Rural Iowa is confronting its harshest challenges since the ‘80s farm crisis. Our small town communities have been hit by five consecutive years of poor commodity prices, child care and nursing homes closing, school districts consolidating and rural hospitals facings bankruptcy. Democrats cannot afford to ignore these areas if we hope to win back the White House. Despite the pessimism of folks like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman who believe nothing can be done to help rural America, I am heartened that the first real “cattle call” with multiple 2020 Democratic presidential contenders belies that mindset.
These are gut-wrenching times for Iowa farmers. The recent historic “bomb cyclone” floods couldn’t have come at a worst time. Suicide rates are now higher than they were during the ‘80s. Farm hotlines are overwhelmed by the amount of folks seeking assistance.
To win back the White House, Democrats can’t just rely on “Whole Foods” districts of educated, affluent suburbanites. Democrats can do well in “Dollar General” districts if they show up and address the issues. No one gave me much of a chance when I ran against Rep. Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingGOP brawls over Trump on eve of first Jan. 6 hearing Pence to visit Iowa to headline event for congressman Former Steve King challenger on rural voters in GOP states: 'They hate Democrats' MORE (R-Iowa), but I only lost by 3 points in a district President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups MORE won by 27 points. Often overlooked in the discussion about how Democrats can recreate the “Obama Coalition” of minorities, young folks and educated suburbanites is that he took 41 percent of the rural vote in 2008. Hillary Clinton only received 29 percent in 2016. Democrats may not win in rural America, but they surely cannot get blown out.
Democrats should focus on how corporate consolidation and lack of antitrust enforcement was squeezing farmers on both the input side and output side, issues central to my own campaign. Seed prices have tripled in the last 20 years as our government, under both parties, allowed three big seed companies to control the market, with Bayer taking over Monsanto and DuPont merging with Dow Chemical. Meanwhile, four companies control 85 percent of the meat industry, two of which are foreign-owned by Brazil and China.
Iowa has also seen the devastating loss of a record number of dairy farms as farmers have fewer buyers for their milk. All of this market consolidation has meant farmers now receive less than 15 cents of the consumer retail dollar, a record low, compared to 37 cents in the 1980s, as profits flow to a few big multinationals.
Democrats have a prime opportunity to point out the Trump administration has not done farmers any favors. This administration withdrew the Farmer Fair Practice Rule, a rule that is meant to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect the rights of livestock growers from abusive and monopolistic behavior, drawing “violent opposition” from Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyLawmakers pay tribute to Colin Powell Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Fill the Eastern District of Virginia MORE (R-Iowa) who accused Trump’s USDA of “pandering to big corporations.”
Not content to leave it at that, Trump’s administration in November outrageously chose to simply eliminate the agency in charge of antitrust enforcement on behalf of family farmers. Not exactly draining the swamp.
In addition to siding with multinational packers, the EPA finally approved year-round E-15, at the same time and EPA is granting small refinery waivers to the likes of Exxon Mobil. We now have over 900 million bushels of corn that should have been consumed but is now carried over, driving prices down by an estimated 40 cents a bushel. Our own government is causing grain to remain in the bin and our corn prices to drop. Corn prices have dropped to what farmers were receiving in 1973.
On top of these anti-farmer actions, Trump has cost Iowa farmers billions with his reckless trade wars and tariffs. America's farmers have lost markets that may never be recovered. The absurdity of the Trump $12 billion bailout to farmers is this: we’re borrowing money from China to pay our farmers to not sell their products to China. To any politician that says we should be patient and wait, my question to them is: Will the banks be patient and wait when it’s time to repay them? The markets, like China and others, are now looking to Brazil and South America. Well, who is down there helping their crops? It’s the same multinational corporations that will make a profit either way and not in it to protect our Iowa farmers. Enough is enough.
Iowans take seriously their cherished honor of being first to vote for our presidential candidates and appreciate so much candidates taking seriously our concerns. I look forward to hearing from our 2020 hopefuls their vision for rural America and to show Democrats intend to leave no community behind and take no voters for granted.
J.D. Scholten is a former Democratic candidate for Iowa's 4th Congressional District. He lost to Republican incumbent Rep. Steve King by 3 points.