This is the last installment in the "California and the rural way of life" series. In my previous three posts, I focused on some of the issues that rural Californians have with their state government and how many rural Californians (and rural people in general) distrust their own government and feel that they are not being represented by those in power (see here for Part I and links for other posts on this topic, here for Part II, and here for Part III). This post will focus on several ways that California (and other states) can tackle the lack of rural representation in state policy decisions. One idea comes from the proponents of Jefferson State, one is inspired from an Arizona law, and another from Australia, New Zealand, and the UK.
The proponents of Jefferson State seek to have counties in Northern California and Southern Oregon secede from their respective states and join together to form a new 51st state. Doing this would allow the new state, comprised of mostly rural counties, to elect their own governor, legislators, and judges. Those elected to public positions would be from rural counties and theoretically be more sympathetic to issues that affect rural communities. There has also been a push to split California into six different states (see post here) to solve the same issue of lack of representation.
Jefferson State would not be without its problems though. The state would have a much smaller economy than the rest of California and Oregon. The new state would relinquish the economic powerhouses of California's Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and Portland while keeping two persistent poverty counties in Northern California (see post here). Because of this, the new state might have difficulties maintaining essential infrastructure like roads and bridges and have difficulty funding public service programs like Medicare.
The chance that Jefferson State will become a reality seems very low. Although in the last decade rural counties have seemingly become more vocal about seceding to form Jefferson State, this idea has been around over 70 years (since 1941) without any success. Even if the end goal of these rural counties is to form a new state, there are things that can be done in the more short term to address the issue of rural representation in California and Oregon. The next two ideas can be implemented in any state in the country.
For more information on Jefferson State, see posts here and here.
Legislative distinctions between rural and urban in Arizona
In Arizona and other states, legislatures have made laws that apply to rural and urban communities differently. In 1997, Arizona passed a statute that prohibited minors from possessing firearms in public places. This law, however, only applied to counties with populations greater than 500,000. The law essentially targeted Arizona's two urban counties and had no effect on Arizona's rural counties. The law also exempted "those engaged in hunting, marksmanship, and ranching or production of agriculture." For more discussion on this law and legislative distinctions between rural and urban generally, see part D of Rural Rhetoric (page 199 or page 41of 82 online).
This targeted approach to lawmaking could help alleviate some of the impact that broad "one size fits all" laws have on rural communities. However, this would only work on a small percentage of laws passed by the state. The only laws that could be targeted would be those in which the problem the law is trying to address only exists in either urban or rural communities. Further, you would need a legislature that is willing to draft these type of targeted laws.
The laws (and the moratorium) that I brought up in my previous posts would not be good candidates for this type of targeted legislative approach. The laws that I discussed were about a ban on hunting mountain lions, a ban on using dogs to hunt bears, a statewide ban on lead hunting ammunition, and a moratorium on gold dredging. These laws were enacted for the betterment of the public and addressed concerns over environmental and moral issues. It would be difficult to enact a law that allowed gold dredging in rural counties while banning it in urban counties (or vice versa). This would also make the law ineffective at stopping the remobilization of mercury or destruction of fish redds. The same argument can be applied to the ban on lead hunting ammunition and the hunting of mountain lions.
The ban on bear hunting with dogs is a law based on modern morals (possibly more urban morals). Although moral issues could possibly be candidates for a targeted legislative approach, this particular law probably wouldn't. It would not make any sense to distinguish hunting bears with dogs in a rural area with hunting in an urban area because bears are typically not hunted in urban areas. In addition, although this law is statewide, it can be argued that it is already a targeted law because it only effects rural areas.
Certain laws banning activities that are deemed immoral could be targeted to urban areas. For example, more and more urban households are raising backyard chickens. For more about this phenomenon, see here, here, here, and here. Imagine that lawmakers want to ban killing chickens by cutting off their heads if they can be seen by the public or neighbors. Let's say the reason for the law is because seeing chickens run around with their heads cut off can be traumatizing to people who are unfamiliar with the practice. The urban chicken farmers, if they didn't have a private concealed yard already, would then have to build fences high enough so that the public could not see the dispatching of the chickens or build special shacks to kill the chickens. Now assume that rural people are more familiar and accepting with the practice of killing chickens by cutting their heads off and the activity is seen as acceptable because it is the fastest and most efficient way to kill a chicken (I understand that this plays to stereotypes of rural people but this specific stereotype is only used to illustrate my point). Targeting the law to urban areas would allow the rural chicken farmers (not large scale farms of course) to continue their practice of killing chickens for food without the burden of building a fence or special shack to kill their chickens. It would also stop urban morals being thrust upon the rural population.
In Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, lawmakers engage in a practice called "rural proofing." According to the 2009 Rural and Regional Committee, Final Report: Inquiry into Regional Centers of the Future, Parliament of Victoria, rural proofing is described as "a process for taking into account the circumstances and needs of the rural community (rural people and rural businesses) when developing and implementing policy." When making laws, lawmakers consider issues such as rural spatiality, the rural population's access to services such as hospitals, schools, water, and social services, the cost of compliance with the new law, and whether the law disproportionally effects rural communities. For an example of how rural proofing could be used to solve rural after-school program licensing issues, see blog post here.
Rural proofing could be used in California to address the impact that laws have on rural communities. If the state was forced to consider the impacts that laws have on the rural population, the laws could have less of a negative impact (or a more positive impact) on rural communities. In Addition, even if rural proofing did not alter laws in any significant way, the fact that rural communities would be considered when drafting new laws would go a long way to ease the rural population's distrust of their government. Rural proofing would essentially give the rural people a voice in the capital.
If California adopted a rural proofing policy, the rural people of California would still have to be informed about the policy. The people need to trust that their government is looking out for their best interests. Informing and educating the rural population about the policy and how to get in touch with lawmakers is essential to resolve issues that rural populations face. How else would lawmakers truly understand how laws effect the rural population if they did not hear from the rural people themselves?
Rural proofing is a good idea and should be implemented. That being said, it is doubtful that rural proofing would completely solve any of the issues I talked about in previous posts (ban on hunting mountain lions, a ban on using dogs to hunt bears, a
statewide ban on lead hunting ammunition, and a moratorium on gold
dredging). However, it would at least allow lawmakers to consider the impacts that the laws have on rural people. If lawmakers understood the tradition of hunting bears with dogs or how some rural people supplement their income and remove mercury from streams by gold dredging, maybe the laws could be slightly different than they are today. Maybe hunting bears with dogs could be slowly phased out instead of leaving bear dog owners with dogs they can no longer use (and still have to feed, house, exercise, etc.). Maybe if lawmakers considered the impact of a moratorium on the dredging community, a moratorium would not be implemented until scientists had completed environmental impact studies (if the studies showed that dredging has a net negative impact). Maybe the lawmakers would consider allowing smaller dredges to continue to operate while banning the largest dredges.
There is not one right answer to solve the issue of rural representation at the state level. In order to allow the rural population's voice to be heard in the capital, rural communities should strive to implement both targeted legislation and rural proofing. Rural proofing and targeted legislation could work hand in hand. Forcing lawmakers to consider the impacts of legislation on rural communities would leave the door open to more targeted laws. For example, if a new law disproportionally effects rural communities, the law could be tailored so that it only effects urban populations.
Some may argue that Jefferson State is the best way to solve the representation issue. Even if that is true, it would be much easier to implement policy changes at the capital than it would to secede. Furthermore, even if the end goal is to form a new state, why not try to implement new beneficial policies in the meantime?