For Rural Votes, 2017 was a Groundbreaking Year Despite the Opposition

It’s been a strange, but energizing year. Everyday our resolve to fight for the rights and lifestyle of Rural America grows stronger. Our motivation is winning the war on hard working- and middle-class Rural Americans and winning the war on truth and justice.

Rural America is under assault by lawless leadership and their allies on important issues like tax fairness, quality affordable healthcare for children and adults, fair wages, family farms, good schools and colleges, incentives for small businesses expansion and equal Internet and broadband access.

Taking a look back at 2017, we all have come together to fight this battle of a lifetime for the future of America. Our efforts broke new ground in enlightening Rural Americans to the reality of a systematic bait-and-switch campaign of unkept promises by the ruling party in Washington and many Rural Governments. We should all be proud of the scorecard.

  • We won the fight to protect the core of our health care coverage, increasing access for everyone and protecting Rural Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid. The victory gave more Rural Hospitals a better chance of keeping their doors open. Furthermore, a successful statewide ballot initiative in Rural Maine ushered in a first-ever voter-driven demand to expand affordable, quality health care coverage. The battle to protect healthcare is a model for activating, energizing and empowering activists from the grassroots level to the state capitals to Washington, DC.
  • We elected key lawmakers who successfully ran campaigns that focused on Rural Values and Priorities in critical races in Alabama and Virginia. In Alabama, we saw a return to the core value that “all politics is local,” allowing a race in that venerable Rural State to be run for its people, not for special interests and their singular causes. The incoming Virginia governor grew up on the Rural Eastern Shore. He talked about reversing the underinvestment in job creation needed to revitalize Rural Virginia — an example of how Rural America is influencing the national conversation from the local level.
  • Even where victory in elections escaped us, the battles were noble and hard fought. In four special House elections, Democrats outperformed Republicans in races that should have not even been close, yet they were all contested. Much was learned.
  • Our organization made strides this year in promoting voter registration, and we were steadfast in countering systematic voter suppression and intimidation that plagues Rural America. We worked to keep American elections American. We supported and enhanced get out the vote efforts at every level. Again, much was learned.
  • Across the country, we flatly rejected the forces of hate and bigotry that would seek to divide Rural Americans for the sake of their own narrow-minded and intolerant agendas. Righteous Rural Americans stood up and were counted among those who embraced inclusion, equality, harmony and good citizenship.

The Republicans trumpet the appointment of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court as one of its crowning achievements of 2017, but we will never forgot that it was a seat stolen by GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell from a sitting Democratic leader for purely partisan gain. It was a gift to historians who will forever remember McConnell as a dishonest broker because of that partisan stunt.

While the Republican leadership branded itself as a do-nothing tribe willing to look the other way from charges and accusations brought against its members, from top to bottom, Democrats proved to be committed to dealing harshly with ethics violators among their own members.

Rural Americans are steadily becoming aware that they bought into a colossal lie in the 2016 elections. What Rural Voters got in return in 2017 was not what they paid for.

The promise for government of the people, by the people, for the people made by President Lincoln at Gettysburg reminds us now, as it did then, that our strength is in unity and prosperity for all of America. Our resolve in the fight to save Rural America grows stronger each day.

Roy Moore Won’t Do a Darn Thing to Fix Alabama’s Opioid Crisis

For too long the ruling party in Alabama has ignored the opioid crisis that is literally killing Rural Alabamians. Unless there is a political shake up, Alabama will likely remain atop the list of states with the worst opioid problem in the country.

Republicans like Roy Moore are the problem, refusing to see that Big Pharma, and not the misguided and over-hyped drug war blame game excuses, is going unpunished for the opioid epidemic in Alabama. “Opioids are not the only drug problem we have,” the out-of-touch Moore was quoted as saying recently in the Montgomery Advertiser.

Fortunately, at least two Alabama hospitals aren’t waiting for the state’s Republican leadership to step and do the right thing. Mobile-based Infirmary Health Hospitals Inc., and Monroe County Healthcare Authority this week joined a Mississippi-led class-action lawsuit taking aim at Big Pharma for allegedly pushing and profiteering from their highly addictive drugs.

Big Pharma hires 18 lobbyists on average every year to press the Alabama marketplace into buying and arguably over-prescribing their opioids. With high pressure lobbying like that it’s no surprise that Alabama has the most prescription opioid use in the nation.

The individual statistics for Alabama opioid use are shocking, according to recent statistics compiled by the Joint Economic Committee in Congress. For example, in 2015, 736 people died from drug overdoses in Alabama, compared to 122 people in significantly less populous Alaska. Doctors in Alabama prescribe 142.9 opioid pain relievers per 100 persons, compared to the national rate of 82.5 per 100 persons.

In addition, four of the 15 cities in the United States most plagued by the opioid epidemic are in Alabama, according to a separate private study.

The opioid crisis in Alabama and throughout Rural America will only get worse if the Republicans in Washington are allowed to pass Trumpcare, which of course we are seeing is JunkCare at best, and NoCare in the case of the most vulnerable among us. Alabama can’t afford seeing that happen. We need smart votes in Washington. Roy Moore won’t help with that.

GOP Cost Rural Alabama $14.4 Billion; 30,000 Jobs; Better Healthcare

Alabama has the Republican leadership to thank for the state losing out on $14.4 billion in federal money that is available by law to provide mostly Rural American residents with health insurance coverage. The number of Alabamians denied affordable healthcare is approaching half a million people.

Now we’ve learned Republican have plans next year to try to slash healthcare even more for Rural Alabama.

Even Alabama’s peer states, like Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky have welcomed the federal money to expand health care coverage into their Rural Communities. States like Alabama that allow politicians to reject to the federal expansion are doing an injustice to its Rural Communities.

Even Alabama’s peer states, like Arkansas, Louisiana and Kentucky have welcomed the federal money to expand health care coverage into their Rural Communities. States like Alabama that allow politicians to reject to the federal expansion are doing an injustice to its Rural Communities.

“We must ensure that quality health care is available not only in our cities, but in rural areas as well. As pointed out recently by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, ‘Alabama’s rural hospitals have been struggling for years, largely due to inadequate reimbursements, low volume and high operating costs,’” explained Doug Jones, who is working to bring expanded health care to Alabama.

The problem for Alabama isn’t just the loss of federal funds for coverage. The problem extends to Rural Hospitals in Alabama that face closing without increased revenue. The federal money would go a long toward propping up Rural Hospitals in Alabama.

“Since 2010, five rural hospitals have closed in Alabama, leaving residents without local care. As Rep. Sewell notes, ‘We need more robust Medicaid funding in Alabama if our rural hospitals are to survive,’” Jones concluded.

On top of the lost revenue, the Republicans decision to decline the federal aide is costing Alabama an estimated 30,000 new jobs that would be created by the increased healthcare coverage. Alabama deserves a better deal than that.

Graphic: Center for Rural Affairs

 

GOP Plans to Gut Medicare & Social Security if Moore Wins in Alabama UPDATED

Alabama senior citizens and retirees should brace for devastating Republican cuts to their Medicare coverage and Social Security benefits if Roy Moore prevails in Tuesday’s special Senate election.

It’s a poorly disguised two-part GOP plot: first pass massive permanent tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and then play the phony deficit hawk game, arguing Medicare and Social Security must be gutted to pay for the $1.5 trillion debt-increasing GOP revenue giveaway.

UPDATE: It’s not speculation; it’s happening. Just hours after we posted this item, GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan said on the record the plan is to pay for the corporate tax cuts by taking a knife to programs that are essential to Alabama seniors, retirees and other Rural Americans.

The declaration by Ryan likely kills any hope the Republicans next goal will be to keep a campaign promise to pass a much-needed infrastructure repair jobs creation bill. Democrats and their allies are already promising they won’t let Republicans get away with it without a fight.

The whole scheme is a one-two punch to working- and middle-class Americans, particularly those of us in Rural America. There is little doubt the increasingly unreliable Moore is ready to jump on that bandwagon if elected.

This is a precise scenario. How so? Because one thing we know for sure is the Republicans in Congress have been trying all year to wipe out Medicaid, and if they win on Medicaid they surely plan to try to double-down and go after Medicare and Social Security.

Another reason why we know the GOP will slash Medicare and Social Security is because the Republican tax cuts will never meet the promise of paying for themselves, as every credible economist and government budget analysis shows.

A Moore-backed GOP plan to shrink Medicare and Social Security would affect one-fifth of Alabama residents. Not only would the quality of life diminish for approximately 4.8 million Alabamian senior citizens, but those cuts would take 10s of millions of dollars out of the Alabama economy.

That’s a lousy deal for Alabama, but it won’t happen if Moore isn’t elected. The Republicans need Moore’s vote to decimate Medicare and Social Security.

Alabama Senate GOP Write-in Race is a Replay of the Iron Bowl UPDATED

There is a lot of speculation throughout Alabama about who Republican Senator Richard Shelby wrote in as his vote for senator in next week’s special election.

Casting an absentee ballot late last month, all Shelby would say is he wrote in the name of a “distinguished Republican.” Guesses as to who won Shelby’s vote range from ex-Sen. Jeff Sessions to interim Sen. Luther Strange. Shelby may have even cast a vote for himself, rather than voting for the embattled and increasingly unpopular Roy Moore.

UPDATE: Shelby doubled down the last Sunday before the election, going on national television to urge Alabama Republicans to cast write-in votes instead of voting for Moore. “I’d rather see the Republican win, but I’d hope that Republican would be a write-in,” Shelby said. “I didn’t vote for Roy Moore. I wouldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I think the Republican Party can do better.”

Shelby cast his write-in vote before retired Marine Col. Lee Busby of Tuscaloosa formally announced his write-in campaign. Busby is an interesting Republican voter with deep connections to the Trump White House. He once served as chief of staff to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, himself a retired four-star general.

Shelby isn’t alone. Republicans throughout Alabama have been requesting information from state and local officials on how to cast a write-in ballot in next Tuesday’s election. The onslaught of requests even prompted Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, himself a Republican, to issue a special release with instructions for how to cast a write-in ballot.

UPDATE: The write-in vote wave opposing Moore got a big boost down the stretch with a major Alabama television advertising buy from a conservative organization. The ads focus on Christian and family values.

While most observers focus on which GOP politicians will pick up the most write-in votes, many Republicans will likely go another route, choosing iconic Alabamians as their candidate. GOP fans of Alabama’s favorite fall pastime are girding for an Iron Bowl fight off the gridiron. Alabama coach Nick Saban, who routinely picks up write-in votes in everything from student government to presidential elections, may turn out to be the choice of most Republicans. There even have been calls for Saban to seek the Senate seat. However, it’s worth pointing out that with Gus Malzahn and his Auburn Tigers handily defeating Alabama in this year’s Iron Bowl, he might just give Saban a run for the money in the Senate write-in sweepstakes.

It should surprise no one if one or both of prominent football coaches top the write-in ticket.

UPDATE: Interestingly, it’s Mac Watson of Auburn who at the moment is generating the most social media attention for his GOP Senate write-in campaign, according to an analysis performed at the request of Rural Votes by a top social media data scientist. The conservative businessman has a common sense agenda. Watson contends that since a low-paid worker is held to high standards, a well-paid U.S. senator should be expected to uphold a moral code as well. Moore fails that smell test, he contends.

A Republican political operative, who has worked at the highest levels of statewide elections in Alabama, said the write-in campaign is likely bigger than people think. “This is an election that the voters might not be comfortable admitting how they plan to vote to pollsters…Alabama is a God-fearing state, so you have to expect some voters want an alternative to Moore,” the political operative said, asking to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

Unlike the Republicans, Democrats don’t have a write-in candidate.

Debt-Bloating Tax Cut End-Game Reveals GOP Deficit Hawks as Frauds

You know how we can tell the GOP corporate tax scheme is a ruse? Too many so-called conservatives squawked when the few Republican deficit hawks still true to their core fiscal doctrine came up with a way to try to keep the tax cuts from adding another $1.4 trillion to the $20 trillion national debt.

A handful of senators, led by Bob Corker (R-TN), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and James Lankford (R-OK), offered up a doomed “trigger” to prevent the tax cuts from increasing the national debt. Simply put, tax increases would be triggered if federal revenue fell short of a specified threshold as a result of the corporate tax cuts.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled out a trigger on procedural grounds, but it’s still worth asking the question why would anyone be opposed to a deficit-avoiding mechanism? The Republicans keep telling us their corporate tax plan is going to increase growth and jobs and will pay for itself. What’s the problem then? Could it be that maybe the Republicans aren’t telling us the truth and their tax plan is really a scam that is going to blow up the federal debt?

Opponents of the trigger, like the Koch brothers political machine, claim it’s a bad idea because a downturn in the economy could set off tax increases. But again, the Republicans insist their corporate tax cuts are supposed to be a glorious trickle down stimulus for the economy, so what’s the problem? We won’t have an economic downturn, right Republicans?

It gets worse, believe it or not. Turns out the tax cutters have many weak arguments. Republicans asked congressional budget analysts to create a deficit model with a magic process called “dynamic scoring” to analyze the effect of the tax cuts on the national debt. Even that optimistic ploy failed, and the best tax analysts could come up with is the national debt increasing by $1 trillion as a result of the tax cuts.

And that’s why Corker and the diminishing cast of deficit hawks know there must be a deficit trigger, or some other means to keep the corporate tax cuts from exploding the deficit.

As far as the GOP promises that their massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest among us will make more money than they will cost, only in Washington could we have a balance sheet that contends cutting revenue will increase revenue.

The Democrats are steering clear of the GOP tax con primarily for one simple reason: it doesn’t include significant, permanent tax cuts for working- and middle-class Americans. In some cases it will lead to tax increases for those demographic groups. It’s pretty clear what the Republicans think of us, given that the majority of our 60 million Rural Americans are working- and middle-class.

National Farmers Union “Farmer’s Share” Indicates that only 11 Cents out of Thanksgiving Retail Food Dollar is Goes to the Farmers and Growers

WASHINGTON – Farmers and ranchers take home just 11.4 cents from every dollar that consumers spend on their Thanksgiving dinner meals, according to the annual Thanksgiving edition of the National Farmers Union (NFU) Farmer’s Share publication. The popular Thanksgiving Farmer’s Share compares the retail food price of traditional holiday dinner items to the amount the farmer receives for each item they grow or raise.

“This holiday season, it’s important for us to take time to recognize and thank the family farmers and ranchers who provide our Thanksgiving meals,” said Rob Larew, NFU’s Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Communications. “If you don’t live on a farm or work in agriculture, you probably don’t realize the tremendous difference between the price you pay for food at the grocery store and the prices farmers end up receiving for these products. While consumer holiday food costs have declined recently, incomes for American farm and ranch families have dropped precipitously. We’re in the midst of the worst farm economic downturn in 30-40 years, and we’re hopeful these numbers can help illustrate that fact to the general public.”

On average, farmers receive 17.4 cents of every food dollar consumers spend, while more than 80 percent of food costs cover marketing, processing, wholesaling, distribution and retailing. For the 15 items NFU tracks for the Thanksgiving version, farmers received just 11.4 cents of the retail food dollar.

Turkey growers, who raise the staple Thanksgiving dish, receive just 5 cents per pound retailing at $1.69. Wheat farmers averaged a meager 6 cents on 12 dinner rolls that retail for $3.49. And dairy producers received only $1.47 from a $4.49 gallon of fat free milk.

Thanksgiving presents an opportunity to raise awareness about food production, including misconceptions about food costs, Larew explained. “Farmers and ranchers play the most valuable role in actually producing the food that is served at holiday dinners, yet they make just pennies on the dollar for their products.”

The Farmers’ Share is based on calculations derived from the monthly Agriculture Prices report produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and compared to price points of common grocery food items at Safeway supermarket. The figure farmer’s share of retail turkey sales is reported by the Contract Poultry Growers Association of the Virginias, as national data on farm prices for turkey does not reflect the amount turkey growers receive.

The Thanksgiving Farmers’ Share can be viewed and downloaded here.

(Note: This is press release published verbatim from the National Farmers Union)

Here They Go Again, Ignoring Voters and Costing us More for Healthcare

From Rural America to the suburbs, voters sent Washington a message in elections around the country this month: healthcare matters to us, so stabilize the insurance marketplace.

Shockingly, arrogant congressional leaders are about to do the opposite. Republicans are choosing to ignore the will of the voters by raising the cost of insurance premiums and taking away healthcare from at least 13 million Americans.

Astonishingly, the Republicans are not even trying to hide their reason for gutting healthcare: to give corporations permanent tax cuts. Here’s the real kick in the pants for Rural Americans: the Republican tax cut plan only provides temporary tax cuts for middle class families, while adding $1.7 trillion to the national debt.

Lets say it again, just to be clear: the corporate tax cuts are permanent; the middle class tax cuts are temporary; and the Republicans would add another $1.7 trillion to the federal deficit.

Many top corporate executives readily admit they have no plans to use the cash windfall to create new jobs or invest in their companies. Right in the face of stunned White House economic advisor Gary Cohn, leading CEO’s admitted they plan to keep the Republican’s generous permanent tax cuts or pass it on to a limited few.

This incredibly stupid stunt, backed by corporate lobbyists and fat-cat Republican donors, will increase premiums for Americans by at least 10% every year beginning in 2018 and will mean no health insurance for 4 million Americans in 2019 and 13 million more go without coverage by 2027.

The move by the GOP doesn’t make much sense politically just a week after an anti-Trump vote that shook the entire nation on Election Day. Virginia was the epicenter, where an astounding 97% of voters who supported the winning candidate for governor said opposing Trump was a factor in casting their ballots.

Trump triggered the political earthquake, but just beneath the surface and we find Trumpcare a leading cause for the tectonic shift. A whopping 77% of voters who supported the winning candidate for governor in Virginia identified healthcare as the issue that matters most to them, exit polls showed.

Healthcare registered equally high on the political scale in Rural Maine. Voters broke new ground in that state, passing the nation’s first referendum in favor of expanding Medicaid under Affordable Care Act. Voters were forced to go around obstructionist lawmakers to pass Medicaid expansion, and three of out of five Maine voters backed the historic measure.

The victory in Maine was so substantial that other Rural States, like Idaho, Utah, Kansas, are gearing up to let voters decide for themselves in the 2018 elections. A new wave is building and will very likely come crashing down on anyone who gets in its path.

Friends, affordable healthcare for all is not a Blue State or a Red State issue. Accessible quality healthcare is an American issue, but some people will just simply never learn to listen to the will of the people instead of corporate lobbyists and Republican donors.

Crunching the Numbers: GOP Tax Plan Doesn’t Add Up for Rural Workers UPDATED

As Republicans in Congress begin to try to steamroll through their $1.5 trillion tax cut plan for corporations and the super-rich, Rural middle and working class Americans should be prepared to take a hit in the wallet if the bill passes.

While the bottom line numbers being floated by the GOP might sound seductive, take a look at the fine print: the exemptions that working families will lose out on over time make it a tax hike for many Rural Americans. The House Republican bill:

Those and other hidden tax traps mean a third of all middle-class families would pay more in taxes next year. By 2026, nearly half of all middle-class families would pay more in taxes. Rural workers, farmers and families will be among the hardest hit in the GOP tax bill.

So what is behind the GOP deferring the tax hikes for working and middle class Americans? To make the math all add up.  When called on it, the Republican tax writers admit the short-term maneuver, but say it will be fixed eventually. Rather than trusting lawmakers will do the right thing down the road how about don’t break it in the first place and then it won’t need to be fixed.

UPDATE: It gets worse for working and middle class Americans. As the Senate prepares to unveil it’s version of the tax bill, word has leaked out that its plan “would fully repeal the state and local tax deduction,” which folks everywhere depend on for a semblance of avoiding double taxation. Apparently the Senate GOP doesn’t mind sticking it working families twice! The GOP leadership plans to vote on this debacle of a bill after Thanksgiving. Call it an early Christmas present for the super rich.

Not surprisingly, the Republican leaders and tax writers are under fire and scrambling to find excuses for their tax scheme. The odds are already stacked in favor of the super-rich. Why give them even more ways not to pay their fair share to the country that gave them all their wealth?

The GOP tax bill is so bad that even some leading conservative and GOP-leaning religious groups think it stinks. 

Rural Americans can either step up and let their lawmakers know they don’t like what they are seeing from GOP tax writers, or they should expect pay more to Uncle Sam. That’s an easy choice to make.

Roanoke & New River Valley: Virginia’s Rural Economic Gems on Track

The history, geography, diversity and one of the most successful and growing business and education partnerships anywhere make Virginia’s Roanoke and the New River Valley a model for growing a sustainable Rural Economy.

A wave of educational, medical and economic growth is  forecast to erupt in the region amid job creating projects like the recently announced $90 million expansion of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and just-resumed Amtrak rail service to Roanoke, the latter a sure sign the area is a destination for entrepreneurs and investors.

“It puts an exclamation point on the work the McAuliffe Administration has done to build the New Virginia Economy through multi-modal, competitive travel options for all Virginians – an economy that’s more diversified and better able to create jobs and opportunities,” Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Lane explained.  “The Commonwealth’s impressive rail system includes 3,037 miles of track serving Virginia for more than 150 years. Rail connects the Port of Virginia, businesses and cities to other major population centers in the U.S. and beyond. It creates a vital economic link and is the foundation for 21st Century growth.”

The region is emerging as high-tech belt in a bucolic setting with an affordable cost of living. There’s plenty of real estate and the growth along with the Affordable Care Act is spurring massive job opportunities in the health and wellness sectors.  New ventures like computer-related hardware and software manufacturing, renewable power start-ups and even industrial hemp research projects are tapping into the existing production, agricultural and energy cultures, offering a sustainable economy for all of Southwestern Virginia.

Not surprisingly, the word is out on Roanoke and the New River Valley. Forbes and others list the region as one of the best places in America to do business.

It’s impossible to ignore the  commitment the state has made in the last four years to the region have put it one path to lasting and innovative success. Obviously now is not the time to turn off the path to growing a successful Rural Economy for Roanoke and New River Valley.

“While we have brought down the unemployment rate in Virginia and Rural Virginia,” said Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a former Army doctor who graduated from the Virginia Military Institute, “if you travel to the Eastern Shore where I am from, or the Southside or the Southwest, we still have work to do.”

“Just like we do from the Roanoke region through southwest Virginia, we understand what it’s like to live in a rural area and a lot of people do feel left out,” said State Senator John Edwards.