Op-Ed: Rural America is being ignored, again

Source: By John Whitaker, Des Moines Register • Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It has been remarkable how quickly the “buzz” about rural voters and their electoral impact has faded. Many Main Street advocates, myself included, predicted the super-majority of rural voters who carried Donald Trump to victory would prompt a policy spotlight that would shine brightly on small towns and rural spaces. After all, without rural voters there would be no President Donald Trump.

Then, the incoming administration waited until the day before the inauguration to announce an Agriculture secretary-nominee. Earlier, a biofuels skeptic was nominated to run the EPA, which oversees the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Now, to add insult to injury, Trump has proposed $29 billion in cuts to crop insurance that create a yuge (huge) hole in the producer safety net! This will leave farmers without options in bad crop years caused by changing weather. All the while, eliminating locally led conservation efforts on farms and ranches and limiting programs that provide hunting and fishing opportunities on private lands.

Trump Republican cuts to agriculture and rural economic development programs will eliminate rural business programs that have supported more than 800,000 jobs in the last eight years. He proposes ending rural energy programs that help small businesses on Main Street save on energy costs — and that’s before the proposed cuts to Medicaid under Trumpcare-AHCA.

This is in addition to talk of a multi-front trade war, which prompted furrowed brows among farmers and ranchers. Rural hospitals have questioned the fiscal impact of an Obamacare repeal without some reasonable replacement. And suddenly the rural voting bloc that reigned on Election Day was left scratching its head.

Across rural America, there are common challenges being raised in every county. There is a huge demand for workers, for housing, for high-speed broadband in areas not served by a rural telephone cooperative, for mental health services and more. They are big issues that will affect rural America for years to come.

Rural America single-handedly elected a president. Rural America gave Republicans broad majorities in 68 legislative chambers across the country and 33 governorships. Rural voters went to the polls in November and tipped the balance of power.

They’re now wondering if anyone noticed.

John Whitaker is a executive director of Rural Forward, a new group to give rural progressives a voice. Whitaker, who farms in southeast Iowa, is a former state representative in the Iowa House and most recently served as state director of the Farm Services Agency in Iowa. Contact: info@ruralforward.org