Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Rurality" as a proper word, or not

I saw the word “rurality” used today at the Museum of Civilization in Québec, and I delighted in it as only a self-proclaimed “ruralist” could. It was used in an exhibit about the province of Québec, which included several features about different aspects of the province including the St. Lawrence River; Montréal; villages (referred to specifically in relation to the single Catholic Church in each and agriculture); and the very remote north, home to several first nations. The latter two used the term “rurality,” in particular to question whether and in what form rurality will survive in the province. The exhibit reported that 20% of Québecois live in rural areas, a figure very similar to the entire U.S. population living in rural places.

I don’t recall ever seeing the word “rurality” used in the U.S. scholarly literature (but await readers to correct me), be it in rural sociology or rural economics – let alone legal ruralism, of which I am pretty much the only exponent. I do occasionally see the word used in the British and other literature about, well, the concept of rurality. It really is the best word. In a way, Barbara Ching and Gerald Creed at least refer to it in the introduction to their edited volume, Knowing Your Place, where they discuss the literal and metaphorical aspects of rural places.

In the U.S., we seem to use “the rural,” or refer to rural dwellers or rural residents. But the latter terms have different connotations. For one thing, just because you dwell or reside in a rural place does not make you “rural” – at least not in my humble opinion. Those terms don’t evoke the same idea or concept as “rurality.” Neither does “rural places.” “The rural” works, but it seems unduly cumbersome, and the article “the” seems a bit high-falutin’ to be associated with places otherwise thought of as, well, “base” and grounded in the land.

Being in that museum in Québec today, I felt affirmed in my confident (and repeated) use of “rurality” in my most recent publication, which theorizes the intersection of gender and rurality. Nevertheless, as I write this, the spell check in Word is grumping at me, telling me “rurality” isn’t a word at all, or I'm spelling it wrong. But what would Microsoft know about rurality?

"That delicate miracle, that ever-recurring grass"

With the dateline Pawhuska, Oklahoma (incidentally, the setting of the recent Broadway hit "August: Osage County"), Timothy Egan writes in his Outposts series in today's New York Times of the Tallgrass Prairie that has been revived in northeastern Oklahoma thanks to the efforts of the Nature Conservancy. Here's a nice passage from his evocative post called "Restoration Row":

There are people with us still who remember the Great Plains in its birthday suit, grass as far as the eye could see, what Walt Whitman called, “that delicate miracle, the ever-recurring grass.”

That land is gone to us, now. Once, the grassland in our midsection spanned at least 14 states, from Minnesota to Texas, the second biggest ecosystem in North America. It’s gone because the grass was overturned and the bison were chased off the land and the riot of biodiversity that evolved over 10,000 years was replaced by a few commodity crops to feed us.

* * *

[H]ere, just north of this little town in Osage Indian country, I saw some evidence that the land can be healed.

Read his further description of what that healing looks like here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Rurality Then and Now, Here and There (Part II): Defining rural in California and Arkansas

What I’ve learned about “rural” Amador, Calaveras and El Dorado counties while looking at properties there has challenged some of my assumptions about rurality. It has also led me to think more closely about the range of places popularly referred to as “rural,” as well as the varied bases for so labeling them. This question strikes me as particularly interesting at this political moment when we are seeing so much analysis of voting along the rural/urban axis.  By what definition/standard, exactly, are pundits designating some voters “rural”?

Labels like rural and the companion term non-metro are linked to metrics such as size of population cluster. They may also reference population density and proximity to a metropolitan area, too. As used in common parlance, they also refer to social and cultural features.

As I’ve acknowledged before, my quintessential rural place is Newton County, Arkansas, where I grew up. I am well aware, of course, that many places which are fairly characterized as rural are neither as remote nor as sparsely populated as my little corner of Arkansas, which has a current population of about 8,600 and a population density of 10 persons/square mile. As such, Newton County is the least-densely populated county – and therefore arguably the “most rural” one—in a state popularly perceived as rural in its entirety. Newton County features other characteristics associated with rurality, including what I call attachment to place (meaning many families have lived there for several generations, which makes people reluctant to leave), lack of development, and poverty.

So, how are Amador, Calaveras, and El Dorado counties, which are popularly considered rural counties in California, fundamentally different from places considered rural in Arkansas? Their population densities are 60 per square mile (p/s/m), 39 p/s/m, and 91 p/s/m, respectively. (Coincidentally, Newton County (AR) and Amador County (CA) have virtually identical land areas, at just over 600 square miles each). In addition to being somewhat more densely populated, many residents of these California counties are “newcomers.” They’ve come from elsewhere – often from California’s metropolitan areas – looking for a different pace and style of life. Many of them are exurban, commuting or tele-commuting to the Bay area or Sacramento. While commuting times for Newton County residents (36 minutes one way) are similar to those faced by those living in these California counties (ranging from 29 to 35 minutes), more Newton County residents are likely commuting outside the county to find jobs in economies that are only slightly more developed and diversified, while these “rural” California residents are more likely commuting into metropolitan centers.

Still, the percentage of residents who, as of 2000, had moved to each of these counties in the past 5 years was remarkably similar. In each, the population (over the age of 5 years) coming from a different county (including those from different states) ranged from 23% (the low in Newton County, AR) to 29% (the high, in Amador County, CA). While a larger percentage of those moving into the California counties were from other California counties (3.5% for Calaveras County compared to 10% for Newton County), this is perhaps not surprising given the much greater population of California. So, the percentage of newcomers into all of these places was not significantly different, even though I tend to think of these California counties as less static and less associated with intergenerational attachment to place than rural Arkansas. In fact, I’ve been aware anecdotally of the significant numbers of newcomers to Newton County in recent years, but wouldn’t have set the number as high as the Census Bureau reports.

Other statistics on education and income also provide insights in the differences and similarities among the places. While only 70% of Newton County’s residents have a high school diploma or equivalent, the rates in Amador, Calaveras and El Dorado Counties range from 84-91%, the highest being El Dorado County, the most nearly metropolitan, the most exurban. The median household income in 1999 in Newton County was $24,756, while it was $41,022 in Calaveras County, $42,280 in Amador County, and $51,484 in El Dorado County. While 15.7% of families in Newton County lived below the poverty line, only 5% of those in El Dorado County did. The Amador and Calaveras County figures were 6.1% and 8.7%, respectively.

In terms of whether or not these places are “rural,” I also tend to think it matters that Arkansas is popularly perceived as a rural state while California is not? Does it mean that the threshold for a place being thought of as “rural” is lower (or higher, depending on how you express it) in California than in Arkansas. That is, if you are in the midst of a state popularly thought of as rural, then for a county to be seen as “rural” in that context requires a very small population cluster within a sparse population. People in Arkansas, for example, would not likely see Jackson (population 3,989), the seat of Amador County, as rural – and technically it is not, under the U.S. Census Bureau definition. For most Arkansans, population clusters of that size, particularly if they are county seats, are thought of as “cities.” (Plus, Jackson has a Lowe’s and many other amenities associated with micropolitan areas). For most Californians, on the other hand, it is thought of as “rural.”

Another way of expressing this is that what is perceived as “rural” or “urban” may be relative. So, in a state where the largest metropolitan statistical area (Los Angeles) is 17.7 million (the 2d largest metro area in the country), a population cluster of 4,000 seems rural. Also, part of what the Californians may be referring to with that label is less spatial (in terms of population density and physical distance from a city) than it is cultural. And perhaps these places are rural culturally, particularly in contrast with California’s several metropolises, which dominate our popular consciousness about the Golden State. At the same time, California does have counties that are much more rural by measures such as size of population clusters and population density; Mono, Inyo, Alpine, and Trinity counties come to mind.

Thinking just in terms of culture, all of Arkansas – including its two Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas (Little Rock and the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers conurbation) – is arguably rural. Certainly some of the more cosmopolitan residents (often non-native) of these urban areas might disagree (or, alternatively, agree heartily based on how they see the “locals”), but to some extent it is a fair characterization of the state. Plus, a much larger percentage of the state’s population live in rural places and in non-metro counties.

So what is rural? Perhaps, like beauty, it's in the eye of the beholder.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Electing Judges: Are the downsides for rural America even greater?

Adam Liptak writes in this morning's New York Times about a practice widespread in the United States but rare elsewhere in the world: electing judges. He highlights how politicizing the judiciary in this way can skew how decisions are made, and he features the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court election, describing it this way:
The vote came after a bitter $5 million campaign in which a small-town trial
judge with thin credentials ran a television advertisement falsely suggesting that the only black justice on the state Supreme Court had helped free a black rapist. The challenger unseated the justice with 51 percent of the vote, and will join the court in August.
Liptak reports that 87 % of state court judges are elected and that at least some judges are elected in 39 states.

The story reminded me of the particular problem presented by judicial elections in rural places. While the state-wide election that Liptak describes drew big money, including that from independent groups who jumped into the advertising fray, some additional problems may arise in rural areas. Judges there may be influenced by not only by the need to be seen as "tough on crime" for purposes of getting re-elected, their decisions in individual cases may also be influenced by personal relationships with litigants.

My recent research and writing about domestic violence in rural contexts indicates that various scholars have noted the challenges associated with small-town judges in the context of these and other gender-sensitive contexts. Some of the problems arise from lack of judicial education about psycho-social phenomena such as the cycle of violence that leads women to return to abusive partners. Other problems arise from judges being part of the "good ol' boy" networks that include perpetrators. Appointing judges would not necessarily solve this problem. That is, those appointed, if local, are still going to know folks in the community. However, an appointments process might diminish the pressure these judges feel to favor their cronies. Better judicial education for all judges, including those serving rural communities, about all forms of violence against women (e.g., rape, domestic abuse) presumably also helps. Indeed, this is one use that has been made of funding under the rural category of Violence Against Women Grants from the DOJ Office of Violence Against Women for the past decade, and there is some evidence it is improving outcomes, such as the granting of more protective orders.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An extreme lack of anonymity in micropolitan North Dakota, with a little help from the law

A Dan Barry piece in the NYT yesterday featured Detective Amanda McNamee of the Dickinson (North Dakota) Police Dept. , the officer in that small city of 16,000 who keeps track of its 20 registered sex offenders. It's fairly typical of Barry's "This Land" series. What it reminded me of is the lack of anonymity that marks rural (or, technically, for Dickinson, "micropolitan") places -- but writ large for sex offenders. Not only are they more likely to be known because it's a relatively small place and there is that "high density of acquaintanceship" that sociologists write about, they are known as sex offenders because of the notices that appear in the newspaper to inform the public, in boiler-plate text, that a "high-risk offender has moved to town." So, law aids the lack of anonymity in the cases of these men.

In fact, the story implies that most of the offenders are not from Dickinson. Perhaps they move there seeking a fresh start, and/or perhaps because so-called Megan's laws prevent them from living in cities, where it's hard to avoid settling too close to a school or other forbidden location. This makes me wonder about the impact of this lack of information privacy on their rehabilitation prospects, especially in the context of communities so short on social services.

Don't miss this about the "hillbilly" vote

This article in Salon by Dee Davis is terrific, and the headline alone merits attention: "Why don't those hillbillies like Obama?" Davis says that the issue is not just Obama's "Appalachia problem," it is the Democratic Party's wider "rural problem." He notes that Hillary has attracted 55% of rural voters, Obama 38%, across all the primaries to date. What does this portend for the fall, when rural voters, who Davis suggests have something significant in common across regions, may decide who becomes President?

Of course, Maureen Dowd suggested last week after the W. Virginia primary was that the problem is Appalachia's, and it is race. She's not the only one. But an eloquent college student from Whitesburg, Kentucky responded in an NPR audio essay this afternoon, rejecting the idea that Appalachia is rejecting Obama on the basis of his race . . . Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More on the rural vote in the wake of the Kentucky and Oregon primaries

So, Clinton has, of course, won Kentucky, and Obama has, of course, won Oregon. Both are states with significant rural populations. Hillary's been associated with rural voters -- particularly in recent days, particularly in the wake of her trouncing Obama in West Virginia last week. But if rural voters love Hillary, why didn't she make a better showing in Oregon where, an NPR commentator told us this evening, Hillary focused on the rural eastern part of the state?

Here' s my theory: Hillary appeals to what I call traditional rural communities, those populated with long-time rural residents. The multi-generational rural residents are the ones who appreciate her -- the type of folks you find in eastern Kentucky. But the demographic in rural Oregon is different. Many of the rural residents there haven't lived in Oregon -- let alone rural Oregon, for generations. They are more the newcomers, the "back to nature" or "escape from it all" type of transplant somewhat associated with what I have called rural gentrification. (The same may be true of Idaho, for example, which Obama carried. But unlike in Oregon, perhaps there aren't that many Democrats anywhere in Idaho, and the ones there are definitely the Obama types, be they rural or urban). So, does Obama attract "rural hippies" and Hillary long-time, intergenerational rural residents? Maybe, although Hillary's showing in Oregon's more rural counties was certainly respectable. As in many other states with significant rural populations, urban voters may still easily outnumber their rural counterparts.

In any event, if my idea about their two being two broad classes of rural voters is accurate, it still leaves for me the question of why Hillary attracts the traditional, intergenerational type of rural voters. Don't get me wrong. I'm a a big fan of Hillary. (I grew up in Arkansas, and she was a significant role model for me, albeit a distant one. I, after all, was the daughter of a truck driver and a teacher's aide in a v. small town; she was a big city lawyer, the wife of the governor who undertook to reform the state's education system. By the time I was in college, too late to benefit from it, my rural school was finally required to offer a foreign language, and it got ag/vo-tech classes, too. But I digress . . . ) Why do traditional, long-time rural voters, often described as working-class and poorly educated by the political pundits, support Hillary? When I was growing up in Arkansas, the rural folk I lived amongst generally loved Bill, even though they often reviled Hillary. What has changed? Are these rural voters now gender-progressive and gender-enlightened? Is their loyalty to Hillary a knock-on consequence of their affection for Bill Clinton? Or are they simply racists reacting against Obama? Recent media accounts suggest the latter.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A few cities suffering the population loss associated with rural America

A story in today's NYT is headlined "As Deaths Outpace Births, Cities Adjust." The story is actually about just a handful of cities (e.g., Buffalo, Duluth, Pittsburgh) experiencing the phenomenon of "natural" decrease in population, i.e., deaths outpacing births. In spite of the article's focus on cities, the counties suffering steepest population loss (as depicted in the graphic/map) are in the Plains states, with a few others scattered widely across the country. Appalachia doesn't reflect the steepest decline, but a fairly consistent decline is evident across the northern part of that region (West Virginia and parts of Pennsylvania, for example). So, to a great extent, this story (and certainly the graphic/map accompanying it) is about rural and small-town America, which get mentioned:

What demographers call a natural decrease has been occurring for years in tiny rural towns and in some retirement meccas in the South. But the phenomenon is relatively new in metropolitan areas in the Northeast, the Rust Belt of the Middle West and Appalachia.

Another interesting thing about the map that accompanies the story is that the natural increase/decrease it depicts is nevertheless greatly impacted by immigration. I've recently written about the influx of Latina/os into the non-metropolitan South, where their presence is not only bolstering sheer numbers, it is also associated with a boom in births that is countering the graying of the rural areas where they are concentrated.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Chief Justice of W. Virginia Supreme Court loses in primary

I wrote in January about Justice Elliot E. Maynard's apparent conflict-of-interest problem after photos of him with a Massey Energy Company chief executive were made public. The two were shown together, while reportedly vacationing separately, on the French Riviera and in Monaco in 2006. About a year later, he ruled in favor of Massey in a case in which a $50 million judgment was at stake. This week, Maynard lost in the Democratic primary for re-election to the state Supreme Court. This outcome seems fitting, even in a state marked by what sociologists call a "high density of acquaintanceship," where judges are likely to know lots of folks, including the litigants whose cases they hear.

The three candidates now on the November ballot for state Supreme Court Justice include two women: Democrat Margaret Workman and Republican Beth Walker. The third candidate is Menis Kethcum, another Democrat. With the three vying for two seats, that means that at least one of the women will be elected. (Workman was previously elected to the court, in 1998).

Indeed, while I have written about the entrenched nature of patriarchy in rural places, Appalachia (well, West Virginia in any event) might be starting to see real movement on that front. I was pleased to see earlier this spring that Joyce McConnell, a long-time faculty member at the University of West Virginia law school, will be its next dean. Having women in such highly visible, state-wide leadership roles is ultimately beneficial to all women in the region, if for no other reason than as role models.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rural China and the quake

Stories of the quake in Sichuan Province earlier this week seem to be using the word "rural" more in the past few days to describe both the epicenter and the devastated towns and villages nearby. The earliest images and reports were out of cities, but we are now seeing photos like these.

The caption for the photo, left (Peter Parks, Agence France-Presse Getty Images): "A rescuer carried an elderly woman from Beichuan, one of many towns that had been inaccessible after the quake." Top right is a photo of Yingxiu, in Wenchuan County (the quake's epicenter). (Photo Chen Kai/Xinhua, via AP). With some high rise apartments buildings visible, it might not look very "rural" by U.S. standards, but that is what a caption in the print edition of the NYT today labeled it. The same NYT caption put the "city's" population at about 10,000 (among whom an estimated 2,300 survived). That would make it "micropolitan" (a form of "non-metropolitan") under the OMB definition. Certainly, this aerial photo suggests that it is remote.

I have often thought that, even though the rural-urban divide in the developed world is relevant to so many issues, the divide between the urban "haves" and the rural "have nots" is much greater in the developing world. (These issues include, for purposes of natural disasters, delivery of services, although the handling of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, respectively, may defy my general rule.) Yes, I realize that a characterization as "developing" is not really accurate as applied to China, but perhaps it helps make my point that in countries like China (South Africa and India are other examples), the urban part of the country is highly developed -- as developed as Europe or the United States. That part of the county we think of as the "first world." The rural parts, on the other hand, are "developing." You may be thinking, but isn't that so by definition? Doesn't "rural" connote "undeveloped"? Yes and no.

What I am talking about is a matter of degree. Sure, a lifestyle and services gap exists between rural and urban residents in highly and more uniformly developed countries. That's what I've been writing about for a few years now. It isn't nearly as vast, however, as in countries like China and South Africa, where great numbers of rural residents don't have access, for example, to basic sanitation. (I realize that the same is also true for some urban residents in these countries, as in the townships in South Africa and the hutongs in Beijing). In these countries, the divide between their world-class cities and extremely deprived rural areas is much sharper than in the U.S. The gap seems largely unbridged socially and economically, except as rural residents migrate to cities for work, and the hope of a better life.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"rough road to the mountaintop"

In her victory speech last night, Hillary Clinton used some rural imagery, including that line, to thank voters in the Mountain State for giving her 67% of the vote in the Democratic primary.

The early news analysis I heard last evening focused on her now well-documented and often-commented upon attraction to lesser-educated, working class and -- yes, rural-- voters. In other words, no wonder she won West Virginia and is likely to win Kentucky. Obama's alleged elitism may hurt him with some voters -- such as these still flocking to Hillary. I wonder, however, if her association with this less savory stratum of society has in fact helped him a great deal because most Americans are, in fact, also elitist in one way or another. Perhaps they don't want to be aligned with a candidate to whom these common folk are attracted?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Another ICE raid in rural America

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials arrested 300 workers yesterday in the largest immigration raid of the year. That large raid was in the small town of Postville, Iowa, population 2,273. A population that size makes Postville, in the northeast corner of the state, "rural" under the Census Bureau definition.

This comes on the heels of other raids in rural and micropolitan locales this year, including the April ones on Pilgrim's Pride locations in Moorefield, West Virginia (population 2,375), Batesville, Arkansas (population 9,556), Live Oak, Florida (population 6.480), and Mount Pleasant, Texas (population 13,935). Many raids last year were also on meat and poultry processing plants in rural places.

I'm not suggesting that the ICE folks are picking on rural people or places. They are presumably just going where they believe the unauthorized migrants to be concentrated. As I have recently written, those concentrations are now increasingly in rural America.

Rural Largesse? Hardly

A story in today's NYT tells of Ewing, Kentucky's recent tax windfall -- about $12K worth of funds diverted (legally!) from a county tax. A town of 300 in the Appalachian region of the state, Ewing is debating what to do with the money. The front-runner seems to be a new sewer system, but that would cost $6 million and would also require grants, and perhaps loans. Other contenders: sidewalks to the school, a police officer to slow the traffic that speeds through, and a park.

Apparently, Erik Eckholm, who wrote this story and who often covers rural issues for the Times, learned about happenings in Ewing after its mayor, Wally Thomas, wrote a post for the Daily Yonder. I like Eckholm's closing quote from Thomas, who apparently frequently drives out of town for work: "There's no better feeling than coming back to a small town like this to lay your head down at night." And that, in he end, is what saves many rural communities from total extinction -- the fact that even though they cannot support people economically (as with jobs) people (often including exurban/rural wannabe types) are willing to commute to live there.

Monday, May 12, 2008

California's 10% Across-the-Board Budget Cut May Hit Rural Law Enforcement Hardest

This article in the Sacramento Bee explores a recent proposal to end state assistance to law enforcement in California's 37 least populated counties. In Glenn County, population 26,453 and 1327 square miles, only two sheriff's deputies are available to patrol the county in the early morning. According to the article, Glenn County Sheriff Sgt. Jim Miranda put it this way, "I have one who covers the north and one who covers the south. Now, is that acceptable for anywhere? If I'm out here in the middle of the night at 4 o'clock in the morning on a car stop and my closest backup is 20 minutes away, I mean, how much can I enforce? Even if I wanted to?" Now, because of Gov. Schwaerzenegger's propsed ten percent across the board state budget cut, California's rural law enforcement assistance may be about to end. That added up to $500,000 for Glenn County. California State Senate Republican Leader Dave Cogdill has claimed his caucus will fight to preserve the assistance program in part because rural counties have come to rely on it so much. Without, it's unclear how badly rural law enforcement will be affected, but Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones claimed, "[p]ublic safety would be in dire jeopardy if further inroads were made into my budget."

New State Responses to the Working (Rural) Poor

A story by Rachel Swarns in today's New York Times reports on state programs to assist the working poor. A graphic accompanying the story shows states that have either implemented these programs or are considering them.

Many of these programs have been implemented to respond to two phenomena: (1) the consequences of welfare reform, which was initiated in 1996, and (2) more recently, the economic downturn. Jack Tweedie of the National Conference of State Legislatures counsels states, including Arkansas, on poverty issues. He says that while the prior goal was getting parents off welfare, “the emphasis now is much more on work and helping parents stay in work.” As Swarns is quick to note, these programs are not entirely altruistic. To the extent that the programs keep people working and off welfare, they protect states' funding from the federal government. She writes:

Advocates for low-income families point out, however, that benefits are so low in some states that officials seem to be more focused on meeting federal work requirements than on helping the working poor. Federal officials say the programs may siphon money from the welfare recipients they were intended to serve.

Some of the state programs offer a mere pittance to recipients. Massachusetts, for example, pays just $7/month to food stamp recipients, and Michigan provides just $10/month for 6 months. As Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Priorities expresses it, one issue is "how rich is the benefit? Is it nominal, or is it an amount that will really help?”

While the anecdotes offered by Swarns are all urban (Little Rock area, in particular), I note that most of the states that have implemented such "safety nets" or which are considering them are states popularly thought of as rural and/or with significant rural populations. Swarns focuses on the Arkansas program, which is one of the more generous. It pays $204/month for up to 24 months. Among the other generous programs are those in Utah, Oregon, North Dakota, and New Mexico -- also states with very large rural populations. I wonder if this is a coincidence or reflects state lawmakers' understanding of the added burden that welfare reform placed on the rural poor.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Preserve Our Rural Lifestyle

I've been seeing signs like this on recent trips to El Dorado County, California, not far from where I live in Sacramento. As you will have guessed, the campaign slogan caught my eye. Teresi is running for the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors. This sign is at the intersection of Grizzly Flat Road (love that place name!) and Mt. Aukum Road in the tiny community of Somerset. It's just a wide spot in the road with one heck of a good restaurant, the Gold Vine Grill, thanks to the surrounding wine region.

But El Dorado County is not small in land area or population. It covers 1,788 square miles from the Sacramento County line to South Lake Tahoe and the Nevada border; its population is 156,299. A great deal of it is National Forest, and it includes two highly populated areas: El Dorado Hills, an upscale exurb of Sacramento with a population of 18,000, and historic Placerville (aka Old Hangtown), the county seat, population 9,610. Here's a county map, which also shows the five districts. Teresi is running for county supervisor for District 2, that wide east-west swath that is essentially the southern half of the county.

Based on my description, you can imagine that El Dorado County politics, to a great extent, might boil down to a battle among the "cities" on one hand, the Lake Tahoe region on another, and the rest -- the rural remainder. Maybe that tension is what Teresi is playing on. If elected, he would represent a big chunk of what might be fairly classified as rural by several measures (note the home-made sign next to his is for a 4-H event), but which also borders on exurban, or rural gentrification. Let's just say that, particularly with the burgeoning wine region, a second-home aesthetic is evident in parts of that district. (You probably cannot see Teresi's photo well enough to tell that grapevines appear to be the background).

So, this sent me to Teresi's website to look at what it might say about rural matters. Turns out, it doesn't say that much about rurality. He does use the phrase "rural quality of life," but in a separate paragraph from the mention of traffic congestion. And he notes the threat to the "rural lifestyle" from the expansion of an airfield in neighboring Sacramento County.

In any event, I can see why Teresi chose the slogan. Like the use of "rural" in many contexts, it evokes nostalgia -- in both oldtimers and newcomers. Indeed, that may be the greatest benefit of the slogan: it plays to each group's notion of what makes rurality worthy of preservation.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Rurality and the F.L.D.S.

We've all seen images of the Yearning for Zion Ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (F.L.D.S.). Photos have been plentiful in the media in the wake of the early April raid there, outside Eldorado, in west Texas. It looks pretty remote. (Photo right, Tony Gutierrez for Associated Press)

Today's New York Times features a photo of a member of the previously better-known F.L.D.S. branch on the Utah-Arizona border. Again, remote. This most recent story is about concern among church members in that locale that they, too, may soon be raided. According to a 2004 story in the Times, other F.L.D.S. outposts are in Mancos, Colorado; Bountiful, British Columbia; and Galeana in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico.

So why does the F.L.D.S. church locate in remote, rural places like Colorado City, Arizona (population 3,334), Mancos, Colorado (population 1,119) and Eldorado, Texas (population 1,951)? There are surely many reasons, cheap land no doubt among them. But the extreme remoteness from metropolitan centers, and removal even from micropolitan areas, also surely plays a role. (Eldorado is 45 miles from the regional center of San Angelo and 160 miles from San Antonio; Colorado City 45 miles from St. George, Utah and 161 miles from Las Vegas). I assume that the leaders who purchased the land that is now the YFZ compound in Eldorado must have been looking to get off (or stay off) the radar screens of law enforcement, and out of the influence of mainstream culture, too. They were presumably hoping to achieve the enhanced privacy associated with rural locales, to stay out of the way of others and to have others stay out of their business, too. Indeed, such considerations are probably quite similar to those that took the mainstream L.D.S. church to Utah in the late 1800s, when it, too, practiced polygamy.

It's a strategy long-employed by many fringe groups (and individuals, for that matter), but in this case, it didn't work. Indeed, a story from the New York Times in 2004, about a year after F.L.D.S. purchased the 1,700-acre ranch and when the temple there was barely under construction, indicates that, even then, Eldoradans were keeping a close watch on their new neighbors.

And that's the paradox of rural privacy. Spatial isolation provides something of a buffer for those seeking privacy. At the same time, however, rural communities tend to know their neighbors' "business." They also tend to have low thresholds for difference, for the "other." Unlike at the Arizona-Utah border, where the sect has had its base for decades, they were relative newcomers to Eldorado, and the object of much suspicion. They have been outsiders with practices the locals found repugnant.

In contrast, today's story quotes authorities in Utah and Arizona as indicating that are planning no raids; rather, they will pursue any allegations of abuse on a case-by-case basis -- as they did against leader Warren Jeffs, convicted last year of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old. Maybe Utah and Arizona are taking a different approach because the Texas raid has proved to be a PR debacle -- albeit not to the extent one might expect. Maybe it's because the F.L.D.S. don't really constitute the "other" in Utah. Again, they have been in that locale for decades, and they stem, however long ago, from the same root as the mainstream Mormon church (much to the dismay of the latter), which has a huge presence in that region.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Drug War in Rural California

A segment on the California Report on May 6 reported on law enforcement's successful shut down of meth labs in California's Central Valley in recent years. Journalist Sasha Khokha said rural communities now fear a resurgence of the labs there because of cuts to a key federal grant, the Byrne Grant, that has facilitated inter-agency activity against them in recent years.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Did the Supreme Court give Indiana to Sen. Clinton?

Recently, the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter ID law. That ruling faced its first real test today. While the big news impact was the disenfranchisement of several South Bend nuns, with the Democratic contest so close, one has to wonder whether the law had an impact on the outcome of tonight's election. It does seem, at least preliminarily, that the number of voters being turned away due to a lack of ID was not significant, but given the recent press coverage of the Indiana law and Supreme Court decision, it begs to reason that some folks may have chosen not to go into the polls on account of lacking photo ID. There's some evidence that would suppress some of Clinton's strength in rural counties, but may have had much more far-reaching effects for Sen. Obama among voters of color. With fewer that 25,000 votes deciding the outcome, one has to wonder, did Crawford v. Marion County Election Board give Indiana to Sen. Clinton?

Monday, May 5, 2008

"Designated Ambassador to the Smaller Parts of the Country"

That's the title Bill Clinton has given himself as he campaigns in places like Zebulon, Morganton, and New Bern, North Carolina, even as Hillary campaigns in the more populous Cary and Greenville. Read the New York Times story by Adam Nagourney here. He speculates that Clinton may have gotten his "campaign groove back" because of where he's campaigning:

One explanation is rooted in where Mr. Clinton is spending his time: 21 small communities in North Carolina and Indiana between Saturday morning and Monday night. Mr. Clinton spoke wryly about the “big East Coast writer” who had suggested that Mr. Clinton had been relegated by his wife’s campaign to the boonies.

“I love it here,” he said.

The truth is that some of Mr. Clinton’s best moments in 1992 were on bus tours that brought him to small towns and villages where people lined the street to see a potential future president, much the way they were lined outside the high school waiting to see him here.

Seems plausible. The man from Hope and all that. I wonder if his Arkansas accent has made a come back, too.

A distinct rural culture under threat

A story in yesterday's New York Times depicted an extreme example of several characteristics associated with rural communities, among them inter-generational attachment to place and remoteness. The story is about Sapelo Island, Georgia, and more specifically, the community of Hog Hammock.

Journalist Shaila Dawan describes the place, which has been "discovered by speculators and wealthy weekenders."

Reachable only by boat or ferry, Hog Hammock is one of the last settlements of the Geechee people, also called the Gullah, who in the days before air-conditioning and bug repellent had the Sea Islands virtually to themselves and whose speech and ways, as a result, retained a distinctly African flavor.

Unlike many rural communities under similar threat, Hog Hammock's residents are not ambivalent about development and what it brings. They adamantly oppose it, and say they need help holding on to their land. The story's closing quote is from an island resident.

“On the verge of sounding racist — which I have been accused of, which I don’t give a hoot — I would rather my community be all black,” said Cornelia Bailey, an island historian, writer and proprietor of a bed and breakfast called the Wallow. “I would rather have my community what it was in the ’50s. . . .My land is for my children, my grandchildren and even for the unborn. ”

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Backwoods Barbie

How can a ruralist-feminist like me resist a headline like that -- which happens to be the name of Dolly Parton's latest album and tour. Here's the quite positive review from the New York Times,. Interesting that this review is the cover story for the Saturday Arts section--but then it is reviewing her show at Radio City Music Hall, not the Grand Ole Opry.

The feminist in me is rendered (almost) speechless by what I read of Parton's monologue between songs. "Complex interior life" and "power of independent thought," indeed.

And another installment of Primary Pen & Ink

This one contrasts liberal Asheville, with its large second-home population, with the surrounding county. These two slides, depicting the perennial rural tension between old timers and new comers, between tradition and change (a/k/a growth), are my favorites. That's the rural conundrum, no?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Small-town (a/k/a Mill town) North Carolina as depicted in Primary Pen & Ink

See the entire strip about "Whiteville" by Campbell Robertson here. In it, the cartoonist depicts small-town N.C. concerns among a population of mostly Democratic Party supporters. Mount Airy, another mill town with an Obama office, is nearby. In the strip, Whiteville is preparing for a campaign stop by former President Bill Clinton, and the strip notes that he has visited "map dots as small as Deep Run (pop. 200)." In nearby Mount Airy, an Obama supporter is out talking jobs -- and Wal-Mart.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Did you hear about Schwarzenegger's put down of "little town" legislators?

Not sure if this has been or will be picked up in the national media, but here's a quote from today's Sacramento Bee.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday it's good for state legislators from "little towns" to globe-trot and see worldly things like "an airport," "a highway that maybe has 10 lanes" or even "a highway on top of a highway."

The Republican governor, at an infrastructure conference hosted by billionaire Michael Milken, said he has benefited by riding high-speed trains in France and China, which gave him more inspiration to support similar projects in California.

"And that's why I always encourage the legislators in Sacramento, because some of them come from those little towns," Schwarzenegger said. "You know what I'm saying? They come from those little towns, and they don't have that vision yet of an airport or of a highway that maybe has 10 lanes. Or of putting a highway on top of a highway. They look at you and say, 'Well, we don't have that in my town, what are you talking about?' So they are kind of shocked when you say certain things."

His comments on small-town legislators drew laughs and applause from the big-city audience at the Beverly Hilton.

State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, said he's actually seen an airport or two in his day. He's also been on freeways on top of other freeways, even though his Central Valley hometown has only about 14,000 residents.

"Does the governor think that I just normally fly up on 'crop dusters' to Sacramento field by field?" Florez said. "The governor doesn't live like most people and points to rural legislators as down on the rung of trying to understand what modern society is.

"It's just insulting."

I agree that it's insulting of small-town folks, especially in a place like California where very, very few places are that rural in terms of remoteness from an urban/metropolitan center, and therefore from urban influence. I also note the irony of Schwarzenegger touting 10-lane highways on the day we learned that Sacramento remains one of the most polluted cities in America, largely due to to automobile exhaust. Many other California cities are on the list of worst offenders, according to the American Lung Association.

Yep, just what we need, Arnie: more 10-lane highways, more congestion, more and bigger metropolises. Isn't it clear by now that such a future is not sustainable? (OK, to give him credit, he did mention high speed trains in France and China -- now there's a good idea!).