What Hillary Clinton thinks when she thinks about rural America5/4/2016
Hillary Clinton covered a wide swath of issues — many dealing specifically with rural economic development, opportunities for Iowa small towns — in a 23-minute interview with Political Mercury on a summer Sunday afternoon in Carroll leading up to Iowa caucuses.
Clinton, who logged more than a million miles of travel as secretary of state and represented the heavily rural New York state in the U.S. Senate, talked extensively about small-business opportunities in Iowa, the value of high-speed Internet and using rural cooperatives as an inspiration for similar structures to boost local economies.
She also considered — for the first time, according to her own account — the lack of rural representation on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here is the transcript of the exchange on two key rural issues:
Political Mercury: Right now, the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court, there’s nobody on the court from rural America, there’s nobody with any rural bona fides and connection. I think Clarence Thomas spent a little time in rural Georgia when he was younger. But nobody from rural America, and yet we’re going to have many decisions involving the environment very likely in the next 20-30 years.
Oftentimes, when appointees are looked at, they’re looked at through the litmus test of where they’re at on abortion, male, female, gender, race. Do you think it’s a problem for our country that there’s nobody among those nine justices who grew up in a place like this, who has a natural rural instinct or orientation?
Hillary Clinton: No one has ever asked me that before. I’ve never been asked to think about that. Here’s what I would say: I think our Supreme Court is strongest when it really does represent the broadest possible American experience.
We do have on the district courts, the courts of appeal, a much broader cross-section of people from all different walks of life and geographies.
I don’t know how to answer, other than to say we need the broadest possible experience, and the rural experience is part of being broadly representative of America.
I’m going to be rolling out a rural-development agenda in this campaign. I care deeply about what happens in rural America, just like I did when I represented New York.
I stay in very close touch with (Secretary of Agriculture) Tom Vilsack. He’s doing some of the most-creative, smart work through the Department of Agriculture, about how to incentivize developments in rural America.
Political Mercury: As you point out in your book “Hard Choices,” you’ve logged extensive miles traveling the world. As you travel Iowa — today you came from Ames along Highway 30, saw the new casino and other things — as you’re driving and you recall some of these trips overseas, does it spark any ideas, Mrs. Secretary, in terms of potential trade opportunities or ideas for agriculture, links maybe that we’re not pursuing that you think we could?
Hillary Clinton: That’s a great question. When I was a senator from New York, as you may know, at that time the second-biggest industry in New York was agriculture. I think it’s dropped to three or four now, but it was mostly dairy and fruits and vegetables. We have a lot of small towns that are very reminiscent of what I see as I drive around Iowa.
I worked hard to create a system to help small businesses put their business on the Internet. This was back in 2001 to 2006, and we worked with eBay. We helped to build websites. We really worked to try to connect our small towns and businesses to the global marketplace. So I think there still is a great opportunity.
You have to get access to high-speed Internet, and we haven’t done that yet in most rural areas of our country. When I talk about infrastructure and the need to build, I’m talking not just about our physical infrastructure, but the need to get broadband as pervasive as we got electricity. As we all know, we didn’t leave electricity just to the utility companies. They were happy to wire towns and cities, but not so interested in going into rural areas where it was more expensive and the profit margin was very low. So we came up with rural electric cooperatives, and we did a lot that brought the power of the federal government to the local community by empowering entities to wire America.
I think we’ve got to come up with smart ways to get broadband everywhere, so when you’re traveling, whether it’s route 30, or any other part of the state, and you see people’s homes or businesses, how are they going to expand their market unless they are connected to the global marketplace?
I also believe, just as we have historically with agriculture, had cooperatives, you know, the old cooperative model, I really believe we have to reinvent cooperatives for the future.
What do I mean by that? If you take like small businesses in a small town a lot of times they each pay for all of the services they need. The small dry cleaner, the small retail outlet, the small hardware store, everybody goes off and they hire their own accountant, they hire somebody to advise them about marketing, whatever. I think we should create more cooperatives in the retail world, just like we have in the agricultural world, to cut expenses and to be able to channel some of those saved resources into economic development and into a broader market outreach by small towns.
I’ll tell you a quick story from my experience in New York, actually two little anecdotes. There was a man in a really small town up in the Adirondacks who made superb fly-fishing rods. He sold maybe one every two or three weeks, and it was all word of mouth. We helped him design a website, we put him on the Internet, we connected him up with eBay, and all of a sudden, he was getting orders from Norway, from Italy, from all over the world, people who would never come to his small town, or would never hear of him.
Another story: a woman made beautiful handmade soaps, and we did the website, we did the work with eBay, and somebody who worked for Oprah discovered her soaps, and Oprah decided she wanted to place a $40,000 order. That was more than twice as much as this woman ever made in a year. She had to get everybody off the streets, everybody in her family, everybody to come in to make the soaps, so she could fulfill the order. Really, you don’t know what you can possibly sell, until you’re connected. I think that’s one of the best and smartest investments for towns and counties and states to make these days. CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who resides in Carroll. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.