Jim Webb photo

Remarks in RFD-TV’s "Rural Town Hall" West Des Moines, Iowa

September 24, 2015

OPPOLD: And from the beautiful Stine's Family Barn in West Des Moines, Iowa, welcome to this Rural Town Hall Meeting produced by RFD-TV News and Mediacom. I'm Mark Oppold and for the next hour, we'll be spending time with just one candidate discussing issues of interest and concern to rural Americans, whether farmers, ranchers or...or just folks who choose to live in small towns that make up this great nation. The questions come from a variety of interested parties, in fact including most of the major organizations representing different sectors of agriculture, some, in fact, asked directly from members of our studio audience, who have come to Des Moines, Iowa today. Our focus is going to be rural and completely objective, but it also, we think, an opportunity. An opportunity to ensure better understanding and better communication between rural and our urban American friends as well.

We'll start with key issues involving agriculture, extend to other topics like rural healthcare, rural education, government regulation and much, more. These are not debates. These are conversations. That said, RFD-TV and Mediacom welcome our Town Hall guest today, former U.S. Senator from Virginia and Democratic candidate for President of the United States, we welcome Jim Webb. Welcome. Welcome, Senator, welcome. Have a seat, welcome. Welcome to Iowa.

WEBB: Well thank you.

OPPOLD: Are they treating you alright in the Hawkeye State?

WEBB: I'm doing alright. Been here a lot in my life.

OPPOLD: Very good. We uh look forward to uh having you visit with our friends from agriculture and rural areas. Uh we want to first of all, on behalf of RFD-TV and Mediacom, thank you for accepting our invitation to...to come here and spend an hour talking about issues important to rural America.

WEBB: Well, it's...it's a pleasure to be with you.

OPPOLD: And I would also be remiss if I didn't uh say thank you on behalf of all those present and watching for your service to our country, uh military service, our men and women are very important to RFD-TV. So we thank you for your service.

WEBB: I appreciate that...that very much. I come from a...a family that has a long military tradition. My father was a career Air Force pilot and missile man. I was very proud to serve in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, as an infantry officer. My son left college uh during the Iraq War and enlisted in the Marine Corps and served in some very heavy fighting in Ramadi. My brother was a Marine so uh very uh central part of how our family looks at uh the greatness of this country.

OPPOLD: Very good. Uh is there an opening statement you'd like to make as it relates to rural America and the hour we spend together?

WEBB: I'm just happy to be here with all of you today and to be able to...to have these kinds of discussions. I would start by...by saying that I come from a family with a strong rural tradition. Uh my mother grew up in East Arkansas uh and uh some very hard times in the...in the 1930s as a kid and uh chopped a lot of cotton, picked a lot of strawberries, ricked a lot of wood. Um my...my dad uh came out of the Appalachian Mountains and on his mother's side is one of the first families to settle Scott County, Missouri. He was born in a farmhouse in Memphis, Missouri not too far from here and uh I actually have an uncle uh who was uh...uh an artificial inseminator in Farragut, Iowa. So if uh you learned at a very early age about the cycle of life when you go with an uncle on an artificial insemination in their house.

OPPOLD: Very good. Well again, welcome. We hope it's an enjoyable hour for you and thank you for your time to answer our questions and we have a tradition. Our first question, a group very important to RFD-TV, the National FFA Organization and welcome you today.

National FFA Organization: Good morning Senator Webb.

WEBB: Good morning. How are you?

National FFA Organization: Uh my name is Michael Tupper, President of the Iowa FFA Association and our question this morning is about rural education. From your perspective, what are the unique challenges facing our rural schools and what would you do to address those challenges?

WEBB: Well, first of all, uh I'd like to express my appreciation to you for uh being involved in the Future Farmers Organization. I can remember as a...as a kid going to high school in Nebraska how active the FFA was. Um we had many, many farm communities at...at that time and many kids from the farm communities and I...I know how enthusiastic they were in terms of their own futures. And when I look at the issue of rural education today, it...it fits into my...my concerns about rural America at large. 

And we know as a historical fact that rural America has always been literally at the end of the pipeline when we get infrastructure in place. In order to give the basic services that come early to uh other parts of America, you can go all the way back and...and look at, for instance, in the Appalachian Mountains, where my dad's family uh originally came out of, uh how isolated they were for more than a hundred years after they'd settled back there in terms of just getting roads and railroads and...and...and electricity and those sorts of things into those communities. And we can look back and see the...the contribution of Franklin Roosevelt uh when he put in the TVA and...and these programs that would...were able to bring electrical power and...and those sorts of things into the rural communities. I still have uh kin people down in far southwest of Virginia, where uh...uh you can...you can just see only recently they were able to get things like satellite TV. How do you get a cable TV way out into...into these uh...uh rural areas. So it's always been a struggle. 

Uh on the one hand, it's...it's contributed to the strong individualism and...and uh a sense of...of...of get it done that the rural communities have, but they end up affecting uh some of the advances, where we need to get out there. Broadband is such a key. If all areas of...of bringing rural America up with everyone else. Um when I was in the Senate, one of the first um earmarks uh, I'm not opposed to earmarks, by the way. One of the first earmarks I was able to get for our Virginia constituents was a $6,000,000 earmark to put broadband back in...into these...into these rural areas so they could compete with everyone else in terms of getting information and these sorts of things.

And, on the other hand, uh rural education, the educational traditions in this part of America are at the top. Whenever you look at education on the...on the uh schools and this sort of thing, I went to nine different public schools in five years at one point, growing up in the military and I was very lucky I ended up in...in uh Bellevue, Nebraska, where I graduated from high school, the quality of the education that was there. So it's on the radar. Uh the people who represent you in...in the government need to be...need to have an understanding of the priorities of these issues and it's an issue of fairness in our country.

OPPOLD: Thank you for being here, FFA. Uh we have...we asked our viewers and listeners to send in questions uh, Senator. This was submitted by the National Farmer's Union, it kind of dovetails with the FFA. Each year the average age of the U.S. farmer moves higher, 58 years uh is the latest. What strategies would your administration pursue to bring more young and beginning farmers into the farm sector and lower the average operating age?

WEBB: Well when I look at um, you know, y'all have lived this every day, you know, and when I look at the...the way that farms have changed in America over the course of my lifetime, we...we can see probably three different trends in there that affect the age of...of the farmers and the future of...of farming. Um the first is the size of a farm in order to be competitive and...and to...to be the number one uh livestock has gotten larger and larger over the years. The second is the process of corporate farming and also sort of like the...the Walmart-ization of a lot of our small towns. I mean you could drive through southern Illinois and just...at where one of my really good friends is and see how the centers of the town that have fallen apart uh in...in terms of the way they used to...to look. And that causes a lot of younger people to leave. And the third, and we tend to forget this, uh is how much it costs just to put a farm online. My brother, my younger brother, when he left the Marine Corps, wanted to be a farmer. We had a farming tradition in our family. We didn't have any land and he put down on a piece of paper, when he left the Marine Corps, how he could get...get by on a certain piece of land and he went out and tried to figure out what that would cost in terms of equipment and the land and these sorts of things. And he was priced out. It was a minimum like $350,000 back then, so we need to...to encourage and respect the family traditions in...in farming. Um, by the way, I think if you look at the statistics on the...on the uh the farming, about half of the people who are farming right now have other occupations or who are...

OPPOLD: Yeah. Work outside the farms. 

WEBB: ____ subsidized income from...


WEBB: Retirement and these sort of things so. Uh we need to respect their traditions. We need to get incentive programs for our...our younger people in order to...to get the types of uh um skill sets that match modern farming and we need to...we need to protect the...the...the traditions and history of farming.

OPPOLD: And I think our next question is going to kind of dovetail with that discussion. We welcome the Iowa Soybean Association [Dean Coleman]

Iowa Soybean Association: Yes, good morning Senator.

WEBB: Morning.

Iowa Soybean Association: Uh my wife and I farm with a son and have another son that's off the farm and we're working on an estate plan to pass our family farm down. So what is your view of the inheritance tax?

WEBB: Well, the inheritance tax or I know a lot of people like to call it the death tax uh is...has been a part of our taxation system for a very long time, off and on since probably the 1700s. Uh and it has been designed principally now uh to advantage of the...the reality that a lot of people develop asset, particularly our stock assets and at the end of their life have not paid a capital gains tax. Um when I look at the estate taxes in place right now, first of all, there's an $11,000,000 exemption for uh a couple, uh be...before your...your uh assets are examined. Uh and the other is in terms of farming, the last statistic I saw was, I think, only 20 farms in America uh in 2013 were...were brought into the uh the estate tax formulations. Um with respect to true family farming, I believe those...those farms should be protected. I still have relatives who...who uh are farming or own farm land uh that's leased out.

OPPOLD: Thank you very much to the Soybean Association. Uh this was a question submitted, Senator, by the National Wheat Growers, a general question. Now what do you consider the biggest challenges facing farmers the next four years?

WEBB: Probably the weather. 

OPPOLD: Okay next question.

WEBB: Keeping our uh keeping our agricultural sector strong in terms of competitiveness and those sorts of things and...and uh having um, you know, I think our...our government has done a good job of providing a safety net uh for conditions such as the weather and natural...natural disasters.

OPPOLD: Right. I think we're going to touch on that I'm sure that a lot of folks here and watching uh wondering about that as well, the safety net, but our Iowa Pork Producers are here today. They have a question for you, welcome.

Iowa Pork Producers: My name is Dave Struthers. I'm the President of the Iowa Pork Producers and I uh raise hogs and crops here in central Iowa. Uh the U.N. estimates that food production will need to increase by 70% by the year 2050, with uh most of that increase coming from technology. Uh how will you ensure that that happens, uh given what seems to be a growing movement against new ag technology, such as GMOs and the attacks on nam...um on modern food animal production?

WEBB: Well, first of all, if you look at the uh increase in food production in our country over the past uh couple of decades, it's been immense. You can really see it in...in the corn...corn crops here in...in Iowa. Uh I'm a big believer in technology. When I was in the Senate, I was one of only three people who had an engineering degree. Uh we...we tried to look...look at these issues, you know, with a clear eye toward the impact of technology and the benefit of technology in a wide range of issues that...that face us. We shouldn't be afraid of technological advances.

Uh on the other hand, uh I do know that there have been concerns with uh certain types of uh products that go into uh areas like human growth hormones that people are worried about. Um I have looked at this uh in during my time in the Senate and...and subsequently and in general, I am a...I'm a proponent of technological advances when...when it uh when it comes to producing our crops. And it...our crops and our...and our livestock um and in anyone who's gone out with I've...I still have relatives who...who farm. Uh not hogs, but cows and uh you go out...go out with my...my...my cousin Buck and watch what he needs to do to take care of his cattle to make sure that they're healthy, there are a lot of medications right now that we wouldn't have dreamed of years ago that...that a farmer himself or herself administers to our livestock. So under the proper umbrella of...of regulation that...that protects the consumer, I...I think is a healthy move forward.

Iowa Pork Producers: So thank you.

OPPOLD: What about his question, thank you Dave, uh the attacks on animal farm production right now that we're seeing. How would you address that?

WEBB: My...my belief is that with...with the right um boundaries, for instance if you're talking about human growth hormones and these sort of things. If...if you have the right boundaries and I...I, from my understanding they are there now, then uh we should go ahead and allow these...these programs. I don't think we should be afraid of them.

OPPOLD: Very good. Just getting a good start, don't go anywhere. We're just getting started. We've dealt with some very important issues uh first few minutes. We'll tackle others, equally important, including infrastructure, rural broadband, the Senator's talked about that as well and farm policy when we return. Right back with Rural Town Hall Democratic Presidential hopeful Jim Webb.


OPPOLD: And welcome back to Rural Town Hall and RFD-TV. I'm Mark Oppold and we're talking to former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who's seeking the Democratic nomination to be the next President of the United States and we're giving Senator Webb the opportunity to address some issues that are paramount to America's farmers and ranchers and those who live in rural America. We've already addressed some very important issues and moving on to another topic, to one of our partners here, Mediacom joining us today.

Mediacom: Thank you Senator. Jeff Angelo from Mediacom.

WEBB: Morning.

Mediacom: Earlier this year the Federal Communications Commission announced plan to regulate the Internet using the rules created in the 1930s for Telephone Company. I was wondering what your view of the FCC's plans are?

WEBB: Well in...in general, I, you know, I've read the...the summaries of...of that decision when it...when it came out the...I wouldn't say it's a direct parallel to the...to the laws of the 1930s. I...I would say that uh there is a decision in...in this uh...uh directive that would assist uh the...the development of the Internet in a much more fair way. When...when we're looking at how you get the services out to...to people who otherwise uh don't have full utilization and so, you could say this in...in...in a parallel and...and that is um if...if we uh rely surely on profit, would there have been phones out in...in the...the rural areas uh in the 1930s. What does it take to string a phone line, you know, back in the some of these mountain areas in the far southwest Virginia or uh, you know, one farm in uh in...in...in these rural areas. 

So the benefit of the...the ruling, in...in my view, is it will encourage more uh usage of...of uh something that has become vital in...in so many different ways. Not...not only just, you know, to hook up uh with your...with your friends or...or...or even to read the news, but to study, to get your assignments from school in so many places or to pass medical information back and forth in...in some of these uh rural community hospital areas and those sorts of things. So um we don't...when...when you have an infrastructure asset now like the internet that has become so vital to everyday American usage, we have to find ways to get it out to people who otherwise wouldn't be able to bargain for it. Uh same with post offices, by the way, you know, we...we...we see in the Senate constant arguments about removing rural post offices and as...as you well know and as everyone here knows, the post office is such a vital communicator for so long in these...in these rural areas. Uh it was a place where people would come together on Saturday to catch up and it was the only way that they were going to be able to get information. So we have a...we have an obligation to people who otherwise wouldn't have something like this when it...when it transitions from an entertainment into an everyday uh, pretty much a necessity.

Mediacom: Thank you.

OPPOLD: Thank you, our friends from Mediacom. Uh Des Moines Reg...I think we're going to have kind of a, again, uh hooking up to the same question in a...in a...many ways, the Des Moines Register is here today.

Des Moines Register: Good morning.

WEBB: Good morning.

Des Moines Register: Kim Norvell, I'm a reporter with the Des Moines Register. Uh what do you think is the best way to bolster badly needed Internet service in rural communities?

WEBB: I'm sorry? I had a...a...a...a ____ over here with me. The best way to...

Des Moines Register: The best way to bolster badly needed Internet service in rural communities.

OPPOLD: Internet...Internet service to rural communities?

WEBB: Yeah. I mean it's this...I was just speaking about this in.in...in one form in the...with the...the previous questioner and I...I...let's talk a little about earmarks because it got a bad name in the...in the Congress uh for, you know, kind of abuse uh powerful members of Congress being able to get their constituents taken care of with...with the pet projects and these sorts of things. Well one thing that I saw when I got to the Senate was in these rural areas, because the populations are...are spread out, they don't have the same ear uh in the Congress as...as the some of the other areas. And that was why one of the first things that I did was to put in what...what we...we call an earmark, to make sure that we got broadband out into areas like the far southwest of Virginia and...and over on the tidewater areas that otherwise would not be able to compete. So I believe that in terms of Internet, we have to start looking at Internet the same way we look at telephone services and these sorts of things. It doesn't mean you have to regulate them the same way. I...I...I know the Wall Street Journal editorials on this, but it's become an essential part of how we do so many things in our lives and how we can take care of ourselves educationally and medically that there ought to be a push by the government. It...it shouldn't have to be only a profit-centered enterprise to get the...get Internet out in these areas.

Des Moines Register: Thank you.

WEBB: Yes, thank you.

OPPOLD: Thank you for being here. Uh we have a question submitted by the National Rural Health Association. We talked about rural schools and talked about broadband and Internet. Their question, uh Senator, rural communities rely heavily on primary care providers, advanced practice nurses, uh physician assistants providing personal, local care as opposed to traveling long distances to meet those specialists. How can we expand rural primary care instead of allowing these facilities to close?

WEBB: Well, I think that's a...that's a key point in terms of representational government and I can go back. When I...when I mentioned at the beginning of the show um my mother grew up in East Arkansas at a time when there...there truly was a lack of all of these sorts of uh...uh abilities to get care education, etc. She was one of eight children. Three of her siblings died in childhood, not child birth, childhood of the types of diseases you won't even see in this country, one of them typhoid fever. When my...when my mother was ten, her sister was eight, her dad died when she was ten and one of the most vital uh things that they have been able to do over the years is to get medical assistance as a...and...and preventive medical care out in these areas. And now we're seeing what you just said and that's a restriction, a...a, you know, a shrinkage of the uh ability to take care of people under medically. 

One of...one of the things that we can do, I think, uh in...in a very short order, without having to change the...the incentivization of American uh...uh healthcare is get broadband out there. You know, one of the things that...that they are able to do now with...with the Internet is to have uh consultations with...with specialists in...in other parts of the country when...when someone comes in in a way that we haven't imagine before. Um but, again, this is...rural America so often is at the end of pipeline on infrastructure and you need the right kind of leadership to make sure people are taken care of out here.

OPPOLD: What about the physical closing of hospitals here. Do you have any...any thoughts on how to slow that or reverse that process?

WEBB: I would be frank with you and say it would only...it would only...it would be something that I would definitely want to examine. I don't have a policy ____ today.

OPPOLD: Very good. Alright our friends from Agri-Pulse here today and welcome as well.

Agra-Pulse: Good morning, Senator. Frank Holdmeyer representing Agri-Pulse and also a fellow Missourian. Uh you supported uh federal farm programs in the past, but you've also called for uh tightening loopholes and uh for farm program limits. So how would you propose farm program be tightened in the future?

WEBB: Well, when I was in the Senate, first of all, I voted for the farm bills uh and very proud of having done that. Uh at the same time there was uh there were two different amendments when I...when I was in the Senate that dealt with the issue that you are uh addressing. The...the first was an amendment, which I thought was a fair amendment, by the way, which would say that in terms of the uh the government programs uh to protect farmers, those who profit...profit on a farm were above $750,000 a year, should have a reduction in the amount that the government paid uh in...in these...these programs. The other was a...an amendment that said everything over $250,000 should be eliminated in terms of government assistance. I voted against that, but I did vote to say...well if you had a $750,000 profit, it's kind of hard to ask, you know, my daughter, the nurse or my son-in-law, the truck driver to pull out money and...and...and throw it, you know, throw as much into uh...uh assisting those programs. We know that because of the un-predictabilities of the weather and natural disasters that the best thing we can do for American agriculture is to make sure there's a safety net under it. The...the...the question is what should that amount be? 

Agri-Pulse: I thank you.

OPPOLD: Alright. And American Agri-Women here today, Senator, and we welcome them as well.

American Agri-Women: Hi Senator. Thank you so much for joining us today. My name is Annette Sweeney and uh multi-generation farmer. And on behalf of American Agri-Women, as President what would you look for in the attributes in appointing a new EPA Administrator?

WEBB: The first thing I would want is someone who can demonstrate a...a truly balanced look at how the...these problems need to be resolved. Uh there are advocacy issues out there. You want someone who understands environmental programs, but I, you know, I do believe that uh...uh these uh environmental programs should be...should conform to the specific mandates of the law, rather than uh created regulations.

American Agri-Women: Thank you so much.

OPPOLD: And what about uh choosing an administrator to oversee such an important part of our government?

WEBB: An administrator uh...


WEBB: Well it's really...that's the question I thought I was answering.

American Agri-Women: Yeah, yeah.

WEBB: Yes and I think that person should...should be able to...to demonstrate a balance view of what, you know, where...what the environmental challenges are.

OPPOLD: Okay, very good. Uh this is uh submitted by one of our viewers uh from uh Missouri, matter of fact, your home state. Uh this is Aubrey Finkeldei, who's asked Senator, GMOs are a hot button issue. What are your thoughts on the food labeling debate regarding GMOs?

WEBB: First of all, I said, as a...as an engineer and as...as a member of the Senate, you know, I am comfortable with the scientific standards that have been applied. Um the difficulty on labeling and I...I...I recall this because my colleague Bernie Sanders had introduced the...the amendment is it's just impractical to have state by state labeling of the contents of just about anything that has national marketing aspects. And uh when...when Bernie Sanders introduced as an amendment, I opposed it. Uh, if, you know, if there were to be standards, they would have to be national standards and they would have to be something that people agree with. I don't particularly...honest...I don't see the...the need for them, quite frankly. I don't see the harm, but I don't see the need.

OPPOLD: Alright. And with that, we're going to take another break. We've covered some very important topics so far and just cracking the surface. Still to come, we'll ask Senator Webb about important topics of rural energy. You're watching Rural Town Hall on RFD-TV.


WEBB: That's a big issue out here, GMOs. It's a big issue.

OPPOLD: Oh yeah. Alright. Did you watch Roy Rogers growing up on TV?

WEBB: Sure.

OPPOLD: We own that...


OPPOLD: Welcome back to Rural Town Hall and RFD-TV. I'm Mark Oppold. A big part of RFD-TV is the legacy of Roy Rogers, including his beloved horse Trigger and trusty dog Bullet. We are proud owners of both animals on display for current and future generations to enjoy. Senator, during the break, I asked if you were a fan of Roy Rogers growing up in...on Saturday mornings and you smiled and said, "Absolutely, Mark." 

WEBB: Happy trails to you. I'll also say this, I've never been in a barn quite like this before either. But we were a, and I can't resist this, when we were getting ready to come down, we were talking upstairs about Hee Haw. What an amazing show Hee Haw was.

OPPOLD: Exactly.

WEBB: So many lines still pop into my head from uh from that.

OPPOLD: Salute.

WEBB: I'm a-pickin'.

OPPOLD: I ran into Roy Clark in the hallway one day and I told him how much I enjoyed the program. He put his hand on my wrist and he said, "Young man, I enjoy those re-runs. I watch myself get younger." 

WEBB: Well, you know, I got six kids and my...my youngest daughter is eight and we were just talking last week about Hee Haw. Every night before she goes to bed, I tell her a story, this has been our family tradition. My mother, my grandmother lived with us from the time I was two to the time I was eight. My dad was deployed so much and...


WEBB: ____ everywhere and she...she did that with me when I was a kid. Every night, we had the family story and we'd pass that on. I think it's one reason that I became a...a writer uh is uh the tradition, the old oral tradition of...


WEBB: Telling a story. But uh I was just telling my daughter, Georgia, the other night about uh Hee Haw and how we gotta sit down and watch it.

OPPOLD: Music to our ears. We're going to uh energy from our friends at America's Renewable Future.

America's Renewable Future: Yes, Senator, Monte Shaw with America's Renewable Future and I believe back in 2007 you voted for the renewable fuel standard, which was a promise to uh America's farmers and consumers to have market access for fuels like ethanol and biodiesel, so as President, would you keep that hard and fast promise as the law intends, through 2022 and beyond?

WEBB: Well I...I would uh say that uh I did vote for that and I think uh the...the movement toward renewables is a...is a very healthy thing for the country and also as a...I'm a...as an engineer. I mean I...I believe in finding technological solutions to...to problems. Even on the coal side, I'm a strong believer that you can...you can reduce a lot of these emissions with the right kind of...of technology. So in...in terms of energy, I'm a...I'm a, you know, an all-included proponent of...of uh our energy systems. I went to the Naval Academy. Um some of the brightest minds in the Naval Academy went into the nuclear power program. Uh and I...and I'm very comfortable with the safety elements of nuclear power. It's clean in terms of environmentally. So we need to get a strong approach to all of them in order to maintain our independence, strategically and economically.

Uh here in Iowa, you know, I...I've visited uh, you know, a facility where...where uh I've watched the...the whole uh...uh production uh that you're talking about. I also uh visited a windmill uh facility, wind power facility and...and uh I got a briefing on that. And I think people in Iowa are doing amazing things in terms of working toward the future. In terms of the standards, um I...I think that they are uh supportable standards moving forward. I wouldn't, you know, as with anything else, I wouldn't say that they should be locked in...in...in stone if uh other uh elements uh moved in and...and...and caused them to be called into question. I think it was 2012 when uh we had such a...a...a problem with the drought and...and with corn production going down and, you know, I'm in Virginia over here with a...with a lot of turkey farmers uh who were...who is all of a sudden their feed prices are going sky high be...because of all the uh the...the corn that was still going into the fixed standard. So there are times when they should be very good in general as a, I think, as a...as a guideline for the future, I would support them.

America's Renewable Future: Alright thank you.

WEBB: Thank you.

OPPOLD: Thank you for being here. You mentioned uh in your part of the country and how long it took for you to get electricity to a remote areas of rural America, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is here today and welcome.

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association: Hello. How are you today Senator Webb? Hi, my name's Bob Kolling, I work with uh Clarke Electric uh in Osceola, Iowa and our question really has to do with the uh...uh emissions here, as well as regarding...regarding the nation's power supply, uh do you balance new regulations for carbon emissions uh the need to keep energy affordable for not just rural America, but really all Americans?

WEBB: I would say I do. Uh and I uh was one of those who opposed the cap in trade uh proposals uh years ago and...and one of the reasons that I opposed cap in trade was that it was going to elevate the price of...of energy and that I was...I was saying at the time, the people in the middle are the ones who are going to make the money, you...between the cap and the trade. Uh if you, you know, if you're going to cap emissions at a certain level and have people pay, you know, to chips and maybe be able to trade them on a market, which is what cap in trade was. We saw how that worked in Europe. It was bad. It didn't really work and...and the brokers in the middle were the ones who, you know, how do you...how do you broker the cap versus the trade? So, in general, I'm a big believer in the first rule of wind walking and that is make sure you got a firm grasp on where you're going before you let go of where you are. And that's one of the reasons that I have said let's...and even in terms of coal, we should be able to...to look at uh technological advancements rather than just uh cutting coal out as...as one of the uh...uh sources of our...of our electrical power. I...I've been looking at this...this most recent decision from the administration. There seemed to be alternatives in there that the...that the uh, at least the major power companies believe they can...they can live with, but it's something that I would watch very closely.

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association: Thank you.

WEBB: Sure. Thank you.

OPPOLD: Alright thank you. Uh another question from an RFD-TV viewer, Senator. It has to do with uh a country of origin labeling. We've touched on this before. The World Trade Organization shot down country of origin labeling, saying it's a violation of trade policy. Opponents, including Mexico and Canada called it unnecessary burden and expense and the livestock industry supporters say consumers have the right to know. What are your thoughts?

WEBB: I have two different thoughts on this. Well I...I...I voted for it. I...I...I supported the country of origin labeling. Um and one of the reasons that...that I did was uh there is a...there was a big argument in our uh our catfish uh industry, where um the uh, particularly the Vietnamese and I've spent a lot of time in Vietnam over my life and during the war as Marine and since, working with uh the country and with the Vietnamese community here in terms of trying to stabilize our relations but uh...uh Vietnam has a huge, huge uh export, billion dollar export in...in terms of catfish. And there's...there's been a fight but...about whether you call a catfish or not and, you know, uh and...and...and how it comes into the marketplace. And we watched that uh some of these others and I...I think it was fair, just to say, put it for...so the consumer knows what they're buying.

OPPOLD: Mmm-hmm.

WEBB: Uh the country of origin of the of the uh meat product and the other thing that keeps coming to my mind on this issue, I have to say is when you have a food delicacy that's...that's coming in from another country, they want to label it. This is a good example. My wife loves uh Muenster cheese from Ireland and she'll go to the store and they'll say, you know, the Muenster cheese from County of Cork, Ireland, whatever, it is and...and a consumer will want to buy that, even though it's at a...a foreign origin. So I honestly, I just I don't see the problem with it uh and if...if someone were...were to come up and make a case, I would certainly listen.

OPPOLD: You mentioned Vietnam. We had a delegation of agriculturalists from Vietnam visit RFD-TV recently and uh wanting to know more and...and part of their visit to our country and...and their expansive agricultural industry there so I know which you speak. Uh this is submitted by the American Farm Bureau Federation, uh and has to do with the EPA and...and waters of uh the clean water act, which you've touched on. Many claim the...the EPA continues to expand its regulatory reach against the wishes of Congress. What would you do as President to ensure that the EPA acts within its bounds of the clean water act?

WEBB: Okay. Before I answer that, let me just say one more thing about Vietnam. You've had the Vietnamese Delegation here, I've...I have spent um almost every year since 1991 partly in Vietnam. Uh the last couple of years I haven't, but before I was in the Senate, I spent a lot of time in Asia as a journalist and a...as a military planner and...and those sorts of things. And I'm one who still strongly believes in what we attempted to do in...in Vietnam. I bled on that battlefield. I'm very proud of the fact that what we trying to do was to preserve a half of that country as an incipient Democracy, as a growing Democracy in the same we did in South Korea, in the same we did in preserving West Germany at...at the end of World War II. So that eventually the country could be reunited under Democratic principles, which we actually saw in...in Germany, with the fall of the uh the Iron Curtain. 

Uh and I've worked with the Vietnamese community here since the end of the war. They came here as refugees and let's...and my wife was...was born in Vietnam. Her family got out of Vietnam on a boat, her entire extended family. They went to...to sea. They didn't know if they were going to live or die. They spent three days out there and the United States Navy scooped them up, brought them to a refugee camp on Guam and then another one in Arkansas. Uh she uh spent her most of her childhood years in...in New Orleans and ended up graduating from Cornell Law School. The Vietnamese community has been a very positive influence on our...in our country.


WEBB: And I've worked to bring harmony back into this relationship because of the importance of Vietnam when it comes to our strategic interests in...in that part of the world. So it's good that we're having exchanges. I would still like to see their government move more to a more Democratic government. I've been working very hard on that for...for a very long time. 

Um with uh with respect to the uh clean water act and not just the clean water act, I think what the challenge that we have is definitional. And you see it again and again, not just at the federal level in...in terms of when does private property end and...and when does uh, you know, the governmental um power begin. And...and the first principle that I would put in place is that almost every farmer that I've ever met cares a lot about the water on their property.

OPPOLD: Absolutely.

WEBB: And...and uh they don't need 15 pieces of paper to...to fill out in...in order to make that point and if there is something of an abuse of...of water, there are methods in place in order to fix it. I even see it my own home right now. I have a...I have a...a home that's on the edge of a lake and the first hundred feet of that property, I have to get a permission from the government to cut down a tree. Uh so, you know, we...there are...there are ways that the government should work with people in order to solve problems without having these edicts.

OPPOLD: And I do want to again thank you for your service to our country and uh your comments uh...

WEBB: Thank you.

OPPOLD: Made here but above all that, the time you have spent uh servicing our country...serving our country, we thank you very much for that. And with that, we are...excuse me, we are going to go break and cover more territory in our Rural Town Hall. Still to come, asking the Senator about important topics including social security and agricultural trade. You're watching Rural Town Hall and RFD-TV.


OPPOLD: And we welcome you back to Rural Town Hall and RFD-TV. I'm Mark Oppold talking to Democratic Presidential hopeful Jim Webb about topics crucial to American agriculture and rural Americans, those who lived in our small communities as well. Heading down the home stretch as we hear from our next question comes from our friends at AARP, Senator. Go ahead.

AARP: Good morning Senator Webb.

WEBB: Good morning.

AARP: My name is Sharon Treinen and I'm a volunteer with AARP and a former exec board member. Rural Americans are concerned about social security so my question to you is what would you do to make up for social security's financial shortfall and then I would ask you how would you update social security and the program so future generations can enjoy the benefits of social security?

WEBB: Thank...thank you for...

AARP: Thank you.

WEBB: For your question. Um when you talk about social security, I...I'm a big believer in history and...and how these programs came onto line, different points in...in American history. And whenever I look at that program, I think of my grandfather in...in East Arkansas in 1936 who had nothing and he...he had...he had a broken hip and he...he got a blood infection in his system and he died and there was nothing for...for uh my mother's family. There was nothing that...no government uh program that would take care of people in their...in their old age. My grandmother ended up getting a...finally getting a job making artillery shells in a...in an artillery plant in...in North Little Rock and then took one uh daughter, the youngest daughter with her to California and was Rosie the Riveter in...in World War II. She was like four foot eleven. She could get up in the nose cones of those bombers and uh and, but that was...there was no fall back. And when social security was announced, there were people who said, "Oh, this is a socialist program, you know, what are you doing here?" When Medicare was announced, "Oh this is a socialist program, what are you doing?" 

Well, what we were doing was putting a safety net under people who otherwise would not be able to...to live with dignity and so, you know, I am very strong believer of preserving social security as we know it and Medicare as we know it and if we have to pay for it, we have to pay for it. We...we have that obligation to...to our citizens.

AARP: Thank you very much.

OPPOLD: Thank you AARP. Frank is coming up next, I believe from our friends at the Iowa Soybean Association. Go ahead Dean Coleman.

Iowa Soybean Association: Yes, good morning. Uh trade is very important to agriculture, so my question is, what would be your administration's approach to Cuba and do you favor lifting the trade embargo?

WEBB: Uh with respect to Cuba, let me...let me start with Vietnam again, by the way. Um when...when the Vietnam War ended, uh we put a trade embargo on...on Vietnam, which I supported and I supported for many, many years and one of the reasons that I supported it was that a lot of people don't remember this, but when the communists took over in...in Vietnam, they took our friends, there are a million of them, put them into re-education camps, some of them 240,000 for longer than four years. They...they discriminated against their kids and...and one of my...my...my big pushes was no, we're not going to trade with you until you reverse these policies. When we dropped the trade embargo in 1994, I had been working on this issue for three years and...and including testifying before Congress, and I said, "Alright, with the trade embargo gone, we need to get in there every time they see a face from the outside world, their perceptions change," and I believe that's the same policy we should have in Cuba.

I think it's time since uh 50...50 years has it been? Since we've had this trade embargo into place? I think it's time for us to lift the trade embargo and to...to bring Cuba into the international community in the same way that we did Vietnam.

Iowa Soybean Association: Thank you.

OPPOLD: Very good and our friends from Agri Pulse have a follow up question today.

Agri Pulse: Yes, thank you. Uh, Senator, many conservatives wanted to split the 2014 farm bill into two parts, the farm programs and food nutrition programs. Do you think that was a good idea? Why or why not?

WEBB: Um in general, I...I really don't see the need for it. I...the only...the only um upside, particularly for the agricultural community, I think, would be for uh people in the country to understand what percentage of...of that bill actually goes for other programs. Uh but that can be done without splitting it into...I just...I, you know, it's so hard to get a bill through the United States Senate that we don't need two when we can do it one, quite frankly.

Agri Pulse: Okay. Thank you very much.

OPPOLD: Thank you our friends from Agri Pulse. And we have uh a one time, I think, at least for one more question. Going back to our friends from the FFA.

WEBB: Alright.

FFA: Uh so the next question that we have for you today is American agriculture produces some great food and nourishes our nation. So what's your favorite homegrown food?

WEBB: What's that...how'd that...how'd that song go? There are only two things that money can't buy and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes? 

FFA: Tomatoes. So you're uh...you're a tomato...

WEBB: I grow them.

OPPOLD: The uh, we do have time for one more. I'm going to read this from our National Farmers Union. Uh...uh, Governor, uh Senator, the uh existing debt, mainly in the form of outstanding student loans, this is one that uh obviously our rural folks are keen on as well, can that can be a barrier to those who wish to become involved in agriculture. How would your administration address this issue?

WEBB: The issue of student debts, student loan?

OPPOLD: Exactly.

WEBB: This is a tough one. And...and let me...let me give you two reasons why I think it's a tough one. Um the...the first is that when I see people talking about the student loan uh issue, uh I agree that it is an important issue, but on the other hand, there's...in...in terms of educating our country, there are two other issues we don't talk about enough. 

The first is that only about 75% of our high school students finish high school. So you've got 25% of your high school students who...who don't even get into a place where they can continue in education and they fall by the wayside. And the second is adult education. Um when somebody falls by the wayside, and I focused on this a lot when I was in the Senate. Let's say you're 16, 17 years old and I...I saw it so much when I was a kid. Somebody would get rebellious and say I don't need this and quit school uh or...or someone gets pregnant and...and can't uh finish school. They get to be about 28, 29 years old and...and you start saying what am I going to do the rest of my life? Have I ruined the rest of my life?

Uh and we need to...to emphasize more and I did this when I was in the Senate what I call onramp programs, second chance programs for people who haven't even gotten into the situation where we can talk about uh, you know, a college education and the student loan issue. With respect to the student loans themselves, first, I wrote, introduced and passed in 16 months the best GI bill in American history. Um I was talking about this before I ever ran for the Senate, that uh you say this is the next greatest generation, how about giving them the same kind of GI bill that the people who fought in World War II had, pay their tuition, buy their books, give them a monthly stipend. And they told us we couldn't...we couldn't do and...and we built a coalition across party lines and pushed it through and...and got it through in 16 months. Now more than a million of our veterans, post 9/11 veterans, have been able to use that and when you look at the student loan crisis itself, you have to ask yourself, what has happened that makes these tuition levels so high in the first place and that's something that needs to be looked at.

OPPOLD: Thanks for coming to Iowa and being with us...

WEBB: Thank you.

OPPOLD: For this one hour.

WEBB: Good to be with you.

OPPOLD: Good to have you here and that's going to take care of our hour. Again, our latest Rural Town Hall talking with Democratic Presidential candidate Jim Webb. As we wrap up again, we want to thank our friends from Mediacom and also the Harry Stine Family for such a...a great location and a setting for us to have these Rural Town Halls. Again, you have a right to vote. If you haven't registered, please do so and exercise that right to vote.

Jim Webb, Remarks in RFD-TV’s "Rural Town Hall" West Des Moines, Iowa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/316124

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