After running a Senate campaign that touched every county in Texas in 2016, Beto O'Rourke is bringing the same groundwork devotion to Iowa on his trail to the 2020 presidential election. On Tuesday, May 7, O'Rourke stopped in Adel for a gathering of over 80 local residents hosted in Dallas County Democrats chair Bryce Smith's backyard.
O'Rourke is the latest Democratic hopeful to visit the area after Bernie Sanders' event in Perry the prior weekend. O'Rourke visited similar ideas as the Vermont senator ranging from a $15 minimum wage, student loans, cheaper higher education and climate change issues, but made a point to relate the nation's issues and his ideas to people he has connected within Iowa.
Helping farmers form the future of the nation's climate
After O'Rourke waxed poetic about policies to increase diversity and finding common ground with political opponents, Ken Herring of Adel posed a question close to the state's heart: How can agricultural states be helped, specifically as oxygen conditions weaken?
“Talking to farmers yesterday, there was this idea that I really like that right now. The federal government essentially encourages practice-based farming,” O'Rourke said after spending Monday throughout the state. “And they suggested, 'What if we turn the tables and put the farmer in the driver's seat and have performance-based encouragement and incentives?'
“You understand how to do this better than anybody else. You bring up the ingenuity, the innovation, your hard work, and diligence, and then we will reward you based on performance.”
More than helping decrease the rate of hypoxia, O'Rourke said he wants to help farmers achieve their shared dreams. He also wants to see that farmers are “allowed to make a profit in the process” of the public necessity they provide.
“What I heard from farmers is that they were already underwater in debt. They're now literally underwater from the flooding of the Missouri River,” O'Rourke added. “And right now, the encouragement inducements incentive, say, to plant soybeans, and corn and the plants every single inch that you have, under your control, if we provided a profit for conservation, if we provided a profit, the cover crops, if we provided a profits for crop rotation, farmers would rise to that challenge, as they always have.”
He also said he wants to ensure that the next iteration of the Farm Bill would be largely written with the “farmers who will be disproportionately impacted” by its contents. He said he not only intends for changes to help farmers but has a goal to capture enough carbon from the atmosphere to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
For Herring, it was only the start to an answer he's still seeking.
“I didn't expect too much on detail,” Herring said. “I don't think it was far out of the ballpark. But I do think relating it to incentive driven, that is a must for a political candidate. I know that. Requirements just aren't gonna work.”
Overall, he said he felt O'Rourke had a good approach, understanding the fears of farmers as well as tying in the “enormous challenge” of climate change that faces the country.
Contextualizing climate change
As he discussed helping incentivizing agricultural work, O'Rourke continually circled back to the threat of climate change. Knowing the apprehensions from skeptics, he also helped contextualize the emergency compared to the heavily-debated border crisis.
O'Rourke noted that there were only 400,000 apprehensions at the border in 2018 compared to 1.6 million in 2002.
If 400,000 apprehensions worries you, or anybody else, we know that increasingly, those apprehensions include farmers from Honduras, who are trying to persist in the face of historic droughts in that country,” O'Rourke added. “What they are planting is no longer growing. Soon enough along this trajectory, some of those countries will no longer support or sustain human life at that point.”
He later called the current rate of border apprehensions a “drop in the bucket” compared to the future flood of crossings in competition for resources as is already affecting pockets of communities like Pacific Junction and other flooded areas. But he isn't naive enough to believe it can be done without bipartisan agreement.
“Investing in the resiliency of our communities, and pre-disaster mitigation grants in the federal government [are key], O'Rourke said. “And that's what you're doing here in Iowa. That is something that can bring Republicans and Democrats alike together, listening to farmers, who are already doing so much not just to feed this state, this country.”
With that in mind, he said his “bet is on America” to help drive down emissions to net-zero within three decades.
“Be halfway there by the year 2030,” O'Rourke said. “And not doing it through one person or one president or one political party. But this very divided, highly polarized, hyper-partisan country finally coming together for the common good.”
Providing an economic democracy with better wages, education and taxes
More than the future threat of the climate, O'Rourke also empathized with the struggles currently found in wallets and fears of future generations' education. Like Sanders before him, he has adopted a platform hinged on raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and create free higher-education opportunities.
“If we hope to achieve political democracy, we must vigorously pursue economic democracy,” O'Rourke said, pulling inspiration from the gilded age and Theodore Roosevelt.
He also added that working one job should provide enough security combined with paid family leave so “you're not punished by losing out on income or eating.”
In addition to the punishments faced for not devoting all of life to work, O'Rourke said he wants the country to stop profiting from students pursuing higher education.
“We should not be making money on the backs of students who are just trying to improve themselves to be capable of teaching themselves,” he said in reference to the government making billions of dollars off interest rates.
His solution is to make community college and four-year universities free (or at a reduced cost). He did not offer specifics on a rollout plan for debt forgiveness, either, and is not worried about an overwhelming increase to enrollment rates.
In further pursuit for economic democracy and education, he criticized the current administration's tax cut for the nation's richest class and corporations instead of helping rebuild the infrastructure or help those without health insurance.
“[For] the corporations that were already sitting on record piles of cash, that corporate tax rate went from 35 percent, down to 21 percent,” O'Rourke quoted. “Even if we don't take it all the way back up to where it was particularly the mid-twenties, we will generate hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years, we can invest that in universal pre-K starting education. Not at four or five years old, but three or four years old, ensuring that there's a greater likelihood that that child will graduate from high school.”
Overall, he added that the country does a “poor job at taxing wealth” and a key to achieve this harmonious democracy, will be to tax wealth that can't be passed unrestricted to the next generation that concentrates inequality.
“It's not just morally the right thing to do,” O'Rourke said. “It perhaps is the only way to be able to save this democracy and ensure that it is up to the challenges that we just described today.”