Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The rural vote in Australia: A story of population and service loss

On my recent trip "down under," a front page story in the Melbourne newspaper, The Age, caught my eye. The headline for the Nov. 16, 2010 story was "Fields of Discontent." In the run up to the state parliamentary elections, it discussed the situation in a farming area called the Mallee, in the far northwestern part of the state of Victoria. The sub head on the front page was telling: "There might be only 50 people in Werrimull, but they do vote." A further subhead stated: "Unlike their city cousins, Werrimull locals such as Ron Hards, don't have to fret about the quality of the local hospital, or the punctuality of the trains. These services are long gone."

The story unfolds as the headline and subheads suggest: a rural place with an agricultural base suffering population loss and an attendant loss of services. The story focuses not only on Werrimull, but on the wider district in which it sits within the Mallee region, which is the Millewa. Werrimull has just one school, the P12, but the story discusses the town's kindergarten as the institution most at risk. With just 14 children, classes have been cut back to just one day a week, whereas it met twice a week just three years ago. This kinder is the only on in the Millewa, and one family travels 100 km round trip to reach it. To be open for two days now, journalist Darren Gray reports, each resident of Werrimull would have to donate $1000--on top of funding from the state. An organizer of the local kindergarten comments:
Our kids deserve the same opportunities that the children in town get and they deserve an education. ... They need to change the way they fund kinders. And instead of funding per child, fund for a teacher ... And at least have a look t the way they fund rural areas.
Gray observes, however, that "Politicians don't venture into the Millewa too often, and when they do, they don't bring a funding solution for the local kinder with them." He also lists other issues likely to influence how residents vote:
[T]he state of "The Millewa" road running east-west through the district and its lack of bitumen shoulder, the controversial $692 million north-south pipeline built to suck water from the Goulburn River but now sitting idle, the government's response to the expected locust plague and the lack of local health services.
Gray and those he quotes suggest that the current labor government in Victoria is unlikely to fare well with Millewa voters, in light of these issues.

Finally, the story touches on other rural themes, including attachment to place and population loss. About a century ago, the Millewa was part of a "closer resettlement scheme" which "carved up enormous pieces of land to lure settles to the bush." Early on, Werrimull had a population of 1000, and a "bush nursing hospital, three churches, government offices, a doctor, police station, local town hall and a bank." Now, many of those who remain are descendants of those who came to The Millewa nearly a hundred years ago--including Jess Hards, the woman quoted regarding the local kinder. She is the daughter in law of Ron Hards, the farmer featured in the story, whose family were among the region's pioneers.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rural/Regional Law and Justice in Australia

I've not been blogging much for the past few weeks because I was in Australia to give a couple of lectures regarding my work on law and rural livelihoods. One of my talks was in Warrnambool, western Victoria, for the Rural/Regional Law and Justice Conference hosted by Deakin University, 19-21 November. I was a key note speaker, along with Professor Daniela Stehlik, Director of the Northern Institute of Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory, and Alex Ward, President of the Law Council of Australia. The organizer of the event was Richard Coverdale, a lecturer in law at Deakin (which has campuses in Geelong, Melbourne, and Warrnambool). He has written a very interesting paper called Postcode Justice (about variations in access to justice from place to place and particularly along the rural-urban continuum), which he presented at the event. The conference included several dozen papers categorized according to three threads: Legal Practice, Social Justice, and Legal Service Systems.

I'll be writing more over the next few weeks about what I learned regarding law and justice in rural Australia and, more particularly, academic and policy attention to these issues in the Australian context. For now, here is a link to a press release issued by Deakin University in the wake of the event.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXXIII): Woman charged with assault, allowing abuse of her children

The November 17, 2010 issue of the Newton County Times reports that a 51-year-old woman has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of permitting abuse of a minor and a single count of battery int he second degree. All are class De felonies. A hearing was set for October, but the female defendant failed to appear. The woman's 14-year-old son allegedly told her that he had engaged in sexual contact with his younger sisters, aged 13 and 11 and that he continued to have contact with the elder sister. The complaint alleged that the mother "recklessly failed to take action to protect" the female children "from further exposure." In addition, the 11-year-old also sent a letter to the defendant, detailing the brother's abuse of the girl. The defendant allegedly responded by "hitting the girl in the face, knocking out a tooth," which led to the battery charge. The aggravated assault charges stem from incidents when (1) the defendant sat on the 13-year-old child, holding her hands behind her back and striking her legs and buttocks with a board and (2) the defendant stuffed socks into the same child's mouth, then hit and punched her. The children's father also reportedly abused them--by shaking them.

The Department of Human Services has removed all four children from the home.

Other news regarding criminal charges involves failure to pay child support, possession of controlled substances (methamphetamine) with intent to deliver, and making and uttering hot checks.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Arguably, the common denominator is class

The premise of this story in the New York Times is that Barack Obama and John Boehner have nothing in common. What it fails to see is that both are from unprivileged economic backgrounds--which I see as significant common ground. To use the term coined by Joan Williams, they are both "class migrants."

If you read, Dreams from my Father, you get a good sense of President Obama's upbringing. The formative influences were not "upper class," although his parents were well educated, and his mother eventually earned a PhD. But Obama's maternal grandparents were solidly working class, and he spent many of his earliest years living under their roof and their supervision in Hawaii. They had a profound influence on him. (Some have suggested that if Obama got back in touch with this narrative and played it up, he would be a much more successful politician right now). The New York Times earlier told us more about John Boehner's upbringing than, perhaps, we ever wanted to know: Boehner grew up working in his father's bar in a suburb of Cincinnati and graduated from Xavier University in Cincinnati. He's a working class kid made good, while a couple of his 11 siblings are reportedly unemployed, and most are in blue-collar jobs.

The key difference between these two men, both from relatively unprivileged backgrounds, is that one ascended to power largely through elite education while the other did so by being a baron of commerce, by playing (and winning) the free-market game.

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXXII): "New" jail now likely to be in "old" nursing home

The front page of the Nov. 3 issue of the Newton County Times is chock full of law and order news. First, it reports the arrests of four men for various thefts and burglaries. Three of the arrests were made by the Boone County Sheriff's Department action in cooperation with Newton County authorities. These three arrests involved residential and commercial burglaries in neighboring Boone County, and one suspect was also facing drug-related charges in Newton County.

The other arrest was of a 24-year-old Newton County resident, Shane Middleton. He allegedly broke into the Dollar General Store and the Jasper Farm Supply, both in Jasper. Middleton is charged with commercial burglary and theft of property and is being held without bond.

In other news, it appears that the county will move ahead with turning its old nursing home (currently an annex to the county courthouse) into the county jail. This is because the bids to build a new jail have come in substantially higher than earlier anticipated, primarily because the soil on proposed site of the new jail has proved unsuitable for a septic tank, and the site is too far from the city water system to feasibly link to it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Parsing the rural mid-term vote

See this New York Times graphic showing how various demographic groups voted in the recent mid-term election. Most demographic groups, e.g., women, men, all voters aged 30 and over, Catholics, Protestants, Midwesterners and Southerners supported Republicans. Rural voters also supported Republicans--by a margin of 28%. This compares to suburban voters, who voted Republican by a 12% margin and those living in places with populations between 10,000 and 50,000, who voted Republican by a 14% margin. On the other hand, those living in urban clusters of 500,000 or more supported Democrats by a 32% margin, followed by those living in urban clusters between 50,000 and 500,000, who supported Democrats by a 6% margin.

A related NYT article is here. Another graphic, this one showing movement of various Demographic groups to the right or left (mostly to the right, in varying degrees) in the mid-term election, is here (click no. 10)

For more analysis of the rural vote, see the Daily Yonder's excellent coverage here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Local, in Alaska

William Yardley's report on Lisa Murkowski's apparent success as a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate seat she currently holds makes several references to Alaska's peculiarities--and to the local. Here's an excerpt:

For all the populist anger and legal wrangling in Alaska over federal oversight of its natural resources and protected species, from offshore oil to polar bears, many Alaskans long ago made a pragmatic peace with the arrangement, and they worry what will happen if things change significantly. A third of the state economy depends on federal spending. Many rural villages lack basic plumbing. Only a fraction of Alaska is reachable by road.
Murkowski reportedly said to crowds, “To hell with politics. Let’s do what’s right for Alaska.” She tapped what Yardley characterizes as "provincial pride" to shift the focus away from national concerns--and a Tea Party orientation--back to Alaska.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Midwest at dusk

Read David Brooks' column with that headline in today's New York Times. In articulating an explanation of the mid-term election outcomes, he references the working class (but what does that term mean anymore?), and he suggests the relevance of geography to the political conundrum of our time. That is, he suggests --by reference the midwest (oddly defined, I might add, as Pennsylvania down to Arkansas)--that the Democrats' difficulty in connecting to the working class is as much a function of geography (the fly-over states versus the coasts) as it is class.

Referring to the "region of America that starts in central New York and Pennsylvania and then stretches out through Ohio and Indiana before spreading out to include Wisconsin and Arkansas," Brooks writes:
[T]his is the beating center of American life — the place where the trajectory of American politics is being determined. If America can figure out how to build a decent future for the working-class people in this region, then the U.S. will remain a predominant power. If it can’t, it won’t.
Hmmm. Can it be that the working class--what Joan Williams calls the "missing middle" is really so important to American politics? And can Brooks be right that the working class in the "midwest" is different to the working class elsewhere in America?

Finally, read a story here about Obama's (and the Democrats') alleged elitism, which arguably alienates the working class as the Democrats' fail to meet the group's needs.

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part LXXI): Trial delayed

The past several issues of the Newton County Times have not featured much news of law-and-order issues, but the Sept. 29 issue did announce that the trial of a woman charged with first-degree murder in the death of her boyfriend was granted a continuance so that the woman might "find an expert witness who might testify that she suffered from Battered Women's Syndrome." Her trial, initially set for late September, was reset for March 17-18, 2011. An earlier post about the case is here.

The Oct. 6, 2010 edition features the lead story, "Bids for a new jail over budget," which reports that the lowest bid for the new Newton County jail came in at nearly $1 million more than the county has available for the project. The sheriff reported that a meeting has been" scheduled with the architect to review the facility's plan to see if the project can be scaled back even further than it already has been or possibly look at other county-owned buildings to see if one might be modified for use as a jail." One building being considered for this purpose is the former county nursing home, which is now being operated as an annex to the county courthouse.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The battle for Colorado's most rural congressional district

Kirk Johnson reports in today's New York Times on the race for Colorado's 3d Congressional district, where three-term incumbent John Salazar is defending against Republican Scott Tipton. The dateline is Creede, Colorado, population 377, the county seat and only incorporated municipality in Mineral County. An excerpt follows:

In Colorado’s huge and mostly rural Third Congressional District, it was a final-push weekend of consolidating support. Both candidates focused on giving their backers a nudge of resolve — a stiffening of the spine, an inspiration to vote and a rationale for doing so. The far-flung district and the small towns in it made the effort a geographic scramble, with appearances by both men in tiny communities hundreds of miles apart, courting a handful of votes that both sides said could decide the election.

The district’s political culture is prickly and unpredictable — Republican on paper, wildly libertarian in spirit, with pockets of Hispanic voters who lean Democratic.