Saturday, November 22, 2008

Will Obama remember the nation's rural fifth? NPR reports

Listen to Howard Berkes' story here, which recalls Obama's first primary victory in Iowa, a rural state by many measures. Rural Americans may have voted for McCain by large margins, but Berkes recounts that Obama did make campaign promises to the nearly 20% of Americans who live in rural and/or non-metro places:

But candidate Obama promised to focus attention on rural issues while campaigning in Iowa in October 2007. He pledged to hold a "rural summit" and deliver a package of rural initiatives to Congress in his first 100 days as president.

"What's good for rural America will be good for America. The values that are represented ... are values that built America, and we've got to preserve them," Obama told a crowd in Amana, Iowa.

"He really propelled himself onto the national stage, in part, by campaigning for fundamental change in farm and rural policy in the state of Iowa," notes Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, a Nebraska-based advocacy group for small towns and small and family farms.

The story goes on to distinguish the rural from agriculture, noting that only about 1% of rural residents make their living with farming or farm-related endeavors. Dee Davis of the Center for Rural Strategies comments on this, as well as the distinct economic woes of rural places, as well as how the federal government might respond:
Many rural Americans are challenged by a rural economy that tanked sooner and deeper than the nation's economy. Thousands of rural manufacturing jobs have gone overseas. High energy prices have made food and long commutes more expensive. And most rural places are losing population.
Several of those whom Berkes interviewed note the need for better transportation and information infrastructure: from roads and bridges to broadband. Davis argued that rural places should "become part of the national economic recovery plan."
Davis foresees rural areas focused on the renewable energy and alternative fuels the nation seeks. He envisions new markets tying local farmers to towns and cities close by. He also proposes a system for rewarding rural areas financially if the market in "pollution credits" results in the construction of power plants that pollute rural skies.
Davis and others associated with the Daily Yonder wrote frequently over the past 18 months about Obama's neglect of rural issues. They noted, for example, that Obama did not show up for The Rural Assembly in June, 2008. Read that story here and more commentary on Obama and the rural vote here.

I remain hopeful that Obama will engage with rural issues. Having Bill Richardson and Tom Daschle in his cabinet may help. Even though Hillary made policy in Arkansas all those years as the state's first lady, her attention and considerable talents will now be directed abroad. But Obama said on election night that he would represent all Americans--even those who didn't support him--and we must hope that he will.

1 comment:

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