Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown spoke with struggling Iowa farmers Friday as he decides whether he'll make a bid to be the next President of the United States.
He went right into the thick of things in Iowa as he gathered farmers in Dallas County, where land values have dropped by nearly $2,000 per acre since 2014, according to the Iowa State University Farmland Value Survey.
It's one of the few Iowa counties that is growing, with its population rising from 66,000 during the 2010 census to more than 87,000 in 2017, but that's largely due to Waukee, a city that saw a 50 percent population increase during that same time period.
Brown asked farmers gathered around a table at the Perry Public LIbrary whether things such ethanol and trade tariffs have had a negative impact on Iowa's rural areas.
The Democrat repeatedly tried to steer the conversation back to ethanol during the nearly hour-long chat, until Warren Varley, who just lost his bid for Iowa House District 20, interrupted the conversation.
“You might win the caucuses talking about tariffs and ethanol but you're not going to win rural voters,” Varley said. “...You have to talk about economic concentration and the impact that's having on not just farmers in particular, but rural communities in general. That's what's grinding farmers.”
He said economic concentration is affecting the hog industry, and Monsanto was essentially swallowed up by a bean.
“We had economic concentrations when I was a small kid in the '80s. It's so much worse now,” Varley said. “It's not just the corporations. China is basically operating like organized crime. They're not even behaving like a lawful corporation.
“You're going to have to get people to go vote,” Varley continued. “Voters are voting Republican in rural Iowa because they're driven by fear and nostalgia. They're staying at home because of nostalgia and they're scared about the future and automation.”
The group then talked about what it'll take to get people to move back to rural Iowa, which those at the table seemed to agree insurance, and the cost of and access to healthcare and education are three big hurdles that are standing in the way.
After the nearly hour-long conversation wrapped up, Jill Brosnahan, of Boone County, said she thought the conversation was a productive one.
“It wasn't a campaign stop,” Brosnahan said. “I think he is trying to hear what middle America has to say. Hopefully that will have an influence if he does run.”
Brown came around to shake her hand, and she told the Senator she looked forward to his announcement.
“I don't know when it'll be,” Brown said. “Probably in about a month or so.”
Brosnahan said she's “really excited for an ordinary person to pull to the top,” and then asked him whether he'd accept PAC money.
“Probably not, but I haven't decided,” Brown said. “I have a record as standing up against interest groups.”
PAC money and “dark money” will be two of Brosnahan's main talking points this caucus cycle, she said.
“If I hear of a candidate and I hear they are supporting PAC money I may choose to not support them,” Brosnahan said. “I don't want them to get to Washington DC and be beholden to anybody.”