Cory Booker unveils plan to fight big ag mergers amid rural opportunity plan rollout

Austin Cannon, Des Moines Register

DES MOINES — Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker introduced his plan Friday to build “wealth and opportunity” in rural America during a campaign swing through Iowa

The U.S. senator from New Jersey said, if he were president, he would spend $2 trillion on infrastructure, stop the consolidation of large agricultural companies and make broadband accessible to low-income families in rural areas. 

Booker said he would concentrate the spending in rural areas, spending on new methods of public transit that’s currently inadequate, for example. Specifically, a Booker administration would test community-controlled ride-share programs to make rural transit more accessible. 

As president, he would push passage of a bill he introduced in the Senate to put a moratorium on acquisitions that include large agricultural businesses. The measure would also establish a commission to examine the market concentration in the agricultural economy and recommend regulatory changes.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., greets people in the crowd after giving a speech about the state of his campaign and the 2020 presidential race on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, in Des Moines.

Booker is among the several 2020 Democrats who’ve said they plan to fight agricultural consolidation as president. In a news release, his campaign noted that Iowa has lost farms over the past five years while the number of farms with more than 2,000 acres has increased.

MORE: With Kamala Harris' dropout and the potential for an all-white debate stage, Booker asks: 'What message is that sending?'

On broadband, Booker said his administration would automatically enroll low-income Americans in the FCC Lifeline program, which provides discounted phone service. He’d also invest in broadband cooperatives that provide internet and phone service to rural areas.

Booker would re-establish the White House Rural Council, an Obama-era office that would liaise across federal agencies that dictate rural policy “to deliver results for rural families and communities.” He said he would appoint a senior White House official on rural policy.

His other proposals fold into the rural opportunity plan, too. Those include expanding the earned-income tax credit; spending $100 billion on federal conservation programs and planting billions of trees; capping rental costs at 30% of renters’ incomes; and introducing a monthly child allowance for low-income families.

“There is a common pain in our country that affects rural, urban, and suburban places alike — while some places are thriving, so many communities are being left out and left behind,” Booker said in a statement. “No one should have to leave their home to find economic opportunity in America.”

Booker began his four-day “Lead with Love” trip in Iowa on Thursday, when he spoke about the winnowing of the Democratic field before a crowd in Des Moines. His campaign hasn’t polled well so far in Iowa, despite performing well in debates and earning praise from caucusgoers.

After U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California dropped out Tuesday, Booker called it a “problem” that more billionaires are currently in the race than black candidates. He urged supporters to pick up the phone when pollsters called to “choose me.”

Booker had stops planned for Winterset, Grinnell and Manchester on Friday. He is expected to also make several stops in eastern Iowa on Saturday.

Austin Cannon covers the city of Des Moines for the Register. Reach him at awcannon@registermedia.com or 515-284-8398.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: 2020 Election: Cory Booker vows to fight big ag mergers