Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Farm Talk: Obama Stresses Rural Illinois Resume

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s biography may best be characterized as one with a wide-ranging geographic background.

But Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois who served in the state legislature there, says he’s very much a Midwesterner — in style (he goes for the practical not ideological) and temperment as well as interests.

In representing Illinois, Obama has parlayed some of his celebrity status, what that can mean when he stumps for other candidates, into, among other things, legislation he believes will provide significant benefits to the growing biofuels industry.

As a result of Obama-championed legislation gas stations are now eligible for tax credits for installing E85 ethanol refueling pumps. The tax credit covers 30 percent of the costs of switching petroleum pumps to E85. The tax credit will help create the infrastructure to support more flex-fuel vehicles. Obama also sponsored legislation requiring oil companies, that made at least $1 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2006 to invest at least 1 percent of their total reported first quarter 2006 profits into installing E85 pumps.

“We still don’t have enough places where people can buy the stuff (E85),” Obama said in an interview. “As a consequence, not enough people are purchasing flexible-fuel vehicles and we’re not seeing enough of a growth in the market.”

Obama thinks the federal government can send a strong message with its own purchasing decisions.

“One of the things that we can also do is have the federal government have a fleet of flexible-fuel vehicles to sort of spark the market to encourage the use of what is a cleaner burning energy, cleaner burning fuel,” he said.

Aiming for a multi-faceted approach to development, Obama is crafting a rural affairs strategy that is expected to include calls for investment in broadband Internet, wireless networks and doing energy “right” to tap into the potential for an “enormous job creator” in rural areas.

“The priority has to be economic development in these areas,” Obama said. “Young people recognize great quality of life in rural areas but if they don’t have jobs where they can afford to raise a family they’re not going to live there”

Obama said it’s vital to coordinate rural development with community colleges and other schools.

“Finally, we have to make sure that local communities that are trying to bring industry into the area are given the kind of community development block grants and other resources to help them attract businesses to the community,” he said.

Obama is certainly not the only candidate in the presidential race appealing to rural voters, talking about interests in the countryside. But Obama, who spent his younger years in Hawaii and Indonesia and later attended college in California and New York before moving to Chicago, notes that his work in Illinois has provided a solid, Midwestern understanding of issues in Iowa.

“There’s no doubt that as a consequence of living in the Midwest I’m very familiar with many of the issues that we’re dealing with on a regular basis in Iowa,” Obama said. “You’ve got a very similar economy when you’re talking about downstate Illinois. We are highly dependent on agriculture. The farm economy is important. I’ve spent a lot of time on family farms and talking to farmers and working on legislation that is of import to them.”

But his connection with the Midwest goes beyond that, Obama said.

“There’s a certain common sense we pride ourselves in the Midwest,” Obama said. “People I think are less ideological and less concerned with scoring political points and more concerned with just getting the job done. I think that attitude is one that the American people are looking for from their next president.”

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