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Ag Summit Stars Meet with Vetting and Scrutiny Over Positions

Submitted by Food Democracy Now on March 20, 2015 - 3:24pm

By: Jamie Buelt

Des Moines, Iowa - In case you didn’t know, yesterday was an agricultural double-hitter in Iowa with “I Grew Up Country Day,” proclaimed by Gov. Terry Branstad and the 42nd National Ag Day. If you missed the “Kiss Me, I’m a Farmer” buttons, you might have to wait until next year.

With all of this farm talk, it turns out that the things the Republican presidential candidates said in Des Moines on March 7, 2015, at the Iowa Ag Summit continue to be fuel and fodder for many stories to come. In case you missed the summit—and if you’re a Democrat, you probably did—you can watch the candidate interviews here.

Nine candidates took the stage with Bruce Rastetter, a Republican funder and organizer of the event, and gushed a bevy of opinions that included populism and free market capitalism. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin espoused access and market-driven solutions, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee took a decidedly populist tone, even worrying about the bottom 90 percent of American wage earners. Both are still in the news: Walker defending himself against allegations of flip-flopping, while Huckabee fights against a promising “huckster” moniker for fronting for a dubious diabetes cure.

Scott Walker: An Ag Flip-Flopper

Before the Iowa Ag Summit, Walker was gaining currency as a front-runner in the 2016 presidential race. Afterwards, Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican reportedly told theMilwaukee Journal Sentinel that Walker was the “clear winner.” But this week, Walker hit some speed bumps. He hired and then unhired social media strategist Liz Mair after operatives unearthed her tweets criticizing Iowa and its first-in-the-nation caucus position.

As much uproar as this episode generated, it scarcely marked the only controversy the Governor faced in Iowa as he was labeled a “flip-flopper” for his stands on the Renewable Fuel Standard, the right to work, and immigration, according to a story on The Iowa Republican—the same news service that declared him a winner.

At the Iowa Ag Summit, Walker clearly sought to ingratiate the audience and any big donors by touting his Iowa connections and upbringing. He invoked the Branstad name no less than three times. “I was born in Colorado Springs … My dad’s first full church was in Plainfield, which is just north of Waverly.” He would circle back to his Iowa roots more than once.

While this support initially garnered Walker points with the press, it also exposed his past positions including his earlier stand against ethanol.

On RFS

“…We’ve talked about this before, it’s an access issue, so it’s something I’m willing to go forward on continuing the Renewable Fuel Standard and pressing the EPA to make sure that there is certainty … in terms of the levels set, so that going forward farmers know when they’re making decisions about how to plant crops what the process it,” Walker said. His follow-up remarks, however, clearly indicate his RFS support is not long-term and he wants to address “access issues” so “eventually you didn’t need to have a standard.”

On USDA Programs

Walker took hard lines on food stamps, noting that his state has 70,000 to 80,000 jobs available each day.

“When it comes to food stamps in our state, we’re one of the few in the country where I initiated a change a few years ago. It says that for adults without children who are able to work, I don’t allow them to get assistance unless they’re signed up for employability training programs because I just believe firmly there are jobs to be had across our state as there are across America, and I want to make sure that they have the skills to get those jobs.”

“…We’ve added to that not just with food stamps but with other areas of public assistance a requirement that I just put in my recent budget that you’ve gotta pass a drug test because to me … and you’d be surprised …”

“The people in Madison, my state capital, some of which are a little more liberal than we are say that when I propose things like work requirement or employability requirements for food stamps that we’re making it harder for people to get assistance. I gotta tell you, we’re not. We’re makin’ it easier for people to get a job.”

Not surprisingly, he was softer and folksier on safety nets for farmers. “Over the years, I have learned that farming isn’t just a business; it’s a way of life. There’s got to be an assurance out there,” he said.

Today, the Job Center of Wisconsin purports to have 81,619 job openings and 40,535 resumes on file.

On Rural Health Care

Walker ended his Q&A by going into great depth about funding a medical residency program for rural Wisconsin communities.

“We not only invested more money in rural health care, but we also put more money in to train primary care physicians and … then we put money in our hospitals to help do residencies, so that we weren’t just training—we were actually getting physicians to do their residencies at rural hospitals.”

“The idea being that if someone comes to a rural community, they do their residency there, they make a connection with the hospital staff—more importantly, they start to know the people in that town and that community and that county—chances are pretty good they’re going to realize it’s pretty good living with the people around there … But if you try to recruit them from somewhere else, from either coast out there, it’s a pretty difficult challenge,” Walker said.

According to a report in the Capital Times in Madison, Wis., Walker’s newest budget for 2015–2017 cuts the Rural Physician Residency Assistance Program, which is part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health’s Department of Family Medicine.

In the Role of Pat Buchanan: Mike Huckabee

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee sounded more like a populist isolationist than a mainstream Republican candidate as he talked about nationalists versus globalists and corporatists and the stagnant and falling wages of the bottom 90 percent.

“America needs to do everything that it can to do three things to be free: It needs to be able to feed itself, fuel itself, and fight for itself,” Huckabee told organizer and big Republican donor Bruce Rastetter in response to a question about supporting the Renewable Fuel Standard. “The country that outsources any of those three things … the degree to which we outsource that is the degree to which we have outsourced our freedom.”

He continued: “There are three kinds of people: There are globalists, there are corporatists, and there are nationalists.” Globalists, he claimed, want to make America no better than the rest of the world. Corporatists defined primarily by the multi-nationals care only about what’s good for the corporations. “Then there are the nationalists, and I unapologetically put myself there,” he said.

On Trading with the Chinese

“We have basically surrendered to the Chinese market,” Huckabee said. “We have allowed the Chinese to get away with things in trade agreements that we never should have done and we’ve done because we have a lot of globalists and frankly corporatists instead of having nationalists who put the best interest of the United States and working families first.”

On Energy Policy

Huckabee advocated that America should be a net exporter of energy to “turn the tables on Russia and turn the tables on Iran.” After offering his support for the RFS, he was less enthusiastic about wind-tax credits noting “the worst thing we do with any government program is give it eternal life.”

On the Sorting of America and Economic Divide

“There is as much a polarization between urban and rural as there is between left and right, Democrat and Republican,” Huckabee said.

“For 40 years, Bruce, the wages of the bottom 90 percent of this economy have been stagnant, stagnant. The 25 years prior to that, wages in America grew by 85 percent for the working bottom 90 percent of the economy. People are working harder this year than they have worked before lifting heavy things and sweating through their clothes, and every day, and they have less to show for it.”

Huckabee himself may be working harder as he tries to distance himself from his own scandal for fronting for a dubious diabetes cure.

Originally Published: Iowa Daily Democrat

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