John Tsitrian asked for policy specifics from prairie populist Rick Weiland; now he's got 'em! The Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate has released his Agriculture Policy and Rural Development position statement, and it's chock full of good policy aimed mostly at protecting and promoting the interests of rural South Dakotans:
- Expand E-30. Weiland says he's been using 30% ethanol blend fuel in his car, and his engine is running fine. Whether greater ethanol use is good policy on energy and environment remains open for debate. But in the South Dakota Senate race, backing ethanol more passionately than Mike Rounds only helps Rick Weiland.
- Provide incentives for companies to build out high-speed broadband to rural South Dakota. Weiland says broadband boosts farms, small businesses, and rural schools. I agree: Internet is like water or electricity. In the 21st century, we can't let lack of access to the greatest communication network ever make rural folks second-class citizens. And Weiland reminds us that we need net neutrality to prevent non-corporations (i.e., real people) from becoming second-class citizens with respect to the information we want to produce and share online.
- Complete the funding and build out of the Lewis & Clark Rural Water System. Weiland backs the pork that our own Republicans can't resist, and he makes the reasonable point that water is more precious than oil.
- Protect access to railcars for grain and ethanol producers. Harkening to net neutrality, Weiland says coal and oil producers are getting preferential treatment on the rails. (Some wiseguy will come in here and say we could solve the problem by building the Keystone XL pipeline; I'll say how about we just leave that oil in the ground and save the rails for homegrown food and fuel?)
- Increase collaboration between private capital, local elected officials and the federal government. Weiland doesn't like EB-5, but he does like economic development as practiced by the Rural Electric Economic Development Fund. He doesn't lay out a specific federal initiative on this topic... but while we keep our corny capitalism radars tuned tight, let's hear King Crony Rounds challenge this plank.
- Establish a Federal/State Infrastructure Trust Fund to rebuild outdated and dangerous roads and bridges in rural America. Weiland says 21% of South Dakota's rural roads and bridges are "structurally deficient." Unlike the current Congressional Republicans, Weiland just says Fix it! And backing federal investment in rural transportation infrastructure perfectly pincers Rounds, who must admit to his own skinflint addiction to federal highway dollars.
- A moratorium on the closure and reduction in hours of all rural Post Offices pending a review of legislation requiring prepayment of pension program. There's a good hometown issue, especially for a guy who's been to all those towns that lost out on the last round of postal service reductions. Backing rural post offices also gives a very practical example of what the mindless anti-government rhetoric of the SDGOP means for daily quality of life in rural South Dakota.
- Reform the Farm Commodity Program. Weiland says the Farm Bill should be a safety net for real family farms, not corporate welfare for Big Ag.
- Reform the Crop Insurance Program. Weiland wants to cap premium subsidies so big corporations can't get huge breaks from the taxpayers.
- Increased federal funding to USDA’s rural development programs. Whatever he can save by cutting corporate subsidies, Weiland wants to redirect to small-business development.
We can boil the best parts of Weiland's rural platform down to one priority: look out for the little guys. Get rural students and back-forty entrepreneurs on the fast Web. Fix the roads so they can get to town. Pry federal handouts away from big corporations so they can do more good for small-town businesses. Mike Rounds will have a tough time coming up with a better rural platform than that.