Rep. Vicky Hartzler has lived her entire life on a farm down a gravel road connected to electric co-op lines.
“That gives her a unique perspective she has used to promote legislation that is beneficial to rural people,” says Caleb Jones, executive vice president and CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.
The Republican congresswoman, a member of Osage Valley Electric Cooperative, has been a strong advocate for rural broadband and has been instrumental in helping local co-ops bring high-speed internet service to their members—who are also her constituents.
“She’s backed every measure directing federal broadband funding into rural areas,” Jones says. “She’s also helped remove roadblocks from the paths of those working to provide this vital service for rural America.”
She witnessed firsthand the launch of two rural broadband projects in her district, one at Osage Valley Electric Cooperative and the other at Sac Osage Electric Cooperative.
“These projects wouldn’t be possible without her support,” Jones says.
One of the first things that Hartzler did after being elected to Congress in 2010 was to sit down with Missouri co-op leaders.
“She genuinely wanted to know the issues facing cooperatives and their members,” Jones recalls. “Since that time, she has been a tremendous friend we have always been able to call on for support.”
That support is reflected in Hartzler’s legislative efforts, including her role as a lead sponsor of the bipartisan Flexible Financing for Rural America Act. NRECA estimates that the bill could save co-ops more than $10 billion by allowing them to refinance their existing Rural Utilities Service loans at current low interest rates without being hit with pre-payment penalties. An average co-op with typical RUS debt could save $2 million a year.
Hartzler, who introduced the bill with Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., says Missouri co-ops could use the savings to help expand rural broadband.
“Nearly 30% of rural Missourians still lack vital access to high-speed internet,” she said when she reintroduced the bill in March. “The bipartisan Flexible Financing for Rural America Act will jump-start these communities, allowing them the same essential telecommunications resources urban areas routinely enjoy in our digital age.”
Hartzler serves on the House Agriculture Committee, which oversees the RUS. She’s also a member of the Armed Services Committee, where she has helped craft the annual National Defense Authorization Act. That bill often includes provisions that affect co-ops, including access to federal grants to improve plants that serve military bases.
“Being a lifelong rural electric member, I appreciate how our co-ops enabled rural communities to prosper years ago by bringing electricity to every household,” Hartzler says. “Now they are leading the way by also bringing broadband capabilities to rural Missouri. This game-changing technology enables our children to access their education, our seniors to access telehealth and our communities to thrive by bringing needed jobs to our small towns.”