By Senator Tom Harkin
Iowa’s rural communities embody what makes Iowa and America great. They are also what will make America thrive again — not just survive. With an election coming up and our future on the horizon, we should remember our rural priorities in our voting decisions.
Throughout my years in the Senate, I have worked hard on behalf of rural Iowans. As the general election nears, we should all remain committed to ensuring that family farms succeed, that Iowans have needed protection against disasters, and that Iowa crops continue to feed and fuel the world.
Now that the farm bill has become law, farm families, rural communities and all Iowans can expect to benefit from the solid progress of this legislation. The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 protects farm income and makes crucial investments in rural development and nutrition, promotes renewable energy production and job creation in Iowa, and helps conserve resources for future generations.
One of the greatest challenges our rural communities face is preserving the character and vitality of small towns. It isn’t just about economics — it is about maintaining our identity as Iowans. It is for this reason that I have been a very strong supporter of the Main Street Iowa program. Main Street Iowa helps preserve Iowa’s heart and soul by providing funds to revitalize small town main streets. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I am involved in funding hundreds of programs every year, but Main Street Iowa is in a class of its own. It is smart and effective legislation. It has a contagious effect. And it touches communities and people in very concrete ways.
These grants build much more than physical structures. They build up the spirit and morale of Iowans in our small towns and local communities. When people see one of the anchor businesses on main street being renovated or expanded, it can change the whole psychology of a town or community. It sets a positive example. It offers hope. It serves as a catalyst for a ripple effect of positive changes. Most of all, it showcases the innovation and creatively that makes Iowa such a great state.
Senator Barack Obama, too, understands the importance of innovative thought and the needs of rural America. As a candidate for President, he has held more than 100 town hall meetings in rural Iowa, listening directly to the concerns of Iowa families.
Time and time again, I have seen Barack Obama stand up for rural America. We’ve consistently worked together in the Senate on issues important to Iowa families.
Last year, Senator Obama and I introduced a bill to immediately update renewable fuel standards to ensure increased production of renewable fuels and expand market opportunity for small, local and farmer-owned ethanol producers. Increasing the use of renewable energy means more quality jobs in rural Iowa.
Senator Obama was also a strong supporter of legislation I included in the farm bill to promote livestock market opportunities, contract fairness and enforcement oversight of the Packers and Stockyards Act – an important law that protects producers from unfair and deceptive practices in the marketplace.
I know we can trust Barack Obama with the future of rural America.
Senator John McCain has been less consistent in his support for rural America.
While I respect Senator John McCain and have worked with him for a long time, our priorities for rural America don’t match up.
John McCain has strongly opposed both of the farm bills I have ushered through the Senate as Agriculture Committee Chairman. In 2002, he denounced the bill, calling it an “appalling breach of our federal spending responsibility.” I strongly disagree. Ensuring the heartland’s economic security and prosperity is definitely our responsibility. In fact, it is one of our highest priorities.
Senator McCain has also opposed critical help to the emerging bioeconomy, which is creating jobs and boosting Iowa’s rural economy. He is a harsh critic of ethanol incentives and opposed renewable fuel standards. He does not even agree with Senator Grassley when it comes to Iowa’s home-grown energy industry. In 2004, McCain introduced an amendment to eliminate the Wind Production Tax Credit, an incentive championed by Senator Grassley to boost the industry in Iowa.
I don’t disagree with Senator McCain on everything, but I certainly do when it comes to rural priorities. I’ve been fighting for hardworking Iowans, farmers and families striving to make a life in rural communities throughout my career.
The last seven years of the Bush administration have been a tremendous challenge for middle America and working families. Iowa needs an administration that cares about our rural priorities. I can’t say Senator John McCain will support rural Iowa, but I know President Barack Obama will.