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Tom Harkin: Strengthening America with Investments in Rural America

Monday, September 10th, 2007

Guest Post by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin

In the last few weeks I’ve traveled to over 26 cities and towns all over Iowa to meet face to face with residents and listen to their hopes, their concerns, and their feedback on the 2007 farm bill, which will strengthen investment and economic opportunities for our rural communities and farmers, conserve our environment while decreasing our dependence on foreign sources of oil and improve the quality and safety of our food and nutritional options for our children.

What struck me most during these personal meetings was how our uniquely American entrepreneurial spirit is stronger than ever. I have always believed that one of the cardinal responsibilities of government is to provide the basic infrastructure for Americans with innovative ideas to be able to readily carry them out — and in Washington, Anamosa, Lake City, and other cities and rural communities across Iowa — I was able to witness this entrepreneurial spirit first hand.

In Washington, I met with a local family-owned company called Practical Environmental Solutions that started with a grant they received from the 2002 farm bill that helps to reduce waste by transforming wood into pellets that can burn cleanly in an oven. And in Anamosa and Lake City, I met with farmers who are using innovative conservation practices that not only help protect and improve the environment, but also help strengthen their income from the Conservation Security Program that I created in the 2002 farm bill.

Throughout Iowa, I witnessed the tremendous amount of good that we can accomplish when we pair good government policy with this entrepreneurial spirit and I am hopeful that the 2007 farm bill will continue and expand upon programs such as these to strengthen our farms, our children and our families, our rural communities, and our country.

We can strengthen our farms and secure the future for the next generation of farmers by expanding opportunities by promoting conservation through initiatives like the Conservation Security Program and expanding use of farm-based renewable energy produced throughout Iowa.

We can strengthen our farm payment system so that it can better focus on what it was designed to do – help farmers when their incomes fall and they really need the help. That’s why I support stronger payment limitations and integrity in our farm programs.

We can strengthen our children and our families by expanding the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program so that elementary schoolchildren around the country can have access to healthy and nutritious meals so they can focus in the classroom and their parents no longer have to worry about what their children going to school hungry.

We can strengthen our rural communities by ensuring that they are not left out of the information revolution by increasing broadband access and working to jumpstart a new Rural Collaborative Investment Program to boost rural infrastructure and spur effective economic development strategies.

And we can strengthen our country by increasing funding for innovative programs such as the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements Program that helps entrepreneurs cover the cost of getting renewable energy facilities off the ground.

The 2007 farm bill is an incredibly important piece of legislation for Iowa and America’s future and I will fight every day to continue to be a voice for sensible policies and values that strengthen all of America.

Editors Note: Leave comments for Senator Harkin in the comment section below or at his own blog.

Beyond Agriculture

Monday, September 10th, 2007

In our next post, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin will write about his hopes for the 2007 Farm Bill. A story in yesterday’s Des Moines Register offers some policy-context to parts of his post.

Talk of agriculture often dominates discussions about the farm bill, but yesterday Philip Brasher wrote about another sort of battle brewing in the debate over the 2007 Farm Bill.

Brasher: Harkin prepares push for rural development

A battle could be brewing between the House and Senate on an issue that seldom gets much attention in Congress - rural development.

The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Tom Harkin, is preparing a series of rural development proposals, including funding for water and sewer improvements, venture capital and even child-care centers, that would increase federal spending by $2 billion over the next five years.

The farm bill that passed the House this summer had relatively little new money for rural development programs. [Snip…]

A mandatory program must be included in the federal budget each year. Spending for other rural development programs in the House bill would be left to the discretion of congressional appropriations committees.

By contrast, all of the $2 billion in new rural development money that would be in Harkin’s legislation would be designated as mandatory spending, according to his staff, which provided a description of his plans.

“We need to help communities help themselves to create quality jobs and an improved quality of life,” says Harkin, D-Ia.

Harkin’s proposal provides money for rural water and sewer systems which currently face a large funding backlog. It also includes money for constructing and maintaining rural hospitals, assisted-living facilities and child care facilities.

The proposed legislation designates $100 million for microenterprise loan programs for people looking to start a new rural businesses, and $200 million over five years for value-added grants.

These are important programs for rural America, and critical after years of farm consolidation and rural out-migration driven by unlimited farm payments in the Commodity Title of the bill. But the fight won’t be easy.

Republican-led Congresses repeatedly nicked several rural development programs that were authorized in the 2002 farm bill, including the value-added grants and Internet loans. (This is the reason the House Agriculture Committee’s chairman, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., gave for not putting more mandatory spending into rural development this year.)

Harkin has allies in the Bush administration for at least some of his ideas. In threatening to veto the House farm bill, the White House specifically cited the lack of funding for rural hospitals and infrastructure, among other reasons.

I will be watching the debate unfold, and hoping Harkin holds out for a full $2 billion in mandatory rural development spending in the 2007 Farm Bill.

Bush Dog: Earl Pomeroy

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

The activist-bloggers at openleft.com have launched a campaign targeting Bush Dog Democrats. You can read more here and here and join up here. Part of the campaign seeks to profile each of the identified Bush Dogs. You can find links to profiles of other Bush Dogs here. The following is a profile of Representative Earl Pomeroy.

Earl Pomeroy - North Dakota Representative At Large

Earl Pomeroy (D-NPL) is currently serving his 8th term in congress. Pomeroy was born a North Dakota native in 1952. He holds a BA in political science and a law degree from the University of North Dakota. Today, Pomeroy lives in Mandan, North Dakota.

The District: North Dakota has a single At-Large representative. Bush won the state with 63% of the vote in 2004, and the district has PVI score of 13 (+R) making it the fifth most Republican district of the Bush Dog candidates. At the level of state government, Republicans hold all but one statewide office and a sizable majority at the State House.

Nevertheless Pomeroy won re-election with 65.5% of the vote in 2006. North Dakota also reliably elects two Democratic Nonpartisan League U.S. Senators. This is driven in part by a vein of prairie-populism that has long existed in North Dakota.

The Year was 1992: Earl Pomeroy got his start in North Dakota politics in 1974 working as the driver for Byron Dorgan’s campaign for the U.S. House — the same seat that Pomeroy now holds. Dorgan lost his 1974 bid for congress, but was elected to the U.S. House in 1980.

After finishing law school in 1979, Pomeroy beginning practicing law. He was elected to the North Dakota State House in 1980, and was re-elected two years later. In 1984 Pomeroy ran for North Dakota Insurance Commissioner. He was elected, and re-elected to the post 1988.

In 1992 Pomeroy said he would not run for a third term as North Dakota Insurance Commissioner, and announced plans to become a Peace Corps volunteer in the former Soviet Union. At the time, he said a U.S. House race did not interest him. What followed is almost bizarre.

First-term North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (D-NPL) was up for reelection in 1992. However, during his first campaign Conrad pledged that he would not run for re-election if the federal budget deficit had not fallen by the end of his term. By 1992 it became obvious that this would not be the case, and although hew likely could have gone back on his promise and still won reelection, Conrad considered his promise binding and did not run. North Dakota Congressman Byron Dorgan (D-NPL) ran for U.S. Senate to replace Senator Conrad.

This left North Dokota’s At-Large U.S. House seat open, and Pomeroy was drawn back into electoral politics. He won the House seat, and has held the position ever since.

Simultaneously, outgoing Senator Kent Conrad got an unusual opportunity to remain in the Senate. When long-serving North Dakota Senator Quentin Burdick (D-NPL) died in September of 1992 a special election was needed to fill the rest of the term. As this was not “running for re-election,” Conrad ran for and won election to the other Senate seat from North Dakota.

In Congress, Pomeroy sits on both the House Agriculture Committee and Ways and Means Committee.

Issues of Interest: Earl Pomeroy voted for the authorizing force in Iraq in 2002. In May of 2007 Pomeroy voted for H.R. 2206, authorizing more money for the Iraq war without putting any timelines or conditions on the Bush administration. Pomeroy also voted for S. 1927, expanding FISA and giving Bush the legal right to wiretap American citizens without a warrant.

In July of 2007 a video of Pomeroy discussing impeachment of Bush with activists on the streets of Washington appeared online.

The video sparked controversy in North Dakota, and Pomeroy subsequently apologized for referring to President Bush as a “clown” during the exchange.

A very rural and largely agricultural state, farm bill politics is of significant importance in North Dakota. From 1995 to 2005 North Dakota received an estimated $7.04 billion in farm subsidy payments. Originally intended to support small and mid-sized family farmers, farm subsidies are now widely credited with driving agriculture consolidation and contributing to rural out-migration. For this reason, farm program payment limits have overwhelming support amongst North Dakotans. Nevertheless, Pomeroy supported the House version of the 2007 Farm Bill that actually completely removes some existing payment limits and increases others limits.

The liberal Americans for Democratic Action gave Pomeroy an 80% liberal voting record and the American Conservative Union gave him a 38% conservative voting record in 2006. Pomeroy’s ProgressivePunch.org scores range from 52-90%.

Initial Impressions: The PVI is stacked against Pomeroy or any other potential candidate. However, the revival of populist-politics across the rural West creates an opportunity for the district. In North Dakota, the long history of the Non-Partisan League gives historical authority to rural populism. Earl Pomeroy knows some of the same rhetoric used by new darlings of the West such as Senator Jon Tester (D-MT). He needs to learn how to use that good-old-populist rhetoric to justify standing up and voting against the Bush Administration on issues such as the war and the invasion of personal liberty though expanded wiretapping authority. His constituents are already sympathetic to a populist argument for doing so.

Rural Bush Dogs: Pomeroy is one of several Bush Dogs from primarily Rural Districts in the Midwest and West. Others include Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD-AL), John Salazar (CO-03), Zack Space (OH-18), Collin Peterson (MN-07), and Tim Walz (MN-01).

Additional Sources: USA Today Article | Wikipedia: Earl Pomeroy | Wikipedia: Kent Conrad | Wikipedia: Byron Dorgan | Congressman Earl Pomeroy | Earl Pomeroy for Congress | Open Congress: Earl Pomeroy | Washington Post: Votes Against Party

Farm Aid: Live from the Big City

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

Why is Farm Aid in Manhattan this year?

Next Up: Senator Tom Harkin

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

On Monday Iowa Senator Tom Harkin will write a guest post at Rural Populist outlining his priorities for the 2007 Farm Bill. The House passed their version of the Farm Bill in late July. The Senate is expected to take up their version of the bill sometime this fall.

Senator Harkin is the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee as well as the co-chair of the Senate Rural Health Caucus.

The Value of Rural

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

By Steph Larsen

In a recent post that was crossposted on Gristmill, there were a few comments that reflected a view of rural areas by folks who I can only assume have chosen not to spend much time in the country. They asked questions like:

“What’s so special about rural communities? Why isn’t it better if half these people just moved to the cities?”

I find myself defending rural communities more frequently lately, even though I’ve never been a permanent resident of one (yet). To my city friends, the statement that I’m spending three weeks in Nebraska is almost always met with raised eyebrows and quizzical looks. While they understand the desire to leave the swamp that is our nation’s capital, most of them are coastal people who haven’t given the Midwest more than a cursory glance as they drive by or fly over on their way to somewhere else.

There are a lot of answers to the question “Why care about rural communities?” One might be that with 55 million Americans living in rural areas, it would be undemocratic to categorically ignore their voices. Another would be equality–we routinely spend tax dollars revitalizing run-down parts of cities, and rural communities deserve similar treatment.

Another person commented:

“Explain to me why is it important to keep these small towns alive? Those who have left the small towns are gainfully employed elsewhere. Note that our food production has not fallen off in tangent with the decline of these rural centers. So, this is not leading to starvation. The future may be one of profitable organic farmers in close proximity to major urban centers, if that is what the market creates, and if the government and everyone else would stop trying to prop up a lifestyle that is an echo of our former agrarian economy.”

While it is certainly the case that our food production has not decreased dramatically because of the decline of diversified agriculture, it is also true that agriculture has gotten more consolidated and unsustainable, adopting many practices that are arguably much worse for the environment than ever before. As an advocate for local organic food, I personally make sure that as much of my food as possible comes from local organic sources, but I speculate that every major urban area does not have the space for profitable local organic farmers to feed all the residents in the nearby city, especially with rampant urban sprawl.

In addition, if even a majority of rural residents suddenly moved to the city, there would be a huge strain on infrastructure and resources, not to mention that a flood of labor would likely not do good things for wages and working conditions. In fact, today’s farm policy is partially a legacy of former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz, whose “Get big or get out,” “Fencerow to fencerow” style led to an influx of rural residents to urban areas that provided cheap labor for urban manufacturing.

There is one argument, however, that I think we can all relate to regardless of our roots. I want you to picture the place you consider home. Perhaps you are in that place now, and can look around, and feel how good it is to be there. Then, imagine what you would feel or do if someone told you that you couldn’t, or shouldn’t, live there anymore. Approximately 20% of Americans live in small towns and rural areas, and many of them are passionate about protecting their homes and communities. It’s unfair for folks to suggest that rural residents leave the places in which they want to live.

Many of us, whether we realize it or not, have rural roots or depend on rural areas. The idea of allowing rural communities to go to waste would have unintended and unforeseen consequences. I admire that our country still allows for equal opportunity to all our residents, and I hope that these opportunities would not be denied due to geography.

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