areas. In a tweet last November, she said: "Rural communities are tightly connected with agriculture and are especially vulnerable to climate change. Increased drought, severe storms, and degraded water quality will hurt their ability to cope economically. We must act on climate change now to protect these communities."
John Hickenlooper of Colorado has experience balancing rural and urban needs. "While serving as governor, Hickenlooper led the effort in 2011 to create Colorado’s Health Benefit Exchange and expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act," PBS reports. "He also signed into law critical rules that altered the hospital provider fee in Colorado. The law allowed billions of dollars to flow into the state’s rural areas, and helped keep open many rural clinics."