As Campaign Winds Down, Jill Biden Stops in Volant

VOLANT, Pa. – A Joe Biden administration would aim to provide educators with the resources they need, including deficiencies exposed during the coronavirus pandemic, the Democratic presidential nominee’s wife said during a brief appearance in Lawrence County Monday. 

Jill Biden made a brief appearance in Volant, Pa., on behalf of her husband and his running mate Kamala Harris as part of the ticket’s final push in Pennsylvania, which is expected to be a key state in determining the winner.

About 40 people – mostly socially distanced and all wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus – attended the event, which was held in a building on the farm of Rick Telesz, who voted for Republican Donald Trump in 2016 but this year backs the Democratic nominee. 

Biden, a teacher who has a doctorate in educational leadership, said her husband’s education plan – which she called “teacher approved” because she checked everything in it – is one of the aspects of the campaign she is proudest of. 

“He will make sure that we will have equal education for everyone, and that means the rural areas because a lot of times the rural areas are left behind,” she said. “We need to make sure that they have broadband and they need to have the technology for all the students to succeed.”

Students were forced out of the classroom and forced to transition to a “new world of virtual learning” because of the pandemic, said Tara Coyne, a first grade teacher in the Slippery Rock Area School District who introduced Biden. Without access to broadband, that shift to virtual learning left behind many students in rural areas like Lawrence County. 

“Teachers and students have done our best to adjust to this new normal, but last spring we were caught flatfooted,” she said. “We waited for President Trump to come up with a plan to contain the virus and reopen our schools safely but that plan never came.”

“I know this has been a difficult time for you, figuring out how to teach with such uncertainty, seeing your students struggle without having the technology that they need,” Biden said. “Yet, like our colleagues around the country, I know that you are going above and beyond right now. It’s teachers like Tara who are the reason I’ve never been more proud to call myself an educator.”  

Biden plans to expand broadband to every American, so where children grow up doesn’t have a bearing on their education opportunities, Coyne said. He would be “‘a president who understands the issues facing rural America and will stand alongside us as we work to overcome them.”

Life since Jill Biden married the long-time U.S. Senator in 1977 has changed in countless ways, but one thing that hasn’t is his character, she said. He remains “the same man who came home every night from Washington, D.C., to tuck our kids into bed while I studied for my doctorate” and “who went back to work four days after our son Beau died because he knew that the American people needed their vice president,” she said.

“His strength of will is unstoppable and his faith is unshakable,” she said. “Joe couldn’t be more different than the man from the man who holds the presidency right now.”

Trump “has spent a lifetime … attempting to lie and cheat his way into success and prestige and most of all profit,” she said. He wants people to believe that everyone is “angry and hateful and divided,” a notion she rejected. 

“We aren’t divided. We’re just trying to survive the chaos of Donald Trump’s America,” she said. 

Telesz, who spoke in support of Biden at this year’s Democratic National Convention and appeared in several television ads for the Democratic nominee, said he supported Trump in 2016 because he talked about bringing back jobs and “draining the swamp,” which appealed to him.

“He sold me on his plans for the country,” he said at Monday’s event. “It didn’t take me long to realize that I had made a mistake.” 

The trade war Trump launched with China and other nations applied tariffs to his inputs, while the sales of his soybeans and corn were negatively impacted. 

The effect of Trump’s trade policies is only the first item on a list that is “pages long” of reasons Telesz no longer supports Trump. Also among them is his response to the pandemic, including reports that he withheld information regarding how serious it would be from the public. “He chose the profits of Wall Street,” he said. 

Paul Stefano, chairman of the Lawrence County Democratic Party, said he sees in the Bidens people who understand his area’s plight. 

“We know that the view from Scranton [Joe Biden’s hometown] is like the view from New Castle,” he said. “We know that Vice President Biden and Dr. Biden understand the issues of rural areas and small towns.”  

With Jill Biden as First Lady, “I know we can count on the fact that educators will always have a voice in the White House,” Coyne said. 

Trump won Lawrence County with 65% of the vote in 2016, Stefano said. While he doesn’t think that Biden will win the county this time, “We’re really going to shave into that,” he said.   

Meecee Baker and her daughter, Libby Baker-Mikesell, who are farmers and friends of Telesz, drove from Port Royal about four hours away to hear Biden.   

People don’t always think about rural America and the issues that face it, such as broadband access, Baker-Mikesell said. A recent graduate of Penn State University, she recalled classmates who had to go to fast food and gas station parking lots to use their Wi-Fi. “Some of them were there all day,” she said. 

“One of the things people in rural America have to do is peel the onion on these policy issues,” Baker said. Because of a “failed ethanol policy” and Trump’s trade policies, corn prices are the same as during the administration of President Richard Nixon. 

She also pushed back on the Trump administration’s claim that subsidies U.S. farmers are receiving are being paid by China. “That comes from the Commodity Credit Corp.,” which is funded by taxpayer dollars. 

“The majority of Americans are ready to move away from division,” she said.  

In a news release, the Trump campaign, which was holding an event in Scranton, said the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus is helping Pennsylvania families and workers and its businesses are poised for an economic comeback. The campaign argued that Biden’s policies would “decimate Pennsylvania’s recovering economy” and undo policies that help Pennsylvanians. 

Pictured: Jill Biden, wife of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, advocates for her husband’s education plan during a campaign stop in Volant, Pa., Monday.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.