Saturday, June 29, 2019

On the need for Democrats to listen to rural America

Read this by Esther Cepeda in The Columbian, out of southern Washington state.  An excerpt follows, including Cepeda's musings on her recent travels in south central Wisconsin: 
Being in the country is beautiful, with tons of wide-open spaces, green pastures and picturesque farms filled with horses, cows and goats. 
The people are, of course, Midwestern nice — I hadn’t expected to be the only brown face in nearly every single one of these settings, but no one hesitated to smile or greet me warmly. 
This is how it’s done in the rural Midwest. Sure, you can hardly get away from Fox News playing in the background at virtually every diner, bar and auto repair shop. But there’s tranquility and the unhurried pace necessary to do what few Americans in big cities can afford to do: put it all in a perspective that’s open to whatever it takes to maintain a culture of quiet and a focus on nature’s bounty. 
This is exactly what the One Country Project is hoping to capitalize on as it seeks to rebuild trust and respect between coastal elite decision-makers and the people in rural communities who have to live with government policies. 
Helmed by former Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., the One Country Project is attempting to reopen the dialogue between rural communities and the rest of the country to develop more inclusive policies. 
To start, the organization conducted something of a “listening tour” of Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by analyzing social-media traffic from Feb. 15 to May 15 to identify the most regularly discussed social, economic and political issues. The most salient topics were farming, climate change, education, health care, immigration, abortion and women’s issues. 
What they also learned is that rural folks are, understandably, scared about the future of farming culture — due in no small part to what One Country’s analysis calls “an underlying feeling of ‘disrespect’ toward farmers and the agricultural economy from their fellow Americans.”

Friday, June 28, 2019

"Rural" gets brief mention in second night of Democratic debates

I was only able to watch one night of the two nights of debates (accommodating 20 candidates!), so I can't say for sure what I missed the first night.  But I was pleased last night to hear Mayor Pete Buttigieg (South Bend, Indiana) mention rural places in what seemed to be a very helpful way.  When asked about how to respond to climate change, he had a long, thoughtful answer that included this:
Now, here's what very few people talk about. First of all, rural America can be part of the solution instead of being told they're part of the problem. With the right kind of soil management and other kind of investments, rural America could be a huge part of how we get this done.  (emphasis mine)

And secondly, we've got to look to the leadership of local communities, you know, those networks of mayors in cities from around the world...
At a different point in the night, Buttigieg also referred to South Bend (northern Indiana, not so far from Chicago) in relation to Trump's trade war(s) (emphasis added):
I mean, first of all, we've got to recognize that the China challenge really is a serious one. This is not something to dismiss or wave away. And if you look at what China is doing, they're using technology for the perfection of dictatorship.

But their fundamental economic model isn't going to change because of some tariffs. I live in the industrial Midwest. Folks who aren't in the shadow of a factory are somewhere near a soy field where I live. And manufacturers, and especially soy farmers, are hurting.

Tariffs are taxes. And Americans are going to pay on average $800 more a year because of these tariffs. Meanwhile, China is investing so that they could soon be able to run circles around us in artificial intelligence. And this president is fixated on the China relationship as if all that mattered was the export balance on dishwashers. We've got a much bigger issue on our hands.

But at a moment when their authoritarian model is being held up as an alternative to ours because ours looks so chaotic compared to theirs right now because of our internal divisions, the biggest thing we've got to do is invest in our own domestic competitiveness. If we disinvest... 
Transcript compliments of the Washington Post.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Another story on the rural lawyer shortage, this one from Pew Trust

Read April Simpson's story, "Wanted:  Lawyers for Rural America" here.   The focus is primarily on Arkansas, including this opening illustration/anecdote about the southern part of the state and implications of the rural lawyer shortage for criminal law:
After an early career modeling in Los Angeles and New York City, Furonda Brasfield returned home to pursue her passion: practicing law in rural Arkansas. 
Brasfield had graduated from high school in 1999 in Stuttgart, a town of 7.2 square miles known for its fertile soil, good for growing rice, and the migratory ducks that draw serious hunters. She left the state to become a contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” returned to attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and left again to pursue her modeling career. But her legal ambitions, rooted in memories of growing up during the war on drugs, pulled her back. 
“Every summer there would be a wave of mostly African American men who were taken from the community,” Brasfield, 38, recalled in a recent interview. “And then there would be a new group trying to reintegrate [from prison] into the community, most of the time unsuccessfully.” 
With the support of a program encouraging more lawyers to practice in Arkansas’ underserved areas, Brasfield finished law school in 2015 and went on to do her part to fill a national shortage of attorneys in rural America.
Simpson's story includes link to many sources, including several articles I have co-authored.  She touches on not only the situation in Arkansas, but also Nebraska, California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Maine, South Dakota, North Dakota and Georgia.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Krugman on red state/rural healthcare crisis: from facts to politics

Paul Krugman takes up rural issues again today in his New York Times column.  The headline is "Self-Inflicted Medical Misery.  Red America’s homemade rural health crisis."  His jumping off point is the Washington Post's recent coverage of a remote area medical clinic in Cleveland, Tennessee, population 41,285.    The headline for that WaPo coverage was gut-wrenching, "'Urgent needs from head to toe’: This clinic had two days to fix a lifetime of needs."

In his op-ed column, Krugman characterizes what is happening in rural America as "a severe crisis of health care availability, with hospitals closing and doctors leaving."  But Krugman's real focus is on policy, and he reprises the common "it's their own damn fault" mantra.  Krugman writes:
Tennessee is one of the 14 states that still refuse to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. So I’m not sure how many readers grasped the reality that America’s rural health care crisis is largely — not entirely, but largely — a direct result of political decisions. 
The simple fact is that the Republicans who run Tennessee and other “non-expansion” states have chosen to inflict misery on many of their constituents, rural residents in particular. And it’s not even about money: The federal government would have paid for Medicaid expansion.
Krugman thus concludes that rural America is suffering largely because of "gratuitous political cruelty," and that cruelty is a product of meanspiritedness and a "cynical calculation" that rural voters will continue to blame Washington--and not Republican-held state capitals/governors--for the federal benefits they don't get.     

Krugman also closes the causation circle on the loss of health care resources in rural communities--a loss that also has implications for wealthy rural residents:  a reason that hospitals are closing and doctors are leaving rural America is that Medicare expansion did not occur.

Lastly, here's a video segment produced by the New York Times and published a few days ago about the push for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. Among the voters featured here as supporting Medicaid expansion are life-long Republicans and folks who voted for Donald Trump in 2016.  Governor Roy Cooper is supporting Medicaid expansion, but Republican legislators are opposing it.  One of the posters pictured at Medicaid expansion rally appeared to show the locations of hospitals that had closed due to North Carolina's decision, to date, not to expand Medicaid. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

On "Trump Country" economics in the era of Trump

This post is an effort to collect some of the many recent stories on what's happening economically in the areas associated with high degrees of support for Trump.

Here's Thomas Edsall in the New York Times on April 17, 2019, "If Trump Country Soars, Will the President Glide to a Second Term?"
In small but politically significant ways, the economy under President Trump has favored regions and constituencies that supported him in 2016. These are the men and women whom Trump called forgotten Americans. 
The emerging pattern of economic growth reverses a trend that held from the 2008 recession to 2016, in which Democratic-leaning states and counties far outpaced Republican-leaning sections of the country.
Edsall notes that the more red states than blue ones are setting records for low unemployment.

As a related matter, this May 11, 2019,  New York Times story, dateline Colfax, Wisconsin (population 1,158 or 909, depending on whether you're talking about the village or the town), is headlined "Trump Has a Strong Economy to Proclaim.  In Wisconsin, It Just Might Work."  Here's the lede:
President Trump came to Wisconsin late last month to boast about the state’s unemployment rate, which has been at or near 3 percent for more than a year. “It’s never been this low before. Ever, ever, ever,” he said. (Fact check: true.) 
It’s a message that strikes a chord with Bubba Benson, who lives paycheck to paycheck but says that is still better than where he was a few years ago after getting laid off from a shoe warehouse “when all the jobs went to Mexico.” His new job at a plastics manufacturing plant covers the bills and pays good overtime. There are even a few extra bucks in his paycheck now, which he credits to Mr. Trump’s tax cut.
Journalist Jeremy Peters quotes Benson:
It didn’t let me go out and buy a new house. But that wasn’t what it was for.
The point seems to be that even a slightly improved economy is enough to keep many rural Wisconsin voters on Trump's side.  Many see an economy that is "stable, robust and meaningfully, if marginally, benefiting their lives." 

In a similar vein, Trip Gabriel reports for the New York Times out of Youngstown, Ohio, on May 20, 2019. (Of course, Youngstown, population 66,982, is not rural, but for now I'll play that media game of conflating working class white with rurality). The headline, "There's No Boom in Youngstown, but Blue-Collar Voters are Sticking with Trump," sums up the story's conclusion. Gabriel quotes Matt Borges, a former chair of the Ohio GOP, who spoke of "fundamental demographic realignment" associated with the rise of Trump-- a realignment that will benefit Republicans over the long term:
We’ve traded off suburban Republicans who may never find their way back to the party for that white working-class traditional Democratic voter, who has been more and more alienated from their party’s rhetoric. Is this a long-term gain for Republicans here? Yes.
Gabriel also quotes David Betras, a former Democratic Party leader for Mahoning County (population 238,823), of which Youngstown is the county seat. During the 2016 campaign, Betras had "sent a memo warning Hillary Clinton’s campaign that it was on the verge of losing Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan because she was not connecting with blue-collar voters. Clinton's campaign never responded, and Bertras believes Democrats are still out of touch. Betras said that Democrats in Washington harping on Trump's "unfitness for office, his taxes and possible impeachment, the president is solidifying blue-collar support through an aggressive trade war with China, even if his tariffs mean economic pain in the short term." Here's a direct quote from Betras: 
The Democratic Party has lost its voice to speak to people that shower after work and not before work. All we’re saying is he won’t turn over his tax returns. He’s saying, ‘I’m fighting China to get you better jobs.’ ... They don’t care about his taxes — they just don’t.’
* * * 
He’s allowing these workers to say, ‘I don’t have a good job because of these immigrants. That’s not true. But he’s got a voice.

There’s an underbelly of America that America doesn’t want to accept about itself, and [Trump] speaks to it.
That's an interesting concession by a local (low) level Democratic leader about what the left currently and simply labels as "racism" among working class white voters. But what Betras is saying is perhaps a bit more nuanced than that: the "racism" (or the underbelly, as he calls it), is partly a function of the declining economic situation--the precarity--in which these white workers find themselves.

For a story about black and brown workers in Youngstown, see this one by Henry Grabar in Slate, "The Nonwhite Working Class: Talking to the people of Youngstown, Ohio that the national media usually ignores."
Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post on May 1, 2019 wrote "Why Democrats Should Visit Farm Communities."  She quotes a U.S. Dept. of Commerce Report:
A new report confirms that President Trump is causing the most pain in areas of the country that were the most supportive of his 2016 campaign.
Personal income for farmers fell by the most in three years in the first quarter, as losses to U.S. agriculture mount from President Donald Trump’s trade wars.  
The Commerce Department on Monday cited the steep decline in farm proprietors’ income as a key factor weighing on the nation’s overall personal income growth in March, even though agricultural producers represent only about 2 percent of total employed Americans.
That last statistic is true, but the services that support them, the local governments that depend on their tax revenue and the communities in which farmers live feel real economic pain.
Rubin also quotes a Bloomberg report:
One-time subsidy payments from the Trump administration to compensate producers for some of their trade-war losses helped prop up farm income in the previous quarter, but earnings plunged by an annualized $11.8 billion in the January to March period, according to seasonally adjusted data.
Providing a more ambivalent perspective on Trump is Sabrina Tavernise, writing for the New York Times on May 27, 2019.  The dateline is Lordstown, Ohio (population 3,272), where a massive General Motors plant closed a few months ago.  The headline is, "With his Job Gone, an Autoworker Wonders, 'What Am I as a Man?'"  Tavernise's story features Rick Marsh, a middle-aged white man who lost his job at the plant when it closed several months ago:
For Mr. Marsh the plant is personal, but in the three months since G.M. stopped making cars there, it has become political. A parade of presidential hopefuls has come through, using the plant to make the point that American capitalism no longer works for ordinary people. 
Tavernise quotes Marsh: 
To me, it’s another flagrant sign that these people, [the political class] really don’t have a clue.  They are so out of touch with reality and real people. All of them.
* * *  
[Marsh] made no exception for Mr. Trump. Mr. Marsh voted for him, as did a majority of voters in Trumbull County, a small square on the map of northeast Ohio that hadn’t voted for a Republican for president since 1972. 
The path to the White House next year runs through places like Lordstown, and Mr. Marsh and many of his neighbors, far from knowing how they will vote, say the G.M. plant shutdown has only left them more at sea politically. They tried voting for Barack Obama, then Mr. Trump.  Now they don’t know where to turn.
This seems promising for those of who would like to see Trump deposed--a critical white, working class perspective on Trump.

And finally here's a March 30, 2019 story from NPR about small-town newspaper editor and Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen's role in drawing U.S. presidential candidates to Iowa.   In particular, Cullen seems to be drawing them to his home town, Storm Lake, population 10,600, in the affluent and conservative (Steve King is the representative for the area that includes Storm Lake and surrounding Buena Vista County) northwest part of Iowa.  When the story was written, Cullen was about to host a candidates forum, in which Amy Klobuchar (MN), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Julian Castro (TX), and John Delaney (MD) were committed to participate.  Journalist Clay Masters quotes Cullen "wondering aloud":
Beto? Where's he at? Is he out in Taos or is he dancing with Oprah? Joe Biden? He's trying to make up his mind. Well, why doesn't he come and make up his mind with a bunch of Farmers Union members in Storm Lake? They'll help him make up his mind real good.
Cullen is, of course, not rural America's only erudite advocate, though to read most mainstream media, one would have an opposite impression.  Of course, to read mainstream media, one could also assume that all rural Americans support Trump.  The truth is more complex.

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.  

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Two New York Times stories today on remote places--and how they are changing

The first, by Julie Turkewitz, is out of Idaho, about rich people buying up extraordinarily large tracts of land and denying the public access, which they previously enjoyed.  The headline is "Who Gets to Own the West?  A new group of billionaires is shaking up the landscape," and the dateline is Idaho City, Idaho (population 485 but part of the Boise-Nampa Metropolitan Statistical Area).   Here's an overview of the trend as reflected in data:
  • 100 families own 42 million acres across the county, 65,000 square miles.
  • the amount of land those 100 families own has increased 50% since 2007.
Featured in the story are the Wilks brothers, who are high school drop outs who made their fortune in fracking. They now some about 700,000 acres in save states, and they're using their newfound power to block access not only to their own property, but also to some publicly owned areas.

Retired columnist for the Idaho Statesman, Rocky Barker, explains that the conflict is
a “clash between two American dreams,” pitting the nation’s respect for private property rights against the notion of a beauty-rich public estate set aside for the enjoyment of all.
He calls the "big landowners ...just another force" and cites other dichotomies shaping the change, that between extraction-based economies on the one hand and those grounded in  recreation, as well as the conflict between "working class" and money.  That conflict, as well as the rural living/culture angle, is highlighted in this excerpt about 58-year-old Tim Horting, who grew up in this part of Idaho "chop[ping] wood, gut[ting] deer, and haul[ing] game home for dinner."  The Hortings built a cabin in 2006 near Boise Ridge Road, which provided access to a recreation area mostly on public land:
The Hortings said they wanted their grandchildren to grow up with a feel for rural life. “This is the whole reason I moved here,” Mr. Horting said. For years, he assumed the road was public, and he would guide his ATV up its steep ascent, his grandchildren in tow.            
Now, however, the Wilks brothers have bought land near and surrounding the Hortings' property and have put up gates, fences and "no trespassing" signs, including on Boise Ridge Road.  Here's a very ominous part of the story, at least from the standpoint of law because it implicates the relationship between wealth and access to justice:
In some places, the Wilkses’ road closings were legal. In other cases, it wasn’t clear. Road law is a tangled knot, and Boise County had little money to grapple with it in court. So the gates stayed up. 
Horting summarizes the problem(s): 
[It] is not the fact that they own the property. It’s that they’ve cut off public roads. 
We’re being bullied.  We can’t compete and they know it.
And there you have another story of rural gentrification, of the disempowerment of regular rural folks--those Turkewitz characterized as "working class."  Note that this story does not appear to implicate racial advantage (though many stories of gentrification--rural or urban--will).   This is simply a story where wealth (not only income) wins out on a large scale.  One reason wealth wins is its ability to dictate legal outcomes--or at least litigate the other party into bankruptcy, should the "other party" decide to fight back.
                                                                                                                                                     
The other story I want to highlight is headlined "The Land Where the Internet Ends." It is about Green Bank, WV (population 143), home of the Green Bank Observatory and surrounding National Radio Quiet Zone, which covers some 13,000 square miles.  Pagan Kennedy writes:
[The observatory is] a cluster of radio telescopes in a mountain valley. Conventional telescopes are like superpowered eyes. The instruments at Green Bank are more like superhuman ears — they can tune into frequencies from the lowest to the highest ends of the spectrum.
The image most associated with this area is the massive polar-aligned telescope, which is featured in several photos that accompany this op-ed.

Yes, Green Bank is remote, but Kennedy's musings are primarily about a different kind of isolation, that which comes from being cut off from cell service and WiFi.  Here's one part of Kennedy's musing that arguably reflects rural living and rural culture:
I came in hopes of finding a certain kind of wildness and solitude. I live in Massachusetts, and I often disappear into the forests and rivers to clear my head. I’ve always loved the moment when the bars on my phone disappear.
* * *
To experience the deepest solitude, you need to enter the land where the internet ends.

Ten years ago, it was easy to do that. But lately, even in the backwoods, my cellphone springs to life, clamoring for attention.

The off-grid places are disappearing.
* * *

It’s likely that in 10 or so years, the country will be blanketed with signal, from sea to shining sea.  
And while that will be a loss for those seeking to be truly off the grid, Kennedy concedes it is a necessity, as access to broadband has become as indispensable as access to electricity and running water. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Rural pragmatism in New Mexico politics

High Country News reports today on recently elected congressperson Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico's 2d Congressional District.  The headline is "Rep. Xochitl Torres Small offers lessons in rural politics.  The Democratic congresswoman won a conservative region by talking about concerns all Westerners share."  So what are those shared concerns?  one is a shortage of physicians in this largely rural district, which stretches from just south of Albuquerque to the Mexico border. 

Here's how Nick Bowlin, who interviewed the Congresswoman summarized her short voting record
On several issues, [Torres Small has] charted a middle course, breaking with her party to oppose gun purchase background checks, while voting to protect health care for people with pre-existing conditions and restore the Paris climate accord.
Here's a quote from Torres Small:
In the West, I think there’s a specific opportunity when it comes to serving people in rural areas. The district I represent has an independent streak a mile wide. What (voters) are most interested in is seeing folks who are willing to put in the work, and most importantly, put in the work with anyone else who is willing to. And I think that’s something that hasn’t happened on either side in Washington for quite some time. So I think that’s the main lesson: Democrat or Republican, we serve rural communities best when we work with anyone who will lend a hand.
On the health care issue in particular, Torres Small states:
When we talk about health care, we have to talk about making sure that it’s affordable, but you should also be able to get to a doctor close to home. And that accessibility factor is huge for rural areas. It's probably the issue that resonated most in my campaign. 
Sometimes the way to make change is making improvements where you can, and one of those is increasing physician residency programs (which place doctors at hospitals around the country for training). It's arbitrarily capped right now, and a bill I introduced would increase the program by 3,000 doctors a year for five years.identifies priority areas where there are shortages, including rural areas.
Read the entire interview here.   

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Phrases rural (or middle) Americans avoid? "climate change" and "social justice"

That is the conclusion one is invited to draw from recent stories in the New York Times and from a progressive faith-based magazine called Sojourners.

First, I saw this headline in the New York Times last month, "In Flood-Hit Midwest, Mayors See Climate Change as Subject Best Avoided."  Here's some of the substantiating content:
[I]n some of the hardest-hit areas, where bolstering flood protection and helping the displaced are popular bipartisan causes, there is little appetite for bringing climate change — and the political baggage it carries — into the discussion.
Here's a quote from two-term Mayor Frank Klipsch of Davenport, Iowa, offered as the city was recovering from devastating spring floods:
We know there’s something going on, so how do we come together and deal with that? Let’s not try to label it. Let’s not try to politicize it. It’s just a matter of something is changing. 
* * *
I don’t see a purpose at this point to create a challenge, a straw man to argue about, when in reality we all know what the ultimate results are.
Klipsch, who is not a member of any party, referred to the term as "divisive."  (By the way, given that Davenport is Iowa's third largest city, I am highly aware that it is not rural in any sense except in the minds of folks who think all of Iowa must be rural.)

Paul Rumler, chief executive of the Davenport Chamber of Commerce, is also quoted: 
We have to think about what the next 20 years look like and be cognizant that this 100-year flood might be happening more than once every hundred years.
I’m going to say this, and I’m going to be meaningful in the words: The weather pattern is changing, and we need to be cognizant of those changes.
 These quotes strike me as avoiding the phrase "climate change," and especially the "human caused" angle on it.  They do not necessarily mean climate change denial. After all, the man at the chamber of commerce talked in terms of changing "weather patterns."

Here's a related story from last fall out of Georgia, in the wake of Hurricane Michael's destruction of crops in the southeast. A 38-year-old male farmer is quoted after learning 80 to 100% of his cotton crop was destroyed by the 100 mph winds:
Look, I know the storms are making it unsustainable. If what’s happened this year happens next year, we’re done. But we’ve always had bad weather. Is it getting worse? Have we had three bad years in a row? Yeah. But I’m worried about the weather, not about climate change. 
And here's a quote from that same story that offers a contrary rural perspective.  This one is from 27-year-old female farmer, Casey Cox, who studied  forestry and environmental preservation before she returned home to help run her family's 2,400 acre farm.
I really wish that Al Gore hadn’t been the messenger, it just turned everybody off. It allowed people to say that it was just a liberal thing, when we know it is completely sound science.
Here's another good NYT take on farmers, flooding and climate change.  From the Washington Post on farmers, flooding and the 2019 corn crop, good coverage is here and here.

Ok, enough on "climate change," let's turn to other supposed unmentionable, "social justice."  I was catching up this weekend on some old issues of Sojourners, a progressive Christian magazine. One headline in the December issue was, "Just Don't Call it 'Social Justice.'"  The author was Brad Roth, a small-town Missouri pastor, and it was one of a small cluster of stories in that issue on progressive Christians in middle/ruralAmerica--in what is popularly thought of as "Trump country."  (Well, I say "progressive," but/and the focus is more on work these congregations are doing to help others in their community (the hungry, formerly incarcerated) than it is about their theology, which may or may not be viewed as progressive.)  Here's a salient excerpt, with the real focus on the "social justice" phrase in the second paragraph:
The economic reality of rural America is diverse. Pockets of robust growth exist within driving distance of vibrant cities and gorgeous natural amenities. Yet many towns face profound challenges. They’re communities fractured by generational poverty, addiction, and—perhaps surprisingly in breadbasket regions—food insecurity. 
In places like this, it’s often the rural church that takes on the role of change agent. Social justice runs deep in the scriptures, given voice by the Old Testament prophets, embodied in Jesus’ life, and lived out in the upside-down economics of the early church (see Micah 6:8; Luke 4:18; Acts 2:44-45). And yet, as Jordan Rasmussen with the Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) in Lyons, Neb., explains, social justice “can be an off-putting term for rural residents.” 
In part, the disconnect is a factor of the national political environment. Rasmussen describes how, in her advocacy work with CFRA, she’s found that rural people may vote and express approval for conservative candidates whose platforms include cutting the safety net. Yet, if you “go a layer down,” people desire to see their communities thrive, and that desire is often expressed in the language of faith. It’s love of neighbor that mobilizes rural folks, for instance, to “come to the legislature to testify about how [lack of] broadband is limiting their community’s ability to grow.” 
This is interesting because it could be read to suggest rural people want  everyone in their community to have broadband (perhaps implicit in this is "if they can afford it"?); they just aren't sure they want everyone in their community to have food, housing and healthcare (again, unless they can "afford" it).  Does something in Rasmussen's articulation of the distinction/response implicate racial difference (embodied, perhaps, in the "welfare queen" trope?  or "white trash" (a term I used advisedly)?

Roth's explanation goes on to implicate two characteristics of rural communities I've written a lot about:  lack of anonymity and sense of community
If the way social justice commitments are described and encoded into political options plays out differently in the country than in urban or suburban areas, so too the mechanisms for change are differently inflected. 
Take protest, for example. Protest can function as a potent prophetic lever in urban environments. Think of church leaders locking arms across Charlottesville, Va., in witness against racial injustice. Yet that type of protest often doesn’t work in rural communities—or at least, not in a straightforward way. Those in authority are not the other. The mayor and the sheriff live down the street. And there’s often not the same critical mass to lend protest its urgency and oomph. Ten people on the steps of the county courthouse doesn’t pack the same punch as thousands filling the National Mall. What’s more, street protest can be counterproductive, seen as tearing at the social fabric, as something indiscreet and indiscriminate that harms the precious us-ness of the rural community. 
I can see that numbers do seem to matter when it comes to a protest looking like it has oomph.  That said, women's march gatherings in smaller towns and cities were among the most inspiring to me because they arguably most "bucked the trend" of those places.  I'm also wondering if the Poor People's Campaign, which is centered on social justice (including, in addition to poverty and living wage issues, "systemic racism," immigration, the military industrial complex, ecological devastation, and mass incarceration), had gatherings in rural places, along with their more highly publicized gatherings in state capitals.  And thinking of the Poor People's Campaign, with its considerable attention to systemic/institutional racism, makes me wonder if climate change and social justice are distasteful to rural folks because they--like nonwhiteness/racial difference--are associated with cities.

I return to the question I had when I began writing this post:  Are these just phrases rural Americans avoid?  or are they topics and causes that rural Americans avoid and are in denial about?  Is there something that is a dealbreaker about the phrases/terminology?  Is there a way that "social justice," in particular, is understood as an "urban" or "outsider" idea?  Rasmussen of the Center for Rural Affairs suggests the latter, which is better than the alternative, I suppose.  Plus, Roth's story is chock full of rural communities responding to poverty and the downtrodden and trying to achieve social justice.  Now the question is, how do progressives in politics deal with or manipulate those "differently inflected" meanings to draw more rural folks into the fold of progressive voters? 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

On undercounting Native Americans (and other rural folks) in the 2020 Census

Isolated home in  San Juan County, Utah, near four-corners area
(c) 2008 by Lisa R. Pruitt
Kurtis Lee and Ben Welsh report for the Los Angeles Times from Crownpoint, New Mexico, (population 2,278) part of the Navajo nation, on the challenge of accurately counting Native Americans in the U.S. Census, which is coming up in less than a year.  The story touches in particular on the challenges of remoteness and lack of trust.  It begins with an illustration of remoteness that features Leonard Jones, a Navajo man who doesn't recall being reached by Census workers in 2010:
Only family and close friends make the dusty 10-mile trek from the paved road, down dirt switchbacks lined by sandstone mesas, to his secluded home in northwestern New Mexico. There is no electricity, no running water, in the single-level sandstone structure. 
Lee and Welsch quotes Jones:
Few people know we’re out here.  We live in nature. 
The thought of people coming out here and making us a part of any official count seems like a stretch, you know?
* * *
Who’s going to make it here? No one knows we’re here. I just hope we’re not forgotten.
Here are some other excerpts:
Last month, Census Bureau officials visited New Mexico to meet with state and local officials and tribal leaders. The group traveled to homes near Albuquerque and heard firsthand testimony about the challenges of counting individuals on the Navajo Nation and other rural locales.
* * *
While [ ] reservations [other than the Navajo] are smaller, most are also remote. And all are home to a longstanding distrust of the U.S. government. Those factors help make Native American reservations among the most difficult places to canvass during the census, the once-per-decade federal effort to find and tally every resident of the U.S.
An audit of the 2010 Census showed that 1 in 7 Native Americans living on a reservation did not get counted. That's a total of about 82,000 people, which is equal to the entire city of Santa Fe.
Here is the current U.S. Census Bureau page on Crownpoint.  Crownpoint is in McKinley County, population 71,492.  The poverty rate of McKinley County is an astonishing 37.5%, which is actually consistent with poverty rates in Indian Country, including in Arizona and Utah, where Navajo territory also stretches.  Some 175,000 Navajo live in an area larger than West Virginia. 

Other key data points in the story illustrate what is at stake for New Mexico in getting an accurate count:
New Mexico’s budget coffers depend on nearly $7.8 billion a year from Washington for programs like Medicaid, food stamps and road repairs tied to the census. The New Mexico Legislature recently endowed a new state commission with $3.5 million to spend on ensuring an accurate count.
Montezuma Creek, Utah
(c) 2008 Lisa R. Pruitt

Seth Damon, speaking for the Navajo Tribal Counsel, is quoted:
For the Navajo Nation and Indian Country, the census determines whether your dirt roads get graveled or paved, or whether your people move from dirt floors to a solid foundation.
That's a powerful illustration (at least to someone who grew up on a road that got paved when I was in elementary school; many of my high school friends continued to live on dirt roads).

A map accompanying the story shows in orange all of the places (counties or, in many cases, parts of counties) that are at high risk for undercounting.  Those who know where Native American land is in the west and southwest can see readily the concern for those populations, but the map also shows a lot of other "at risk" places that are rural without also being Native American.  Note for instance my home county in Arkansas, Newton County, a persistent poverty county in the Ozarks.  The population of the county is 8,330, but the bubble that pops up when the cursor hovers over the map accompanying this story indicates that about half of that population is at risk of being undercounted.

At least I take some heart in knowing that some powerful institutions, e.g., Urban Institute, individual states, have an eye on the process.  I guess this is an example (sorta') of what Derrick Bell called interest convergence.  That is, if a state is interested enough in getting the federal funds (however it ultimately spends them), that it invests money (in the case of New Mexico, $3.5 million) to get an accurate count, we can hope that many of these funds will ultimately serve rural interests.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Two big stories on rural schools, poverty, housing, and drugs

EdSource recently published this story out of Oroville, California (population 15,000, and county seat of Butte County, California) and the New York Times yesterday published this story out of Minford, Ohio, (population 693).  

The EdSource headline is "Lost days: Poverty, isolation drive students away from school in California’s rural districts:  The state's highest rates of chronic absenteeism are in rural areas."  The story is about chronic absenteeism, a term used to refer to students who miss at least 10% of school days.  About 11% of California students--some 700K in all--are chronically absent, and about 10% of the state's 1000 districts had rates of chronic absenteeism as high as Oroville's.  Here are some data points:
  • Of the 98 districts with rates higher than 20 percent, 84 were in rural areas.
  • Of the 27 districts with rates higher than 30 percent, 26 were in rural areas.
  • Of the 40 counties where rates were above the statewide average, 30 are rural as identified by Rural County Representatives of California, a statewide group.
The story does not, however, define "rural," and Oroville is not "rural" by the U.S. Census Bureau definition. Nor is Butte County, with a population of 220,000, "nonmetropolitan" by the Office of Management and Budget standard.

The story's lede personalizes the data.  It features Kaylee Adkins, now 20: 
The daughter of two heavy drug users, [Kaylee] lived a transient childhood — rarely staying for long in the same apartment, let alone the same school. She hardly saw her father who was in jail or prison throughout much of her childhood.
* * * 
When Kaylee, now 20, was in grade school, her mother’s pattern was to stay in a place until the eviction notice came, then run. Sometimes it would be to another part of Oroville, a rural town of about 15,000 people in Northern California’s Butte County where her family was from. Other times it would be out of state to small towns in Texas or West Virginia.
As you can see, the story is not only about absenteeism.  It is about the constellation of social problems that contribute to it, including poverty, drugs, housing challenges, and sheer distance.  Indeed, perhaps because I'm researching rural housing--really the rural housing crisis--right now, eviction looms large for me in this story.

But the story is also about "family commitments."  You see, Kaylee's parents both died when she was in high school, so she wound up living with a niece after that.  But when her niece had children, Kaylee was expected to miss school to care for them.  So Kaylee wound up missing about a third of the days of her senior year of high school--even though she was living just a few blocks from the school in Oroville.

Interestingly, the other story from EdSource that I've blogged about also featured Oroville.   That story was about high rates of school suspensions in rural schools, framed as the school-to-prison pipeline.  And I as I wrote there, one reason for that high rate of suspensions is likely a lack of resources because smaller school districts can't achieve economies of scale.  So I was pleased to see that this story on chronic absenteeism quotes an expert who acknowledges that rural challenge problem.
[I]n rural areas they have the fewest resources and the least access to the newest information about how to combat this.
The second story, the one by the New York Times out of southern Ohio, focuses on younger children.  The headline is "Inside the Elementary School Where Drug Addiction Sets the Curriculum."  About half of the students in the featured elementary school have experienced drug abuse at home.  As with the California story, the journalist (here Dan Levin), leads with a student who illustrates the phenomenon:   
Inside an elementary school classroom decorated with colorful floor mats, art supplies and building blocks, a little boy named Riley talked quietly with a teacher about how he had watched his mother take “knockout pills” and had seen his father shoot up “a thousand times.” 
Riley, who is 9 years old, described how he had often been left alone to care for his baby brother while his parents were somewhere else getting high. Beginning when he was about 5, he would heat up meals of fries, chicken nuggets and spaghetti rings in the microwave for himself and his brother, he said. “That was all I knew how to make,” Riley said. 
Riley — who is in foster care and who officials asked not be fully identified because of his age — is among hundreds of students enrolled in the local school district who have witnessed drug use at home. Like many of his classmates at Minford Elementary School, Riley struggles with behavioral and psychological problems that make it difficult to focus, school officials said, let alone absorb lessons.
Levin details the Minford program, funded with $550 million in "student wellness funds" from the State of Ohio. 

Minford is in Scioto County, population 79,499,  "long considered ground zero in Ohio's opioid epidemic."  Some 9.7 million pills were prescribed here in 2010, "enough to give 123 to each resident."   The poverty rate in Scioto County is 23.9%.   When I "Googled" Scioto County, Ohio, the top "hits" were news stories about abused children and drug arrests.  Oh, and there was a story about the state reviewing 2700 cases decided by a recently retired Scioto County judge accused of alcoholism

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The end of a story that's gotten a lot of attention on Legal Ruralism: $6.2 million settlement closes industrial hog farm in my home county

I have spilled a lot of (proverbial) ink on this concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) story since 2013, when I wrote posts like this one (and note its two prior embedded posts) about an industrial hog farm that slipped by regulators to get a permit for siting in the watershed of Arkansas's Buffalo National River, a major tourist attraction and ecotourism revenue driver for the state.  These events happened in my "own backyard" (or at least that of my mom, as I no longer liver in Arkansas), which helps my explain my engagement (and outrage).  Never mind the many blog posts about the "hog farm" here on Legal Ruralism, I even wrote an academic journal article about this matter, as well as an op-ed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

I hadn't been following the matter very closely in recent months, though I knew the industrial hog farm owners, under contract with JBS of Brazil, had lost some recent legal bouts with environmental interests over renewal of permits, including permits for where they could spread the hog manure.

So, imagine my delight when the (Republican) governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, made what has been billed as a "surprise" announcement that the State of Arkansas had reached a settlement to pay the owners of the hog farm $6.2 million to close the operation and grant the State of Arkansas a conservation easement.  The owners of the hog farm will retain a "fee simple" in the farmland, which sits right on the banks of Big Creek (a Buffalo River tributary), and across that creek from the Mt. Judea School.  Most of the funds going to the buyout will come from the state's coffers, but up to a million will be paid by The Nature Conservancy.

Perhaps most interesting is that Governor Hutchinson commented today, when announcing the settlement while speaking to the 85th Annual Arkansas Municipal League Convention, commented  the permit to the CAFO should never have been granted.  That's a dig at his Democratic predecessor, Mike Beebe, on whose watch the permit slipped (or was pushed?) through the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.  I've never quite been able to figure out (and as far as I know, no one else has either), whether the primary culprit was an ignorant bureaucrat or one on the take from corporate or business interests.  When the hog farm was built--essentially in secrecy--the farmers were to be under contract with Cargill, but Cargill's hog operations were eventually sold to JBS.   As I detailed in my academic journal article, the USDA approved loans for the hog farm, but it did so with a particularly shoddy environmental impact statement that did not acknowledge environmental justice concerns (Mt. Judea is the poorest part of a persistent poverty county, Newton County).

Here's a quote about what's next, from today's coverage in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, as well as some early backlash against the settlement.
In the recent legislative session, the Farm Bureau narrowly failed in a push to remove hog farm regulation from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and move it to an agency where local farmers have strong influence and without less scientific expertise. The governor had urged a delay in that legislation after it passed the Senate. It was pulled down after it ran into House opposition
Opponents had developed a scathing attack on the hog triangle created by the farm: The farm sends dollars to Brazil (JBS); JBS sends pork chops to China, the farm sends hog manure to the Buffalo River. 
It’s a big win for the governor, though some social media criticism has already broken out about the $6.2 million payment. “Negotiating with terrorists,” was how one environmentalist put it.
And here's Governor Hutchison's Tweet about the matter.

The one commenter on that Tweet said, "More of that Republican Socialism.  It's only bad when they're helping the poor."   Hutchinson has drawn national attention to Arkansas for his advocacy and imposition of work requirements for safety net programs, such as the state's Medicaid expansion.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

In the competition between rural and urban for resources, this pretty much sums it up

The media (Sac Bee and New York Times) have given lots of attention in recent days to the just-revealed cause of the Ranch Fire, one of the fires in the Mendocino Complex that led to the largest wildfire in California's history last summer.  The fire burned through chunks of Lake, Mendocino, and Colusa counties in late summer 2018, destroying more than 150 homes.  Fighting it cost "tens of millions of dollars."  Here's an excerpt (from the NYT story) about the fire generally:
The fire burned 410,203 acres of California wild lands, an area half the size of Rhode Island, and killed a firefighter who was struck by a falling tree. Although it was one of the largest fires, it was far from the deadliest. The fire in Paradise, Calif., in fall 2018 killed more than 80 people.
There's a lot of "rural" in the story, especially if you associate buried wasps nests with rurality, but it was this quote from Jill Cowan, writing in today's New York Times California newsletter, that really caught my eye re rural-urban difference and--more precisely--urban primacy.  Cowan quotes a neighbor (Ms. Parker) of the man who inadvertently started the Ranch fire.  She lives along Highway 20 between Ukiah and Upper Lake: 
Ms. Parker shrugged as she described how Caltrans allows vegetation to proliferate along the side of the highway in front of her house.  
“We are in a rural area,” she said. “Cities are always going to come first.”
By the way, the dateline for the NYTimes story is Potter Valley, population 646.  (I passed near there and took some photos along this stretch of Highway 20 in early July, 2018, a few weeks before that fire).  And the photo caption for the NYT story mentions Ladoga, population 197 (in Colusa County).

As for urban primacy in pretty much all things, see a related post here.  

On access to transportation and health (and jobs, poverty and disability) in rural America

NPR reports today from upstate New York on the intersection of disability, rurality, poverty, and employment, with something of a focus on transportation as another feature of that cycle of poverty.  Here's the excerpt I wish to highlight: 
Having good access to transportation — or not — has a huge impact on the health of people living in rural parts of the country, says Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco who studies the health of vulnerable populations. 
The story, by Selena Simmons-Duffin, quotes Bibbins-Domingo: 
If you go to less populated areas — rural areas — access to a car that functions well [and] the costs for gas becomes such an essential element.  Both to drive to seek medical care, as well as to drive to access the other resources that are necessary to pursue good health. 
Simmons-Duffin goes on to quote Bill Erickson of Cornell re: employability of people with disabilities.
Since the Great Recession, rural counties really haven't seen as much employment growth as urban counties. Also just the types of jobs that are available to those sorts of communities may be tending toward, you know, requiring people to be able to move things physically or whatever. 
And the limitations that the individual with disabilities may have may be preventing them from being able to do those particular types of jobs — or employers can't provide the accommodations that may be necessary.
On that latter point, see this excellent NPR story from 2013.   

Saturday, June 8, 2019

A story of rural extremes, out of Scotland

NPR's Celeste Noche reports today from the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, a remote region in the northwest of the United Kingdom.  This lovely feature story, with fabulous photos, provides a window into extremely remote rural living by focusing on the importance of what, in the United States, we call a bookmobile.  Here's the lede:
In Stornoway, the biggest town in Scotland's Outer Hebrides islands, a yellow van sits on a narrow, one-way street. The Gaelic word leabharlann is painted on the front, back and sides, with its English translation, "library," on the front and sides. 
Driver Iain Mackenzie has loaded his books in the van, organized his customers' orders and is preparing for his last run of the week on the island of Lewis and Harris. The 16-year-old van runs three days a week, covering more than 800 miles of rugged roads to deliver books to more than 800 residents.
Many of the residents featured in the story are elderly and/or disabled, but the story also touches on the importance of the mobile library for serving children and youth, including with efforts to keep the Gaelic language alive.

The broader context, of course, is population loss:
As rural high streets — the centers of local businesses — begin to disappear, and schools, jobs and other opportunities have seeped away to large cities, villages across the isles are facing depopulation and a decrease in resources. A 2007 Outer Hebrides Migration Study reported a 43% population decline between 1901 and 2001, as well as a long-term decline in the number of women of childbearing age, resulting in more deaths than births each year. "The key drivers of population change are the limited job opportunities available," the study said.
Noche explains that, under salient U.K. ecological definitions, "73% of the Hebridean population qualifies as very rural remote, defined as 'areas with a population of less than 3,000 people, and with a drive time of over 60 minutes to a settlement of 10,000 or more.'"  Stornaway, the largest population cluster on the Outer Hebrides, is home to some 8,000 residents. 

One of the mobile librarians, Steven Bryden, who is quoted throughout the story, touches on the lack of anonymity that marks rural communities, while also defying that stereotype.
There's a perception in [small villages] where everybody knows everybody, but it isn't always the case.  There are a lot of people on their own who are just missed. It's just keeping an eye out on people.
Bryden also comments on the extreme loneliness of living so remotely: 
A man in the [Harris] bays once told me, "The last person I saw was you."
This reminds me of another recent story out of a remote corner of the United Kingdom, the Lake District, a story that also featured many elderly.  I blogged about that story here.  Like this story from the Outer Hebrides, the Lake District story also implicated services for remote populations, but the English story was one of services lost to austerity policies, while the Scottish story was one of a service preserved (two new library vans to serve the islands and save the service).

Friday, June 7, 2019

North Carolina and Virginia take steps to address rural broadband

I have written fairly extensively in the past about the barriers imposed by lack of access to broadband infrastructure in rural spaces. Broadband is almost essential for economic growth and for helping to bridge the resource gap. Access to broadband opens doors, it allows students in isolated communities to enroll in courses that may not be offered at their local school, a farmer to have a new market to sell his crops, and in a world where broadband is a necessity, rural communities to successfully compete with their urban and suburban counterparts. Unfortunately for many people, mostly in rural areas, access to broadband is still an impossible dream. I have written in the past about New York's attempts to address this article. In this piece, I am going to talk about the work of North Carolina and Virginia, who have both recently taken steps to address this problem.

In Virginia, it is estimated that 600,000 people, roughly the population of Vermont, lack access to broadband. According to the Virginia Charter of Commerce, this represents roughly 47% of rural Virginia. This means that a sizable number of rural Virginians live in communities that do not have access to broadband infrastructure, a significant barrier to economic growth. In fact, according to Evan Feinman, Virginia's Chief Broadband Officer, many companies will disregard an entire community if they do not have access to broadband.

This issue also affects North Carolina. While North Carolina does not have an official number for how many in the state lack access to broadband, they do believe that the current figure of 93.7% of households having access is inaccurate and inflated. Both states have a shared problem however, the telecom providers are not playing ball on telling them exactly where the gaps are, which hinders their ability to address the issue.

Despite the existing barriers however, both states are persisting in their battle to expand access. North Carolina governor Roy Cooper recently signed legislation overturning the ban on electric coops using federal funding to expand broadband access. The legislation also clarified that it is legal for coops to use fiber that had been deployed to provide electricity for the secondary purpose of providing broadband service. In Virginia. Governor Ralph Northam signed legislation that created a pilot program that would allow electric utilities to utilize their infrastructure for middle mile deployment of broadband infrastructure. Northam and Cooper have also signed legislation that would appropriate funding to providers to expand their broadband infrastructure into rural spaces. By signing legislation that involves providers in the expansion of broadband, both governors may have created a mechanism for getting information on where the gaps exist and provided a means to address them. I would argue however that both states need to commission independent studies into broadband availability in order to reduce the reliance on providers to give information about gaps.

Addressing the broadband issue is going to important for rural Virginia and North Carolina. Northern Virginia and the Research Triangle are both tech hubs and a lack of broadband availability prevents that economic prosperity from spilling over into the rural corners of these states. I am encouraged by the progress that both states have made in recent months and hope to see it continue.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A historical nugget: Great Depression era Yale Law graduates opted for rural practice

During a dive into some historical research, I came across an interesting nugget in The Boston Globe. In the October 24, 1932 edition of the newspaper (see right), it was reported that an increasing number of Yale Law graduates were opting for rural practice. The story attributes this partially to a decline in corporate recruiting, a fact that should not be surprising given that the country was struggling through the Great Depression at the time. The article is interesting because it provides a snapshot into a different era of rural lawyering and an era when lawyers began looking away from cities.

The article also notes that the role of the "country lawyer" in leadership, as opposed to the urban lawyer who seemingly just accumulated great wealth. While this is a slight simplification, it does speak to the historical role of the lawyer as a leader in their community. In a city, a lawyer is just another professional whereas in a smaller town, they may be one of just a few. As I have heard from rural lawyers in my research, a rural lawyer is rarely ever off the clock. The lack of anonymity in a rural community often does not allow for a rural lawyer to clock out and simply go home.

On April 23, 1891, over 41 years before the publication of this piece, the Globe reported on the retirement of Judge John Hopkins from the bench in Worcester County, Massachusetts. In his retirement speech, Judge Hopkins said, "I know of no position more honorable than a country lawyer and no position in which a lawyer can be of more use to his fellow man."

In 1932, Yale Law sent its graduates out to take that position. I aspire to see that happen again.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Rural California wins one (a rarity) in special election

Bieber, California (Lassen County) (c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018
California's most rural politician has just defeated an urban (or, at best, suburban) politician for State Senate District 1.  The winner is not college educated.  The loser has a Bachelors degree from Harvard and a J.D. from Yale Law School.  Brian Dahle, the winner, has been mentioned in five prior blog posts here, one of them mentioning the occasion of his visit to my Law and Rural Livelihoods class several years ago.   Dahle garnered 53.4 % of the vote, and  his Ivy-educated opponent just 46.6%  One striking fact is that Dahle carried every nonmtro county by a considerable margin, while Kiley carried every metropolitian county--except Shasta County, the least metro of the metros, in the would-be State of Jefferson, which I'll discuss below.

As I have written elsewhere, it's hard to gain traction on rural issues in California because only about 2% of the state's population live in rural places, at least as "rural" is defined (admittedly, narrowly) by the U.S. Census Bureau (population clusters of less than 2,500 or open territory).  That trend was defied a few days ago when Brian Dahle of Lassen County (population 34,895, population density 7.39/square mile) defeated Kevin Kiley of Placer County (population 348,432, population density 230/square mile) to become California's newest State Senator.  Just as telling in terms of where these candidates come from spatially and culturally, Dahle is a seed farmer from Bieber, California, population 312.  (While Bieber is in Lassen County, it is on State Hwy 299, in the corner that connects Shasta County to very sparsely populated Modoc County, which may say something about the Shasta County vote; see below).  Kiley lives in the Placer County suburb of Rocklin.

Tavern in Bieber, California (Lassen County)
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2018


District 1 includes all or part of 11 California counties and stretches from north Lake Tahoe to the Oregon state line.  Among the counties included in the district are all or parts of four metropolitan counties, including Sacramento County (1.4 million), Placer County (population 348.432), El Dorado County (population 181,058), and (much farther north), Shasta County, (population 177,223).

The California Secretary of State's page about this special election is here.  The Sacramento Bee's minimal coverage of the election is here.  The Redding Record Searchlight's coverage is here.  The Lassen County Times is here, though I was unable to click through to a story about the election, which might have been interesting since Dahle served on the Lassen County Board of Supervisors for 16 years before he was elected to the California General Assembly.

Here are the (approximate) votes (and population counts) for the Senate District's nonmetropolitan counties:

Lassen County, population 34,895: Dahle got 81.5% of the 4,000 votes.
Alpine County, population 1,175Dahle got 73.5% of the 223 votes.
Sierra County, population 3,240: Dahle got 67.2% of the 860 votes.
Plumas County, population 20,007: Dahle got 65.7% of the 4,400 votes.
Modoc County, population 9,686Dahle got 87.1% of the 1,857 votes.
Siskiyou County, population 44,900: Dahle got 69.7% of the 7,331 votes.
Nevada County, population 98,764Dahle got 67.1% of the 15,000 votes.

And here are the votes for the metropolitan counties--well, parts of some of those counties:

Sacramento County (partial 10.2%, including where I live):  Kiley got 71.8% of about 21,000 votes.
Placer County (partial, 62.9%): Kiley got 60.8% of 38,000 votes
El Dorado County (all):  Kiley got 56% of about 31,000 votes.
Shasta County (all):  Dahle got 82.2% of about 28,000 votes.

Seen at pubic school in Bieber, California
Advertisement for Lassen Community College
(c) 2018 Lisa R. Pruitt 
The prior State Senator for this district was Ted Gaines, who lives in El Dorado Hills, a posh suburb/exurb of Sacramento, just over the Sacramento/El Dorado County line.  Thus, the election of Dahle, the seed farmer with a high school education, is quite a shift culturally and experientially.

In the run up to this run off, some controversies about the Senate District 1 election were reported in the Bee here and here.  Regarding the former, I can't help wonder if the lack of anonymity associated with rural people and places played a role in its possible efficacy (leaving aside, for now, the very dodgy ethics) of the mailer threatening to disclose folks' voting records.  The latter story describes how these two Republicans (Dahle and Kiley) were the top two vote getters in the primary, while the Democrat, a woman from the Truckee/Lake Tahoe area, came in third. Needless to say, it's a conservative district.

In fact, that reminds me of another controversy--and a rather significant one that arguably implicates race:  Dahle sent a campaign flyer to voters in his district (or at least some of them; I don't recall getting it here in suburban Sacramento) that photo-shopped an image of Kiley next to Kamala Harris, currently U.S. Senator for California but previously the state's Attorney General.  The mailer said Kiley was a "former staffer" to Harris.  In fact, Kiley one point worked for the California Dept of Justice, but as a civil servant.  He says he has never even met Harris.  Here's an excerpt from the Bee's report on the matter:
The problem: Kiley has never met Harris. While he did work as a deputy attorney general for the state, Kiley said he had a civil service position and was not politically appointed.

“The desperation you’ve seen from Brian raises questions about why he’s willing to exceed all boundaries of fair play just to run for this seat,” Kiley said.
This has racial implications because Harris is not only liberal, she is also mixed race--South Asian and Black.  Thus Kiley's association with Harris might be seen as negative in the more rural and conservative parts of the Senate district.

A Republican lawyer who previously worked with Kiley and donated to his campaign wrote this in the California Globe about Dahle's campaign strategy (or shenanigans, depending on your perspective):
Kiley ran on his record; that is, when he wasn’t refuting Dahle’s misinformation about that record. Dahle’s candidacy was less a textbook example of retail politics than a master class in demagogic propaganda.
 Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.

Monday, June 3, 2019

New Mexico forms working group to address rural lawyer shortage

Law 360 reports today on an initiative out of New Mexico that seeks to respond to the rural lawyer shortage there, as well as to the lack of affordability of legal counsel to those who might be considered "middle class."  Here's the lede:
Twenty-one percent of New Mexico’s counties have five or fewer lawyers, and two counties have no attorneys at all. These legal deserts, a huge access to justice barrier, have forced the state court system to take a hard look at possible solutions.
* * * 
District Judge Donna Mowrer, who oversees courts in two counties that have just 58 total attorneys for a combined population of nearly 70,000 people, told Law360 that the inspiration for the idea came from Washington, which has allowed limited license legal technicians, or LLLTs, to help low-income litigants in family law disputes since 2015.
Mowrer sits in in the Ninth Judicial District, in Portales, New Mexico, population 12,280, not far from the larger and better known Clovis, population 38,962.  Together, the counties for which these cities are the seats, Roosevelt and Curry, respectively, are home to 70,000 people and 58 attorneys, which is not a bad ratio.  Some other data points in the story are more sobering: 

  • one county has no lawyer (but a journalist from that county will serve on the working group)
  • 51 percent of newly filed civil cases in 2018 had at least one party without an attorney, up significantly from 2011, when pro se litigants appeared in just 36% of civil cases.

Interestingly, the New Mexico judiciary seems to be viewing favorably a program to license paralegals.  The program they are looking to as a model, however, has not been terribly successful in Washington State, where it has been running for the past few years.  At best, only tepid success was reported to the California Commission on Access to Justice when we considered a few years ago the Washington program, which licenses "limited license legal technicians."  One big problem with the Washington program:  the state's law schools are unwilling or unable to divert (from the education of JD students) the resources necessary to support the training of the LLLTs.  In Washington, LLLTs are licensed to handle family law matters.  Utah recently adopted a similar program, and there the para-professionals handle only landlord-tenant and debt collection matters. 

Mowrer also commented on the access-to-justice challenge for middle-income and modest means clients, saying that "a key selling point is the notion that firms can actually have LLLTs in their offices to accommodate those who can’t afford a traditional counsel." 
She also pointed out that firms need not be limited by geographic area. Being based in a city like Albuquerque won’t necessarily prevent a firm from hiring a technician in a rural area.
* * * 
We don’t have extra attorneys in the rural areas, and we’ve seemingly priced even the middle class out of an attorney.
Given the relative lack of success of the Washington program (at least as presented to the Cal Commission on Access to Justice a few years ago), it'll be interesting to see how Utah's program fares and where the New Mexico working group goes.