Friday, October 26, 2007

2007 Farm Bill Fiesta

It's been a really busy week for me over on Iowa Independent. Please stop over there and check out my running series on the 2007 Farm Bill.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

"Rural Americans for Hillary" Event at D.C. Lobbyist Office Draws Fire From Rivals

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has come under fire from rival Democrats for planning a "Rural Americans For Hillary" event to be held at the office of a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm.

An ABC News blog reported this morning that the Clinton campaign will hold a lunch and briefing at Troutman Sanders Public Affairs, lobbyists for agribusiness giant Monsanto.

Monsanto was recently in the news in Iowa when the Iowa Attorney General's Office began an investigation of the company's business practices.

The John Edwards campaign pounced on the opportunity to highlight Clinton's close connection to powerful Washington lobbyists, and the Barack Obama campaign quickly joined in the fray. Both Edwards and Obama used rural surrogates to fire the shots at Clinton.

In a press release from the Edwards campaign, former Congressman Ben "Cooter" Jones said Clinton's "idea of talking to rural Americans is having a campaign lunch in Washington, D.C. with agribusiness lobbyists." He said Clinton simply doesn't relate to folks in rural Iowa, "and from what they tell me, they don't relate to her either."

The Obama campaign released a statement from former Iowa Farmers Union president Gary Lamb. "When it comes to the issues facing rural America, it seems like Sen. Clinton is listening to Washington lobbyists instead of spending time in Iowa with folks who have been farming for decades," he said. "I know Sen. Clinton said that she believes Washington lobbyists represent real Americans, I just can't believe that she thinks they know how to farm."

Both Obama and Edwards have recently campaigned in Iowa touting their rural policy proposals. Clinton has yet to release any specific policy proposals regarding agriculture or rural development.

Repeated requests for a response from the Clinton campaign were not answered.

Who Cares About Rural Folks?

As we enter into the final phases of the presidential caucus campaign season in Iowa, the candidates have presented most of their big plans and policy proposals. Be it about health care, Iraq or education, most of the candidates have rolled out their big ideas.

I think any presidential candidate who hasn't presented a policy proposal for any particular issue by late October doesn't show much interest in that issue.

And I think rural/agricultural issues deserve a policy proposal by anyone seeking the votes of those of us who live in flyover country.

So who has presented their detailed plans for rural America?

I'm obviously mostly interested in the Democrats here, so I took a quick look at the websites of the six major Democratic candidates, and found only three of them had a detailed rural issues policy proposal. Those candidates are John Edwards, Chris Dodd and Barack Obama.

Read John Edwards' plan here.

Read Chris Dodd's plan here.

Read Barack Obama's plan here.

I have been told by the Bill Richardson campaign that his rural policy proposal will be released "soon" and I'm eager to see it. Hopefully Biden and Hillary will get something together soon. Waiting this long seems to give the impression that rural and agricultural issues are not a high priority of these candidates.

One of the main reasons I'd like to see these policy proposals soon is the fact that the 2007 Farm Bill is not yet completed. I want to see candidates take a position on some important issues before the Farm Bill is completed, that way we know where they stand if something important fails to make it through this year's Farm Bill.

If I missed one, please let me know. I'd love to see it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Richardson Hunts for Votes in Southern Iowa

Bill Richardson is a hunter, and he wants rural Democrats to know it.

He purposefully mentioned the fact that he is a hunter at least three times in the span of an hour during a campaign stop today in the small southern Iowa community of Albia. The New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate chatted and joked with a gathering of about 20 locals at Mom's Place, a cozy roadside cafe at the intersection of highways 34 and 5.

"I'm a hunter, by the way," said Richardson after answering an unrelated question. "I know a lot of you are hunters, so please support me. The NRA gave me an A+ rating."

While the right to bear arms is obviously not a burning issue in the minds of most Iowa Democratic caucus-goers, Richardson's record on the subject may well earn him the respect of rural Democrats in places like Albia and other small towns that are often ignored by presidential candidates. "You know, I get grief all over the country," he laughed. "Doesn't help me in the Democratic Primary, but hey, I'm a Westerner."

Albia Mayor Richard Clark, a Democrat who has been involved in local politics for many years, told Iowa Independent that it may, in fact, help Richardson in rural areas. "I feel like it is an important issue," said Clark. "I know there are people trying to do away with guns. But they're never going to be able to get all the guns away from criminals. I think he's right on that issue."
Clark said he hasn't picked a favorite candidate yet, but he liked just about everything Richardson had to say.

The early morning campaign stop in Monroe County marked the 88th Iowa county that Richardson has visited. "I've got 11 to go," he said. "And I'm going to go to all of them. I'm going to have meetings like this everywhere. There's no town that's too small."
He had traveled from Centerville, about 20 miles to the south, where he stayed the night in a small bed-and-breakfast. He was scheduled to follow Highway 34 east throughout the day Wednesday, stopping in Ottumwa, Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant and Burlington.

Richardson spent most of the time in Albia talking about his regular stump speech topics, emphasizing his plan to end the war in Iraq and move all U.S. troops out of that country. He stressed the need for a new direction in world diplomacy, and his experience as a United Nations ambassador and foreign affairs. "I believe in diplomacy," said Richardson. "And I don't believe this president has practiced diplomacy. It's important that we restore our standing in the world." He also spent a good deal of time talking about education and health care.

One of the local Democrats in attendance, Doran Haywood, liked what Richardson had to say. Haywood, who lives in the Monroe County town of Lovilia, pledged his support for Richardson. "I'm going to caucus for him," said Haywood. "Because of his all-around experience, as a congressman, a governor and an ambassador. And also because I'm a card-carrying union man of 50 years, and I like his stance on labor."

Richardson, using a warm self-deprecating sense of humor that has served him well in the campaign, said he doesn't have much money and he doesn't have much glamour, "but I have the experience to bring change."
"The good news is that Iowa decides. The good news is that the pundits and TV people don't decide."

Monday, October 08, 2007

Edwards In Albia

John Edwards yesterday became the first major presidential candidate to come to Albia so far this year. We've had visits by the likes of John Cox and Tommy Thompson, but Sunday's visit by Edwards was the first big campaign event to grace our fair city all year.

Just over 100 people attended, which is a good crowd for political events in Albia.

Edwards was introduced by Monroe County Supervisor Denny Ryan. Denny has endorsed Edwards, and also supported him in 2004.

Edwards really didn't make any news in Albia, but I think he made some new friends. I heard a lot of very positive comments from people as folks were filing out of the building.
The event showed me that Edwards continues to have strong support in rural areas and small towns. This is the kind of support that can rack up a lot of delegates in the caucuses, something that many big city pundits don't really understand.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Grassley, Obama Team Up to Aid African American Farmers

There aren't very many African-American farmers in Iowa.
Nonetheless, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley is leading a call to help thousands of them in southern states who for years were discriminated against as they tried to participate in federal agriculture loan programs.
And Grassley, a Republican, has a key Democratic senator as an ally in his efforts: Barack Obama.
Grassley is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee that is slowly crafting its version of the 2007 Farm Bill, and he has called on committee leadership this week to include legislation in the bill that would help African-American farmers who were denied entry into the Pigford v. Glickman settlement.
That 1999 settlement ended a discrimination lawsuit between African-American farmers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But years later the issue is not resolved. As many as 22,000 farmers filed claims in the Pigford settlement, and about 15,000 of them received compensation. But Grassley stated that as many as 75,000 did not have their claims heard because of a filing deadline mistake. A September article in the Hill reported that about $730 million has been paid out in claims as a result of the Pigford settlement.
In a press release this week, Grassley said that black farmers in the South should get fair consideration of their case, "and up to this point, the Department of Agriculture hasn't allowed it to happen."
The farm bill passed by the House of Representatives in July includes a provision that would allow a new review to individuals whose Pigford settlement claims were denied. Grassley and Obama have been pushing for similar legislation in the Senate bill.
"I had hoped we could settle this without legislation, but enough is enough," said Grassley. "If we don't pass legislation thousands of victims of discrimination continue to be denied an opportunity to even have their claims heard."
Grassley and Obama's bill, named the Pigford Claims Remedy Act of 2007, is similar to the House-passed language introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio.
Grassley's letter this week to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and ranking member Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., states that there is "more than enough in funding to provide a robust legislative fix to the problems with the Pigford claims process."

Biden Calls For 16-Year Public Education System

Sen. Joe Biden wants to transform American public education into a 16-year system, getting kids as young as 3 into 'head start" programs.

The Delaware Democrat and presidential candidate announced his education plan Thursday in Des Moines, then set out for two days of campaign stops in southeast Iowa.

Biden's proposal, which comes with a price tag of approximately $30 billion, would fund two full years of preschool for everyone and provide qualifying high school graduates funding to go to college for two years.

At a campaign event in Ottumwa Thursday evening, Biden chatted for 90 minutes with a crowd of about 40 people at the local United Auto Workers hall. He spent a good deal of that time talking about his education plan.

"We've got to start kids to school earlier," said Biden. "If we start kids in a quality preschool at age 3, they have a 25 percent better chance of graduating high school than if we start them at age 6. Teachers have known this for years. So I would invest in early education. I'd double enrollment in Early Headstart and quadruple Headstart."

The plan would also provide $5 billion in grants to states to expand public preschool programs, and would expand home visitation programs for new parents to provide guidance on health, nutrition and school readiness.

One of the key components of Biden's plan is what he calls Higher Education ACCESS for All. He said it would help pay $9,300 per year for two years of college for students from families making less than $50,000 per year. For more affluent families, it would provide refundable tax credits.

"Anybody coming of high school who qualifies for college should be able to go," he said, "and not be denied because they don't have the money. There were 400,000 kids [who] got admitted to college this year but couldn't afford to go. And we're competing around the world? Anybody think you're gonna make it in the year 2025 without a college education?" he asked. "Coming from a middle-class neighborhood? What do you think your prospects are? My generation, you could make it. But let me tell you somethin', baby, I wouldn't want to bet on it now."

The college portion of Biden's education plan alone would cost about $9 billion annually. But, Biden said, it's all about what you value. "We're spending $85 billion per year to give people making an average income of $1,430,000 a year a tax break. Now you tell me what you value. Did they need that? They didn't ask for it and it will not affect the economy at all if they don't have it. I'm not trying to punish them: I'm not one of these class guys, rich against poor. They just don't need it. For almost one-tenth of that amount, he said, his plan could guarantee that everyone in America who qualifies could afford to go to college.But for almost one tenth of that, I could guarantee every kid in America that qualifies could get to college."

Biden also would hire 100,000 new teachers in an effort to reduce class sizes to an average of 18 students per classroom. "The smaller the class, the better the outcome. You have 30 kids in a class, you could do better with 20. The only way to get smaller classes is to get more teachers." Biden calls for a grant program to provide $2 billion annually to assist school districts in providing incentives to attract new teachers.

Biden would also raise teacher pay with a series of incentives. "In the countries we're competing with, England, France, the Netherlands...they pay their teachers the same amount of money they pay a graduating engineer. My dad used to have an expression. He said, 'don't tell me what you value, show me your budget and I'll tell you what you value.'" Biden applies that lesson in his belief that if America values education, we must budget for it.

He said he would provide additional incentives to teachers who work in what he calls "high-need" schools and provide bonuses to teachers who agree to stay with those schools for five years. The plan also calls for supplementing the pay of teachers who achieve National Board Certification, as well as assisting teachers to pay off their student loans.

"The thing about this is it's doable. It's doable," said Biden. "The thing costs a lot of money, but it's doable." Biden's proposal can be viewed on his campaign website here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Funding Package, Farm Bill Will Take Shape Soon, Harkin Says

The Senate Agriculture Committee may begin markup of its 2007 Farm Bill this week.

The committee markup process, once complete, will result in the bill that will go to the Senate floor. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, who chairs the committee, told reporters Tuesday there is still hope for an agriculture committee markup of the bill in the next few days.

"The past week has seen some very good progress on the farm bill," said Harkin. "I've met with members of the committee four times in formal discussions, and we've had countless conversations with my colleagues individually. We're beginning to rally around a basic framework that makes sound investments in our national priorities, provides strong policy and moves our country forward."

The main hurdle the agriculture committee must overcome has been a lack of funds to pay for all the priorities of agriculture committee members. Harkin has plans for a variety of new programs, including a significant boost to environmental programs. He has been pushing the Senate Finance Committee to provide the additional revenue needed for these programs.

"These new investments will be supported by a variety of funding sources, one of which is the Senate finance tax package," said Harkin, explaining that he has been working with Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., to secure funds for the bill. "He's indicated the package in his committee will provide additional resources to help meet our farm bill funding shortfall."

Harkin said that a number of members of the agriculture committee do not want to act until the finance committee finalizes its funding package. The promise of the finance committee marking up its tax package this week fuels his optimism that the farm bill will come together quickly. "No one wants to move this farm bill more than I do, and I've been working every day to make that happen," he said.

But Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who serves on the agriculture committee and is the ranking Republican member of the finance committee, told reporters today that the finance committee's funding package "is still somewhat unsettled."

Grassley said the agriculture committee's markup, "since it's apt not to be this week," would be the week of Oct. 13.