Politics & Elections: A New Rift in the Farmlands

There's a new class divide opening up in rural America's farmland, and the political gap between rural and urban voters continues to widen. This and more news in today's rural political catchup.

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The Christian Science Monitor describes a “new class divide,” this one in rural America.

Patrick Jonsson tells us that a new class of “super farms” is concentrating income in fewer hands. “The widening gulf between the haves and have nots is not limited to the Rust Belt’s cast-off manufacturing workers, working class suburbanites, or inner-city poor working on a stagnant minimum wage,” Jonsson writes. “The same trends have taken hold in farm country, though in different forms. The farms that once generated wealth for entire communities are now creating a new class of superfarmers.”

At least one rural academic doesn’t hold out much hope that either party will address this rural issue. That will be up to us.

“Communities that are waiting for either [Donald] Trump or [Hillary] Clinton to come into office and solve all their issues are being unrealistic,” says David Peters, a rural sociologist who studies heartland inequality at Iowa State University in Ames. “Residents and community leaders do, however, have this power to build up trust in the community … [in order] to marshal investment and resources. Yes, it’s difficult. But it’s within their power to change.”

Here is a smattering of other political news affecting rural communities:


Pew Research finds an increasingly geographic split in the nation’s politics. The big cities are growing more Democratic, while the rest of the country is becoming more Republican.

This is an old theme for Yonder readers, but Pew has some good charts, facts and figures. For example, in 2012, in the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Democrats won 61 percent of the vote in the 100 most populous counties. Up from 51.3 percent in 1976.


Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga notes several unattended problems in rural America — population decline, dropping life expectancy in some areas, fewer good economic prospects – and concludes that the “government, like the wider culture, is much more attuned to the problems of urban areas where most Americans live.”

“Most people in cities are now several generations away from life on the farm, and some even think of rural areas as our dumping ground,” said Daniel Lichter, a sociologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “It’s where we send our prisoners, our garbage and our toxic waste.”

Bjerga says this may be the source of Donald Trump’s appeal in rural areas.


High Country News reports on a “growing battle over coal exports on the West Coast.” The Paonia, Colorado, publication reports that plans for coal export facilities are “faltering, thanks to opposition from local communities concerned about climate change and the environmental impacts of fossil fuel development.”

In the West, this also means that the number of coal mining jobs is declining, putting some counties into an economic “tailspin.”


Speaking to an ag industry reception in Philadelphia during the Democratic convention, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the case for rural voters to support Hillary Clinton, Politico reports:

“She listens,” Vilsack said of Clinton during the Leaders of American Agriculture event. “And that is extra important to agriculture. … There are going to be circumstances that arise over the next four years where you are going to want someone who listens.” What’s more, he added, taking aim at Clinton’s Republican rival, “she is a problem solver. I believe [Donald] Trump is a problem maker.”


Later, Vilsack was at a Rural for Hillary meeting. So was Dan Glickman, Ag Secretary under Bill Clinton and Jon Cardinal with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office, Politico reports. Reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich tells us who else is involved in Clinton’s rural campaign group:

“Other early organizers and supporters include: Vicki Hicks, vice president of government affairs at AgriBank; Pam Johnson, a farmer and past president of the National Corn Growers Association; Colleen Landkamer, a rural advocate and past president of the National Association of Counties; Ed King, a dairy farmer in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; Lee Beaulac, a rural development advocate and former chair of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition; and Roxiana Hurlburt, owner of Mercer’s dairy in New York, which makes wine ice cream that is exported across the globe.”

Here is DTN’s Jerry Hagstrom reporting on Rural for Hillary.


Politico introduces us to Donald Trump’s top ag adviser, cattle raiser and farm equipment dealer Charles Herbster of Nebraska.

Herbster told Politico that his top issues would be “reducing regulation, revising trade agreements and getting rid of estate taxes that hit farmers especially hard.” Herbster said he met Trump at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Herbster ran for Nebraska governor in 2013, quitting after six weeks. He then put $860,000 into the campaign of State Sen. Beau McCoy, in what the Omaha World-Herald said was the largest single donation in the state’s history. (McCoy lost to Pete Ricketts, who is now governor.)

Herbster said he is setting up a rural advisory council for Trump. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Nebraska Cattlemen said Herbster had never engaged in local issues or helped the organization with its policy agenda, Politico reported.


Erin McClelland is running as a Democrat for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, which runs around Pittsburgh. She came to the Democratic convention to tell delegates that they shouldn’t forget rural voters:

“Message-wise, we’re really talking about rural voters,” McClelland said. “I’m really concerned that the Democratic Party has really started to disengage rural voters. And it has been for some time. So I’m really worried about that. That’s something that I’ve been taking around to any of the leaders in the party that I’m talking to, make sure that you’re really looking at the issues that are facing people in sort of the middle of the state and areas like Cambria, and Somerset, and Westmoreland, and even northern Beaver.”

McClelland told the Daily American that she found the convention overwhelmingly tilted toward urban voters and too often condescending. “I’m watching people call Trump supporters stupid,” McClelland said.


Democratic Vice Presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine, has been a strong proponent of telemedicine in his home state of Virginia. He helped start University of Virginia’s Center for Telehealth in 1994 and found money to open telehealth centers in the southwest areas of his state.




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