On Saturday March 30, Suzanne and I drove four hours to Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, to watch the Heartland Forum. This event provided the opportunity for 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to offer their vision for rural America and to answer questions from three moderators and some pre-selected members of the audience. Four candidates and one potential candidate took the bait: Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Secretary of HUD Julian Castro, former Maryland Representative John Delaney, and Ohio Representative Tim Ryan.
The Forum was co-sponsored by the Storm Lake Tribune, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for reporting about the role agricultural corporations played in defending the pollution of local waterways.
If you want a local review of the forum, click on this link to the Storm Lake Tribune. If you want to read my Top Ten List, continue reading.
Jerry Gale’s Heartland Forum Top Ten List
(Five candidate comments. Five other observations.)
- My completely unbiased opinion is that Amy Klobuchar performed the best. Of course, she had advantages. It was a forum for rural agricultural America, and she represents an agricultural state. She gave thoughtful and specific answers and provided a heart-wrenching story about a Minnesota soybean farmer committing suicide because his family farm was going bankrupt. Plus, she “can see Iowa from her front porch.” They loved that line at the forum.
- The most astonishing moment at the forum for a visitor to Storm Lake was when Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake Tribune and a forum moderator, walked on the stage. He looks like a modern Mark Twain! It quickly became apparent as he asked questions that he is just as much of a character as Twain was.
- Elizabeth Warren has great talking points: the rich are getting richer, agriculture corporations are becoming monopolies, and the rest of us are losing. It is a very compelling message for Democrats. She is going be great in the upcoming debates. Unfortunately, she was less compelling in this forum. She essentially repeated her talking points no matter what the question was.
- Going to Iowa for this forum reinforces the oft-repeated proposition that our presidential selection process is hopelessly dysfunctional. Why do we force our best and brightest public officials who want to lead the free world to go to Iowa for 12 months? Will we ever change this?
- Julian Castro was more impressive than anticipated. He gave sound answers and received applause for saying he would appoint people to the EPA who believe in environmental protection. Great potential VP candidate.
- After the event, I found out that it is difficult to get an answer from Iowans about who won the debate or who they support for the president. They value their undeserving role as first in the nation and want to give outsiders the impression that they are being really responsible as they decide who they will support. Oh well.
- Extremely wealthy former Congressman John Delaney was the first Democratic candidate to declare his 2020 candidacy and reportedly has already visited all 99 Iowa counties. He gave a nice opening statement about his vision for rural America and then took the first question: Why did he work to weaken the Dodd-Frank Act when he was in Congress? Great question and he did not give a convincing answer. Game over.
- Many topics discussed at this forum are not on the national radar, which is a shame. They included the closing of rural hospitals, lack of investments in rural communities by venture capital companies, vertical integration of agricultural companies, consolidation of agribusiness corporations, erosion of the land, pollution of waterways. So long as the media allow Trump to set the discussion agenda, these important topics will not get the attention they deserve.
- I’m not sure why Tim Ryan was at the forum. He is not an announced candidate and his goal was to relate the suffering in his home town of Youngstown due to the closing of factories to the suffering in rural America. I was not convinced by the connection.
- All of these candidates were impressive. While I’m volunteering for the Klobuchar campaign, it gives me hope that Democrats are going to have a productive, positive selection process and the Democratic 2020 candidate will be fully supported by all wings of the party. We will not only win the presidency, but also the Senate and local elections throughout the country.