Live from the Heartland Forum - update, includes video | WisCommunity

Live from the Heartland Forum - update, includes video

March 30, 2019 - 12:50pm
Elizabeth Warren at Farmers Rights Rally

I have just left the Farmer's Rights rally in Storm Lake Iowa. I came down on the bus with the Wisconsin Farmers Union. We left Chippewa Falls at 4 AM today.  Later in the week there will be a video of the Rally, and photos. 

This afternoon I am at the Heartland Forum, and have decided to sit with the print media. I am at the moment sitting in the Press File room, where there is (blessedly) coffee, which at the moment I desperately need after 3 hours of sleep last night. The forum is at Buena Vista University, Storm Lake, IA. This is a fairly slow-format forum - each candidate will take the stage individually and be asked questions by the moderators, and they have four minutes to respond to each.

I just got a cup of coffee, and although they are really BIG cups of coffee, there is no real cream. So - one demerit for the Heartland Forum already. We need real dairy to demand Farmer's Rights. 

We are going to be watching the rally on video in here from the Huffington Post feed. The coverage will start at 1 PM. Back in a few minutes. Please note that this live blogging is likely to be fairly rough.  There will be a summary article within the next few days.

Aaron Lehman, President of the Iowa Farmers Union has taken the floor and is doing introductions.  He introduces Tom Vilsack, former Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. Vilsack says he is not interested in plans from the candidates, who have failed rural America, but their visions. "With a vision we will understand the heart and soul of our candidate. Most of us vote with our heart and soul - we obviously did not vote the last time with our brains". 

The moderators Art Cullen, Storm Lake Times, Amanda Terkel and Zach Carter from Huffington Post have taken the stage. Art Cullen has introduced Elizabeth Warren to enthusiastic applause. 

Elizabeth Warren

Warren says "I want an America that works not just for those at the top, but an America that works for everyone". She discusses the declining share of the food dollar going to the farmer, and that she wants to see enforcement of the anti-trust laws so that companies "are not taking all of the profit from farms." "I believe in an America that works for everybody". 

Cullen lays out a large number of issues facing farmers, including loss of profit and equity, and the horrific suicide rate among farmers. Warren says that we need to immediately get help out to farm country. "We've got to be willing to offer help that is meaningful, now". "Washington is making it worse day by day." As an example she suggests that the Bayer/Monsanto merger was approved despite evidence of how difficult this would be for farmers. "For far too long the giants in the industry just kept calling the shots, and for far too long the government has gone along with it."

Amanda Terkel asks if she supports allowing felons to vote even if they are serving their sentence. Warren believes that this is a different question from felony re-enfranchisement, but not necessarily for felons still in prison. 

Warren - "2020 is all about who government works for". "I think the top 1/10 of 1 percent should pay a tax on wealth they have in excess of 50 million dollars". 

Warren makes that case that we need to consider not just helping the top but the rest of the country, and then acting on that. This will ensure winning in 2020, but only if we then act.

Questions from the audience - Young beginning farmers do not have access to land, and are suffering from crushing student debt. Warren says she sees what happens when young people cannot farm and come into small towns - they die out.  She says "we are crushing an entire generation with student loan debt." The debt burden is growing at a rate of 100 billion dollars per year. 

"We need to make the investment in young people." "I guarantee by 2021 if we get the right people in government we will cut that student debt."

Julian Castro

"The basic needs of Americans are largely the same everywhere, but they are different in different places in regard to emphasis". He calls out education funding, health care funding, particularly re; rural hospitals.  He also called out family farms and clean water.

Amanda Terkel asks about gun policy, particularly if the discussion on gun policy needs to revolve around access to guns, not just background checks. "I support common-sense gun reform." "One of the under-tallked-about things is suicide." He suggests that this ties back to the stigma of people who are mentally ill, and that many hospitals are doing away with in patient mental care. "That goes to our healthcare policy and investments". 

Castro calls for some form of universal health care, raising the mimimum wage, and making investments in people if we want to go to a positive direction on life expectancy. He was asked about opioid addiction. Castro points out the largest Fentanyl importation bust in history and calls out for better technology at the border, since this bust took place at a port of entry.

Cullen asks in view of the small towns dying out, what can be done to ease the entry of immigrants to keep these small rural towns alive. Castro is supportive "I never thought I could get good Mexican food in Iowa, but I have". He points to Storm Lake as an example of a town that has done this right, and that we need to recognize the value of our immigrant communities. Castro predicts a Democratic Senate, House, and President starting in 2021. 

the moderators are currently vamping because candidates Klobuchar and Delaney have not arrived. In the meantime, candidate Castro is having a press gaggle in the hallway - there will be a short video of that later.

Back in the press room, and we have moved forward. 

John Delaney

Audience Questions

Delaney - "I have a list of things to be done in the first 100 days as president. One of these is comprehensive immigration reform."  He calls out the attempt at immigration reform during the Obama presidency, and that we would all be much better off if that had passed. 

Q - What are some ways the federal government can reduce the inequality of rural schools?

A - The role of the federal government is to invest in rural schools, where there is not so much funding from property taxes. "This issue with how they are funded is really a problem". He points out the lack of investment in rural communities. "I want to help these economies so that the tax base grows". 

Cullen points out that there is no day care available in Storm Lake, and in 1/3 of Iowa. Delany calls for pre-k programs, particularly 0-3 early childhood education. "It is absolutely the best investment we make".

Amy Klobuchar

Cullen asks Klobuchar about the Twins. 

Klobuchar - "I can see Iowa from my porch" She talks about seeing all of the flooded areas where people have lost everything, but were still in the pancake breakfast this morning helping each other. 

"Kids that grow up in rural America should be able to live in rural America." She calls for commodity caps so small farmers are not disadvantaged. 

78% of the seed for our farmers are controlled by two companies and the number of Class 1 railroads in the country is four - just like on the Monopoly board. 

Cullen asks about Iowa soil loss - corn yields in Iowa could drop 50% due to soil loss from climate change. Klobuchar - we see it in the floods, in the wildfires. "It's important to have a midwest candidate who can talk about these midwest climate issues". She calls for going back into the Paris accord, and to keep the conservation provisions in the Farm Bill strong. 

Terkel asks about the decline of media - what role does the federal government play in fixing this?

Social media companies need to admit they are media companies, and we need to treat them like media companies - privacy legislation - "I don't think your data should be sent out without your permission to everyone in the world".  She also discusses anti-trust issues in the media, There is no transparency in Internet advertising - she talks about passing the Honest Ads bill she wrote with John McCain. "Otherwise all these campaign finance rules we have in place mean nothing". 

Human rights violations - we need laws but we also need a president who believes in human rights. "This President needs to go back to the negotiating table with China".  She also discusses the trade wars promoted by Trump, and how severely this has affected the soybean market, in many cases causing farm failures, and in some cases suicides. 

Provisions to allow a family to keep their farm if they go into bankruptcy.

Audience questions -

How would you pay for free college, and how do you protect the ability of rural students to attend universities? Klobuchar does not think we can afford free college for everyone but believes we can do much including more Pell Grants, and free 2-year community college. Many jobs require a 2-year degree but we are not setting up ways for people to get those degrees. "There are many paths to success in the USA."

Q - What will you do about vertical integration including Walmart having its own dairy production?

Klobuchar looks back to the Grange movement demanding changes in the laws. Two ideas - first we need to be able to jumpstart investigations allowing fees on mega-mergers that would better fund investigations. Second, changing our anti-trust laws particularly since we cannot rely on the courts to do this any more as the courts become more conservative. Monopolies will need to prove that mergers will not decrease competition.

Q - question on retirement, and the failure of pension plans. This is particularly hard on rural communities when pensioners lose their money. Why aren't pensions considered too big to fail like banks?

A - She points to how the current administration time and time sides with corporations, for example in the tax bill that helps to encourage offshore accounts. Getting back more federal funding would help to pay for things like pension protection.  Klobuchar also thanks the Farmers Union for standing up for farmers every day.

Klobuchar believes we need more resources in the FTC and Justice Department. We also need an administration that is willing to get anti-trust done. She claims that Trump mostly sees anti-trust as a weapon, an example being politicizing the AT&T merger to get back at CNN.  

She believes that changing the law will take decades given the current makeup of the courts, but we need to enforce the laws we have. 

Tim Ryan

Ryan has not yet declared that he is running. 

He points out that despite the successful stock market, there is still anxiety among citizens. This is largely because job layoffs devastate many small towns. Jobs disappear and they don't come back. "How do we get these manufacturing centers tied together politically with rual America?:" They face many of the same issues of hospitals closing, opioid addiction, etc.

Q - Even though employment rates come back, manufacturing jobs in America have largely disappeared. 

A - Much of this is due to jobs going off-shore,  but now it is largely automation. We need to embrace AI, and new technologies, and we need to cut the worker in on the deal.

Off to a gaggle with Senator Klobuchar - there really need to be 3 people covering this I'm afraid.

Back in the press room. 

Audience questions.

Q - what can we do about the Dreamers?

A - "I hope we can continue to be strong enough to accept refugees that are coming from war-torn countries. " - "That to me is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength". He suggests that the President should read his daily briefings and consider ways we can help to solve the problems causing the destabilized countries. "Let's talk about how many problems I want my President to solve before I even hear about them."

Q - Cullen - What about moving digital jobs into rural areas?

A - He got a bus with 13 venture capitalists, and they drove around the Midwest. Money is coming into these states to make investments in rural areas. This can go for technology and for re-invigorating rural downtowns. "You've got to have a comprehensive agenda to encourage this around the country". Investors need to understand that the startups and issues in different areas require different approaches. "We don't need to re-invent the wheel." "We need to as Democrats be critical of the government because it's not getting the job done." 

"Force Republicans to have to politically move the ball for us." "Can we please get everybody on the same page?"  "In 2016 candidates didn't even go to rural America."

That's it for the Heartland Forum.  Come back in a few days for a wrap-up on this and video for the candidate interviews and the Farmer's Rights Rally earlier today.

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Photo - Elizabeth Warren at Farmers Rights Rally, 3/30/2019. Storm Lake Iowa.

Video courtesy of Huffington Post

Steve Hanson
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