Telling a crowd of more than 50 people huddled in a muggy barn surrounded by cornfields “there is a lot to be said for the rural way of life,” Democratic presidential hopeful and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tackled issues affecting family farmers during an Iowa Farmers Union barn party east of Ames.
Sanders is among a field of 24 candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in 2020. His visit to central Iowa Saturday night came less than a week before the second round of debates, in which he is one of 20 Democratic candidates who will stake the stage in Detroit on July 30-31.
During his hour-long visit to the Pat Schlarbaum farm on 600th Avenue, midway between Ames and Nevada, Sanders also touched on some of his common campaign talking points, such as taking on big insurance and pharmaceutical companies, saying it’s their “greed that is killing the American citizen.”
Sanders also said the country is tired of the greed of the fossil fuel industry, comparing it to the tobacco industry of 40 or 50 years ago where the industry promoted smoking and tobacco use as being healthy and cool while knowing all along the health risks associated with smoking.
“(The fossil fuel industry) knows what climate change is about and the causes of climate change, but to save their short-term profits, they are willing to destroy this planet,” said Sanders, as the backdrop of the event outside displayed a bucolic scene of oranges and golds as the storm clouds that pelted the area hours earlier broke open as the sun began to set.
The climate change argument struck a chord with Laura Funk Kopecky, of Ames, who stood just outside the barn watching the scene unfold while holding her 9-month-old son.
Climate change has always been an important issue for the former IFU board member, but since her son was was born, her priorities have shifted and climate change is now “1,000 times more important,” Funk Kopecky said as she bounced her son in her right arm. “Now I’m wondering what kind of world are we leaving for him.”
Funk Kopecky said she’s undecided in the 2020 race, but likes what she sees in Sanders.
“He has this energy and drive, and makes everyone feel like they can make a difference,” she said. “Whether he wins or not, that’s valuable by what he’s doing on the campaign trail.”
Funk Kopecky said she also likes what she described as Sanders’ humility, which she said is evident in the image he presents and the look in his eye.
She said other issues she’s listening for during the campaign are those involving children and families, such as childcare and maternity leave, and whether a candidate supports expanding those for working families.
“Some mothers are going back to work before they have stopped bleeding from giving birth, and babies going to daycare or families are hiring a nanny because they can’t afford to stay home,” she said.
Back inside the barn, where an occasional cool breeze blew through, Sanders talked about investing in the nation’s young people.
Instead of giving $1.5 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthy, that money should be used to make a college education tuition free. And, instead of giving tax breaks to billionaires, student debt should be canceled, Sanders said.
“We need to change these priorities and create a government that does work for its people,” said Sanders who spoke under a single shop light that illuminated the area where he stood.
But the night was about how to improve rural life in America, and Sanders, who reminded people he is from one of the most rural states in the country and once lived in a town of just a few hundred people, said it’s about the hardworking people who grow the food that feeds the world.
“It’s a good way of life,” he said.
A more aggressive move away from fossil fuels and to renewable energy is part of his rural life agenda, including policies that “make it possible for everyone to put solar panels on their buildings,” panels he said that would be built in America, helping to create jobs.
“We not only can transform our own energy system, but lead the world,” said Sanders, who characterized climate change as an enemy that is not only attacking the United States, but the world.
He said he would appoint an attorney general who understood what anti-trust laws are, saying more needs to be done to break up big corporate agri-giants that are destroying family farms.
Sanders said more needs to be done to create jobs in rural America, help support rural hospitals and clinics, and expand broadband to all parts of rural America.
Without that investment, companies would not stay or grow in rural communities, and instead move away, taking with them jobs that are needed in rural America, he said.
“Our job is to make it possible for young people to stay in the communities they love,” Sanders said.