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  • Writer's pictureIrene North

Theobald is the Change Needed in Congress

Updated: Jan 24

Paul Theobald is angry. He has watched Congressman Adrian Smith turn his back on rural communities in Nebraska's third district as they struggle to survive. In his 12 years in Washington, Smith has never passed a bill to promote rural vitality or help prevent their demise. 

Wherever you travel in the Nebraska's third district, the people are speaking up. They are no longer willing to be ignored. They want a representative who will look after them and not outside interests. Smith, who currently represents the district, is a career politician who receives funds from mostly out-of-state corporate donors who expect his cooperation in Washington.

Nebraskans looking for answers, need only look to one candidate, Paul Theobald.

“Would you rather vote for someone with a record of actively voting to diminish the vitality of Nebraska's rural communities, or vote for someone who will fight to defend them and to bring economic and social vitality back to them?” Theobald said. “It's as simple as that.”

Paul Theobald, the Democratic candidate from Pierce County running for Nebraska’s 3rd Congressional District seat understands rural Nebraskans. 

He is the son of a farmer, rural mail carrier, and former rural educator.

“I actually fit this district pretty well,” he said. 

Theobald served as the former dean of the school of education and counseling at Wayne State College. He’s a rural historian, having written three books with agriculture as themes.

“Call School: Rural Education in the Midwest to 1918” is a history of the one-room school experience in the Midwest.  “Teaching the Commons: Place, Pride, and the Renewal of Community” is a philosophical analysis of the ends of American education and how they might be shifted in the interest of promoting vibrant community life in the countryside. “Education Now: How Re-thinking America's Past Can Change Its Future” is about identifying and explicating the continuities between America's political, economic, and educational theory and then proposing theoretical shifts in each of these to produce a more just and humane society. 

He lived in Nebraska for about 10 years before leaving to take an out-of-state job. He and his wife, Maureen, bought their farm in Pierce County in 2010 and returned to Nebraska permanently in 2015.

With his wife, Theobald raises purebred heritage breed hogs. They are part of the diversity of the country's food options. 

After a twice-daily feeding of the hogs, Theobald enjoys sitting down with one of several novels he owns about rural communities, set on farms or in small farm towns.

“My wife and I love to read, and we do everything we can to promote the work of unheralded rural authors whose work has been out of print for decades,” he said. “We started a web-based effort to that end, in fact, called”

His love of rural America has led Theobald to run for office because he wants the third district to thrive. The district has seen many changes, often for the worse, under the guidance of Smith, who is known to toe the party line regardless of the outcome for his constituency. Smith supports President Donald Trump, a claimed billionaire who inherited a fortune. Neither knows what it is like to work the land, trying to make life better for your family and country as the sweat off your brow drips into the rural soil. 

Trump doesn't understand the struggles of rural America and isn't listening to the outcry from third district residents who still remember the devastation of the Nixon and Carter Administrations grain embargoes.

“What Nebraskans have to come to grips with is the fact that there has never been a President as openly hostile to rural America as this one,” he said.

Theobald said Trump's willingness to turn his back on ethanol was another blow to rural America. His proposed cuts to Medicaid will close rural hospitals and nursing homes. His proposed "skinny" budget zeroed out many pro-rural programs, like the USDA's low-interest rural business start-up loans, the beginner farmer programs, and HUD's community development block grant program.  

Neither democrats nor republicans realize the impact rural districts, such as Nebraska's third, have on the rest of the nation.

Theobald and his supporters aim to change the status quo. He is campaigning across the state to get his message out while his supporters are raising their voices to be heard. His supporters could be key in flipping a district that has defaulted to red for so long.

The recent farm bill could also help change people's minds. The impact of the bill will affect many rural areas nationwide, but it will have a direct impact on Nebraska's third district. The most pertinent piece, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is once again under attack in Washington.

According to CNBC, “The modest support of just $1.40 per person per meal that SNAP provides makes a real difference in the lives of millions. It is one of the most effective anti-poverty programs we have in this country, lifting 8 million Americans out of poverty every year, including 4 million children.”

SNAP is vital to millions of Americans, including the working poor, but the $430 billion bill cuts $17 billion from the $70 billion program. Food insecurity is a real problem in rural areas and SNAP has provided assistance to those who are trying to get by in America.

“It is appalling to me that, in one instance we give a trillion dollars to the wealthiest individuals and turn around and take money from single mothers and children,” Theobald said.

Also buried in the bill are price protections for farms and natural disasters, as well as provisions to move that money up to the largest operators, leaving small- and medium-sized operators to fend for themselves, he said.

“They are slowly moving them (small and medium operators) out of the way,” he said. “The same thing is being done with the tax bill.”

Small- and medium-sized operations, those in the lowers 20 percent will see their tax bills rise.

“You would think they wouldn't do something so surreptitious as that, but they did,” Theobald said. “This is all about further enriching shareholders and agribusiness industries.”

By eliminating small- and medium-sized operators, larger operators increase their profits. It also has another detrimental effect on smaller businesses. It creates a greater dependency on their product and higher prices for their product and creates a situation where there aren't any options, he said. Smaller operators are left with one or two corporations who they must pay.

“My opponent voted for that,” Theobald said. “That's devastating to the rural communities of Nebraska.”

The federal agriculture policy is symptomatic of a larger corporate abuse of citizens. What they do to agriculture has a large ripple effect to people, businesses, and communities as well as education.

As smaller operators are pushed out, the property tax burden falls on fewer people. Keeping schools open could become an issue.

“If we lose 20 percent of our farmers and ranchers, that spins off to 10-15 businesses. That's families,” he said. “To provide a first class education on the revenue that remains is very difficult.”

That spin off effect diminishes the quality of life.

“It's the same with health care,” he said. “They can't make money off us, so they won't bring services out here.”

Another issue that will affect rural communities in Nebraska's third district as well as nationwide is the elimination of Net Neutrality by the Federal Communications Commission.

Net neutrality is the principle that all internet data delivery should be equal. Without it, internet traffic speeds can be prioritized by an internet service provider by slowing load times of websites, stuttering videos, and/or allowing the ISP's traffic to be first when you access information. Once the FCC eliminated it, the playing field was no longer level. 

In rural areas, that has a real effect. Farmers, ranchers, and others who rely on service will not be able to complete their jobs. If small to medium sized operators need to rely on heavier fees that ISPs impose, and AT&T and Comcast are already attempting, they will no longer be able to compete, while the corporate farm down the road absorbs the cost and gains an advantage.

“I don't think they realize what's going to happen or to what degree to which my opponent is voting for this, just like he did voting along party lines to chip away at the ACA,” Theobald said. 

Voting along party lines is one area Theobald strongly indicated a distaste for. By doing so, it affects everyone's pocketbook book. Theobald sees Smith as continually working against the people of district.

“Why does a congressmen vote to diminish the financial well-being of the people, but that's what he's doing?” he said. “His constituents aren't here in Nebraska. His constituents are the PACs, the corporations, and the chairholders who give him money.”

Theobald plans to keep pressuring Smith, but will Smith respond? Theobald's plans aren't revolutionary. They are practical and can produce real changes to his state and be a potential model nationwide. The question is, will Nebraska's third district take off the red they've worn so long and give the blue a chance.

Author Bio: Irene North has won numerous awards for her work with various publications

and is now a freelance writer.


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