GRINNELL — It might be easy to dismiss John Delaney as another big city, East Coast politician, but the former Maryland congressman claims some serious rural bona fides.
Not only was his father-in-law an Idaho potato farmer, but Delaney represented the most rural congressional district in Maryland.
“And actually, agriculture is the No. 1 industry in the state,” he recently told the Iowa Farmers Union annual convention in Grinnell.
So Delaney had personal insight on rural issues even before he spent the past couple of years in Iowa campaigning for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
“I think I’m the only candidate really focusing on the issues that matter to rural America,” he said before speaking to the farmers group. “I’ve been to all 99 counties. No one else has done that. I’m talking about things that actually matter, like getting back in the Trans-Pacific Partnership or having a real agenda to encourage entrepreneurship in rural America.”
Delaney claims to be the only Democrat running who supports the TPP, which is the 12-nation deal with countries such as Japan, Australia and Chile that was negotiated by the Obama administration to create a counterweight against China. About half are opposed to it, while some want to renegotiate it and others haven’t weighed in.
Regardless of their positions, Delaney said that for the most part his rivals are “complaining about what (President Donald) Trump’s doing, but not putting forth any real proposals.”
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He’s not shy about endorsing the TPP, which he said has the highest labor and environmental standards of any trade agreement. An added benefit for American farmers is that it would increase the value of farmland, Delaney said.
Supporting TPP — and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which Delaney also endorses — would be good for the Democratic Party.
“I think it’s good for our party because it’s a way for us to make inroads into communities that we’ve lost,” he said. “If you want to beat Donald Trump, which everyone I know does, the best way to take him on is with an alternative vision around agriculture. That has to start with embracing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
Also, if Trump and the GOP have become the party of building physical walls to keep out immigrants, Delaney said, “the Democratic Party can’t be the party of economic walls to keep trade out.”
His plan for reinvigorating rural America doesn’t stop with trade. Delaney is calling for investment in rural America because “nothing happens without investment.”
Since 1990, the nation has grown by 75 million people, but rural America has shrunk by 3 million. In the last five years, counties with more than a million people have created 100,000 new businesses, but counties of fewer than 100,000 people have lost 25,000 businesses. Last year, 80 percent of the money and startup companies went to 15 counties in this country.
“This is an enormous problem. Huge parts of our country have been left behind economically,” Delaney said. “It’s terrible for those communities. It creates no opportunities for young people, and it destabilizes our democracy because our democracy is premised on the notion that we have broad-based economic prosperity.”
His solution is to reignite entrepreneurship and small businesses in rural America. Delaney would prime the pump with a “huge national infrastructure plan with a disproportionate allocation to rural America.”
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He would require that 25 percent of government contracts go to firms that have half their employees in communities that are struggling economically. Delaney would double the Earned Income Tax Credit in those communities to make it easier for employers to hire workers.
Taken together, Delaney said, “You know, these are real strategies that bring investment dollars into these communities.”
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