Farm Bureau Speech from 6/7/20 via Zoom

Hello everyone, thanks for having me!

I’m Alana Cloutier, and I’m running for the Kansas house of Representatives for the 9th district, which is just about the western half of both Allen and Neosho counties.

I moved to Humboldt in 2017 to help start A Bolder Humboldt, the nonprofit that’s working on the buildings on the square and around town. In a more normal year we also put on community events like the Movies on the Square, and last year’s epic Water Wars. My husband Paul and I are really lucky that we landed in such a good place, and we’ve both become major boosters for the area.

Paul is from Wichita, but I’m originally from Northern California, in a county of small food producers that is famous for wine, apples, and dairy, as well as for being the former “egg capital of the world.” For most of my childhood my parents were the caretakers of a large sheep ranch out on the coast, and growing up rural is something I never took for granted.

I’ve done a lot of non-partisan voter registration events, and almost every person I’ve signed up that hasn’t registered before chooses to leave the party preference blank. To me that says rural Kansans, and younger voters especially, don’t think that either party represents them. I’m always pushing for more rural representation within the Democratic Party, and if Democrats don’t run, then those voters will never hear what we have to say.

I believe that our government exists to be an advocate for the people. Our elected officials work for us, not for lobbyists, not for corporations. For us, the taxpayer. Our part of Kansas has a mix of both urban and rural issues, and I think it has to be represented as such. I want to make sure farmers and ranchers voices are heard, and I also know I’d be representing a lot of people who have never set foot on a farm.

I moved here because it was an opportunity to help start small, local businesses. How do we make it easier for someone to start the next B&W? We should be doing all we can to create new opportunities, so families can put down deep roots and create local jobs that pay well. Healthcare comes into play with this, as I know from experience that it’s hard to keep good employees when you can’t afford to offer benefits. And even for someone with the means to start a business it can be risky if your health care is tied to your current job. Following the American dream shouldn’t be dependent on being willing to risk medical bankruptcy.

And Medicaid expansion? That is long overdue. Oklahoma even just voted to expand! We’re behind Oklahoma! That’s embarrassing. We need our rural hospitals and clinics more than ever. I’m frustrated that a faction of the legislature is playing politics with our healthcare during a deadly pandemic. It is unacceptable, and we deserve better.

If you know me, then we’ve probably had a conversation about rebuilding our local food economy. Because I’m not a farmer, I’ve been talking and listening to farmers and ranchers about a wide range of issues. A common theme to my questions is how can we create new opportunities for farms of every size, and can we use those opportunities to bring, or retain, young farmers to our area?

Farmers and ranchers have been thrown a lot of curveballs recently. From either too much rain or too little, swings in the market before and after the tariffs, and now various disruptions from Covid.

Is there a better way to even out these swings in the market when it comes to taxes? And what if farmers want to diversify? If the banks don’t want to take a chance on something new, who steps up to help? What new markets can we create to keep production local? If a restaurant or small grocery store has to buy everything from a large distributor and all the products come from out of state, isn’t that just leaving money on the table?

As a consumer, I’m alarmed that the federal government is letting employees of large pork processors monitor for quality instead of continuing to use impartial USDA inspectors. This is a clear conflict of interest, and it would also eliminate many good paying jobs. If we can process locally, it keeps more of the money in our community, and gives ranchers more options when it comes to price.

The questionnaire for this forum asked about changing demographics, and what the government can do to ensure the viability of rural areas. My short answer is to invest in our public schools.

I grew up in a chronically underfunded public school system. The teachers did the best they could with what they were given, because that is what teachers do.

If we can’t fund schools in rural Kansas, that’s a signal to young families that we aren’t a safe bet as a place to buy a home, to raise a family, or start a business. If you randomly ask someone under 40 in Kansas City where they’re from, chances are they moved away from a town just like Iola, or Chanute, or Moran. There’s no future for rural America if we can’t attract and retain these young families and teachers.

As far as funding? For a start let’s look at the tax breaks we give out to large out of state corporations, as well as the ones we give to those who are already unimaginably wealthy. These cannot continue at the expense of everyday farmers, homeowners, and small business owners. It’s disappointing that we were finally pulling ourselves out of the hole created by the Brownback Tax Experiment when Covid-19 struck.

And finally, let’s help consumers by putting our heads together to find a way to finally repeal the food tax.

I’m a big fan of voters doing their research on local candidates, so thank you to everyone who is taking the time to watch this live, or later on via Facebook. And thank you to the organizers and to Debbie for doing this via Zoom!