Friday, July 27, 2007

Obama Crafting a Rural Agenda

Barack Obama wants to hear about the concerns of rural Americans.

During a campaign event in Iowa today, the Illinois Democrat announced the creation of an advisory committee that will collect input from rural residents and work with his presidential campaign to craft an agenda to tackle rural issues.

"It's time to make America's rural agenda America's agenda," Obama said. "It's time we had a government that understood that it's the Department of Agriculture, not the Department of Agribusiness.'"

This rural advisory committee includes some heavy-hitters in the realm of agriculture, like Mike Dunn of Keokuk, the former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs who served during the Clinton administration.
Iowa Independent asked Dunn why he's chosen to work with Sen. Obama. "Last Thanksgiving, as I was visiting with my four sons, I asked them what they thought about the presidential candidates, which ones they liked. They all said Obama. They all said we need a new face, somebody that offers hope, that represents their generation," said Dunn. "And so we have this new leader in Obama, offering hope, not only for America but for the world." Dunn said he has been impressed with Obama's willingness to listen, to bring people together to help create policies for positive change.

Obama's other rural advisors include Gary Lamb, a former president of the Iowa Farmers Union who has also served as chairman of the Iowa state committee of the Farm Service Agency and as an agricultural liaison for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Neil Hamilton will also be involved. He's the director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University.
"These are some of the top agricultural experts in the country," said Obama, "And so I'm really honored for them to be involved the way they are."

Obama used the idyllic rural landscape of a farm on the outskirts of Adel to announce that his rural advisory committee will be traveling Iowa in the next few weeks to visit with rural residents. The ideas that they collect will be brought together in August, when Obama will host a rural summit on quality of life, agriculture and renewable energy.

During the event, Obama discussed the important agriculture legislation that had passed the U.S. House of Representatives just a few hours earlier. "The farm bill that's before Congress now, that just passed out of the House today, offers a real opportunity to make sure our government is serving family farmers and rural communities across the board and not just serving a few."

Obama said that the Senate version of the farm bill will not entirely copy the House bill, and he noted that it will likely put more emphasis on conservation and nutrition. "And it's probably going to be more aggressive in terms of making sure that subsidies are going to people who really need them, as opposed to the folks who've got the most clout in Washington," he said.
Obama noted that over the past decade, more than $1.3 billion in farm program funds have gone to people who are not even farmers, and that must change, he said. "We've even got farm money going to Fortune 500 companies."
"I know that a lot of you may be a little bit cynical about this whole process, because every few years you get politicians out here making promises about how things are going to change in Washington. But I come from a farm state, and I think it's very clear that I've got a record for battling on behalf of you." Obama touted his work with Harkin on the Biofuels Security Act to dramatically increase accessibility of biofuels in the nation's fuel supply.

"As President, I'll keep on fighting for a rural agenda. I'll enforce our trade agreements, and fight to make sure our farm programs help the family farmer who needs them," he said.
Universal health care will also play a part in strengthening rural communities, he said. "I remember the first trip I took to a farm, and discovered that many of the women in farming communities were working just to make sure that they had health insurance for their family. The cost of health care shouldn't lead to a bankruptcy and cause people to shut down their farms."

Obama spent much of the event taking questions and comments from the crowd of about 200, and then went on to Winterset for another campaign rally.

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