Guest Columnist

An agenda for rural communities

Former Governor, John Hickenlooper, shakes hands and greets Progress Iowa Corn Feed participants at Newbo City Market July 14, 2019.
Former Governor, John Hickenlooper, shakes hands and greets Progress Iowa Corn Feed participants at Newbo City Market July 14, 2019.

One of my greatest joys serving as governor of Colorado was championing our rural communities. From day one, I elevated rural communities as a statewide priority, and I would do the same as President. President Donald Trump, in sad contrast, has led the most anti-rural agenda in modern history, with a reckless tariff war and draconian policies that undermine access to affordable health care, and impose deep cuts to critical economic development resources in these communities.

We need a rural agenda that builds on the distinctive assets of each community and addresses challenges at the local level rather than imposing one-size-fits-all strategies. I will empower local authorities and residents to take action to create and sustain vibrant local economies where Americans of all ages want to live, work and raise their families. I’ll do this by bringing together government, the private sector and nonprofits to support and build local solutions for local challenges.

My plan will create a supportive environment for businesses, entrepreneurs and farmers, build global trade links to grow our rural economy, and ensure that all Americans have quality and affordable health care.

As president, I would commit to rolling out fast and reliable broadband internet available to all Americans, as we did in Colorado. Too many rural communities are falling behind because their residents do not have access to the internet.

As an entrepreneur, I recognize that access to capital is a challenge for business creation and growth. I would raise the federal loan guarantee to 90 percent of the loan value and cut red tape for lenders. Trump has proposed gutting the USDA Rural Development program, which provides essential support in economic and community development to rural communities across the nation. As president, I would expand these programs.

To further support small businesses, I have proposed a “Mom & Pop” tax credit to provide up to $50,000 in lifetime tax credits based on demonstrated growth of the business. And a new program of Entrepreneurial Opportunity Zones, based on the Colorado Rural Jump-Start Program, will provide additional incentives for entrepreneurs and workers in rural areas.

My rural agenda will include a new model for apprenticeships and skills training, based on Colorado’s successful CareerWise program. We can support businesses in reliably filling roles while also supporting the adults in our rural communities who choose a career pathway other than college. And I will make community college free-for-all Americans — young and old — who cannot afford it.

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We also must stop Trump’s reckless path to a farm crisis. Trump’s own Department of Agriculture estimates that the ongoing tariff war will have a crushing $11 billion impact on U.S. agriculture. Iowa’s agriculture industry losses exceeded $1 billion last year, according to researchers at Iowa State University. In contrast, my trade plan ensures open and fair trade, in a way that benefits American workers, employers, investors, and national security interests.

The agriculture industry continues to consolidate, stifling competition and depressing wages. I have announced a detailed plan to strengthen and enforce antitrust laws and protect our farmers and ranchers from being forced to only use dealers and big manufacturers for their machine and equipment repairs.

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has been vital for rural economic growth. In Iowa alone, there are nearly 50,000 jobs related to ethanol production and nearly 40 percent of all Iowa corn is used to produce ethanol. As president, I would stop the EPA from issuing waivers to refiners that allow them to dodge the RFS mandate and would oppose any effort to repeal the RFS.

We must address the rising cost of health care, and limited provider options in rural areas. Trump’s attacks on Medicare and Medicaid have been particularly hurtful to rural hospitals. As governor, I stopped the closure of more than a dozen rural hospitals and, with bipartisan support, expanded Medicaid. We need a president who will defend the ACA, offer a public option, and promote needed competition among providers and insurers in rural areas. We also need expanded federal support to address the shortage of nurses, doctors and other providers in rural areas and create incentives for these health professionals to remain in rural communities.

Together, my policies will support rural economic growth and vibrant and healthy communities.

l John Hickenlooper is a Democratic candidate for president and former governor of Colorado.

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