Tuesday, October 29, 2019

On the rural lawyer shortage in Illinois

This piece, "The Disappearing Rural Lawyer" appeared in 2Civility back in August, but it only recently came to my attention.  Attorney Mark Palmer writes, with a focus on Illinois data.  Here's an excerpt: 
The lack of rural lawyers in Illinois is becoming more pronounced by the year, according to the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice. As the rural lawyer population throughout much of the state declines, locating legal aid is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens in need. 
Shrinking Numbers Across America
The figure below in blue shows the distribution of the state’s 65,000 resident attorneys (30,000 registered Illinois attorneys live outside the state). When it comes to new attorneys (in pink), 52 counties admitted fewer than five new attorneys in the last five years. Sixteen counties admitted none.
The story also features some terrific color-coded maps which are also worth a look.  Further, as we know is true in California, the data tend to overstate the availability of attorneys.  Here's how Palmer explains it:
The number of available private practitioners is fewer once you take into account non-public facing attorneys. These include government jobs in the state’s attorney’s office, public defender officers and the judiciary, as well as those working non-legal jobs or in-house positions, and those otherwise not available to serve the public’s legal needs.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Vatican may make exception to allow married priests--in the remote Amazon

This idea has been in the works for well over a year, but news broke yesterday that Catholic Bishops are backing the ordination of married priests in the Amazon.  Here's an excerpt from Jason Horowitz's story for the New York Times:
It is the first time a grouping of bishops convened by a pope has endorsed such a historic change to the tradition of a celibate priesthood. The proposal is limited to remote areas of South America where there is a scarcity of priests but could set a precedent for easing the restriction on married priests throughout the world. 
If Francis, who has already signaled an openness on the issue, accepts the bishops’ recommendation, he will turn the remote areas of the Amazon region into a laboratory for a Catholic Church looking to the global south for its future, with married priests and indigenous rites mixing with traditional liturgy.
* * * 
Liberal supporters said the change would address the unmet needs of a far-flung community and they expressed hope it would lead to similar changes elsewhere.
I've written a lot on these pages about the challenges of service delivery in remote locales, so this is an interesting development on that front--to change the rules regarding who can serve when so desperate for personnel. 

On the other hand, the bishops were not desperate enough to let women serve in the region: 
Francis said in remarks to the bishops after Saturday evening’s vote that the Vatican would continue to study the role of women in the early years of the church.

“We still haven’t grasped the significance of women in the Church,” he said. “Their role must go well beyond questions of function.”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

On California's wildfires and blackouts, and their impact on rural folks

As we enter the second major round of blackouts in California, I thought I'd collect here some coverage of the last round, earlier this month, and also some breaking news of the impact on rural Californians up and down the state.

During the mid-October blackouts, the Wall Street Journal ran this story with the dateline Eureka, California, population 27,191, and county seat of Humboldt County, population 132,646.   The story features the North Coast Co-op, which had to throw out spoiled food after power was cut off.

Anita Chaba and Taryn Luna filed this story for the Los Angeles Times on October 11, headlined "PG&E power outages bring darkness, stress and debt to California’s poor and elderly."  The dateline is Clearlake, California, population 15,000, and its focus is the personal toll on residents living with the power outages, including the frail and elderly.  Here's an excerpt:
Few understood what the challenges would be until they were in the dark: a mom who couldn’t refill her son’s medication for bipolar disorder; a man with schizophrenia who couldn’t quiet the voices in his head without the television on; the people on dialysis who had to travel to another town. In El Dorado County, just northeast of Sacramento, an elderly man died minutes after apparently losing power to his CPAP machine, according to a report from the local fire agency, though an autopsy listed severe coronary artery atherosclerosis as the cause of death. 
Even little things became hard. Ice and charcoal were scarce, making it difficult to keep food cold or cook a meal. Freezing showers were too intimidating for elderly nursing home residents as fall arrives with 45-degree nights here. 
“You don’t know until it happens how it’s really going to affect you,” said Tara Drolma, 72, who was watching the power fade on her emergency battery, and wondering if she would have to choose between charging her electric wheelchair or her heart monitor.
In November last year, following the eruption of the Camp Fire which destroyed Paradise, California, the Los Angeles Times ran this story about possible long-term solutions to the state's fire danger.  Its headline is, "Deadly California fires prompt bold thinking about prevention: Shelters, strict zoning, buyouts."  It quotes Bruce Cain of Stanford's Bill Lane Center for the American West:
We have to really start to think about new measures and new approaches that have to be more drastic.  ...  [Among them is] “a strategic retreat from communities that are never going to be safe.
And here's perhaps the most ominous headline, from the New York Times this week, "A Forecast for a Warming World:  Learning How to Live with Wildfire."

As I prepare to post this, the Sonoma County communities of Healdsburg (population 11,254) and Windsor (population 26,801) are under evacuation orders because of the Kincaide Fire, which required the evacuation of smaller Geyserville (population 862) earlier this week.  Hundreds of thousands of customers are expected to be without power in both rural and urban parts of California this weekend. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

University of South Carolina Law School gets ATJ van to serve rural areas

Mike Fitts of the Columbia (South Carolina) Post-Courier reported a few days ago. Here's an excerpt, which frames the bus as a "big idea" to respond to a "big donation."
The big idea belonged to the school’s pro bono program director, Pamela Robinson: Why not have a bus that takes legal help out to the parts of the state where they have little or no resources. 
So the USC School of Law will receive a fully outfitted bus designed as a mobile office.
* * * 
Some legal aid organizations have used a bus or van to bring people to an office where services can be provided, but this likely is the nation’s first full-service mobile law operation.

The bus will be used to take law students, professors and lawyers out into mostly rural communities and meet with residents who might have questions or need advice and bring them the help they need for free. In some of these areas, Robinson said, there are only one or two lawyers for an entire town or county. 
The school’s bus is being completed in Ohio, and the goal is to use it for the first trips starting about March 1.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Rural-urban divide shows up in Canadian politics, too

Here's the Washington Post story following on the Canadian election this week.  Here's an excerpt from Henry Olsen's story: 
The urban-rural split, however, was the bigger reason for Trudeau’s reelection. The Liberals lost many seats to the Conservatives in rural areas and historically right-wing Alberta. But the Tories ran into a Liberal wall when they tried to win suburban ridings in Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Vancouver.
* * *

Conservatives won nearly all their top 24 targets in Alberta or rural regions. They picked up three seats in the rural province of Saskatchewan and gained rural-based seats elsewhere in Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. But when it came to places near Canada’s major cities outside of Alberta, voters preferred Trudeau’s Liberals.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Lone Pine Policy IV: The paper chase (1976)

Governor Meldrim Thomson entered 1976 carrying a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, he had been remarkably successful. The potent combination of Thomson and Union Leader publisher William Loeb had managed to move aside the more moderate wing of the Republican Party and shift the party to the right, a key ideological victory. As the 1976 Presidential primaries approached, Thomson sought to do the same on the national level by backing the candidacy of California governor Ronald Reagan, a right wing insurgent who sought to defeat the incumbent President Gerald Ford, a representative of the older moderate wing of the party. An ousting of President Ford in favor of the more conservative Reagan would send a loud message to moderate Republicans around the country about the seriousness of the insurgent right wing movement. While Reagan was ultimately unsuccessful in defeating Ford in New Hampshire, the close margin of victory would give Reagan enough ammunition and credibility to ultimately carry his candidacy to the floor of the Republican National Convention. The Republican Party was changing and Meldrim Thomson was near the front of the train.

Of course, not all was particularly well for the governor on the home front. Like he did just two years earlier, Thomson once again found himself embroiled in yet another battle with a small town over the placement of a manufacturing facility. The governor had backed a project to build a paper mill in the small town of Walpole, which sits in the southwest corner of the state along the Connecticut River. In a January nonbinding referendum, the town rejected the mill. Controversy over the mill had even created discord in Thomson's own administration, resulting in the firing of the state's economic development director after he criticized the project. In March, the town's residents voted against rezoning the land and permanently killed the project, dealing a blow to the governor's economic development ambitions. 

Thomson was also dealt a defeat the previous fall in a special election to fill a seat in the United States Senate when Democrat John Durkin defeated Republican Louis Wyman, which gave New Hampshire, a once staunchly Republican state, two Democratic senators. 

Was it possible that Thomson's new Republican Party had worn out its welcome with the voters? 

This is a question that Democrats hoped would be an answered in the affirmative. Three Democrats, two of whom were already familiar names from 1974, Harry Spanos and Hugh Gallen, along with newcomer James Connor, who had previously as the Hillsborough County Prosecutor, threw their hats into the ring. Given his status as prosecutor in the state's most urban county and the possibility of Spanos and Gallen splitting the vote in the rest of the state, Connor was thought to be the early favorite to win the nomination. It was also thought that Connor would be the most formidable opponent for Thomson, given his ability to draw votes from Manchester, the home of the Union Leader and the state's largest city. The issue of taxation, the dominant question of any campaign in New Hampshire, reared its ugly head during the Democratic primary, with Gallen and Connor threatening to veto any income or sales tax. Spanos remained noncommittal on the matter. The quick acquiescence of Gallen and Connor was no doubt a symbol of just how far Thomson's rhetoric had moved the needle, even on the Democratic side of the aisle. 

On Primary Day, Harry Spanos would ultimately get the nomination. Winning 40% of the vote, Spanos was able to avoid splitting the vote in much of the state, winning outright majorities in many of the state's smaller communities and even managing to get a small victory in Nashua, the state's second largest city. Connor was unable to make up his lack of name recognition in much of the state by performing well in Manchester, his home city and the county seat of Hillsborough County. While he managed to win the city, he only got 48% of the vote there. 

Spanos was the next man up to try to take down Meldrim Thomson. Thomson's hold on the Republican Party was solidified by his relatively easy victory over Hanover businessman Gerard Zeiller in the primary.

Much as in previous elections, Thomson's general election campaign relied heavily on his pledge to keep an income and sales tax out of New Hampshire. Spanos's position in the primary gave Thomson an easy means of contrasting their views. For his part, Spanos voiced opposition to new taxes but stopped short of a blanket pledge to veto them. 

Pre-election media coverage predicted a tough fight for Thomson and mentioned Spanos's strategy of attempting to draw in disaffected moderate Republicans in order to boost his chances to win in New Hampshire. However, Spanos would fall short in his efforts and it wasn't even close. 

Thomson would win re-election with ~57% of the vote, besting Spanos by almost 14 points. Surprisingly Thomson's vote total even ran ahead of President Gerald Ford who had carried New Hampshire. Thomson received 197,589 votes to the President's 185,935. A small moral victory for the governor and his conservative movement. 

Despite winning re-election, Thomson's night was not without fraught. Two of the governor's adversaries had been elected to serve on the Executive Council. In the 2nd District, Malcolm McLane, a stalwart voice for the moderate wing of the Republican Party (and third party gubernatorial candidate from 1972) had been elected. While the voters in the 3rd District had elected State Rep. Dudley Dudley, a lead advocate against the proposed refinery in Durham that Thomson had championed just two years prior. 

(Note: While this is outside the scope of this series, the 1976 Democratic primary was also pretty interesting. You can hear about the unlikely rise of Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter by listening to Episode 2 of the Stranglehold podcast from New Hampshire Public Radio here.)

Sunday, October 6, 2019

NY Times op-ed out of rural Arkansas, "In the Land of Self-Defeat"

Monica Potts, a native of Clinton, Arkansas, population 2,602, has published an op-ed in today's Sunday New York Times about attitudes toward taxation and government services there.  It's a long read, but well worth it.  Potts "repatriated" to Clinton from Virginia not long ago, and her byline says she is writing a book about low-income women in Van Buren County, population 17,295.  Potts centers her story on a request from the county librarian for a raise, to $42,200.  The story doesn't indicate how much the librarian was earning when she made the request for a raise, but it does mention that her raise would have put her in the pay range of  teachers (some of the only folks in that region with college degrees) and county officials.  Never mind, though.  When the librarian's proposed raise was put on the Quorum Court agenda (county governing body), a Facebook conversation ensued--mostly negative--and the item got pulled.   Potts writes:
the fight over the library was rolled up into a bigger one about the library building, and an even bigger fight than that, about the county government, what it should pay for, and how and whether people should be taxed at all. The library fight was, itself, a fight over the future of rural America, what it meant to choose to live in a county like mine, what my neighbors were willing to do for one another, what they were willing to sacrifice to foster a sense of community here. 
The answer was, for the most part, not very much.
When I shared Potts' story with my mother, 75 years old and still working as non-certified personnel (teacher's aide) in a school system two counties over from Clinton/Van Buren County, Arkansas, my mom pointed out the lack of information about how big the librarian's raise would be in relation to her current salary, though I note a mention in Potts' story of $19/hour as the wage the librarian ultimately accepted, presumably what her predecessor earned.  My mom then wrote:
I would give her a raise but it would be consistent with the wage she was earning. [I note that $25/hour would represent an increase of more than 30% over what she accepted, $19/hour].  She has the choice to accept it or resign. When extra tasks are added to our job at school we don't get a raise. More to the point of the story, rural people see more waste of government funds because we know our neighbors and all shop at the same places. In [urban areas], that is not nearly the case. Additionally, rural people are closer to their ancestry where the values of our ancestors are still ingrained in us. We witnessed their hardiness and their independence upon themselves and we haven't forgotten what we learned. That kind of rural person will give his hard labor to help the individual he knows is trying.
As you might have gathered, my mother could be one of the low-income women about whom Potts is writing a book.  She is still working at age 75 in large part because it's hard to retire on Social Security and the modest pension she'll get from her years as non-certified personnel in an Arkansas school.  I've written more about her in my own missive on Rural and Working Class White Women in the Era of Trump.

Potts' story also reminds me of some earlier posts I've written on local government decisions out West, also to cut library services--and even law enforcement services.   This post collects links to various other posts, including from other parts of the country.

Indeed, Potts' feature op-ed also got me thinking about the efforts to raise tax revenues to build a county jail in my home county in the Arkansas Ozarks (Newton County is separated from Potts' Van Buren County only by Searcy County, also a persistent poverty county).  As I have written about in many posts here on Legal Ruralism, it took several years to convince Newton County voters to pass  sales tax increases that would both (1) raise enough funds to build the jail and (2) raise additional tax revenues to finance its operation.  (As in most of the South, local governments now tend to reach for sales taxes rather than property taxes; it's easier also to tax the tourists that pass through than just the landowners, regressive though the sales taxes are).  After all of that, once the tax increases passed and the jail was operational, the county still wound up contracting with the State of Arkansas to house state prisoners here.  It seems that doing so was necessary to "make ends meet."  And so my little ol' home county of 8,000 low-income people became a cog in the prison-industrial complex.

Sadly, it may be easier in economically depressed places like the Arkansas Ozarks to raise money to build a jail than it is to raise funds to build a library.

I can't help wonder who's really to blame for these poor, rural white voters' attitudes toward even local taxes (typically held as distinct from federal taxes going off to a distant government)?  Of what systems/forces are electorates like those in Van Buren County and Newton County products?  Is it accurate to use the language of "self-defeat," as the New York Times/Potts headline does?  or are outside forces at play?  national conservative politics?  the tea party?  elites who told these low-education, low-income rural voters behind the times, not competitive, worthless, "the problem"?  Is it really "self" defeat?  What forces have defeated these folks?  (See Annie Eisenberg's forthcoming article, not yet posted on ssrn.com, in the Boston College Law Review for some insights into this question).

Who created the hunker down mentality that makes the residents of Van Buren County, Arkansas so protective of the $20/each annually that the library would cost them?  Or did these folks and their attitudes just rise from the swamp?  Um, I mean river bed/valley floor ... 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

My Rural Travelogue (XXVII): "Peasants" in rural northern Portugal

I have been reluctant to use the word "peasants" on the blog or in my more formal writing because it seems pejorative, but the word is increasingly being revived in scholarly settings, and in international development ones as well.  I have to admit that the word "peasants" came to mind as I hiked through the villages of Arga de Cima and Arga de Baixo a few weeks ago.  They are neighboring villages in the municipality of Caminha, not far north of Ponte de Lima, the oldest chartered town in Portugal.  I had the occasion to pass through when I participated in REI's adventure trip, Camino de Santiago--the Portuguese Way (which, by the way, I highly recommend).

Our guides told us we would be passing through villages where people live subsistence lives, and one could believe it based on what we saw.  As we approached the outskirts of the Arga de Cima, the first thing we saw was an elderly couple repairing a stone wall.  Our guide asked them how old the wall was, and the man replied that his father's father didn't remember when it was built--that it had been built before he was alive.  We also walked along a path with much larger stones (second photo below), elevated over a marshy area where animals walked alongside the stone path.

Outskirts of Arga de Cima
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
A short distance on, we saw this sign, as we entered an area of a few homes.  Our guide translated as "rural center" of the area Reconco.

The photos that follow are of that village. 

Roosters, Arga de Baixo
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019

Woman cleaning barnyard area, Arga de Cima
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019  
Cows on the "main drag" of Arga de Cima
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019 

Communal post boxes for Arga de Cima
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019

An older home in Arga de Cima
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019

Grain storage, typical of region
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
A stone fence, with typical corn crops behind.
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 

After we passed through Arga de Cima, it was onto Arga de Baixo, which seemed a bit larger and slightly more modern--at least it had a few more homes of more recent construction.  Our guide explained to us that historically, homes in this region were built with living quarters on the second floor, over a ground floor barn for the animals.  We also saw this newer home in Arga de Cima, which our guide suggested had been financed from work abroad.

When is the last time you saw one of these?
Arga de Baixo
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
Honey for sale, atop gas cannisters, Arga de Baixo
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019
Finally, here are two perspectives on a fascinating and lovely piece of public statuary in nearby Ponte de Lima, which depicts the area's agrarian foundations.  

Ponte de Lima (c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019

Ponte de Lima, Portugal
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2019