Between 2010 and 2017, 71 of Iowa’s counties lost population — most of them rural.
J.D. Scholten and U.S. Congressman Ro Khanna of California believe the key to stop population loss and make large gains economically in rural Iowa is incumbent upon building a technological infrastructure.
“We’ve got to bring technology to rural America and have the same opportunities where people can stay in the communities they love, keep the type of life that they want, stay with their families, but have opportunities for the jobs of the future,” Khanna said at a forum with Scholten in Mason City last Saturday moderated by Carroll Times Herald co-owner Douglas Burns.
Khanna, who represents the richest district in the country, which includes Silicon Valley, has become intimately familiar with rural Iowa and its problems. Khanna has teamed with leaders from Iowa and investors from Silicon Valley to bring a training program and software development firm to Jefferson.
Scholarships were created for students to enroll in a 10-month course in basic digital marking and software design in Jefferson. Those trainees will be qualified for jobs at the new firm, which will pay about $65,000 per year.
Khanna and Scholten, a Democrat running for Congress in Iowa’s 4th District, which includes Carroll and the surrounding counties and currently is represented by U.S. Congressman Steve King, said they would like to see more programs like the one developed in Jefferson across the district and state. Both agreed that more money is needed for research and development.
“I think one of the big things is the lack of research and development,” Scholten said. “We’re seeing that in agriculture as much as we’re seeing it in technology. So much of D.C. and politics these days are putting Band-Aids on things and catching up. This is chance for us to have a vision for the future.”
Khanna said he would like to develop what he calls “tech institutes” at community colleges and land grant universities. He compared the idea to President Abraham Lincoln’s intention when he set up land grant universities in the first place.
“What I’ve said is what we need is the 21st century of universities,” Khanna said. “We need to take these land grant institutions and community colleges and give them grants to set up tech institutes that prepare people with a certificate or credential in the technology skills they need.”
Scholten pointed out that the United States spent 3 percent of its GDP on research and development after the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite in 1959. Today, 0.7 percent of the budget is set aside for the same purpose.
“We’re going to get blown out of the water by the nations that invest in themselves, especially China,” he said.
Scholten said 1,400 students graduated from Iowa State University with degrees in the technology fields in 2017, but only 258 currently are working in Iowa. He believes the next wave in tech will be in the agriculture business and Iowa should and can be a leader in the field, but infrastructure like high-speed Internet needs to be in place to make it happen.
“The No. 1 thing we end up producing and exporting is our children, and it’s time for that to change,” Scholten said.
Khanna and Scholten agree net neutrality is essential for rural Americans. Khanna said America could hook up high-speed Internet to every community in the nation for the same $40 billion it spends each year in Afghanistan. Scholten said getting rid of net neutrality would lead to more income inequality and is the wrong direction for America.
“It’s very important — and it’s particularly important for rural communities — to have net neutrality, “Khanna said. “If you don’t have net neutrality, and you allow the AT&Ts and Verizons to dominate the Internet, then you’re not going to have small providers emerge; you’re not going to have small businesses emerge.”
Current 4th District Rep. Steve King has a record of supporting Internet service providers in their quest to discontinue net neutrality. Since taking office, the 9th-term congressman has taken more than $210,000 from Internet service providers. In 2014, he was a co-sponsor of the Internet Freedom Act, which intended to stop the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing net neutrality regulations.
Khanna said none of these ideas will matter unless the Democrats can defeat President Trump next fall. He said the only way that can happen is with an optimistic message and outlook.
“To say, ‘No, the future is going to be better,’ ” Khanna said. “The future is going to be more choice, more freedom, more opportunity for your families and your communities. The reality is that we have not made that case, not just rhetorically, but substantively. Too many communities have been excluded from that future, and I think that is the fundamental challenge for our country.”
by Matthew Rezab, Staff Writer
This isn’t J.D. Scholten’s first rodeo.
Not the Dayton Rodeo, where Scholten is watching men wrestle calves, children ride sheep, and a one-armed cowboy wrangle a zebra with a whip. He’s campaigning for a second time against Rep Steve King and his bigoted rhetoric in Iowa’s 4rth Congressional District.
Back in 2018, Scholten surprised the Democratic party by coming within 10,500 votes of knocking off King. But this time around he’s not the only one coming for King. Republicans have had enough too, and if one of the three declared primary opponents catch King first, Scholten will have lost his bete noire, the main reason he stands a chance in the first place in a district with tens of thousands more registered Republicans than Democrats.
So Scholten is, in a sense, playing in two arenas. Sure, he’s the progressive hero who challenged one of the most reviled politicians in the country with almost no national party support and nearly flipped a district that hasn’t been won by a Democrat in more than 20 years. But he also wants voters in his district to know that he’s no firebrand and that Democrats can once again be the party of rural America.
So when King says something controversial or downright racist — like civilization wouldn’t be the same without rape and incest or undocumented immigrants are influencing American election — Scholten will of course respond on social media, hoping to sneak his name into a viral moment. But day to day on the ground, it’s not what he spends his time talking about.
“It’s easy for me to go around saying, ‘Steve King said this, Steve King said this, Steve King said this,’” Scholten said. “But at the same time, that’s not going to improve these people’s lives.”
The other big unknown is how having President Donald Trump on the ballot this time will affect the race. One the one hand, he remains incredibly popular among Republicans and could drive up GOP turnout. On the other hand, his unpopularity on the other side could drive turnout for Democrats. In Iowa, his trade war with China has particularly hurt soy bean farmers and waivers allowing oil refineries to ignore rules to blend ethanol with their fuel have angered corn farmers.
That’s why Scholten said he hopes to draw more support from the agriculture community this time around. He wants to bring back the archetype of the rural Democrat, which he thinks has been largely missing from the national stage since Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin retired in 2015.
That includes a more moderation than is usually accepted from a liberal hero. As a Catholic, he is personally opposed to abortion, but doesn’t believe it should be banned. He has expressed support for 2nd Amendment gun rights, but with limits to keep guns out of potential mass murderers’ hands. He agrees with the fight for universal health care coverage and a Green New Deal-style social and economic reforms, but concedes Democrats have work to do to sell policies like those in a district like this.
“There’s the caricature of what a Democrat is, and then there’s what I’m trying to do.”
“There’s the caricature of what a Democrat is, and then there’s what I’m trying to do,” he said. “When I go talk to a lot of these folks, within a few minutes, you’ll hear Socialism, AOC and [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi. And I’m trying to run on who I am, not what the national party is.”
Life has changed drastically for Scholten, 39, since the last race. Back then, he couldn’t even get the Democrats’ national campaign arm to return his calls. Now, presidential candidates send fundraising emails for him. Back then, most people couldn’t pick the 6-foot-6, cue-ball bald former minor-league baseball pitcher out in a crowd.
“Having to get people to remember your name was hard, but now,” he said, “Like, even at my gym, there’s several times in the locker room in the last week and a half, somebody has stopped me while I’m in a towel.”
On Saturday, Scholten was wearing plastic gloves as he manned the concession stand at the edge of the rodeo arena, preparing ball park franks, stadium nachos and the crowd favorite, walking tacos, a bag of Doritos sliced open and filled with chili and taco meat.
Paul Erickson, a lanky cowboy who works as the program director for the rodeo, popped his Stetson-topped head into the wooden concession shed to exchange information and to thank Scholten for taking on King.
“It’s just crazy. So embarrassing,” Erickson said of King. “I know that if he had one more, two more weeks last time, I think he’d have beat him out.”
So the story goes, according to Scholten’s supporters. He caught fire late in the campaign following a string of King’s highly scrutinized comments and actions allying himself with white nationalists and the far right. Scholten bought as many TV ads as he could in the final stretch, but ran out of time to break through.
Tyler Johnson, who was wearing a Scholten for Congress T-shirt and volunteering at the rodeo alongside the candidate, believes the longer runway can help Scholten this time — that is, unless another Republican beats King first. Already, State Sen. Randy Feenstra has outraised King, and two other Republicans are running in the primary, as well.
“I think it’d be a further uphill battle because most of the people that I’ve talked to canvassing around here close their eyes and circle an R,” Johnson said. “I could see it being morally easier to just vote for another Republican rather than to close your eyes and hold your nose and circle Steve King.”
At this rodeo you can see where King may draw some of his support. While there is little in the way of overtly political gear, political correctness is definitely not in fashion. Confederate flags adorn clothes. One man is wearing a shirt with an image of a rifle-caliber bullet surrounded by the words, “Just the tip, I promise.”
“He’s said some things that are controversial,” Dayton Mayor Brent Brunner, a political Independent, explained of King. “But I think the people look at what he’s done, and they’re still comfortable with him.”
Still, the area is not as solidly Republican as this crowd may make it seem. The Congressional district went for President Barack Obama twice, then swung for President Donald Trump in 2016, all the while sending King back to Congress. Scholten narrowly won Webster County, which includes Dayton, in 2018.
“It just goes to show when you work your tail off and you don’t write anybody off, you show up at events like this, you can earn votes. And I know there’s more out there that we can get too,” Scholten said.
By Daniel Newhauser Sep 9 2019, 9:46am