Democratic presidential candidate and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock on Wednesday released his plan to address issues facing rural communities in America.
Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made much in her campaign about her specific policy proposals, often quipping when asked a question, "I have a plan for that." And on Wednesday, ahead of a long-format town hall on CNN dedicated to the single topic of climate change, some of the seven candidates participating released their plans to address a warming world.
Aside from trying to rid politics from dark money, rural issues may be the topic on which Bullock can speak with the most authority, plus it plays to areas in Iowa and elsewhere his campaign has focused on, said Lee Banville, a political analyst and professor at the University of Montana.
"It certainly fits in a strategy that is built around doing well in Iowa, to speak to the issues that not only does he have legitimate credentials to discuss but he also can speak to Iowans in a way that a Massachusetts senator or former vice president really can't, or probably won't," Banville said.
The plan, called A Fair Shot for Rural America, focuses on agriculture, economic development and health care in depth, and touches on other proposals such as bolstering the U.S. Postal Service.
In a press release, Bullock said the plan builds off what he's done in his two terms as governor of Montana. In his campaign, Bullock often reminds voters he won reelection in 2016 in the same year Trump took the state by 20 points.
“Folks shouldn't have to leave their home, their church, or their community to succeed in America. Washington has paid lip service to small and rural communities for too long — they deserve a leader in the White House who will lead with action,” Bullock said in the release. “As governor of one of the most rural states in the country, I can tell you that the challenges small and rural communities face aren’t theoretical. They’re an experience I’ve lived and I’ll bring that perspective to the White House every day.”
Bullock said his first priority would be to establish an Office of Rural Affairs to coordinate what he lays out in the plan.
Like Montana has done, Bullock proposes expanding Medicaid in all 50 states. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 37 states have already done this. Bullock said expansion has "proven its public health value."
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Aaron Wernham, chief executive officer of the Montana Healthcare Foundation, said Medicaid expansion here has had direct benefits for the roughly 95,000 people who gained coverage, citing things like data from the state health department showing about 2,500 cases of colon cancer detected and treated because of screenings of people in the program.
Rural states, Montana included, face huge challenges with substance use disorder and access to mental health treatments, Wernham said, pointing to community surveys the foundation has done across the state.
Medicaid expansion has helped chip away at the issue, by both providing insurance coverage to people who seek treatment and creating a way for doctors to get paid for providing services in rural areas.
Studies have also shown rural hospitals have closed at a rate six times higher in states that have not expanded Medicaid.
For agricultural producers, Bullock vowed to "end the tariff war" and create an agriculture disaster relief fund modeled off the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In February, the Great Falls Tribune reported 6,500 farmers in Montana made requests to the federal government for $14 million in relief from tariffs.
Bullock also said he would require a two-year "pause" on any proposed mergers of agriculture companies that produce seeds, equipment and chemicals. Bullock's plan said four firms control 60% of the poultry market, while four others control 85% of the beef market, which means ranchers don't have as many places to sell their produce and end up getting a lower price.
The plan also includes a broad range of economic development proposals, such as increasing federal investments in covering agricultural waste to marketable products and bringing broadband internet to places that don't have that service. Bullock said he would invest $61 billion in rural broadband, by having Congress pass legislation, to connect every school, library and hospital in the country in two years and every household within three. High-speed internet and cellphone connectivity is something with which rural parts of Montana have long struggled.
Tapping into the opportunities outdoor recreation presents to the economy is also included in the plan, though in less detail than other proposals. Outdoor recreation is a significant driver of Montana's economy, with 71,000 jobs tied to it, according to a report last year by the Headwaters Foundation.
Bullock travels to Iowa on Sept. 12 to pitch the plan, according to the Des Moines Register.