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The American Prospect: Washington Is Failing Rural America: We Need a Change

Walk through any family farm, down any empty but once-thriving Main Street, or by any small hospital in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, and you’ll see countless examples of what corporate greed and corruption are doing to our rural communities here. Much like the rest of rural America, corporations are stripping away wealth, power, and opportunities in this district—leaving shuttered downtowns, abandoned schools, and bankrupt family farmers in their devastating wake.

In food and agriculture, corporations push the little guy off the farm, fail to pay farmers a fair price, and undercut small independent grocers. Middleman meatpackers pay low prices to farmers and demand high prices from grocery stores, and pocket the difference. In health care, the managed-care organizations that have taken over Iowa’s privatized Medicaid system underpay providers like critical-access hospitals and nursing homes, forcing them to cut or outsource services, reduce staff, or consolidate. In business, 91 corporations pay zero dollars in federal income taxes while our small businesses try to get by. Across the board, rural families suffer while corporations pocket the profits.

How did we get here? Part of the answer involves who gets a leg up in our elections, and unsurprisingly, it’s the 1 percent. They can self-fund their candidacies or tap high-powered, wealthy friends for donations. When in office, they reward their wealthy donors and friends with tax loopholes and benefits. These candidates aren’t folks like me.

My parents were high school teachers. Although they weren’t able to pass down a fortune to my sister and me, they did pass down good values of decency, honesty, and the importance of faith and hard work. My candidacy for Congress is all about fighting for folks like them—the truck driver, the farmer, the teacher, the nurse. Folks who are doing everything right, working hard, but still struggle to earn a decent living, pay for school and health insurance, and save for retirement.

The political system isn’t made for outsiders like me to succeed, but I don’t need party leaders or corporations to be on board with my candidacy. That’s why I told the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the House Democrats’ campaign arm, to stay out of our race last week. Their ideal candidate can either self-fund their race or sit at home and fundraise all day; follow their strategy; and echo their talking points. That’s not what’s best for Iowans here in the 4th District. It never has been and will never be how I represent our district.

Across the board, rural families suffer while corporations pocket the profits.

I will always speak truth to power, even if those in power are leaders of my own party. My mission first and foremost is to serve the people of Iowa’s 4th Congressional District and address the serious challenges facing rural America that result from the failures of both parties. Accepting corporate PAC money doesn’t address these challenges. Accepting help from outside organizations that don’t understand Iowa doesn’t address these challenges. If I followed this playbook, I would be just another empty suit at the beck and call of corporations and political parties.

My opponent, Randy Feenstra, doesn’t share this sentiment. He built his candidacy during the primary on the fact that he’ll be the best “ally” to President Trump. He ignores the fact that Trump’s policies—from the devastating trade war to abuses of the Renewable Fuel Standard to structures that tell lifelong residents to “get big or get off the farm”—have gutted our local rural economy. It’s far more important for him to be a loyal lackey to the president than to stand up against two-faced lies and outright attacks.

When it comes to corporations, Feenstra doesn’t turn down a dime of their blood money. He’s pocketed over $60,000 from multinational corporations squeezing our farmers out, about $50,000 in direct contributions and tens of thousands more from the independent expenditure PACs from the pharmaceutical industry, and tens of thousands of dollars from the managed-care industry. Corporate donations don’t come for free; candidates must trade political access and favors in exchange for their “generosity.” Feenstra is already selling out Iowans to the highest bidder and if he’s elected to Congress, it won’t stop.

All this boils down to accountability. Elected officials should be accountable to the people they serve, not those who are able to write the biggest check. Randy Feenstra and I are both asking to serve the people of Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, but how can he do so if his allegiance is to corporations and party officials first? I challenge him to be his own man and not a corporate stooge: Drop the corporate donations and unwavering loyalty to your party and put Iowans first.

This op-ed was written by J.D. Scholten and was published in The American Prospect.