Bullock tours Gowrie refinery
Even ethanol plants make the schedule in a crowded presidential field
GOWRIE — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock believes he has the right frame of mind to not only win the Iowa Democratic caucuses in February, but to bring one of several chiefly rural states back into the blue column come November 2020.
Now, facing 22 other candidates in the crowded field eager to challenge President Donald Trump, he contends it’s rural America that will put the party over the line in the next race as it vies for the Trump counties that previously went blue twice for President Barack Obama. Such counties represent about a third of the total number of counties in Iowa.
For now, that means it’s time to visit the less-seen places of Iowa, such as the POET ethanol biorefinery in Gowrie Tuesday, that help ensure that rural populations don’t have to leave the place they love to make a living.
There, he told members of the media after a tour of the facility that supporting local economies and participating in a global economy is not an “either or” proposition.
“If we lose opportunities for families to make a decent living in places like this, you’ve lost the heart of America,” he said Tuesday, calling tariffs too blunt of an instrument to solve the mounting beef with China that has put up significant market barriers to pork and soybean farmers.
“Where [Trump] is correct is that we have to be tough on China,” Bullock said. “But … China’s been playing the long game a lot longer than we have.”
“The idea that you can use the blunt instrument of tariffs is not what’s going to open up the markets,” he added. “If we don’t solve this, those markets will go away.”
And U.S. Department of Agriculture payments are not the solution, either, he said.
Another mistake he says the Trump administration has made, to the detriment of places like Iowa, is the abundance of small refinery waivers granted.
Small ethanol refinery waivers, established in the first version of the Renewable Fuel Standard, were intended to allow smaller refineries to release gasoline mixes without ethanol in them to keep their costs down.
Now, critics say that waivers are being given to any company that wants them, whether or not they have a legitimate claim to the regulation posing a burden.
“This administration has not met a refinery waiver it doesn’t like,” Bullock said. “Companies like Exxon are not small companies.”
“This isn’t just a war on big businesses,” he added, saying that antitrust laws need to be enforced to ensure small farmers, ranchers and producers “get their share of the dollar.”
As far as Democratic candidates go, he says they need to be able to offer voters a reason to vote for the party, not just against Trump, as they offer plans that could help the little man thrive in rural America.
“[Democrats] need to show up,” he told The Messenger. “At times, Democrats across the country don’t even come to rural areas.”
The two-term governor touts his unique credentials as the winner of a solidly red state, a factor that, in itself, would be somewhat impressive as the GOP occupies the governor’s mansion in 27 states. But in 2016, Bullock won re-election by almost four points, a comfortable majority in Montana where, on the same ballot, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 20 points.
He says ignoring “flyover country” is not a luxury he has as governor, nor is it one he’d want.
If the next president views places like Iowa as “flyover country,” he said, they won’t be able to govern, “even if you can cobble together 270 [electoral college] votes.”
After qualifying to be in the next round of Democratic debates and seeing Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California) drop out, the first of 23 presidential candidates to do so, Bullock still thinks he has the right stuff to win Iowa’s hearts and minds by February. And despite his late entry into the race, he thinks listening to the voices that matter is what will make a difference.