DES MOINES — Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper warned Thursday the Trump administration “is hurtling us to another farm crisis” like the 1980s by engaging in an international “tariff war” that already has led to “dire consequences” for rural communities in America.
Hickenlooper, 67, who issued a multipronged plan to bolster rural America, said U.S. trade policy should be one of global engagement.
But instead President Trump has chosen a “harmful and shortsighted” strategy of launching tariff wars with China and Mexico while walking away from trade agreements that held promise for growing the economy, creating good-paying jobs and bolstering security ties with allies around the world, he said.
Trump officials have said the administration could make as much as $20 billion available to farmers in a second round of taxpayer-funded assistance designed to help offset losses from China’s latest retaliatory tariffs. That second installment of trade aid comes after the U.S. Agriculture Department pledged up to $12 billion in assistance last year — mostly via direct payments to farmers stung by retaliatory duties and commodity purchases.
But Hickenlooper, who served as Colorado’s 42nd governor from 2011 to 2019, said no country wins in a tariff war and does not make up for the lost trade.
He also said in a telephone interview he views the tariff disputes Trump has provoked as “basically a tax on America” that economists tell him amounts to about $1,200 per year per household, “but I think that farmers and ranchers are paying a lot more than that.”
“(President Trump) seems to think that the damage that is being done to dairy farmers and soybean farmers and corn farmers, that that’s just a little pain that they have to take for the good of the country, which is a joke,” Hickenlooper said.
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“Our farmers want to be paid for what they produce, and Trump’s ill-conceived bailout is too little and too late, especially for our small family farms,” he said.
Noting that 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States, he said it is detrimental to force U.S. farmers “to the sidelines” while other countries have filled the gaps in markets vacated by American leadership.
Depressed commodity markets and other economic concerns have been exacerbated in some parts of Iowa where planting has been delayed by a wet spring and prolonged flooding.
“We, as Americans, benefit from trade, and we, as an agricultural country, tremendously benefit from trade, so if we want good prices for our hogs, for our beef, for our corn, for our dairy products — we need that trade,” he said. “It’s not just Canada and Mexico, we need international trade.
“I’m all for changing and improving our trade agreements, but this tariff war has been an all-out assault on rural America,” he added. “I’m amazed that people aren’t hitting the roof because there’s no history, no example, that it’s actually going to come around and be a long-term benefit. All it is is suffering to make a point.
“The challenges facing rural America were already significant, and this has taken a bad situation and made it infinitely worse,” he said. “If we are not careful, we’re going to wipe out a new generation of farmers, at a time when the amount of family farmers is already at an all-time low.”
Hickenlooper is promoting a plan to greatly expand broadband access and quality to rural communities, bolster access to rural health care, provide more access to capital to encourage more investment in entrepreneurial opportunity zones in rural America, expand apprenticeships and skills training to help young people avoid costly student debt and provide incentives to fill workforce shortages in underperforming and less-populated locations.
He said he began as a small-business entrepreneur who started companies, created jobs and knows what it’s like to sign “both sides” of a payroll check.
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He said his interest is in common-sense government that is better, but not bigger, and he has a track record of working in a bipartisan way to achieve results, especially in rural areas after creating one of the fastest-growing rural economies in America during his time as Colorado’s governor.
Hickenlooper said Colorado came close to achieving universal health care coverage, enacted meaningful gun laws with universal background checks and limited-capacity magazines and adopted meaningful environmental changes that had transformative effects.
“I don’t see anybody else who has that kind of experience,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s had that record of progressive achievement of bringing people together. With 20 people running, it’s hard to get people’s attention, but I really believe that I’m the one person running who’s actually done what everyone else is talking about.”
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