A few weeks ago, I was at Dan and Patty Muhlbauer’s farm in Manila, Iowa, where I had the opportunity to talk to 20 farmers from all over the state. I heard the fatigue of trying to keep up in a market unfairly skewed toward Big Ag, fueled by this president’s broken promises. I heard the frustration of parents and grandparents who want their kids to stay nearby, rather than fleeing to cities for better education and jobs. I heard the fear of not being able to get badly needed care as hospitals close and access to telehealth is limited.
We have to recognize how we got here: decades of cruel, empty promises from Washington politicians, who think they know better than the people of this state. Cuts to education, hospital and mental health facility closings, the refusal to pay a living wage or allow workers to get a fair share, and the shocking disregard for farm families.
Washington simply isn’t doing enough for rural communities as they deal with an unstable economy and a looming recession — spurred by an erratic and incompent president. Let’s get one thing clear: Donald Trump does not understand, or care to understand, rural Iowan communities.
To me, Iowa is a familiar place. I came here often as a kid, to visit my aunt and uncle in Iowa City. And over the last six years or so, I’ve traveled from the Missouri to the Mississippi and back, organizing with NextGen America to give power back to people. Now I’m running for president. My reasons for traveling to Iowa have changed over the years, but the strength and resilience of rural Iowan communities has never wavered.
That’s why my rural policy reflects the interconnectedness of our communities and respects our unique challenges, but also actually empowers Iowans to build the best path forward.
My rural policy is anchored in interconnectedness of all policy decisions, not a patchwork approach that has never served Iowans or any rural community well. Decisions on trade, investments in rural broadband, support of community-focused hospitals and mental health care, and climate action can’t be made in silos.
That’s why my commitment to rural America starts with setting up an Office of Rural Affairs in the White House to be a two-way communication channel to ensure my administration’s policies continually reflect the evolving and connected needs of rural communities. Off the bat, we stop playing games with people’s livelihoods and end the failed trade wars. Any trade deal I’d sign would meet strong economic, labor, and environmental standards while promoting and preserving American interests. The whole country, the world really, relies on Iowa farmers to keep them fed and fueled. Iowan farmers deserve a president who understands the economy and the critical role farmers play.
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As president, I’d deeply invest in the innovation and infrastructure needed to support rural communities. Farmers can and should be on the front lines of addressing climate change, which is why I’d mobilize $50 billion to make sure family farmers can access the tools and resources to implement best practices in climate-smart agriculture.
The biggest challenge I hear about every time I connect with rural Iowans is access. Access to internet, access to holistic health care that includes mental health, access to opportunity. My plan ensures that everyone has internet access, so every student has all the tools for success in and out of the classroom. My plan invests $75 billion to address opioid addiction, and $100 billion in mental health to change the way we treat and talk about mental illness, so that no one feels the social isolation and lack of support that has led to an epidemic of suicides in rural communities. In 21st century America with all these tools and technologies at our fingertips, it’s time we put opportunity back in reach of all Americans.
We all do better when everyone has the resources and infrastructure for connected communities.
The narrative of an urban-rural divide has become a normalized part of our discourse to the extent that we see the problems of access and resources as an expected side effect from living in a rural area. If I’ve learned anything from my years traveling around Iowa talking with people it is the tremendous capacity here to change the status quo.
If Iowans put their trust in me, they’ll find a president who won’t just talk about a bright future for Iowans — I’ll do the hard work to bring it to life. I’m committed to working alongside Iowans to make sure that regardless of living in a city, suburb, or rural community, you have equal access to your rights, your resources, and the ability to build the prosperous future that you want, not that Washington wants for you.
Tom Steyer is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.