Globe Gazette - Obama Unveils Steps Toward Rural Policy Plan
DES MOINES (AP) -- Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama says he wants to reach out to all voters, including those struggling to keep up with the challenges facing rural America.
Obama plans to host a rural policy forum on Friday in Dallas County, Iowa, where he said he will gain insights directly from rural voters. He will also host a rural policy summit in Iowa in mid-August, which will focus on rural economic development, quality of life in rural communities, agriculture and renewable energy.
"People in the rural economies suffer from many of the things people do all across the country," he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
He noted common problems with health care access, failing school systems and lack of livable wages. But the Illinois senator said there are unique issues that must be addressed as well.
He mentioned spotty rural broadband and wireless coverage, underfunded community colleges and a need to make the most of the growing alternative energy industry.
"We've got to provide, I think, some seed money to help boost not just the production, but also the distribution of alternative fuels," he said. "We've got to train people to have the skills" that are needed in those new industries.
Some candidates, including former Sen. John Edwards, already have released plans for rural development, and others will likely do so in coming months.
While Obama gave no specific date for rolling out his rural policy plan, he said he has put together a team of experts to assist in the effort.
-- Mike Dunn, of Keokuk, former under secretary of agriculture for marketing and regulatory programs during the Clinton administration.
-- Gary Lamb, of Chelsea, who has farmed for 55 years and has served as president of the Iowa Farmers Union, chairman of the Iowa State Committee of the Farm Service Agency and as an agricultural liaison for Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
--Neil Hamilton, of Waukee, director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University. In 2000, he was appointed by Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as chairman of the Iowa Food Policy Council.
Obama said his ability to create such a team reflects on his experience as a former community organizer. Obama said he has "the ability to find smart, common sense, pragmatic people to come together and listen to their ideas and synthesize them and put them into action plans."
Obama isn't known as a candidate with much rural expertise, but he said his background in Illinois had given him insight into the challenges facing rural America.
"Illinois is second only to Iowa in corn production and ethanol production, and as a state legislator I spent a lot of time learning about agricultural issues and making common calls with my colleagues from downstate Illinois," he said.
Although rural America has long been a stronghold for Republicans, Obama said Democrats have made major strides in rural areas.
"Obviously, rural communities and agricultural regions often times are politically more conservative, but part of that has to do with positions on social issues more than it has to do with economic issues," he said. "I think Democrats have come to understand that on issues of faith, on respecting the rights of sportsmen and hunters ... we haven't always listened as much as we should have. We're getting, I think, a much better sense of what's required and what's important to win over rural America."