Following his speech in Manning Tuesday, Joe Biden, a Democratic candidate for president, spoke with area residents and also took a few selfie photos. (Photos by Caitlin Yamada)
Following his speech in Manning Tuesday, Joe Biden, a Democratic candidate for president, spoke with area residents and also took a few selfie photos. (Photos by Caitlin Yamada)

July 18, 2019

Manning

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s plan for rural revitalization contains the influence and deep-pressed fingerprints of a fellow top Obama administration official — former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, both leading Democrats, said this week.

Vilsack, a former two-term governor of Iowa, has relentlessly advocated biobased manufacturing, the use of all conceivable farm products and byproducts — from corn stalk to manure — for chemicals and clothes and other revenue-generating innovations for farmers.

The Biden plan, released Tuesday during the Democratic presidential frontrunner’s speech in Manning, spotlights biomanufacturing. It also takes directly from Vilsack’s USDA “strikeforce,” which helped rural communities cut through the full federal bureaucracy to access a raft of federal programs.

“I relied a lot on Tom (Vilsack) and Tom was a major input in the program,” Biden said in an interview Tuesday night in Sioux City with the Carroll Times Herald.

A day earlier, Biden appeared with Vilsack, and his wife, Christie, at their home, outside of Des Moines in Booneville. Vilsack isn’t endorsing a candidate in the Democratic nominating process at this point.

“We think everybody deserve a shot,” Vilsack said.

But the Vilsacks have a long-standing relationship with Biden, who said Vilsack played a leading role in shaping his rural plan.

“I talked to Tom about this a long time ago when we worked together because I was the guy who was going into most of the rural areas for the administration with Tom,” Biden said.

In a phone interview, Tom Vilsack said Biden’s plan will appeal to rural Iowans because it is both aspirational and practical. He sees boosting plant-based manufacturing as potentially creating billions of dollars in new wealth for Iowans.

“I impressed upon the vice president the need for more of that,” Vilsack said.

 

*****

 

One of the leading voices for rural interests in west-central Iowa today isn’t from Iowa — and isn’t a presidential candidate. U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, and the congressman who represents Silicon Valley, has been closely involved with work to extend digital job growth from the coasts to Middle America.

Khanna is a leading figure in Pillar Technologies’ software-development branch in Jefferson and related projects in the region — many of which stem from a December 2018 delegation he led from Silicon Valley to Greene County.

Khanna’s message: The way to stitch rural and urban America together is with the extension of modern, high-paying jobs from financially flush parts of the nation like Seattle, Washington and Austin, Texas, to Jefferson and Carroll and Manning, all communities in which he’s interacted.

“I think he’s absolutely right,” Biden said in the Carroll Times Herald interview. “Look, one of the things that we’ve found, when you take a look, of all the venture capital that’s gone into investments in the United States somewhere between 75 and 80 percent have gone to five cities — five, five. It makes no sense.”

Biden said rural parts of the nation need high-speed Internet and improved roads, and he sees proximity to major universities as an advantage for many rural communities.

“You don’t have to be in the city, but you can be an expert in the rural part outside the University of Iowa or Drake University,” Biden said. “It’s an access to intellectual property.”

The former vice president said he has long worked on solutions to the youth and talent flight from rural America.

“They’d rather stay than leave if they had the option to do something,” Biden said. “I think you have to build around it — a sort of middle-class opportunity for people that goes beyond the tech side of it (and) goes beyond the Silicon Valley side of it.”

 

*****

 

Biden tells the Carroll Times Herald he will more carefully consider geography when it comes to the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court lacks a rural presence. It’s an increasingly troublesome absence as land use and environmental conflicts reach judges who don’t have instinctive knowledge of rural America, say many rural advocates.

Four U.S. Supreme Court justices were born in the New York City area. Justice Brett Kavanaugh grew up in Washington D.C.; Justice Stephen Breyer hails from San Francisco; Justice Neil Gorsuch is from Denver, but spent most of his career in Washington, D.C.: Justice Clarence Thomas is the closest to having rural ties, but he grew up in Savannah, Georgia.

“I’m going to be completely candid with you,” Biden said in the interview. “Until you raised it, I hadn’t thought about it in terms of the Court, but you make an incredibly compelling point. We used to have people on the Court from rural America back in the 40s and 50s. I think it makes sense because I think we’re going to continue to see this sense of isolation that’s occurring — a consequence of significant investment occurring only in metropolitan areas. Even exurbs, not just rural areas, are in the same situation. It’s something I would look into. I must tell you, I hadn’t thought about it.”