BY PETE BUTTIGIEG
One state has vast deserts, an entertainment metropolis, and some of the West’s most beautiful peaks. The other is situated in our nation’s heartland and is flat as could be. But despite their differences, my Indiana home has a great deal in common with Nevada. As states anchored by our rural communities, we share many of the same challenges: from plummeting agricultural incomes and growing gaps in life expectancy, to crumbling infrastructure and fears that a lack of opportunity will continue to push our children to move away.
But as I participated in a tele-town hall with rural Nevadans several months back, I was reminded that we also share the sense of resilience and optimism that has propelled America forward since its founding. Rural America is vital to our country’s past, present, and future. It’s our country’s main source of food and energy. Rural communities have welcomed immigrants into the American family for generations.
It is time to stop treating rural America as an afterthought and start seeing it for all the potential it has to offer. That’s why our campaign is the only presidential campaign to have offices in Pahrump and Fallon, and one of the few campaigns to have an office in Elko. And it’s why as president I will not only address the unique challenges our rural communities face, but also work to unleash a new era of rural prosperity.
That era starts with a new commitment to economic development and job creation. My administration will invest up to $500 million to create 1,000 regional innovation clusters that will support the next generation of rural jobs, businesses, and entrepreneurs. We’ll guarantee an apprenticeship program in a growing industry within 30 miles of every American. Meanwhile, our community renewal visa program will enable communities experiencing population decline to invite immigrants, recognizing that economic growth often requires population growth as well.
As the son of two educators and the husband of another, I’ll prioritize rural education. We’ll reduce the teacher shortage in rural areas by 50 percent within 15 years, by increasing teacher salaries to rural Title I schools and offering loan forgiveness. We’ll offer free public college tuition for low- and middle-income students, and create satellite college centers so students can attend more classes locally. By doing all that, we’re committing to grow the share of rural adults with a bachelor’s degree by 25 percent within 10 years.
Tackling climate change and our environmental challenges will also be a focus of this rural renaissance. Too often, rural America has been told it’s part of the climate problem and not invited to be part of the solution. So we’ll invest up to $50 billion in agricultural R&D over the next decade, invest in clean energy like solar and wind, and provide $5 billion in grants to mitigate damage before disasters strike. We’ll upgrade drinking water systems to ensure everyone has access to clean water. And because good stewardship of our land is vital to our economy, our environment, and the overall health of our communities–as Nevadans know well–we’ll keep Nevada’s public lands public instead of selling them off to the highest bidder. Through policies and strategies like these, we can enlist everyone in tackling climate change, from an auto worker in my Indiana neighborhood to a solar worker here in Nevada.
It’s not just environmental infrastructure that is lacking in rural America. Access to information is essential to participating in today’s digital economy, yet more than half of rural Nevadans lack reliable access to high-speed internet compared to 96 percent in urban areas. We’ll fix that imbalance by investing $80 billion to expand high-speed broadband coverage to unserved and underserved communities.
Better digital infrastructure will also help us address the unacceptable reality that rural Americans get sick and die faster than people living in cities. In addition to guaranteeing affordable health care to all Americans through Medicare For All Who Want It, my administration will make it easier for patients to be treated through telehealth technology. We’ll incentivize doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to move to areas where there are shortages. And we’ll dramatically expand access to mental health and addiction treatment for rural communities hit hard by the opioid crisis, because where you live shouldn’t dictate how long you live.
Growing up in the shadow of collapsing car factories, I know a little bit about what happens when policies and economic choices leave a community behind. But I’ve also seen what happens when a community rises up to start a new chapter. With renewed dedication and smart investments, we can empower rural America to meet its challenges and lead our country forward.
Pete Buttigieg is the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 United States presidential election.