DNC rural council meeting leaves out rural Wisconsin

    MIDDLETON, WI - NOVEMBER 19: Wind turbines rise up above farmland on the outskirts of the state capital on November 19, 2013 near Middleton, Wisconsin. A bill that would make it easier for residents living near power generating wind turbines to sue for any perceived negative impacts to their health and property values goes before the Wisconsin legislature on Wednesday. Critics believe the bill (SB167) could kill the wind energy business in Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

    After President Donald Trump won Wisconsin by 23,000 votes in 2016, the Democratic party put a renewed focus on the state and its issues — including naming Milwaukee the site of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. 

    Now that the 2020 presidential campaign is here and the convention has been moved to a virtual format because of the COVID-19 pandemic, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden still needs to win in the crucial swing state to win the White House. 

    But after “Hillary never campaigned in Wisconsin” became a political cliché following 2016, Wisconsin is still being left out of the conversation. 

    In a nearly two-hour virtual meeting of the DNC’s rural council, which covered the issues and policies Democrats need to focus on in order to win over rural voters, Wisconsin wasn’t mentioned once. 

    Politicians from Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Texas and South Carolina spoke to the council and the rural issues of half a dozen other states were highlighted — yet the dairy state, the nominal host of the 2020 DNC, was nowhere to be seen. 

    Held just days after the first meeting of Gov. Tony Evers’ Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity, the rural council discussed problems familiar to Wisconsin’s rural communities, in a state that is number one for farm bankruptcies in the nation. . 

    All of Wisconsin’s immediate neighbors — Iowa, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota — were mentioned and three of them had representatives speak. Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Iowa State Rep. Ras Smith and Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow all discussed the challenges of rural people in their states. 

    While each place has its own unique challenges, many rural places struggle with the same obstacles. 

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    Improving rural broadband access, especially with school continuing virtually this fall, was mentioned frequently by Bustos, South Carolina senate candidate Jaime Harrison and former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy. About a quarter of rural Wisconsinites don’t have access to at least one broadband internet provider. 

    Espy, currently a senate candidate in Mississippi, also advocated for expanding Medicaid in his state — one of 12 state governments that haven’t passed such a measure. Espy said expanding Medicaid can greatly improve access to healthcare for rural Americans while preventing the demise of rural hospitals. 

    Wisconsin is another one of those 12 states that hasn’t passed a Medicaid expansion.

    Vilsack, who was the Secretary of Agriculture under President Barack Obama, also discussed policy solutions to climate change that are centered in rural America. Policies such as carbon sequestration, renewable energy production and sustainable infrastructure that would mean jobs for rural people and changes in farming techniques. 

    Many of the climate policies Vilsack brought up were also discussed last week at the virtual summer meeting of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.  

    A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Democratic Party did not respond to a request for comment.

    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.