BVU Hosts 2020 Presidential Candidates at Heartland Forum

Allyssa Ertz and Ella Wiebusch

On Saturday, Mar. 30, Buena Vista University hosted The Heartland Forum, an event where 2020 presidential candidates shared their vision for rural America. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), former US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro (D-TX), Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-N), and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) were the presidential hopefuls who outlined their goals and plans for addressing rural and small-town America’s concerns.

The event was sponsored by HuffPost, Open Markets Action, the Iowa Farmers Union and The Storm Lake Times. The Times’ editor and Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Art Cullen, moderated. HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel and Zach Carter also took the stage to contribute to the facilitating. Each candidate responded to questions from the moderators as well as audience members to showcase the goals they have in their specific campaigns. These topics included but are not limited to rural farming communities, the student loan debt burden, healthcare, public education, gun policy, immigration, climate change and divisive government.

Warren began the Forum’s discussion for the afternoon by greeting Cullen, and immediately diving into vision of creating an American that works for everyone. Warren specifically emphasized that less money is going toward rural America than ever before by stating that by a generation ago, 37 cents of every dollar went to rural America as opposed to 15 cents going toward rural activities today.

Allyssa Ertz

“We have a Washington that kowtows to those with money and influence. We have to fight back because we live in a democracy and it’s up to us to decide who our government works for and who our country works for. I believe in an America that works for everybody,” Warren stated.

Warren also touched on the fact that she believes America needs to lessen barriers for beginning farmers to make it possible for them to flourish in future generations. The way that she plans to approach this is through lessening the burden of student loan debt.

The second candidate featured in the Forum was Castro. His proposed plan of action is to make America the healthiest, fairest, and most prosperous country on Earth. He first spoke on the topic of gun control, in which he outlined his support for universal background checks and called for funding for rural mental health institutions to reduce suicides. Furthermore, Castro tied healthcare and education reform into his overall campaign strategy.

Allyssa Ertz

He also spoke about immigrants and tackled the question of how we can ease their transition into rural areas. Castro feels that we can have a secure border while being compassionate and recognizing the value of the immigrant community of America that is already doing great things.

“When it comes to comprehensive immigration reform, the lesson of 2009 and 2010 was don’t wait. And I won’t wait,” Castro assured the audience.

Castro confidently expressed his belief that on Jan. 20, 2021, at 12:01pm, we will have a Democratic President, Senate, and House.

The third Democratic candidate was Delaney. He began his campaign overview by emphasizing his goal of bringing together  a country that is already too divided. He highlighted his Heartland Fair Deal, in which he plans to partner with rural America to create jobs and to increase capital flow to rural America.

Allyssa Ertz

“That’s why so much of my agenda is focused on policies to encourage people to invest in communities. Because, when I’m done being President, I want 80% of the venture capital to not go in 50 counties, but to go in 1,500. I want there to be a resurgence of investment in these kind of communities, and I know how to do it. I’ve spent my whole life doing it,” Delaney said.

Through infrastructure and investments, he aims to invest in others because people have invested in him. He also stressed the country’s need for a universal healthcare system, and agrees that rising national debt is a problem that needs to be addressed. Delaney also stated that in his first 100 days in office, he plans to implement comprehensive immigration reform.

After Delaney left the stage, Klobuchar joined the moderators to outline her campaign. She began by expressing her spirit for community that will bring people together to cross the country’s river of divides.

Allyssa Ertz

Klobuchar placed emphasis on the fact that having a Midwestern candidate is pivotal due to climate change issues, especially soil loss and others that impact farmers on a high level. Her approach for these problems is to sign America back into the international climate change agreement to keep conservation provisions strong.

Her rural agenda will focus on the people. Suicide prevention and mental healthcare were given prominence in Klobuchar’s campaign. She also focused on developing provisions that will allow people to keep farming even through financial burdens and bankruptcy.

President of BVU, Dr. Joshua Merchant, had the opportunity to ask Klobuchar a question during her portion of the Forum. He pointed out that many emerging presidential candidates are talking about the idea of free college and asked how she would propose to pay for this. He also asked what she will do to protect rural, private institutions of higher education that serve students who are looking for an outstanding educational experience.

Allyssa Ertz

“I don’t think we can afford free college for everyone,” Klobuchar answered. “What I do think that we could do is expand Pell grants in a big way and make them more accessible to make it so the kids can refinance their student loans.”

Klobuchar went on to explain how this refinancing could be paid by putting the Buffett Rule in place and by looking at the way the tax code works. She also said she believes that the U.S. should have free two-year college as an option.

The final candidate for questioning at the Heartland Forum was Ryan. Ryan has not yet officially declared his candidacy, but still answered questions regarding the future of America if he was leading.

Allyssa Ertz

His future hopes are to revitalize the political and economic state of America. He wants the country to come together politically instead of being divided because it prevents us from moving forward as a whole.

“The stock market is as high as it has ever been; unemployment is as low as it has ever been; and yet there is a chronic level of stress in our society today because of chronic uncertainty. This is economic anxiety, anxiety around healthcare, anxiety around retirement, pension, security, and I think it’s time for a new way of doing things. New politics, new ideas, a new way to inject some energy into our economy,” Ryan proclaimed.

According to Ryan, diversity as a country is our strength, and he hopes the country in its entirety will have the willingness to accept and welcome immigrants and refugees.

He discussed that we as a country need to embrace artificial intelligence because it boosts productivity, the fact that we need to bridge the gap between urban and rural America, and that we need more public-private partnerships. Ryan wants to come to rural American with a real agenda, using innovative ideas for manufacturing and agriculture that will take this country to the next level.

Several BVU students attended the Heartland Forum to listen to presidential candidates in person. Junior political science major Iran Carlos listened to the candidates and was interested in several of the topics they discussed.

“It was really informative,” she said. “They touched on a lot of issues that are really important, especially here in Iowa.”

All candidates at the Forum emphasized the importance of focusing on the American people and the role of rural voters in the upcoming presidential election. Several audience members also posed personal, relevant questions to each of the five candidates in an effort to shed further light on policy agenda and 2020 vision for the future of America, specifically in small-town Midwest areas.

After the event, Merchant reflected on the effect he hoped it had on students who attended.

“I thought this was a great opportunity for Storm Lake and the university,” Merchant said. “I hope that when students have these experiences they leave here and approach life with open minds and an openness for tolerance and understanding and a different perspective that helps shape the way they see the world.”