Saturday, September 29, 2018

Rural newspapers should represent the communities they cover

Last month I wrote an article where I discussed the dangers caused by the decline of local newspapers. As I said then, for many rural communities, the local newspaper is the only source of news about local affairs and politics. Without a local news outlet, many rural residents would find themselves without a way to follow their local government and may be kept in the dark regarding the decisions that they make. However, with great power comes great responsibility. In this piece, I want to focus on the responsibilities of a rural media outlet, namely the responsibility to ensure that the diverse perspectives and experiences in the community are respected and heard.

I have been greatly disappointed in my hometown paper, The Robesonian's coverage of Hurricane Florence. As many of you may know, Robeson County, in particular, Lumberton, North Carolina was particularly hard hit by the storm and has sustained serious flooding in its aftermath. I have already covered the bizarre decision to publish a pro-price gouging piece. Now, I would like to focus on an op-ed with an interesting message regarding the quality of life in the area. 

In the op-ed, the editorial board argues that the county's leaders need to do more to ensure that the Lumber River and its associated creeks don't flood during the next major storm, a reasonable argument. After all, Robeson County is a "persistent poverty" county and routinely has the highest poverty rate in North Carolina. The consequences of multiple 1000 year floods are devastating to marginalized people, many of whom are never able to recover from the economic devastation created by such a catastrophic event. Given Robeson County's demographics, it is especially vulnerable and its leaders should work to prevent this from happening in the future. Now - you may think that The Robesonian would have made similar points in their own discussion of why it is important to act. If you thought that however, you would be wrong. They instead decided to focus on the plight of an affluent subdivision and the effects that it would have on the county if its residents decided to leave. I provide you with the offending quote below.
We also worry about our ability to hold on to the talent that is here. Look at Mayfair, which is affluent, populated with people who make this county a better place to live. What can be expected of them at the point? To stay put, cross their fingers, and know that a 1,000-year event can’t happen three times in a generation?
As I said before, a rural newspaper has a unique duty to its readers. Since it is often the only source of local news, it must duly represent the perspectives of its readers and provide information that is relevant to them. At the very least, it should not insult a large portion of its readership by insinuating that a small minority are the only ones who made "this county a better place to live" and that we must take special care to ensure that they don't leave. In discussing why it's important to prevent future flooding, they entirely neglect low-income communities, as well as communities of color. Neglecting the latter group is especially problematic since Robeson County is a minority-majority county with the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River.

It also insinuates that people who live in affluent subdivisions are the only "talented" people in Robeson County, a statement that is also insulting to the vast majority of its readership. It is also problematic for a couple of reasons. First of all, given the issues that many rural areas face in recruiting and retaining skilled young people, it is important that those people feel that their contributions are acknowledged and appreciated, no matter what community they happen to live in. Also, it is important for a local young people to know that talent is not just limited to one geographic location or socioeconomic strata. It is problematic when the local newspaper insinuates that talent is exclusive to one group of people.

It is also misleading to say that these people may opt to leave that affluent subdivision and not just move elsewhere in the area. There are many areas in the county that are not flood prone and someone with the economic means to live in an affluent subdivision (and a desire to move) would likely also have the means to move there. Economically disadvantaged people who live in flood prone areas do not have that same luxury and their voices are missing from this piece.

A rural newspaper has a duty to reflect the perspectives of the people that it serves and in this case, The Robesonian failed greatly. This story should be a cautionary tale and an example of what happens when this duty is neglected.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Neglecting rural in the Carolinas, enough said

See the New York Times report hereSubmerged by Florence, North Carolina's Rural Towns Fight for Attention.  Another rural-oriented story from a few days ago, this one from the Washington Post, is here

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Missouri as a "largely rural" state

Just a quarter of Missouri's population live in "rural" areas as defined by the Census Bureau, but according to this New York Times story about Senator Claire McCaskill's re-election bid, it's a "largely rural state."  Here's the full paragraph:
In a largely rural state that’s trended increasingly red as conservative voters abandoned the Democratic Party — President Trump won here by 19 points in 2016 — being labeled “out of touch” is something Ms. McCaskill can ill afford, particularly with a vote looming on whether to confirm Mr. Trump’s conservative Supreme Court nominee, Brett M. Kavanaugh. 
Polls show Ms. McCaskill in a statistical tie with Mr. Hawley in a race Republicans view as one of their best opportunities to pick up a Democratic seat.
Earlier in the story, Stephanie Saul notes that McCaskill, now rich thanks to a marriage to a St. Louis real-estate developer, has "come a long way from the McCaskill & Son feed mill her family once operated in the southern part of the state," Rolla to be specific.  Her opponent, Republican Josh Hawley, is Stanford- and Yale-educated. Nevertheless, Saul asserts that he fits in better in the rural parts of the state, like the so-called bootheel (the story's dateline is Portageville), because he wears jeans and cowboy boots.  (The bootheel is not only rural, but also notoriously poor; read more here, here and here).  I note that Hawley's webpage says he grew up in Lexington, Missouri, in "rural Lafayette County," but that's more precisely exurban Kansas City, where he attended a private high school.  Lafayette County is part of the Kansas City Metropolitan Statistical area. 

Though Saul seems to give the rural nod to Hawley, McCaskill has at times successfully played  the downhome card: 
In past elections, she has been able to pick off rural and Republican votes with her image as a common-sense Missourian, tough on law and order as a county prosecutor and tough on public expenditures as state auditor. She has frequently invoked the populist Missourian Harry S. Truman and emphasized her moderate voting record and her small-town Missouri roots, endearing herself to Missourians with brash talk, sometimes off message — once telling Tim Russert that she didn’t want her daughters around Bill Clinton.
McCaskill also survived a tough re-election bid in 2012. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Price gouging laws are essential for helping low-income rural residents

The Robesonian, the largest newspaper in Robeson County, North Carolina, a community being hit very hard by Hurricane Florence, decided yesterday to publish an op-ed that extolled the virtues of price gouging. The op-ed, written by Joe Sanders of the right-leaning John Locke Foundation, opines that the empty shelves around North Carolina exist because laws prevent business owners from charging a price that matches the demand for the good. He goes on to say that if business owners were able to charge whatever they wanted, the shelves would not be empty and necessary supplies would still be there for people who needed them.

What Mr. Sanders says is not entirely inaccurate, higher prices would probably ensure that the items remain on the shelves. However, he neglects to mention that this would likely be true because the most economically vulnerable would be priced out of buying essential items. He also ignores that rural residents, already stymied by a lack of options, would be at the mercy of local business owners who could arbitrarily charge whatever price they wanted because they know that their customers have limited options and need what they are selling. The lack of options that a person in a rural community would have would likely exacerbate the effect of price gouging. In a rural community, a person may not have the ability to shop around at multiple retailers to find a price that they can afford. Lower income people are already living on tight budgets and paying exorbitant prices for necessary supplies in a natural disaster would likely create issues in other aspects of their lives.  Consider also that many low-income people work jobs that pay hourly and do not pay them while they're closed for natural disasters, a fact that further shrinks the available capital that a person would have to prepare for a hurricane.

He argues that higher prices would discourage hoarding and ensure that those who need the supplies the most are able to get them. However, he ignores the issue of having access to capital. After all, even without the mitigating factor of a natural disaster, we already have situations where people cannot afford to buy things that they need in order to survive. For example, 42 million Americans are currently experiencing food insecurity and lack consistent access to food. You can have a situation where the supply exists and can be purchased but yet those who need it are unable to buy it because they lack the means to do so. Without price gouging laws, this reality would exist for many low-income people during natural disasters.

Mr. Sanders's views are not unique to him and are shared by a sizable number of economists. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the US News and World Report also published a pro-price gouging op-ed. In their op-ed, they seem unable to rectify the issue of low-income people simply not having the capital to buy these supplies with their stated thesis, that price gouging laws hurt everyone because they artificially reduce supply. They outline the following scenario.
"Many times there will be a scenario when a person both needs an item and does not have the means to obtain the item. Grabbing your wallet may not be a priority during a category-4 hurricane, and paying $99 for a case of water may not be possible when there is only $40 sitting in your checking account. This is why price gauging needs to be paired with basic human morality. If a person is clearly in need during a natural disaster, individuals need to step up and help them. This is very different than government officials demanding that a person helps everyone. If a gas station manager is required to keep his prices low during a natural disaster, there is a good chance that he will run out of gasoline because he is required to help everyone equally, instead of being allowed to selectively help those who are the most in need – as most people would in a life-or-death situation."
In this situation, the writer is saying that the onus should be on other people, including the business owners themselves, to help low-income people afford supplies. But what if this doesn't happen? The author of this piece supposes that the very poor would be fine because others would step in to help but that is not a guarantee. In his piece, Mr. Sanders wisely avoids heading down this path.

It is my opinion that price gouging laws exist to protect people like the residents of Robeson County, which has the highest poverty rate in North Carolina. With almost a third of its population living in poverty, Robeson County is economically vulnerable and without these laws, its residents would be forced to make almost impossible choices during natural disasters. It is worth noting that even with this law, multiple instances of price gouging have been reported in the past couple of days. These laws are necessary to protect the most vulnerable and ensure that they are able to financially access the goods and resources needed to survive a natural disaster.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The last abortion clinic in Kentucky - another lesson in spatial inequality

A couple of weeks ago, this neat cartoon was brought to my attention. In this cartoon, the author illustrates the issue of lack of access to abortion providers in Kentucky and the vagueness of the "undue burden" standard set by Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA v. Casey as well as many of the challenges faced by people in rural spaces. There has been some progress in acknowledging that space is a burden, most notably in 2016 with the Supreme Court's decision Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. However, much work has to be done. As the cartoon points out, many states continue to push the boundaries of the "undue burden" test. The cartoon draws heavily from the work of Hannah Haksgaard of the University of South Dakota, which I highly encourage you to read because it does a fantastic job of summarizing and explaining the issues at hand.

This example is powerful because it is yet another demonstration of the power of spatial isolation and its ability to interfere with the exercise of our fundamental rights. It is also a great illustration of the State's ability to act as an accomplice in the impediment of the free exercise of these rights. It is fairly well settled that Roe v. Wade is the precedent that must govern the question of whether or not a person's right to seek an abortion has been impeded. The right to seek an abortion is an extension of the right to privacy that is guaranteed by the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment (see: 1965's Griswold v. Connecticut for another application of this principle). The Supreme Court however left a bit of wiggle room for states to regulate access by stating that "the State does have an important and legitimate interest in preserving and protecting the health of the pregnant woman, whether she be a resident of the State or a non-resident who seeks medical consultation and treatment there, and that it has still another important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life." In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court created the "undue burden" standard, which was based on the principle that, "a statute which, while furthering [a] valid state interest, has the effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman’s choice cannot be considered a permissible means of serving its legitimate ends." 

Despite the general understanding that the right to a seek abortion is a right that can only be impeded under very specific circumstances, states continue to try to find ways to deny access to it. In the case that gave rise to Whole Woman's Health, Texas had enacted legislation that required doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinics. Previous legislation had only required doctors to have a working arrangement with a doctor who had admitting privileges. In the immediate aftermath of that law taking effect, the number of abortion clinics in Texas dropped from 43 to 19.  Many rural areas simply did not have the ability to guarantee that a doctor would have admitting privileges to a hospital within that specific geographic radius and clinics located in those areas had to close, which restricted the ability of women who live in those areas to seek an abortion. The Court ruled that this was an impermissible impediment because it imposed an undue burden on the right to seek an abortion.

One of the most powerful graphics in the cartoon is the illustration of the number of clinics that disappeared after Planned Parenthood, often because of a state regulation that met the "undue burden" test. This is not the only example of states stepping in and providing a barrier to accessing resources that facilitate the exercise of a right however. I have previously extensively covered the issue of government interference in the mission and even funding of civil legal aid organizations. In addition to cutting their funding, Congress has passed laws that have unfairly stripped these organizations of the ability to advocate for certain causes and take certain actions. On the state level, notably in North Carolina, legal services has seen substantial funding cuts, which often force the closure of rural offices. Without access to legal services, a person may find themselves unable to defend themselves in an eviction proceeding, seek help when faced with domestic violence, receive fair representation in a divorce or custody proceeding, draft a will, create a trust or a litany of other necessary items.

The closure of these offices and clinics presents the largest barriers to people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, which in the case of legal services makes up the entirety of their clientele. A lower-income woman in a state with strict barriers to accessing abortion services has to drive to the handful of abortion clinics available, an obstacle that can often be insurmountable. Many lower income people lack access to reliable transportation and work in jobs that have unpredictable, often ever-changing schedules, which can often make it difficult to schedule an appointment or plan what could end up being a multi-day long trip (Oregon has taken steps to address the issue of schedule irregularity). A person who sees their legal aid organization close down faces a similar barrier. Lower income people in rural spaces are at an extreme detriment when a critical resource leaves their community and their ability to exercise their rights is often impeded as a result. It is a sad reality that the State is often an actor in the impediment of these rights.

This is a fantastic example about why it's important to advocate for solving the issue of spatial inequality and inequities in access to resources. In many instances, the State creates situations where the ability to exercise our rights is impeded. Rural residents deserve fair and equitable treatment and raising awareness about these issues is critical.

Monday, September 10, 2018

"Metrocentrism" in coverage of the Delta fire

Near Burney California, along Hwy 299, looking East, July 2016 
I had to cancel a weekend trip to Ashland, Oregon for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival because of the Delta Fire that broke on last Wednesday along I-5, just north of Redding.  A stretch of I-5 from there to about Dunsmuir was closed, with the detour taking folks east on Hwy 299 to Burney, then back northwest on Hwy 89 through McCloud to I-5.  At one point, my fellow theatre-goers and I considered leaving early enough to take the detour and still make it to Ashland for our 1:30 PM matinee, but I had driven both legs of this detour at some point in the last two summers and I knew that, even in optimal conditions, it would add hours to the journey.  That said, I contemplated getting to stay in the cute old hotel I had seen in McCloud this summer.  In the end, we cancelled our trip.  Just too many unknowns.
Typical Hwy 89 traffic, when not being used as I-5 detour 

Burney, California, July 2016.
I was intrigued to see the Los Angeles Times coverage of the I-5 closure discussed the impact it was having on businesses in Dunsmuir, a town of about 1,600 at the southernmost edge of Siskiyou County.  The headline read, "Interstate 5 still closed, businesses slumping as Delta Fire continues to burn north of Redding, Shasta County."  I, in contrast, had been thinking about the positive economic impact the closure was surely having on the towns of Burney and McCloud.  (While these towns are not that much smaller than Dunsmuir, they are farther removed  from the thrum of I-5, especially Burney).  Indeed, as I had plotted my summer 2018 travel through far northern California (partly documented here and here), I had looked for accommodation in Burney.  I found very little of the "charming" variety I was seeking and ultimately decided to stay in Dunsmuir instead. 
Burney Falls State Park, July 2018 
When I drove through Burney this summer, I noticed a sign as I approached the intersection of 299 (coming south/southeast on 89) that said "Welcome to Burney, A Full Service Community."  I regretted not stopping to take a photo of that sign, and I've since pondered what it is meant to convey.  It was situated so that tourists entering Burney having come from Burney Falls State Park would see it.  Perhaps the hope was that tourists would stop, knowing Burney has lots of services, like the laundromat and tire store I photographed when I passed through in 2016.  On that trip through Burney, I stopped at a Subway to get my son a sandwich.  I see they also have a McDonald's.  A quick yelp search revealed a couple of gas stations and the Pit River Casino.  I wonder if these businesses have been price gouging the tens (could it be hundreds?) of thousands of motorists trying to get from Redding to points north or from Oregon to Redding and points south.

A bit farther down the road from Burney toward Redding are Round Mountain (with its award-winning, path breaking Health and Wellness Center), Montgomery Creek and Bella Vista.  Of course, all of these communities have volunteer fire departments, if few other services.

Traveling northwest from Burney, the only significant town is McCloud, a charming community with stunning views of Mount Shasta.  The town celebrates it lumber industry past (and present?) in various ways, including its annual festival and in the school's mascot, the Logger.  When I passed through this summer, it definitely struck me as the kind of place I'd enjoy spending a few days, though not when the air quality is poor, as it is now.

July 2018

Yard sign, McCloud, California, July 2018

"Downtown" McCloud, California, July 2018

Friday, September 7, 2018

Literary Ruralism (Part XIII): Attachment to Place in Stegner's Angle of Repose

I have been very taken with Stegner's Angle of Repose, which I began listening to on audio book back in late July (I've had a few interruptions).  If you don't know the book (and I didn't until it appeared on my son's high school reading list), here's how wikipedia describes the 1972 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction:
58-year-old retired history professor Lyman Ward is the narrator of the book. He is a divorced amputee with a debilitating disease that is slowly "petrifying" him. The text of Angle of Repose is transcribed tapes of Ward dictating what is to become the biography of his grandmother, Susan Burling Ward. The dictation begins on April 12, 1970 and continues through the summer. Fiercely independent, Ward lives alone at the Zodiac Cottage, the house where his grandmother spent the last decades of her life and in which he spent time as a child. "Because of his disease and because his wife has abandoned him, [Ward] has reached a major crisis point in his life...His crisis leads him to the need to find a direction for his shattered life. That direction is provided by finding out about and trying to understand his grandparents..." 
Aside from his scholarly work which consists of composing a biography from his grandmother's letters, published writings, and newspaper clippings, Ward spends his time on daily exercise, conversing with his summer secretary (Ada's daughter Shelly Rasmussen), and watching baseball with the Hawkes family. In addition, a major theme for Lyman Ward is fighting off intrusions into his life by his son, Rodman, and Rodman's wife who are skeptical of his self-reliance and, according to Ward, wish to send him to "...the retirement home in Menlo Park".
So many passages of this fabulous novel present western themes, e.g., spatial isolation, frontier justice, dramatic mountain scenery, and reading it has reminded me of how I, having moved to California 19 years ago, have become a westerner in a way I had not expected.  Here's a passage that so beautifully captures the rural theme of attachment to place, of having a "home place," that I decided to excerpt it here:
I wonder if ever again Americans can have that experience of returning to a home place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to? It is not quite true that you can’t go home again. I have done it, coming back here [to his grandparents cottage, where he was raised, in Grass Valley, California]. But it gets less likely. We have too many divorces, we have consumed too much transportation, we have lived too shallowly in too many places. I doubt that anyone of [the narrator's son] Rodman’s generation [born in the 1940s] could comprehend the home feelings of someone like Susan Ward. Despite her unwillingness to live separately from her husband, she could probably have stayed on indefinitely in Milton, visited only occasionally by an asteroid husband. Or she could have picked up the old home and remade it in a new place. What she resisted was being the wife of a failure and a woman with no home. 
When frontier historians theorize about the uprooted, the lawless, the purseless, and the socially cut-off who settled in the West, they are not talking about people like my grandmother. So much that was cherished and loved, women like her had to give up; and the more they gave it up, the more they carried it helplessly with them. It was a process like ionization: what was subtracted from one pole was added to the other. For that sort of pioneer, the West was not a new county being created, but an old home being reproduced; in that sense our pioneer women were always more realistic than pioneer men. The moderns, carrying little baggage of the kind Shelly called “merely cultural,” not even in traditional air, but breathing into their space helmets a scientific mixture of synthetic gases (and polluted at that) are the true pioneers. Their circuity seems to include no atavistic domestic sentiment, they have suffered empathectomy, their computers hum no ghostly feedback of Home, Sweet Home. How marvelously free they are! How unutterably deprived!
Interestingly, here Stegner is not writing about how the west became Susan Burling Ward's home (though that is an important theme of the novel), but how, through the early years of her marriage, she was able to return from time to time to her parents' home in upstate New York, near Poughkeepsie, a place called Milton.

Another theme of the book is a tension between East and West.  Susan Burling Ward has a passionate desire for her son, spending his formative years in Boise canyon, to return to the East, to be educated in a good Eastern college.  Even in the Idaho territory, he has an English governess to prepare him for this.  Yet at the same time, Susan Burling Ward (like I) has fallen/is falling in love with the West.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Brave little state of Vermont

"I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont." - President Calvin Coolidge, September 21, 1928 in Bennington, Vermont
The above quote is from President Coolidge's famous "Brave Little State of Vermont" speech, given in Bennington, Vermont in September, 1928 when the President toured his birth state to assess the damage from the floods that had devastated much of the state a year before. The speech has become iconic in Vermont, with the last sentence of the quote inscribed in marble at the Vermont State House in Montpelier.

While Coolidge was referring to Vermont's response to the famous 1927 flood, he could just as easily had been referring to the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Irene, which caused catastrophic flooding around the state, resulted in widespread power outages, entire roads and bridges being washed away, and people's homes being destroyed. In a predominantly rural state like Vermont, this resulted in many communities being almost completely isolated from the outside world. However, Vermonters (and in many cases, their neighbors in New Hampshire) were able to pull together and rebuild. We recently passed the six year anniversary of the storm and I wanted to briefly discuss the storm and the incredible response that followed.

At the time Irene hit Vermont, I was living in New Hampshire and attending Dartmouth College. Unlike many of my classmates, I had opted to spend the summer of my junior year in rural New Hampshire, working as an organizer for a political organization.  As an idyllic New England summer drew to a close, Irene began to make her way up the eastern shore, and Northern New England was faced with the possibility of a relatively rare event: a direct hit by a hurricane.  Before the storm made landfall, I was able to evacuate from the area and head home to North Carolina.

When I returned a couple of weeks later, I encountered a landscape marked by devastation. Many roads in the area were closed and nearby communities, like Woodstock and Queechee, had sustained severe damage. Many stores in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, the main commercial hub of the Upper Valley were closed. Many residents of the Upper Valley (the bi-state region where Dartmouth is located) had seen their lives turned upside down.

One of the things that impressed me was how quickly people began to pull together to help each other rebuild their communities.  In 2016, VTDigger marked the five year anniversary of Irene by looking at the progress that Vermont, the hardest hit state, had made in recovering from the storm. One of the things that they highlighted was the role of local municipalities and non-profits, who sprang into action quickly to help residents find housing, food, and attend to whatever needs that they may have had as a result of the storm. The article also highlights the role that the state government, led by new governor Peter Shumlin, played in helping Vermont recover. The speed at which Vermont was able to make substantial progress in recovering was remarkable. Within three months of the storm, Vermont had repaired and reopened 500 miles of roads. To commemorate the five year anniversary of Irene, the Valley News, the local newspaper in the Upper Valley posted a video that highlighted the progress that had been made in rebuilding many of the damaged structures in the area.

While challenges remain and the scars from the storm will likely be felt for years to come, I always love to highlight Tropical Storm Irene and the subsequent response by Vermonters. Irene and its recovery is a great example of what is possible in Rural America and what happens when community members, their elected officials, and the non-profit sector work together and leverage their resources. This potential is a great example of why it is important to invest in rural America so we can ensure that every community has resources to leverage.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Happy 11th Birthday to Legal Ruralism

I nearly forgot--again this year--to commemorate this blog's birthday. It was actually September 3, so I'm two days late. HAPPY 11th BIRTHDAY, LEGAL RURALISM! The last time I wrote a post about the blog's birthday was on the one year anniversary (roughly), and it featured a photo of Sarah Palin, who had become the face of rural America as John McCain's running mate. Remember all that Main Street v. Wall Street rhetoric? and all that rural bashing that Palin's presence on the national stage elicited during election season 2008? Actually, sounds rather similar to where we are a decade on, thanks to other political actors.
In the last year, I've noticed that Legal Ruralism was cited in a Vera Institute Report on rural jails and that it was cited by a couple of law review articles (e.g., Savannah Law Review and Georgia State Law Review) by scholars other than me.  Admittedly, I have cited the blog fairly frequently in my own academic writing because often I put on the blog a "half-baked" idea about a possible rural trend, posts which later prove useful when I wind up writing an academic article about what does prove to be a trend.   

Maybe the blog is beginning to prove the adage, "if you build it, they will come."  Certainly, it has helped several national journalists find me over the past few years, as the media became more interested in rural America in the wake of Trump's election.

Here's the first post, from September, 2007, the first semester I taught my Law and Rural Livelihoods course:
Three articles in the Sunday New York Times pick up on rural themes and phenomena that we discussed in our first class: lack of anonymity, lack of economic opportunity, and urban use (and abuse) of the rural. 
The first story, about a small-town newspaper in western Nebraska, describes a situation similar to the one I described regarding my own home town: complete listings of calls to law enforcement authorities, reported verbatim in the local newspaper. The Nebraska editor is quoted as saying that these reports rival the obituaries in popularity among readers. A look at the reported items indicate that residents of this Nebraska town not only report petty thefts and minor happenings unrelated to law (e.g., squirrel down the chimney), which might go unreported in urban places, but that they also officiously report their neighbors’ activities. One caller told police that a 9-year-old boy was being endangered by mowing his lawn when the child’s mother was “perfectly capable of doing it herself.” In light of limited law enforcement resources in rural areas, what are we to make of such uses of those resources? Do stories such as this effectively refute the familiar images of rural folk as self-sufficient, close-knit and looking out for one another in helpful ways? 
The other two articles reflect the lack of opportunity associated with rural areas and discuss two different communities’ debates about how to respond to it. One reports on the 5,000-member Yurok tribe in northern California. Situated along the once salmon-rich Klamath River, the tribe is deciding how to spend $92.6 million in logging proceeds – a figure six times the tribe’s annual budget. Some favor a lump sum distribution to members, while others support investment in programs to address high unemployment, flagging fishing, and the drug and alcohol problems with which the tribe has struggled. Meanwhile, development is afoot: a new gas station and 99 slot machines. 
The third article similarly considers the economic struggles of rural folk. Once a thriving paper mill town in northern New Hampshire, Berlin (population 10,000) is trying both to revive its economy -- and to diversify it, “not to put all our eggs in one basket” as the mayor reports. Construction of a federal prison will begin this fall, and the town is developing a 7,500 acre A.T.V. park which it hopes will generate $700,000 in revenue each year. 
While developments in both Klamath, California and Berlin, New Hampshire, are generating hope among residents, the extent to which those residents have considered the downsides to such developments are unclear.
Interestingly, the Klamath River and the Hoopa Tribe who depend on it were in the New York Times again yesterday.  Christopher Chavis regularly posts about New Hampshire and elsewhere in New England, as he did here a few days ago.  And as for rural self-sufficiency, that was a major theme of this post from a few days ago.  So, I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.  That's certainly true of the "urban use of rural" label, one of the "tags" I put on that very first post eleven years ago.  At this point, more than a decade on, I've used that label more than 100 times, a sad commentary on the ongoing relationship between rural and urban in the United States.

A dear colleague from another institution recently pointed out that someone forgot to tell me that blogging is so yesterday's medium. Maybe so, but students like doing it in my three seminar courses (I also have a Feminist Legal Theory Blog and a Working Class Whites and the Law Blog linked to seminars on that topic) because it's a great way to exchange ideas, to have an extended conversation, to sharpen written communication skills. I think I'll stick with it for a while--at least another 11 years.
Cross-Posted to the UC Davis Faculty Blog. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Donald Trump effect in rural America: An analysis of the 2016 New Hampshire general election

As you may recall, a couple of weeks ago, I posted a link to in-depth tool on the New York Times that allows us to analyze the 2016 election by looking at the results by precinct from different localities around the country. In the midst of doing research for an in-depth analysis using that tool, I found yet another tool. Before the 2016 election, New Hampshire Public Radio posted a database with election results (downloadable in Excel) for every single election in the state going back to the early 70s. The database has been updated with the 2016 results.

As a way to test this database and what it can tell us, I am going to look at the 2016 election. New Hampshire in 2016 was interesting because it featured multiple contentious races in a largely rural state where Donald Trump was often the focus. What effect did the national political culture have on New Hampshire's statewide races?

I will give you some broad takeaways:
  • The Senate race got more votes overall than either the governor's race or Presidential race. 
  • People across New Hampshire, in towns large and small, opted to leave the Presidential race blank and vote for the Senate race.
  • Donald Trump underperformed both Kelly Ayotte and Chris Sununu, the Republican nominees for US Senate and Governor respectively. 
  • While Trump performed best against his fellow Republicans in the more rural parts of New Hampshire, my own regression analysis showed that there is no correlation between voting population of the municipality and likelihood that Trump would outperform Republican opponents. There were still many very rural areas where Trump ran behind Ayotte and Sununu. 
  • Hillary Clinton had less of a discernible pattern. She ran behind Maggie Hassan in Manchester but yet ahead of her in Nashua, for example.
  • Clinton underperformed Maggie Hassan, Democratic nominee for Senate but yet outperformed Colin Van Ostern, Democratic nominee for governor. 
Some takeaways from the Senate vs. Presidential race:
  • Kelly Ayotte received 7,842 more votes than Donald Trump 
  • Maggie Hassan received 6,123 more votes than Hillary Clinton
  • An astounding 6,873 Granite Staters opted to leave the Presidential race blank and vote in the Senate race.
  • There is no correlation between size of community and likelihood of voting in the Presidential election. 
  • Both Ayotte and Hassan outperformed Clinton, who won the state's 4 electoral votes. 
Some takeaways from the Governor vs. Presidential race: 
  • Chris Sununu received 8,250 more votes than Donald Trump 
  • Hillary Clinton received 10,937 more votes than Colin Van Ostern 
  • 7,404 more Granite Staters voted for the Presidential than the Governor's race.
Maggie Hassan was the highest vote getter of all statewide candidates in New Hampshire with Chris Sununu as a close second. If Hassan and Sununu were in a head to head race, Hassan would have won by just 609 votes. Since a few people likely split their ticket and voted for Hassan and Sununu, this is obviously not a perfect head to head.

Interestingly enough, in a Van Ostern/Trump head to head, Trump would have won by 8,201 votes. Of the candidates in the three major races, Van Ostern is the only person whose vote total was lower than Trump's.

Democrats in New Hampshire tried vigorously to tie Kelly Ayotte and Chris Sununu to Donald Trump. Ayotte offered some inadvertent help when she said during an October debate with Hassan that Trump was a good role model for children, a statement that she quickly walked back. However, the damage was done and the Hassan campaign pounced upon that comment.

The release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape just a couple of days later allowed Ayotte to finally declare that she was withdrawing her support and calling for him to drop out of the race. She went on to say that she would not be voting for Trump but would be writing in Mike Pence for President instead. Prior to this declaration, Ayotte had been keeping her distance from Trump, even previously saying that she was "supporting but not endorsing" him. She was also not shy to condemn Trump's missteps. In June, She distanced herself from his derogatory comments towards a judge of Mexican descent.  Ayotte's lukewarm reaction to his candidacy prompted Trump to openly attack her in August by saying, “[y]ou have a Kelly Ayotte who doesn’t want to talk about Trump, but I’m beating her in the polls by a lot. You tell me. Are these people that should be representing us, okay? You tell me.” As you can see from above, Ayotte would ultimately receive more votes than Trump in the general election.

The relationship between Sununu and Trump followed an interesting trajectory. Trump's campaign in New Hampshire began with a feud with Chris's father, former NH governor and Bush 41 chief of staff, John Sununu. In January 2016, Sununu wrote an op-ed in the New Hampshire Union Leader where he asked NH GOP voters to "not drink the Trump Kool-Aid" and attacked Trump as an ideologically inconsistent opportunist. It did not take long for Trump to respond. At a rally soon after, Trump attacked Sununu's time in the Bush White House by saying, "John H. Sununu, has been known, he was fired by Bush. He was fired like a dog. He was fired viciously, and he's such a dumb guy that he didn't even know he was fired[.]" John Sununu responded to those comments by saying that Trump would ruin the Republican Party. He also zeroed in on Trump's ties to Russia, claiming that Trump "brags that he can’t be bought and yet Putin proved the guy is the cheapest political buy in the game ... ten cents worth of flattery and he’s got Trump sucking up his butt.” Chris refused to comment on the feud between his father and Trump, saying that he was focusing only on things that he "could control" and that his focus was on his race for governor.

However, it would ultimately be the Sununus who would prove loyal to Trump. In September, John Sununu endorsed Trump, declaring that he was " the only candidate in this race who can bring bold change to Washington D.C.” Unlike Ayotte, Chris Sununu even stood by Trump, despite his own reservations, after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, a fact that Van Ostern quickly seized upon. In a debate with Van Ostern, Sununu defended his endorsement of Trump, saying that he did so because Hillary Clinton had "lost the public's trust." In an interview with NH1 News however, Sununu said that he was going to focus on his own race and the issues affecting New Hampshire, comments which echoed what he had said back in January.

Sununu and Ayotte are interesting contrasts in style. Chris Sununu refused to directly engage Trump in any kind of antagonistic manner, offering his endorsement but reiterating that he was focusing on his race. Even as Sununu's father feuded with Trump, he avoided directly confronting Trump. Ayotte however kept her distance from Trump throughout the campaign, offering her support but not endorsing him and later declaring that she was not voting of him at all. She was also not afraid to directly condemn Trump, a fact that would draw his ire during the race.

What lessons can we learn from this? Ayotte and Sununu both outperformed Trump, with Sununu even coming within 1,000 votes of having the highest statewide vote total. Many Granite Staters were likely offended by Trump's comments but could not bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton (or even follow Ayotte's lead and write in someone else) so that race was left blank on thousands of ballots. Sununu was undoubtedly aided by his father's popularity in the state, which likely enhanced his vote total, especially against a relative unknown like Van Ostern. Ayotte and Hassan both outperformed their party's nominees so it's difficult to assess the impact that each party's presidential nominee had on that race. It is notable that both Ayotte and Sununu never directly embraced Trumpism, even if their method of distancing themselves from Trump were different. Ayotte preferred to directly confront him whereas Sununu tried to evade directly attacking Trump and pivoted back to talk about his election.

The lesson from this election may ultimately come down to Tip O'Neill's famous expression that "all politics is local." Local political dynamics still matter and transcend national party politics. In fact, one just has to look across the Connecticut River to Vermont to see an example of how a very liberal state can elect a Republican governor. Democrats may themselves see a great example of this in November in Tennessee where popular former governor Phil Bredesen has opted to toss his hat into the ring. Last year, Democrats were able to capture a Senate seat in Alabama when unpopular judge (and accused pedophile) Roy Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones, largely buoyed by larger than expected turnout in rural African American communities in state's Black Belt region.

In rural communities, grassroots politics is still very important. Voters want to know who they're voting for and how they will help their communities. In a state like New Hampshire, which still has town meetings to pass town budgets and conduct town business, this is especially important. Voters want to be engaged and want to feel like the candidate is here to help their community. I concede that it is difficult to fully assess the Trump Effect in this race, at least with the data I have. However, of the 6 statewide candidates in NH, Trump had the 5th highest vote total. Trump's unpopularity in NH seems to have had little impact on Ayotte and Sununu.

Will Trump have a larger impact in 2018? That remains to be seen. Sununu is up for re-election this year, New Hampshire is just one of two states to have 2 year terms their governors. There has been little polling on Sununu's race but what is out there indicates a strong advantage for the incumbent, even in light of Trump's unpopularity. Only one incumbent governor, Craig Benson, has ever lost re-election after their first term so the incumbency advantage is pretty strong for sitting governors. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

McClatchy feature on policing in rural California echoes my theorizing of law's relation to rurality

Most Wanted Poster
Trinity County, California, Courthouse, July 2018
Photos by Lisa R. Pruitt 
The headline is "Calling 911 in rural California?  Danger might be close, but the law can be hours away," and four Sacramento Bee journalists contributed to this major feature, which has been in the works since December, 2017.

I was gratified to see the story--which documents the reality (and consequences) of lack of effective law enforcement and high per capita violent crime rates in California's nonmetro counties.  To be clear, the news is bad, but I was gratified in that the story confirms work I have been doing for more than a decade now (some of it documented in this blog since September, 2007, 11 years ago this month).  That work has been theorizing the difference that rurality makes to law's operation and people's attitudes about law.  In other words, what is the legal relevance of rurality and, thus, why should legal scholars attend to rural difference?  why should "rural" be a category of analysis in the implicitly urbanormative field of law?
Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office, Yreka, California, July 2018
photos by Lisa R. Pruitt (c) 2018

Just a few years ago, I published a chapter on this issue in a volume of legal geography essays.  Mine was titled, "The Rural Lawscape: Space Tames Law Tames Space."  My argument was that rural spatiality is in tension with law.  That is, the distance between homes and the distances that legal actors must traverse in order to exert law's authority--to make law meaningful--practically disables law.  Technology can help (that is, time can trump space), but it's costly and cannot always be a substitute for the presence of human law enforcement.  Further, rural residents' sense that they must be self sufficient is reinforced by this lived reality.  As academics express it, society, spatiality and law and all mutually constituting or co-constitutive.  If people know that legal actors such as law enforcement are effectively not present, then they know they must take care of themselves.  In a sense, the lack of efficacy of law promotes a sort of frontier justice or informal order.   

Now, the empirical work of these Bee journalists confirms my theorizing with hard data about the number of sheriffs deputies per 100 square miles in California counties--including those all across the state, not just in the northern third on which Sac Bee usually focuses.  These journalists also look at  violent crime rates, confirming that  many of the highest crime counties are "rural" according to the metric used by the reportersAlpine (with a population of just 1,175, the state's least populous county, in the eastern Sierra) and Lassen (in the northern Sierra) lead the pack.  Third is metropolitan San Joaquin County, home to Stockton.
Seal of Plumas County, Quincy, California
Plumas (again, northern Sierra) is next, followed by the state's most urban county, San Francisco, then nonmetro Inyo, Shasta, Lake and Modoc.  Of course with populations as low as those of many of these nonmetro counties, the violent crime count doesn't have to be very high to rise to the top of the per capita heap.  Indeed, it would be interesting to see data on deputy sheriff per 1000 residents vs deputy sheriff per 100 square miles.  How different would the map and rankings look then?  And which is the more salient metric?

The Bee story begins with information about a 2011 double murder in the Trinity County community of Kettenpom, nearer to Mendocino County than to Weaverville, the Trinity County seat.  In that case, Trinity County law enforcement asked the neighbors of a couple who called 911 to check in on that couple because sheriffs deputies coming from Weaverville were several hours away.  The incident ended badly, with the responding neighbors severely wounded and the assailant, who had killed the couple who initially called 911 by the time the responding neighbors arrived, also dead after a car chase.  The responding neighbors, Norma and Jim Gund, are suing the Trinity County Sheriff (in a case now going to the Supreme Court of California) and in the related story by journalist Ryan Sabalow observe, "Over here, we have to take care of ourselves."  Any trust they had in the sheriff's office has disappeared, the story reports.  (The separate story about this law suit is well worth a read, especially for legal eagles who will be interested in the arguments of the respective parties, including the assertion that the Gunds were effectively Posse Comitatus).

Another quote from this McClatchy feature similarly speaks powerfully to informal order.  The man quoted is one whom Modoc County Sheriff's deputies knew was growing marijuana illegally.  Yet when they stopped him in a remote locale, they made an effort to calm his anger rather than confront him with the marijuana infraction.  The story reports that the deputies planned to return later with reinforcements rather than risk the consequences of his ire when they stopped him in a vulnerable location.  The man who was stopped, identified as Roberts, told the reporter who was on a "ride along" with the deputies:
We have freedom with responsibility out here.  We can do a lot of stuff. These guys [sheriffs deputies] referee.
near North San Juan, Nevada County, July 2017 
Wow, law enforcement as referees for what residents want to do?  This is sounding like the wild west, indeed.  (As it happens, I am in the midst of reading about the wild west in Wallace Stegner's Pulitzer Prize winning Angle of Repose, which features vignettes where vigilante justice takes over, much to the dismay of eastern transplants to places like Leadville, Colorado in the 19th century).
Bieber, California (Lassen County), July, 2018

These somewhat harrowing vignettes from Trinity and Modoc County aside, what I consider to be the story's lede contrasts rural with urban:
As urban areas such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Fresno grapple with discussions about use of force and the over-policing of minority communities, the state’s rural counties face a growing and no-less-serious law enforcement crisis: a severe shortage of staff that puts the public — and deputies — in danger. 
A McClatchy investigation found that large stretches of rural California — where county sheriffs are the predominant law enforcement agencies and towns often run only a few blocks — do not have enough sworn deputies to provide adequate public safety for the communities they serve.
Elsewhere the story provides this illustration, again contrasting rural and urban:
Del Norte Courthouse, Crescent City, July 2018  
While the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department employs nearly 160 deputies for every 100 square miles it covers, the tiny sheriff’s departments in Madera, Mariposa and Mendocino counties employ about four deputies for the same amount of turf. In Del Norte and Alpine, the counties make do with two deputies per 100 square miles.
Those figures include non-patrol personnel and those who work in county jails. 
Also, consider the role that the phenomena of distance and personnel shortage played in this tragic story out of Tehama County last fall.  Perhaps these Rancho Tehama events gave the Bee journalists the idea for this story.
Tehama County Sheriff's Office, Red Bluff, California, July 2018
The McClatchy story features a color-coded map that shows the number of law enforcement officers per 100 square miles (again, what would it look like if deputies per 1000 residents?).  It reminds me of maps I have helped to produce here showing lawyers per capita in California counties.  Guess what? As with law enforcement officials, nonmetro counties have shortages of lawyers.

Another interesting theme/revelation in the story is that no deputy actively patrols in some counties, e.g., Mendocino, for some parts of the night, though deputies are on call from their homes.  When I wrote something similar on Legal Ruralism about my home town in Arkansas a few years ago (see here, here and here), students in my Law and Rural Livelihoods class were shocked to imagine a place with no law enforcement on duty 24-7, yet it is happening here in California, too.

A third interesting theme:  population churn in rural areas, partly driven by low cost of living, has had an impact on how rural communities are policed:
Tex Dowdy, the sheriff-elect of Modoc County, said an influx of transient residents drawn to the low cost of living has made identifying suspects harder for Modoc’s deputies. 
The story quotes Dowdy: 
It isn’t the same place where we used to live.  You used to recognize the bad guy walking around the street because he was in the paper every week.
Alturas, California (Modoc County) July 2018
Note the lack of anonymity theme, about which I have written a great deal in the last decade, including here and here.  The sheriff basically confirmed what I have argued:  in rural counties, the "usual suspects" is as powerful a type of profiling as racial profiling, if not more so (and, of course, the two can overlap).

A fourth interesting theme--one also  articulated in my academic writing--is that some people seek our rurality for the privacy and effective seclusion from law that it provides.  (Think Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, in rural Montana).  These folks are unlikely to call on law enforcement even when they need it.  Regarding this proposition, the story quotes Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal in relation to this phenomenon:
Things go on in the hills all around us that go unreported.  We know that. Daily. It happens. It’s something that we’ve just gotten used to. There are shootings that occur in the middle of the night. ... We know that there’s kidnappings, we know there are people getting brutalized out in the hills, we know there are people getting robbed.
Honsal's quote reminded me of this feature by Reveal last fall, which I blogged about here, regarding wage theft and sexual abuse of "trimmigrants" in places like Humboldt and Trinity County.  Of course, immigration status can also make people reluctant to report a crime, a particular concern in places like the San Joaquin Valley.  The Chief Justice of California has, for that reason, criticized ICE for any presence in California courthouses.

A fifth theme relates to budgets, cuts to which have undermined a prior practice of deputizing people who lived in the remote reaches of a given county:
Until recent years, many rural departments had regional substations and hired “resident deputies” who lived in the remote areas they served. Those resident deputies knew their territories and most of the locals by name, making it harder for crime to go unnoticed, said multiple sheriffs. Resident deputies also allowed for quicker response times. 
Those in need “just come and knock on your door,” said Modoc’s Poindexter. “You just grab your gun belt and go out the door and try to fix it.”
July 2018, Bieber, California (far northern Lassen County),
a sheriff station at the local school, which is closer to Alturas, in Modoc 
County,  than to Susanville, the Lassen County seat.
Indeed, in my recent drive up California 299 from Burney (Shasta County) to Alturas (Modoc County), I saw a sign indicating such a remote outpost of the Lassen County Sheriff's office in Bieber, which is near the Modoc County line and also not far from Shasta County.   Yet it is technically in Lassen County, and how interesting that the Lassen Sheriff's substation should be at the school, of all places. (More photos from that journey are here and here with more to come in future posts on access to justice in rural California).  A few years ago, I also photographed a Siskiyou County Sheriff's substation in Dunsmuir.  Though it is at the southern edge of the county, it is hardly remote given its locale on I-5.

Siskiyou County Sheriff's
Substation, Dunsmuir July 2016
Another aspect of the economic situation is the inability of counties to tax public lands, both federal and state.  The story explains:
The state compensates counties for protected lands, too, but that funding has been controversial and even less predictable. Since the 2015-2016 budget cycle, the state has given rural counties $644,000 for payments in total each year to be divided among them, said state Sen. Mike McGuire, whose coastal district spans seven counties from Marin to the Oregon border.
 * * *  
“You can’t sustain an operating budget not knowing what is coming,” said Justin Caporusso, vice president of external affairs at the Rural County Representatives of California, an advocacy group. 
I have written previously here and here of the constraints that lack of tax revenue on federal lands place on local governments in rural areas, especially in the West, which has a much greater percentage of public lands than the rest of the country.  The impact of shrinking federal dollars on law enforcement in Southern Oregon has attracted media attention in recent years.  As for that state contribution, less than $700K/year spread among seven counties is pretty pitiful,  even in the context of a paltry rural budget. 

Sign on Sierra County Courthouse,
Downieville, California, July 2017
A sixth theme is that the state practice of re-alignment (re: prisons and local jails) has not served nonmetro counties well.  The Bee story includes a few interesting quotes to illustrate the conundrum re-alignment has created for county law enforcement.
Sierra County Courthouse and Jail, Downieveille, July 2017

A seventh theme is the lack of mental health support.
Rural counties have 0.9 psychiatrists for every 10,000 residents, about half the statewide average, according to California Medical Board data. Mariposa has been experimenting with “tele-doc” video technology to connect jail inmates with mental-health professionals in other counties.
Read more here:
Of course, telemedicine is being used to provide mental health and other services in rural counties generally, and not only to incarcerated populations.
Weaverville, California (Trinity County) CHP headquarters
is adjacent to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles.  Perhaps this sign
responds to the reality that rural residents are known to
report crime at lower rates than urban residents,
even when the perpetrator is a stranger.
An eighth theme regards reliance on other law enforcement agencies, including not just California Highway Patrol, but also both federal and state game and fish officers.
USDA Forest Service vehicle, Weaverville, California, July 2018 
Back to the budget/economics note, I'll close with this stunning data point:  rookie deputies in Modoc County earn $13/hour!  I assume baristas in Los Angeles are paid better than that, especially if you take into account tips.

Cross-posted to UC Davis Faculty Blog.