Sunday, May 24, 2009

Are cowboys wimpy? Perhaps only when it comes to alleged terrorists

In her latest column in the New York Times, Gail Collins highlights the responses of several Montana politicians to the offer of nonmetropolitan Big Horn County, Montana (population 12,671) to take the Guantanamo prisoners. U.S. Senator Max Baucus said, "We're not going to bring Al Qaeda to Big Sky Country--no way, not on my watch," while the junior U.S. Senator from Montana, Jon Tester proclaimed, "If these prisoners need a new place, it's not going to be anywhere near The Last Best Place."

The point of Collins' column is that Manhattanites (those in New York, that is, as opposed to those in Manhattan, Montana) have proven far less squeamish about having terrorists housed and tried on their tiny island than have some rural and frontier states. (She doesn't mention the reaction out of Kansas to the possibility that the Gitmo prisoners might go to Fort Leavenworth, but you can listen to an NPR interview with the Kansas governor here.) In doing so, Collins articulates the rural-urban dichotomy in an interesting way: "The nation, as we all know, is divided into crowded states and empty states, and I was always under the impression that folks in the empty places were particularly brave and self-reliant."

In making her point about Montana being an "empty" state, Collins provides this background on Hardin, Montana, population 3,384, which is the county seat of Big Horn County.
Unemployment is rife. “You go look at our downtown, there’s many closed businesses ... you’ll see drunks laying in the street. It’s not a pretty sight,” the head of the town’s economic development authority told National Public Radio. The town built a $27 million, 464-bed prison under the theory that other parts of the state would pay to have Hardin look after their problem residents. But it’s been empty since it was declared open for business nearly two years ago, and the construction loans are in default.
So, it seems, Hardin is one of many rural places that hitched its economic fortunes to the (mostly rural) prison-building boom. (Read more here and here). But the return on their investment hasn't been what they anticipated, and now their U.S. Senators are undermining their bid to help themselves.

No comments: