STORM LAKE, Iowa (CN) – Democratic presidential candidates seeking to break out in a field crowded with as many as 20 potential contenders ahead of next February’s Iowa caucuses pitched their ideas on rural issues to a packed auditorium at Buena Vista University on Saturday.
Two major themes ran through the Democrats’ message to farmers and rural Iowans: The federal government must become more aggressive in breaking up monopolies that have consolidated agriculture and other industries and more private and public investment must be channeled into schools, hospitals and businesses in rural areas.
Candidates making their case to voters at Saturday’s Heartland Forum were former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro of Texas, former U.S. Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio (who has not officially announced).
Senator Warren hammered the anti-trust argument hardest of the candidates on the stage Saturday.
“The concentration in agriculture,” Warren said, means that agribusiness monopolies “making bigger profits are putting the squeeze on family farms. I want to see enforcement of antitrust laws.”
Senator Klobuchar hit the same point, saying “we are entering into a new Gilded Age” of powerful monopolies in many industries controlling the economy. She reminded the audience of the Granger movement of an earlier century when “farmers carrying pitchforks and meeting in barns” railed against monopolist industries from agribusinesses to railroads. She called for dedicating more resources to the Federal Trade Commission and to the U.S. Justice Department to enforce antitrust laws.
On rural investment, Delaney cited his proposed “Heartland Fair Deal” that he said would focus on health care, infrastructure, antitrust and investment in rural communities. The centerpiece, he said, would be to “get capital flowing to rural America,” noting that 80 percent of the venture capital in the U.S. goes to 50 counties.
Castro said rural America also needs more investment in schools, teacher pay, community hospitals and “clean air and water no matter where you live.”
Agriculture and businesses already rely on immigrants to fill jobs and, a subject of particular interest in Storm Lake, with a large Hispanic population. Castro, who has made four trips to Storm Lake, said the northwest Iowa community has shown how welcoming immigrants works.
“Before coming to Iowa, I didn’t think I would get great Mexican food,” he said, “but I have.”
Ohio congressman Ryan, who hails from Youngstown, cited an example of steel mills that collapsed in the 1970s, in part because they were using Pre-World War I technology. “We’ve got to embrace artificial intelligence and innovative technologies and increase productivity,” he said. By one estimate, there will be 30 million electric vehicles in this country: “Who’s going to make them? The United States or China?”
After the forum, Kendrick Wise, 67, of Lytton, Iowa, said in an interview with Courthouse News he found the forum “very informative” and he was especially interested to hear the candidates talk about antitrust issues. “Something has got to change,” he said.
Wise said he was a Bernie Sanders supporter in the last election, but he wanted to hear from others. He said he didn’t hear anything at Saturday’s event to win him over to any of the five on the panel, however.
Two members of the audience said afterward they were most impressed with Warren and Klobuchar.
“I thought Elizabeth Warren stood out for me,” said Joe Engleman, 26, of Chicago, who made the trip just to see Saturday’s event. “Especially on antitrust.”
Daniella Mazzio, 23, also of Chicago, thought both Warren and Klobuchar seemed more prepared to talk about rural issues.
“It was pretty evident who came here to make an appearance and those who studied up” on the issues specific to the rural Midwest, she said.