Dems Didn’t Ask for Rural Vote


Donald Trump won the rural vote by a 2-to-1 margin. Rural America was said to be fed up with Washington and wanted change. Fed up with what, and change to where? Rural work is up, poverty is down. Look at Buena Vista County, Iowa: It is generally prosperous. Farmland prices remain strong. Tyson, a major employer in Storm Lake, Iowa, with pork and turkey processing plants, is going great guns with its integration of Hillshire Brands. The pork division is the most profitable, and it has been lifting local wages. Huge pickup trucks are selling. The real estate market is tight. Housing developers are starting to bite — something they haven’t done in 25 years.

The Storm Lake schools are growing. Lake Avenue looks healthy. Walmart is packed. King’s Pointe Resort attracts a steady trade of people mainly from rural quarters spending lots of cash on leisure.

Farmers are shielded by a generous crop insurance program that protects against weather and market catastrophe, plus other safety-net programs. Nobody is forcing them to install conservation practices. Ethanol plants are humming. Crop prices have been down the past few years but they will go back up as international trade issues get sorted.

Yet while Hillary Clinton narrowly carried Storm Lake, the county seat with a population of 10,600, with 51.9% of the city vote, Donald Trump carried the county, population 20,260, with 59.2% of the vote.

What is the issue?

Clean water? If farmers truly feared EPA stealing their rights, they would be farther along on voluntary conservation measures than they are.

Guns? Rural people no doubt were sick of people talking about restrictions on Second Amendment rights. But nothing ever happens to assault those rights, absolutely nothing. Again, it was hard to tell what the problem was other than Hillary Clinton could not be trusted on the gun issue.

Trade? Iowa rural folks love NAFTA because it destroyed the Mexican corn industry and grew both corn and pork shipments across the continent.

What it boils down to is that Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate for rural areas. Her longtime friend, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, says he was about the only Democrat attempting to speak to rural voters. She never stepped foot here. Neither did her surrogates, other than a junior congressman from Arizona who knows nothing about hogs and ethanol. And, we might add, it is not as if the Iowa Democratic Party made adroit use of Vilsack or the other rural tiger, Tom Harkin. Neither campaigned here.

It’s just about that simple.

Barack Obama won Iowa twice with the same policy agenda. He had Harkin and Vilsack flanking him. He campaigned here. So did Joe Biden.

This year? Sara Huddleston, a Latina on the Storm Lake City Council, was on her own running for the Iowa House. Democrats won’t invest a penny in the congressional district that Berkley Bedell once owned as a proud progressive Democrat. Dems were swamped in both races. The same geniuses who made these decisions are now the leaders of the minorities in the Iowa House and Senate, and the US House and Senate — minorities in Iowa, at least, that get smaller with each election.

You have to ask for their vote. That’s really all the soul-searching it takes. The Democrats did not ask rural Iowa for its vote. Not Clinton. Not Vilsack. Not Biden. Not Obama. Nobody. Nada.

It’s that simple.

The Rural Mandate

Republicans have the opportunity to interpret their rural mandate as they take up a new farm bill come next session of Congress. The foment among Midwestern Republicans is to put a cork in any new water regulations, so there will be some sort of effort to hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency from getting too far into the farm field.

There will be an effort to solidify the crop insurance program from any erosion. There will be efforts to slash conservation funding and divert the resources to crop insurance or other direct supports for producers. The effort in the House to cut ag research and conservation funding has been underway for years. The House also tried to separate food stamp funding from the farm bill to finally divorce the interests of producers and the poor. It will be easier to kill food stamps that way, which has to be disconcerting to people like former Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, who fought so hard for food programs.

There might be an interesting battle between oil and ethanol interests in Congress. It will pit the Midwest against the South and Southwest, a regional fight in the ag committees that has been brewing for decades. They couldn’t destroy renewable fuels with Democrats having the White House. Now they can, unless the Branstad/Grassley faction can hold off the Texas and Louisiana political juggernauts. Their work is cut out for them.

Rural areas are likely to get less from the farm program, food stamps and rural development programs than they did with the Obama Administration. Down deep, the House Republicans really don’t believe in any of it. We suspect neither does Donald Trump. He would just as soon wipe it all away and build something new or nothing at all. Our gut would tell us that the lead on the farm bill will come from the House, where the most radical ideas for destruction are. Many of those ideas are not friendly to Iowa — conservation funding, renewable fuels and development programs that truly help low-income rural areas get housing or sewer services. All of that is in jeopardy over the next months of debate.

Art Cullen is editor of the Storm Lake, Iowa, Times, where this originally appeared, and he’s managing editor of The Progressive Populist.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2016

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