Democratic Debates Should Focus on Issues Important to Rural Americans

It’s important that every issue be up for debate, not just the issues that affect the coasts.

2020 Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
2020 Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Next week, over two nights, most of the Democratic field will face off for the first debate of the 2020 primary election. For many, it will be their first opportunity to speak to a large swath of American voters outside of the first three primary states and promote their vision for America.

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Instead, it’s likely these Democrats will follow the same playbook they’ve been following—run to the left to appease their base and try to “out liberal” each other. It’s no longer good enough to say you support the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Now, you must champion socialized medicine, AKA Medicare for All, a $32 trillion boondoggle that most Americans don’t understand. You can’t just talk about the importance of preserving the existing social safety nets. You must demand free college and a job for every American. Even amnesty isn’t enough anymore. Nowadays, candidates are calling for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be abolished.

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So, while the Democrats on stage swing wildly to the left to court their base, the American people who don’t live in big cities on either coast will be asking themselves—what about us? What about the issues we care about and that impact our lives?

Take broadband, for example. Internet access is a crucial part of our daily lives, yet over 31 percent of rural Americans do not have access to broadband in their homes. Access to reliable and fast internet provides economic stability, creates educational opportunities and provides access to important information, especially for safety and emergency purposes. One-third of rural America lacking access to broadband creates a significant disadvantage to students, job seekers and families across rural America.

Lack of access to consistent health care is also an issue that affects millions of Americans who don’t live in a major city. Instead of haggling over which version of socialized medicine is their favorite, the candidates should address the growing issue of limited access to health care for rural Americans. Distance, combined with a lack of quality professionals, has resulted in major problems in rural cities, and it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Rural areas have 13 physicians per 10,000 people, while urban areas have an average of over 30 physicians.

And I know it’s hard for people in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to believe, but tourism is a vital industry to many of America’s smaller cities and rural areas. For example, Branson, Missouri has a population of 7,500 people—yet 7.2 million tourists visit each year.

Not all of these visitors are Americans; smaller cities and rural America also attract foreign visitors. There is actually a program in the United States called Brand USA, which is a public-private partnership that helps market U.S. tourist destinations to international travelers who might not know about them otherwise.

And the best part? This program doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime. Instead, it’s funded in part by a fee paid by some foreign travelers to the U.S. and in part by private businesses in the tourism industry. This is a vital program that helps boost economies in small cities and rural areas, but its funding is at risk of being reauthorized. House Republican leaders Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise have a history of supporting fiscally responsible programs, like Brand USA, meaning this could be an issue where these Democratic candidates reach across the aisle and prove to the American people they can actually get something done to help rural America.

As we approach the first Democratic debate of the 2020 presidential election, it’s important that every issue be up for debate, not just the issues that affect the coasts. This is a chance for the candidates to prove they have a plan to help all Americans, not just their liberal base. But, sadly, it’s unlikely we will hear about these things from the 20 Democrats on the stage next week. Instead, I’m sure we will hear impassioned speeches advocating the impeachment of President Donald Trump and the enactment of expensive and completely unfeasible liberal programs that have no chance of actually becoming law—all while ignoring the issues impacting rural America. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be watching to see if any of them prove me wrong.

Matt Cordio is co-founder and president of Skills Pipeline, a technology talent solutions company, as well as the founder of Startup Milwaukee.

Democratic Debates Should Focus on Issues Important to Rural Americans