On center stage
DES MOINES – What are Iowans looking for in the next president of the United States?
A strong leader who understands agriculture, as evidenced by the nearly 1,000 people who attended the first-ever Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines on March 7.
Agriculture isn’t a partisan issue, agreed the nine Republican U.S. presidential hopefuls, senators, representatives and governors who participated in the event at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, although they offered different takes on hot-button issues like the Renewable Fuels Standard.
“Food security equals national security,” said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. “To stay free, America must feed itself, fuel itself and fight for itself.”
Fueling itself reflects the RFS, which revealed some of the biggest differences among the potential presidential candidates, including Huckabee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry; U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina; former New York Gov. George Pataki; former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania; and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
While many of the candidates expressed full or partial support for the RFS, others offered a different view.
“I support biofuels and ethanol because they play a major role in the energy markets,” Cruz said. “I don’t think Washington should be picking winners and losers, however.”
Some were quick to praise the RFS.
“Energy independence is the key,” Santorum said. “Look how efficient ethanol production has become, thanks to continual innovation. Plus, the ethanol industry creates jobs in small-town and rural America.”
Walker said he would like to ensure more clarity about the future of the RFS.
“While I believe in a free, open market without a lot of government interference,” Walker said, “I’d press the Environmental Protection Agency to make sure there’s certainty about the blend levels that are set.”
Other speakers, including Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, stressed “don’t mess with the RFS.
“The renewable fuels industry was built here in Iowa, and we must continue to develop this industry.
“The RFS is the holy grail, and I will defend it.”
The candidates and policymakers found more common ground on other key issues, including:
- The need to upgrade rural infrastructure. This includes not only roads, bridges and locks and dams on the Mississippi River, but greater broadband Internet access.
“The rural-urban divide continues to widen, especially in education, job opportunities and health care,” Christie said. “More high-speed Internet access in rural areas is vital to narrow this divide.”
Improved Internet access can lead to better medical care in rural areas, world-class educational opportunities for rural students and a higher quality of life.
“Having schools connected to high-speed Internet will give kids the opportunity to learn from the best minds of our time,” Graham said. “My goal is to make sure rural America isn’t left behind.”
- Less over-burdensome regulation from the federal government. It’s time to respect the 10th Amendment and shift the emphasis back to the states to provide common sense regulation, Bush said.
Regarding water quality, Christie said EPA’s definition of “Waters of the United States” is a power grab from Washington, D.C.
“I believe farmers and local organizations should be in charge of water quality issues,” he said, “not some big top-down program from Washington.”
Voluntary conservation programs are the way to go, Cruz said.
“WOTUS is completely lawless, and I will fight to stop EPA from expanding it.”
Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said she has invited EPA Director Gina McCarthy to Iowa to show her what’s involved in the state’s agriculture and environmental issues.
“I hope she takes us up on this offer soon,” Ernst said.
- Support for GMOs. Less over-burdensome regulation also extends to GMO labeling, which Bush does not endorse.
“We should not make it harder to create economic prosperity,” he said. “GMOs increase yields and allow us to become the greatest producer of food for the world. GMO labeling is just a solution looking for a problem.” Perry said. “Where would we be today if Dr. Norman Borlaug had met the kind of resistance we see now with GMOs?”
Cruz said he believes in science, not hysteria. “Biotech is great. We must not let the anti-science zealots shut down our ability to provide food for billions of people across the globe.”
- The importance of embracing international trade. Removing barriers to trade is vital to U.S. agriculture, since one in three U.S. farm acres is planted for export.
“We can compete with anyone around the world, if we have free, open trade,” Walker said.
This starts with strong leadership, Perry said. “We need a president who understands this industry and knows how to cut a good deal for U.S. ag. That’s why executive experience is important for the president.”
While Bush noted that China continues to offer huge economic opportunities for U.S. farmers, Cuba is a different situation.
“China practices communism by day and capitalism by night,” Perry said. “In Cuba, the regime has been incredibly onerous to the people. We got a bad deal with Cuba, and so did the Cuban people.”
For every dollar that’s spent in Cuba, the Cuban government keeps 92 cents, Cruz added. “I’ll only be thrilled to trade with Cuba when we see freedom return to Cuba.”
All the issues raised at the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit indicate that making U.S. agriculture stronger will make America’s economy stronger, said Pataki, who grew up on a farm in New York.
“Agriculture is absolutely critical for our nation,” he said. “The values of hard work and family, along with our ability to trade freely and feed the world, are extremely important not just for rural America, but all of America.”
The national media coverage generated through Ag Summit 2015 highlights Iowa’s key role in the 2016 presidential race, with the state’s caucus seen as a springboard for success.
“Iowa will make the recommendation to the rest of the country about who should be the next U.S. president,” King said. “If we get this right, America will be on an ascending course.”
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