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Democratic Presidential Candidates Highlight Rural Issues In Storm Lake

Damon Dahlen//HuffPost
Amanda Terkel of HuffPost is one of the moderators of the 2019 Heartland Forum. She spoke with Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Over the weekend, several Democrats running for president in 2020 visited Storm Lake to participate in a discussion of rural issues called "The Heartland Forum".

There are 15 Democrats who have officially announced that they are running for president in 2020. Saturday at Storm Lake’s Buena Vista University, four of them took the stage.

They gave their vision for rural America and they answered questions from The Storm Lake Times, HuffPost and audience members.

A common theme was agriculture.

In her opening statement, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said family farms and small farms are getting squeezed by giant corporations.

But Warren said there’s one way to stop it: Enforcing antitrust laws that ensure a fair playing field in the market. She wants to break up agribusinesses.

“And break up so that they not only don’t have that kind of economic power, so that they’re wiping out competition, so they’re taking all the profits for themselves and making it unsustainable for our farms, but also break up so they don’t have that kind of political power,” Warren said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is the ranking member of the Senate antitrust subcommittee. In her opening statement, she said corporate control is an issue she has seen all over the country, but it’s prominent in agriculture.

“When we’re in a situation where 78 percent of the seed for our farmers is controlled by two companies and our railroads now for Class I are down to four, the same number as on the Monopoly board, I think we are now entering what is essentially a new gilded age and we need to take on the power of these monopolies,” Klobuchar said.

A member of the audience asked Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro about the policies he would promote to support food farming and make the country more resilient.

Castro said the country should be looking out for small farms – what’s  happening on the production chain, and the effects on small businesses.

“I think that the Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration have a tremendous role to play in helping to ensure that small businesses, including family farms, are well capitalized and pursuing policy that helps them get there,” Castro said.

A day before the forum, Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney announced his Heartland Fair Deal — a deal he said would improve conditions in rural America. He told the crowd he wants to create an antitrust framework that he says would make sense for the country.

“So a big centerpiece of my Heartland Fair Deal is to actually do things to make sure capital is flowing to rural America. Because that’s really what’s happened to rural America in the last several decades in my judgement – capital has left this region,” Delaney said.

Jim Eliason of Storm Lake said he liked what he heard from the candidates. He was wearing a navy blue hat that says “Make America Think Again." He said he wants the hat to send a message to fellow rural voters.

“I think that in general, people thinking about politics need to think harder and think in a more nuanced fashion, rather than simply accepting things at face value. So it’s partly a plea for critical thinking about political things,” Eliason said.

Democratic party leaders say one of the keys to winning in 2020 will be connecting with voters in rural America.

“They need to show up, and they are,” said Jan Norris, from Red Oak in southwest Iowa.

Norris said she also liked what she heard at the forum. She already feels like the candidates are connecting and has some advice.

“They need to hear us, they need to feel us, and they just can’t fly over us,” Norris said. “They’ve got to care about us.”

Art Cullen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the Storm Lake Times and one of the hosts of the forum said he believes candidates are reaching out to rural Americans and that the 2020 presidential race will be won or lost in the Midwest.

“I think that that they realize that this election is going to be decided in the Midwest, I believe, from Iowa to Ohio,” Cullen said. “And of course it all starts in Iowa, where the caucuses are.”

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.