Thursday, December 30, 2021

Rural-ish California counties sued for not providing timely access to court filings

Here's an excerpt from the story by Bill Girdner in Courthouse News Service:  

After years of petitioning for timely access, Courthouse News filed a First Amendment action Friday against court clerks in Merced, Stanislaus, Yolo, Butte, Sutter and Yuba counties.

“Since time beyond memory, the press has reviewed new civil complaints when they crossed the intake counter in American courts,” said the complaint filed in federal court in Fresno.

“During the transition from paper to electronic court records, federal courts and many state courts kept that tradition in place,” it continued. “However, some state court clerks abandoned it.”

Those who abandoned the tradition include a number of clerks in California’s Central Valley who are paying hundreds of thousands of public dollars to lease e-filing software from a Texas corporation. That software, called Odyssey, has three access options, two of which provide timely and constitutional access to new court filings.

One option does not.

It blacks out the new filings until court employees finish clerical docketing, work that is regularly done a day or two later. The blackout option is the one chosen by the clerks in Merced, Stanislaus, Yolo, Butte, Sutter and Yuba counties.

Only two of these counties, Sutter and Yuba, are nonmetropolitan but all of the counties are popularly thought of as rural in the context of California because they are agricultural.  

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXXII): Two public radio stories on rural health services

These stories about rural health issues in the context of COVID both ran yesterday, one on All Things Considered and one on Marketplace.  The first is about how Sackets Harbor, New York, on Lake Ontario in the state's northern reaches, is solving its shortage of first responders by training young folks to do the work.  The second is about the shortage of nurses in rural America, a particular concern with the omicron variant spreading rapidly.  

Here's an excerpt from the former that highlights lack of anonymity in the community:

[Journalist] FEIEREISEL: Then a sudden ray of hope - a whole new batch of teenagers applied to join the crew, starting with Sophia DeVito. She was 16. Her entire family had gotten COVID-19. After that, she wanted to help people.

SOPHIA DEVITO: It's someone's mother. It's someone's father. It's a grandmother. It's a parent. It's a child. Like, these are actual people's lives.

FEIEREISEL: Another four teenagers also came on board. And within months, the crew went from an exhausted three to a functional eight.

Another story about rural emergency services, this one out of the western United States, ran this summer.  

Here's an excerpt from the second story focusing on the nursing shortage in Vermont and New Mexico: 

Vermont was already in dire need of health care workers, even before the pandemic drove many into early retirement and other careers, according to Jeff Tieman with the Vermont Association of Hospitals.

“Our workforce is shrinking and stressed, you know, at a time when we need it to be growing and resilient,” he said.

In New Mexico, more than half of hospitals face critical staffing shortages.

“The amount of physical, mental, emotional fatigue is showing,” said Deborah Walker with the New Mexico Nurses Association.

Many care providers have left the state’s overwhelmed rural hospitals on traveling nurse contracts “to pay off student loans and to command a higher salary,” she said.
With the national shortage of health care workers, small, rural hospitals are having a hard time hiring, said Joanne Spetz with the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco.

The story concludes by noting that rural patients may have to travel great distances, as in the 100-mile range, for health care.  

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

On the rural roots of Harry Reid, former Senate Majority Leader, who died today aged 82

NPR's Susan Davis reports, with reference to his rural upbringing midway through her obituary:
Finding his roots

Born into poverty in the tiny Nevada town of Searchlight, where the two industries were mining and prostitution, Reid transformed his shame over his hardscrabble roots into the central narrative of his political career.

"I was ashamed, embarrassed about Searchlight. When I went to college, was in high school, law school, I just didn't want to talk about Searchlight," Reid recalled in his 2016 farewell address to the Senate.

One night he attended a speech at the University of Nevada in Reno by Roots author Alex Haley that changed his worldview.

He recalled, "[Haley] said, 'Be proud of who are you are. You can't escape who you are.' And I walked out of that event that night a different person, a new man. From that day forward, I was from Searchlight. When I got out of law school, I bought little pieces of property. So I had contacts there. My parents lived there, so I became Harry Reid, the guy from Searchlight."

His longtime combatant, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, nodded at Reid's roots in a statement marking his death.

"The runway that brought Harry to the upper chamber was nothing short of amazing," McConnell wrote. "His life's journey began in a house that lacked running water."

The Los Angeles Times obituary leads with his rural origin: 

He grew up in poverty in a house made of creosote-soaked railway ties with no indoor plumbing. 

Jonathan Martin writes for the New York Times

Even by the standards of the political profession, where against-the-odds biographies are common and modest roots an asset, what Mr. Reid overcame was extraordinary. He was raised in almost Dickensian circumstances in tiny Searchlight, Nev.: His home had no indoor plumbing, his father was an alcoholic miner who eventually died by suicide, and his mother helped the family survive by taking in laundry from local brothels.

The Washington Post obit by Michael H. Brown features this bit about Reid's upbringing in Searchlight: 

Harry M. Reid, a Nevada Democrat who rose from a hardscrabble mining town to become one of the longest-serving Senate majority leaders in history and a political force during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, died Dec. 28 at his home in Henderson, Nev.

And in an era when we aren't sure what to do with work--how much credit to give it, especially in an era where "white privilege" is so often credited for one's success--I love this quote: 

“I didn’t make it in life because of my athletic prowess,” [Reid] said in his 2016 retirement speech, at the end of five terms in the Senate. “I didn’t make it because of my good looks. I didn’t make it because I’m a genius. I made it because I worked hard.”

In an era of increasing elitism--including in the highest sectors of politics--one has to wonder how one born to harry Reid's circumstances and with his non-elite education, Utah State University and George Washington University Law School (where he studied while working as a Capitol Police Officer), would fare if starting out in today's national political climate.  

Monday, December 27, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXXI): Where COVID policy merges with the wider political landscape in nonmetro America

Sabrina Tavernise's story out of Enid, Oklahoma, population 49,379, appeared on the front page of the New York Times yesterday.  The headline was "First they fought about masks.  Then over the soul of the city."  Even though I don't think of Enid as particularly rural--and even though Tavernise doesn't play up the place's rurality--this story represents what urban America, particularly coastal urban folks, have come  to think about rural America and the flyover states generally in relation to the pandemic.   

The story features a Black city councillor, Jonathan  Waddell, retired from the Air Force, who has lived in Enid with his family for seven years.  They had planned to make it a permanent home, but Waddell's advocacy for a mask mandate caused him to be ostracized from the community.  Now he is looking for a job outside the region.    

Meanwhile, another major player in the story is a deeply religious 45-year-old woman who has home-schooled her children.   She represents a class of folks who have become politically active to respond to pandemic restrictions.  In particular, she founded the Enid Freedom Fighters who have opposed pandemic restrictions, including mask mandates.  

Some excerpts about Waddell and Crabtree follow, but let me lead with these comments from one of the Enid residents who attended the City Council meeting where the mask mandate was debated in the summer of 2020: 
“The line is being drawn, folks,” said a man in jeans and a red T-shirt. He said the people in the audience “had been shouted down for the last 20 years, and they’re finally here to draw a line, and I think they’re saying, ‘We’ve had enough.’”

This strikes me as a good summation of how many in rural America were feeling in the run up to Trump's election--it's why many supported him.  He was, as Thomas Edsall put it in a New York Times column, the enemy of their enemy.   They felt beleaguered after years of being told what to do by bureaucrats and technocrats, and when the pandemic hit with its attendant public health restrictions, they weren't willing to accept any more regulations.   

Tavernise further describes the meeting: 
One woman cried and said wearing a mask made her feel like she did when she was raped at 17. Another read the Lord’s Prayer and said the word “agenda” at the top of the meeting schedule seemed suspicious. A man quoted Patrick Henry and handed out copies of the Constitution.

Mr. Waddell was so jarred driving home from that meeting that he kept checking his rear-view mirror to see if he was being followed. He viewed himself as conservative, so he was surprised at how his advocacy of indoor mask wearing caused him to be ostracized: 

[Waddell] knew Enid was conservative. Garfield County has voted for the Republican candidate in every presidential election since 1940. But he considered himself conservative too. He is a registered independent who believes in the right to bear arms and fiscal responsibility. And anyway, national politics were not important to him. Good schools and low housing prices were what he cared about.

And by the end, a realization that this was not about masks:
Mr. Waddell thought it had to do with fear. He said America is in a moment when the people who ran things from the beginning — mostly white, mostly Christian, mostly male — are now having to share control. Their story about America is being challenged. New versions are becoming mainstream, and that, he believes, is threatening.

“You don’t just get to be the sole solitary voice in terms of what we do here, what we teach here, what we show on television here,” he said. “You don’t get to do it anymore. That’s where the fight is.”

He sees it as the next chapter in the story of what it means to be an American, of who gets to write this country’s story. But he does not see the country getting through it without a fight.
Then there is Crabtree, aged 45, who owns a business selling essential oils and cleaning products.  She also works as an assistant to a Christian author.  Crabtree moved to Enid just two years ago, and she's also new to political engagement--spurred to action by her COVID skeptic beliefs.  Crabtree accepted Jesus as her savior at age 4, and she blamed her parents' generation for not being sufficiently devout and vocal about their Christianity. 
The more she researched online, the more it seemed that there was something bigger going on. She said she came to the conclusion that the government was misleading Americans. For whose benefit she could not tell. Maybe drug companies. Maybe politicians. Whatever the case, it made her feel like the people in charge saw her — and the whole country of people like her — as easy to take advantage of.

Tavernise quotes Crabtree:   

I don’t like to be played the fool, And I felt like they were counting on us — us being the general population — on being the fool.

Crabtree described some local consequences of her activism: 

She felt contempt radiating from the other side, a sense that those who disagreed with her felt superior and wanted to humiliate her. She said she was taken aback at how people were ridiculing her on a pro-mask group on Facebook. She said she remembers one person writing that he hoped she would get Covid and die.

Interestingly, this sentiment seems to reflect that of right-wing activist Charlie Kirk, who visited Crabtree's church, Emmanuel Enid.  Kirk said of an "unspecified 'metropolitan elite'" : 

They want to crush you....They call you the smelly Walmart people. They do. You should hear the way your leaders talk about you. They have contempt for you. They want to try to turn Oklahoma into nothing more than a producing colony for the rest of the country.

Sadly, there is some truth to Kirk's assertion--that the ruling classes do hold many in middle America in contempt.  Indeed, what Kirk asserts is not inconsistent with Hillary Clinton's 2016 "basket of deplorables" comment--well, depending on how one defines "deplorable."  

Then there are Crabtree's views on race, even as Tavernise notes that Enid has experienced very rapid racial diversification in the last decade.  Crabtree is quoted:  

Why all of a sudden are we teaching our 5-year-olds to be divided by color? They don’t care what color your skin is until you tell them that that 5-year-old’s grandpa was mean 200 years ago. 

Also of interest are details of how Crabtree is passing her beliefs on to her children. We're told her high school graduate son is too busy being a patriot and working to save the country to go to college, where he'd have to "pay $100,000 to fight indoctrination."  Instead, he got a job at Chick-fil-A. 

Finally, here is Tavernise's commentary, her framing on what is happening in Enid (emphasis added):

From lockdowns to masks to vaccines to school curriculums, the conflicts in America keep growing and morphing, even without Donald Trump, the leader who thrived on encouraging them, in the White House. But the fights are not simply about masks or schools or vaccines. They are, in many ways, all connected as part of a deeper rupture — one that is now about the most fundamental questions a society can ask itself: What does it mean to be an American? Who is in charge? And whose version of the country will prevail?

Social scientists who study conflict say the only way to understand it — and to begin to get out of it — is to look at the powerful currents of human emotions that are the real drivers. They include the fear of not belonging, the sting of humiliation, a sense of threat — real or perceived — and the strong pull of group behavior.

Oh, and I can't close this post without acknowledging that folks on the Left are complaining that this story even got printed because it tells us what the right is thinking.  Here's a Tweet from my feed calling Tavernise's story a "two-sides approach to a broad topic where one side relentlessly lies, threatens violence, denies scientific reality, and so much more.  This one featured academics, however!":   

I am not sure what Gillmor wants--to ignore that folks like Crabtree exist, perhaps?  What would he have the New York Times do?  Not even ask questions about why folks in Enid believe what they believe?  

About Gillmor: He is with the News Co/Lab at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, which he describes on his webpage as "an experimental lab, which he co-founded in 2017, that collaborates with others to improve the information ecosystem."

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXX): failure to declare COVID deaths and how it relates to the dearth of rural healthcare resources

The Missouri Independent reports out of Cape Girardeau County, in the state's bootheel, on a coroner who has declared no deaths from COVID.  Dillon Bergin and Rudi Keller write:  
Wavis Jordan, a Republican who was elected last year to serve as coroner of the 80,000-person county, says his office “doesn’t do COVID deaths.” He does not investigate deaths himself, and requires families to provide proof of a positive COVID-19 test before including it on a death certificate.

Meanwhile, deaths at home attributed to conditions with symptoms that look a lot like COVID-19 — heart attacks, Alzheimer’s and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — increased.

“When it comes to COVID, we don’t do a test,” Jordan said, “so we don’t know if someone has COVID or not.”

About a million more Americans died in 2020 and 2021, compared to pre-pandemic years.  Some 800,000 of those have been attributed to COVID-19, leaving about 195,000, which public health experts suggest may be due to COVID-19 but unidentified as such.   Why the possible mis-classification?  Our  decentralized system of investigating and reporting cause of death, as reflected in what's happening in Cape Girardeau County.  The story continues:   

Short-staffed, undertrained and overworked coroners and medical examiners took families at their word when they called to report the death of a relative at home. Coroners and medical examiners didn’t review medical histories or order tests to look for COVID-19.

They, and even some physicians, attributed deaths to inaccurate and nonspecific causes that are meaningless to pathologists. In some cases, stringent rules for attributing a death to COVID-19 created obstacles for relatives of the deceased and contradicted CDC guidance.

These trends are clear in small cities and rural areas with less access to healthcare and fewer physicians. They’re especially pronounced in rural areas of the South and Western United States, areas that heavily voted for former President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Cape Girardeau County in Missouri; Hinds and Rankin counties in Mississippi; and Lafayette Parish in Louisiana are four of the 10 counties with the greatest spike in deaths not attributed to COVID-19. In those communities, official COVID-19 deaths account for just half of the increase in deaths in 2020.

If official figures are to be believed, in Lafayette Parish deaths at home from heart disease increased by 20% from 2019 to 2020. Deaths from hypertensive heart disease, or heart ailments due to high blood pressure, doubled and are on track to remain that high in 2021.

What the story doesn't note is that in many rural places, the county coroner is an elected official for whom no medical education is required.   

Speaking of rural healthcare, Texas Public Radio recently reported on the closure of rural hospitals in that state since 2005. Jaymie Lozano and Kaysie Ellingson write as part of a series titled "Rural Healthcare:  The Other Texas Drought," dateline Bowie, near the Oklahoma state line, population 5,218, where the hospital closed a few years ago.   
Rural hospitals like the one that was in Bowie are up against many obstacles. They often face low reimbursements from insurance companies, and that's if their patients are insured. Many of the hospitals rely on patients and Medicare payments, but their populations are older or declining.

Perhaps the biggest part of that problem can be traced far back.

In 1965, the Medicare and Medicaid programs were established by the federal government in the Social Security Act. The programs, Medicaid especially, were a large source of income for hospitals - Medicaid is supposed to cover people with low-incomes who can’t afford services on their own. Those reimbursements have gotten lower due to federal budget cuts.

"Those cuts included a 2% reduction in all Medicare payments to all doctors, hospitals and providers," explained Don McBeath, government relations director for the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals (TORCH).

Aside from the budget cuts, McBeath said there are multiple reasons the closures are happening. Not only are Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to medical facilities not high enough to keep up with the increasing costs of providing healthcare, but the amount of uninsured Texans increases every year and many rural communities are seeing a decline in population.

"It creates a recipe for disaster because a hospital is like any other business," McBeath said. "It's expensive to operate, and you have to bring in enough money to pay for the costs to operate. If you look at a rural hospital, there are some days where some of them don't have a single patient. Or other days, maybe five or six patients."

The latter part of the story focuses on West Texas, also the setting for this Washington Post story from a few years ago about a doctor who serves more than 10,000 square miles. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXIX): On meatpacking plants, race and mental health in rural and urban Iowa

Natalie Krebs reports today for National Public Radio out of Des Moines.  The headline is "COVID cases in meatpacking plants impacted workers and their rural communities."  Here's an excerpt:  

KREBS: Meatpacking plants were some of the first places to experience large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks. The virus tore through production lines, where workers, who are frequently first-generation immigrants, stand shoulder to shoulder, working long hours on fast-paced lines. What's clear is the aftermath of those outbreaks had a profound impact both on workers and on the rural meatpacking communities they live in. David Peters is a sociology professor at Iowa State University and conducted a survey on the pandemic's effect on Iowa's rural communities. He says residents in meatpacking communities were hit the hardest.

PETERS: They suffered, in particular economically by having reduced working hours, wage cuts, benefit losses, losing the jobs. And, of course, health impacts - much more of them were hospitalized.
The story doesn't deliver as much information as I'd like about the consequences for rural communities with meatpacking plants versus rural communities without them. I assume that part of the meatpacking county vulnerability is the lack of economic diversification.  

A more detailed report of the Peters survey, this one in the Cedar Rapids Gazette is here.   This story highlights what the Peters survey found about the pandemic's effects on Iowans' mental health.  Here are some key findings: 
A new survey found that while Iowans in the smallest towns have experienced a steep toll on their mental health throughout the pandemic, those living in larger communities were more likely to experience economic challenges and strains to their physical health.

Researchers from Iowa State University and the University of Iowa asked thousands of residents in 73 communities across the state to gauge how the pandemic effected various aspects of their lives, including their overall well-being and their financial situation. The collaborative survey effort was funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation, an independent agency within the federal government.

“We wanted an idea of how rural areas were being impacted,” said David Peters, a rural sociologist at Iowa State University who led the research.

More than 5,000 Iowans responded to the survey, which was mailed to more than 13,500 households between December 2020 and February.
And regarding the impact on meat packing towns, the Gazette story by Michaela Ramm reports:
The survey also measured the impact of the pandemic in four cities with meatpacking plants — Columbus Junction, Storm Lake, West Liberty and Denison. All of these communities have minority populations that exceed 60 percent of the total community population

Researchers found the impact of the pandemic often was worse in those communities. Peters said these residents — who often were people of color or immigrants and tended to be lower incomes — faced increased risk of negative health outcomes and financial challenges because of their jobs.

Rural Iowans of color had higher COVID-19 positivity rates and were hospitalized for the virus more frequently than residents outside of meatpacking cities.
Mental health worsened in smallest communities

Peters said one of the more concerning findings was that the mental health of rural Iowans has taken a major hit during the pandemic.

Particularly in Iowa’s smallest communities, worsening mental health poses long-lasting problems. If it’s not addressed, Peters said, it could lead to other issues including more substance use disorders and domestic violence.
Another Peters study about the effects of coronavirus across Iowa's counties is here.  

Thursday, December 23, 2021

North Dakota follows South Dakota's lead in paying lawyers to go rural

Here's a report from a North Dakota TV station. The salient North Dakota Code section is here. This is from the North Dakota Courts website, which shows Sept. 22, 2021 as the Effective Date:

Section 1. Authority and Purpose. Under N.D. Const. art. VI, § 3, and N.D.C.C. ch. 27-02.2, the supreme court through this rule establishes a Rural Attorney Recruitment Program to assist counties and municipalities in recruiting attorneys.

Section 2. County or Municipality Application. A county or municipality interested in participating in the program must submit an application to the supreme court. The application must include:

(a) An explanation of the county or municipality’s need for an attorney and its ability to sustain and support an attorney.
(b) Detailed information on:
(1) The demographics of the county or municipality, including population;
(2) The age and number of the members of the county or local bar association;
(3) Economic development programs within the county or municipality.(c) A written recommendation from the presiding judge of the judicial district in which the county or municipality is located.
The applicant county or municipality must agree that, if they are selected for participation in the program, they will pay their portion of the incentive payment as required under N.D.C.C. § 27-02.2-06.

Section 3. Assessment.

(a) On receipt of an application from a county or municipality desiring to participate in the program, the supreme court will appoint a three-member temporary committee to assess the application. The membership of the temporary committee will consist of a district judge, an attorney and a court administrator.
(b) The committee must determine whether the county or municipality is eligible to participate in the program based on the requirements listed in N.D.C.C. §§ 27-02.2-02 and 27-02.2-03.
(c) If the county or municipality is eligible, the committee will evaluate the information in the application to assess whether the applicant needs an attorney and has the ability to sustain and support an attorney.
(d) In its evaluation of the application, the committee must consider:
(1) The information provided by the applicant under subsection (2)(b);
(2) The presiding judge recommendation required under subsection (2)(c);
(3) The geographical location of the applicant in comparison to other counties or municipalities participating in the program;
(4) Any prior participation in the program by the county or municipality.(e) In assessing the information provided in the application, the committee may conduct whatever outside research it considers appropriate. On completion of its evaluation, the committee must transmit its recommendations in writing to the supreme court.
(f) The supreme court may revise the assessment of any county or municipality or appoint a temporary committee to conduct a new assessment.

Section 4. Attorney Application.

(a) An attorney selected for participation in the program must locate their law office in the participating county or municipality, locate their residence in close proximity to the participating county or municipality, and carry malpractice insurance. The attorney applicant must agree to live and practice law full-time in the participating community for at least five consecutive years. Participants in the program will be required to make an annual declaration confirming their continued practice and residence in the applicable county or municipality.
(b) An attorney interested in participating in the program must submit an application to the supreme court. The application must include: 
(1) A Certificate of Good Standing showing that the applicant is licensed to practice law in the state of North Dakota;
(2) Proof that the applicant is a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or permanent resident of the U.S.;
(3) A copy of the applicant’s law school transcript;
(4) Information about the applicant’s participation in any scholarship, loan repayment or tuition reimbursement program that obligated the applicant to provide attorney services within an under served area;
(5) Information about whether the applicant was ever subject to an investigation or disciplinary action by any bar association;
(6) Information about the applicant’s criminal history, including any felony or misdemeanor convictions.
Section 5. Administration.

(a) The office of state court administrator must: 
(1) maintain a list of counties and municipalities that have been assessed and selected for participation in the program;
(2) inform the state bar association of North Dakota and the applicable county or municipality when an applicant has been selected for participation in the program;
(3) inform program participants if one of the entities responsible for payment fails to deposit their share of funding.(b) Before July 1 of each year, the supreme court must submit a report on the status of the program to legislative management.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Beto O'Rourke pens column about rural Texas' needs

Tweet by Beto O'Rourke on December 13, 2021, from 
Amarillo, Texas

Beto O'Rourke famously visited all 250-something Texas counties when he ran for U.S. Senator against Ted Cruz a few years ago, so he's always been one to attend to the rural.  More evidence of this can be found in his recent visits to the Texas panhandle, like the one to Amarillo, above.  Now running for Texas governor, he has published this guest column today in the Marshall (Texas) News Messenger.  In it, O'Rourke touches on so many issues important to rural America, as well as the interdependence of rural and urban.  Emphasis below is mine:  

I was grateful to spend more time behind the pine curtain last week, where we met with folks to talk about the big things that can move this state forward, like making sure we have world-class schools, that we create the best jobs in America right in East Texas, and that we expand healthcare access so that every Texan can be well enough to live up to their full potential.

In Marshall, I spoke with a man in the telecommunications industry that expressed major concerns about broadband access in Harrison County because all three of those things — jobs, education, and healthcare — depend on reliable internet access, yet nearly a third of the county’s residents lack the most basic level of broadband.

An even bigger concern, he said, was that network service in the region could soon become even more inaccessible.

East Texas households could soon see their phone and internet bills go up anywhere between $25-$175 per month because state leaders have defunded the Texas Universal Service Fund, a state-administered fund designed to keep telecommunications costs affordable in hard-to-reach areas in counties like Greg, Rusk, Harrison, and the rest of rural Texas.

While the state legislature passed a bipartisan bill earlier this year to force the Public Utility Commission to fix the problems with the fund, Gov. Abbott vetoed the bill in June, leaving the fund’s fate up to the results of an appellate court hearing that took place last week on December 15.

The crisis with the Universal Service Fund is part and parcel of a broader trend of state leaders turning their backs on rural Texans.

For instance, Texas ranks last in the nation for rural access to health care. Because state leaders have stubbornly refused to expand Medicaid — leaving $100 billion of federal health care support on the table — Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the country. More rural hospitals have closed in Texas than anywhere else in the country, and more have closed in East Texas than in any other part of the state.

East Texas suffers from some of the highest rates of substance abuse and suicide in the state, at least in part because of how hard it is to see a doctor or a therapist in these communities. In Rusk County, there’s only one mental health provider per every 4,875 people, a rate nearly five times lower than the rest of the state. While local leaders are doing their best to combat these trends, they say the state government isn’t doing nearly enough to help turn things around.

It’s a total lack of investment in the East Texas communities that provide the food, the fuel, and the fiber that power the rest of the state.  (emphasis added)

Just look at the way our schools are funded. Texas places too heavy a burden on local taxpayers to fund our public education system, paying on average just 40 percent of what it costs a local school district to educate our kids. That makes it nearly impossible for rural East Texas districts with a smaller tax base to fund the educational and workforce development programs needed to make East Texas economically competitive. Without a greater share of state funding, districts like Bloomburg ISD can only pay their average teacher $10,000 less than the state average. How can we expect Bloomburg to be able to recruit and retain teachers if they have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet?

None of this is right, and it doesn’t have to be this way.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from my time in East Texas, it’s that rural communities already know how to address these challenges. They don’t need anyone to “fix” anything for them; they just want a governor to partner with them and meet them halfway in making the investments needed to guarantee affordable internet and utility bills, life-saving health care access, equitable school funding, and economic opportunity.

We can start by fully funding the Universal Service Fund and guaranteeing affordable broadband access, fully funding our schools and paying teachers truly competitive salaries, and expanding Medicaid to keep rural hospitals open and ensure every Texan is well enough to live up to their full potential. That’s how we’ll give young people a reason to stay, raise a family, start businesses, and create new jobs in these places.

That’s the only way that rural communities — and, in turn, cities like Marshall — will thrive.

This column by O'Rourke also appeared today in the San Antonio Express News

Meanwhile, a headline in the Dallas Morning News last week proclaimed, "Rural Texas could gain thousands of jobs if it expands digital economy, report says."  Here's the lede:  

Texas stands to gain more jobs than any other state if it expands the use of online tools and digital services in rural areas, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that was commissioned by Amazon.

The state could add as many as 23,433 jobs in rural areas over the next three years, according to the report. That would add up to about $6,657 million more in annual sales and about $963 million more in annual wages.

Here is coverage of O'Rourke's visit to Lubbock, as reference in the screenshot above.   

Sunday, December 19, 2021

On rural and small-town communities in 2024 election

Thomas Edsall writes frequently for the New York Times, and his columns are always worth reading.  Here's an excerpt from the one last Sunday, which touches on rural and small-town America in his quotes from scholars who are looking at issues of the day (emphasis mine) 

Jennifer L. Hochschild, a professor of government at Harvard, wrote by email that she certainly sees threats, “but I am not at all sure right now how deeply I think they undermine American democracy. If the Civil War (or more relevantly here, 1859-60) is the end of one continuum of threat, I don’t think we are close to that yet.”

At the same time, she cautioned,
the Democratic Party over the past few decades has gotten into the position of appearing to oppose and scorn widely cherished institutions — conventional nuclear family, religion, patriotism, capitalism, wealth, norms of masculinity and femininity, then saying “vote for me.” Doesn’t sound like a winning strategy to me, especially given the evident failure to find a solution to growing inequality and the hollowing out of a lot of rural and small-town communities. I endorse most or all of those Democratic positions, but the combination of cultural superiority and economic fecklessness is really problematic.

In other words, Hochschild is attending to inequities across regions.  The column continues:  

Sean Westwood, a political scientist at Dartmouth, is broadly cynical about the motives of members of both political parties.
“The finger pointing and sanctimony on the left is hardly earned,” Westwood replied to my emailed inquiries. Not only is there a long history of Democratic gerrymanders and dangerous assertions of executive power, he continued, but Democrats “can claim virtually no credit for upholding the outcome of the election. Courageous Republican officials affirmed the true vote in Arizona and Georgia and the Republican vice president certified the outcome before Congress.”
The “true problem,” Westwood wrote,
is that both parties are willing to undermine democratic norms for short-term policy gains. This is not a behavior that came from nowhere — the American public is to blame. We reward politicians who attack election outcomes, who present the opposition as subhuman and who avoid meaningful compromise.
Westwood, however, does agree with Skocpol and Galston’s critique of the Democratic left:
If the Democratic Party wants to challenge Republicans they need to move to the center and attempt to peel away centrist Republicans. Endorsing divisive policies and elevating divisive leaders only serves to make the Democrats less appealing to the very voters they need to sway to win.

Then there is this from Westwood that references the culture wars (again, emphasis mine).   

The Democrats, in Westwood’s view,
must return to being a party of the people and not woke-chasing elites who don’t understand that canceling comedians does not help struggling Americans feed their children. When it comes to financial policy Democrats are far better at protecting the poor, but this advantage is lost to unnecessary culture wars. Democrats need to stop wasting their time on cancel culture or they risk canceling themselves to those who live in the heart of this country.

Cross-posted to Working-Class Whites and the Law. 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

On rural and urban in the California redistricting process (Part II)

The Sacramento Bee reports today on the latest from California's independent re-districting commission, specifically about a newly drawn U.S. Congressional district that stretches from just south of San Francisco, down through part of Silicon Valley, along parts of the central coast, and inland to the rural reaches of San Luis Obispo County.  Here's an excerpt from Gillian Brassil's story focusing what's wrong with a district like this one, a Democrat-heavy area that would likely be held by incumbent Rep. Jimmy Panetta of Carmel Valley, in Monterey County.  

Paul Mitchell, a redistricting expert, said that the size and shape of the district aren’t what pose a problem, rather the distribution of wealth, endorsements and political structure that would make it difficult for a representative from San Luis Obispo County to run against someone from Silicon Valley. 

He drew an analogy: If a sliver of downtown Sacramento were connected to disparate rural areas, candidates from outside the state’s capital would stand little chance against someone who has the financial and political support of people in the metropolitan hub.

“Somebody from Yolo County isn’t going to beat somebody from Sacramento in a congressional race. That’s the problem, I think, with this new ‘ribbon of shame’ that they’re talking about,” Mitchell said. “It’s not the size that I think is problematic. It’s the fact that it has a finger going into Atherton and Menlo Park and the Apple headquarters.” 

“Ribbon of shame” was former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nickname for a 2000s-era congressional district that stretched from Oxnard to the bottom of Monterey County. Maps sliced it out the last time California underwent redistricting in 2010. The phrase resurfaced among analysts to describe the San Luis Obispo to South San Francisco stretch.

My prior post on this topic is here.   

Postscript:  The final maps, published a few days before Christmas, are here.  A Wall Street Journal editorial on the topic doesn't mention rural issues, but it criticizing California's "racial gerrymandering" as reflected in the final redistricting is here.  An excerpt follows:  

The map-makers apparently tried to achieve something like proportional representation by race, drawing 18 majority-Hispanic districts and 18 majority white districts, according to the Princeton data. That roughly tracks both groups’ total share of the adult population. One district is majority Asian and the rest have no majority group.

This outcome is being touted as a victory by ethnic activists, but it means that voters are being assigned electoral districts based in part on race or ethnicity. The idea is that voters of a particular race should be grouped together to increase their collective voting power. 
* * * 
But it has the effect of amplifying identity politics, including white identity politics. When jurisdictions are carved along ethnic lines, politicians in both parties have less need to build multiethnic coalitions.

Cross-posted to Working-Class Whites and the Law

Friday, December 17, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXIII): Rural-Urban Differences in Hospitalization and Mortality Rates for US COVID-19 Patients

Open Forum for Infectious Diseases published this study on "Evaluation of Rural-Urban Differences in Hospitalization and Mortality Rates for US COVID-19 Patients in the United States" on December 4, 2021.  Here's the abstract: 
Rural communities are among the most vulnerable and resource-scarce populations in the United States. Rural data is rarely centralized, precluding comparability across regions, and no significant studies have studied this population at scale. The purpose of this study is to present findings from the National COVID Cohort Collaborative (N3C) to provide insight into future research and highlight the urgent need to address health disparities in rural populations.

N3C Patient Distribution

This figure shows the geospatial distribution of the N3C COVID-19 positive population. N3C contains data from 55 data contributors from across the United States, 40 of whom include sufficient location information to map by ZIP Code centroid spatially. Of those sites, we selected 27 whose data met our minimum robustness qualifications for inclusion in our study. This bubble map is to scale with larger bubbles representing more patients. A. shows all N3C patients. B. shows only urban N3C distribution. C. shows the urban-adjacent rural patient distribution. D. shows the nonurban-adjacent rural patient distribution, representing the most isolated patients in N3C.  (emphasis added)

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Shift in regulations on medication abortion especially significant for rural women

Sarah McCammon reported for NPR yesterday on a likely move by the Food and Drug Administration today regarding the drug mifepristone, which induces abortion.  About 40% of patients seeking abortion do so with pills instead of a surgical procedure, making the availability of this drug important.  At stake in particular is whether the abortion pills can be prescribed via telemedicine and made available by mail.  

An excerpt from McCammon's story follows, including a nod to rural women. 

Before the pandemic, doctors like Nisha Verma could only prescribe abortion pills to patients who came to her clinic in person. But at least for now, the Biden Administration is allowing patients to get the pills by mail.

"I think that makes it much more accessible for people where they don't actually have to physically come into a clinic, they don't have to expose themselves to COVID, they can do this all from the comfort of their home," said Verma, an OBGYN and abortion provider based in Washington, D.C.

Last year, reproductive rights groups successfully sued to suspend the in-person dispensing rule, arguing it exposed patients to unnecessary risk from COVID-19. The Trump Administration fought that decision to the Supreme Court, which allowed the rule to be reinstated. Then, the Biden Administration stepped in this April to once again allow patients to receive the abortion pills by mail during the pandemic.

Verma said this mail option has been particularly helpful for women in rural areas far from the nearest clinic.
Now, the Food and Drug Administration faces a Thursday deadline to complete a review that could lead to removing several restrictions on the pill, including making this easier access permanent.

Scholarly discussions of medication abortion in relation to rural women are here and here.   

Postscript:  Here's a story on how the FDS's regulation of medication abortion shifted on December 16, 2021.  An excerpt from that story follows--specifically a caption to a photo: 

Lifting the restrictions on mifepristone would make medication abortion more accessible, but in 19 states that have already banned telemedicine visits for abortion pills, women would probably need to travel to states that allow it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

On bell hooks: Black, female, working class and "semirural"

Gloria Jean Watkins, whose pen name was bell hooks, died this morning.  She was a prolific scholar known for her poetry, as well as her work on race, gender, class, capitalism and place.  

hooks ended her career at Berea College, in Berea, Kentucky, and while I thought of her as a Kentuckian, I didn't necessarily think of her as rural.  Still, this line from a bell hooks tribute in the New York Times caught my eye:

bell hooks was the pen name of Gloria Jean Watkins, who was born on Sept. 25, 1952, in Hopkinsville, Ky., a small city in the southwestern part of the state not far from the Tennessee border.

Though her childhood in the semirural South exposed her to vicious examples of white supremacy, her tight-knit Black community in Hopkinsville showed her the possibility of resistance from the margins, of finding community among the oppressed and drawing power from those connections — a theme to which she would return frequently in her work.

Her father, Veodis Watkins, was a postal worker, and her mother, Rosa Bell (Oldham) Watkins, was a homemaker.

I've long found it interesting that hooks/Watkins chose to live out the final years of her career at Berea College, also in nonmetro Kentucky.  I don't mean that in a bad way.  I think it shows an attachment to place, not a lack of ambition.  

I've also always found hooks' thoughts on class interesting, in particular her compassion for poor whites.  Here's an excerpt from her book Where We Stand:  Class Matters (2000):   

Most folks who comment on class acknowledge that poverty is seen as having a black face, but they rarely point to the fact that this representation has been created and sustained by the mass media ... The hidden face[s] of poverty in the United States are  the untold stories of millions of poor white people.  Undue media focus on poor nonwhites deflects attention away from the reality of white poverty. (p. 116-17)

A relatively recent bell hooks interview that proved controversial--at least with my students at UC Davis School of Law--is here.  What I see as the most provocative quote follows: 

For so many years in the feminist movement, women were saying that gender is the only aspect of identity that really matters, that domination only came into the world because of rape. Then we had so many race-oriented folks who were saying, “Race is the most important thing. We don’t even need to be talking about class or gender.” So for me, that phrase always reminds me of a global context, of the context of class, of empire, of capitalism, of racism and of patriarchy. Those things are all linked — an interlocking system.

Cross-posted to Working-Class Whites and the Law.  

Monday, December 13, 2021

Bradley Jackson of "The Morning Show" as country mouse--or is it country bear?

I just started watching "The Morning Show" (Apple+) last week and was soon struck by the country mouse-city mouse dynamic the creators set up between Alex Levy, played by Jennifer Anniston, and Bradley Jackson, played by Reese Witherspoon.  Bradley is the new morning co-anchor, joining Alex, after her former co-anchor, a man, is deposed for sexual harassment in the era of MeToo.  

There are so many important themes in this show--not least the patriarchy, sexually predatory behavior by men, and--ultimately--women's empowerment.  Here, I want to pick up on two other themes that jump out--two themes that happen to be my pet issues:  rurality and class.  Bradley Jackson represents the rural kid from West Virginia--brusque, direct, rough around the edges even when she is gussied up in the fine New York duds the network provides her (she prefers pants to dresses, thank you very much).  She was raised working class.  Bradley is the country mouse foil to Alex Levy's super polished, conniving, and inwardly angst-ridden/falling apart city mouse. 

In Episodes 4 and 5, which I watched tonight, Bradley reveals--in her first appearance as co-anchor of the show--that she had an abortion when she was 15. Here, she brushes right up against being white trash. And while the abortion and the matter-of-fact way she discloses it are controversial and thus shake network executives, they also generate a younger following for the show.  The disclosure also inspires college students in Mississippi to stand up against state abortion regulations.  To them, Bradley is a hero.  Critical issues of generational difference and generational conflict are thus surfaced.  

Also notable is how the show's creators give Bradley the "Pretty Woman" treatment--putting her in posh clothing, including a private shopping spree at Barney's over the weekend before she begins her gig.  They do not, however, ask her to eliminate the slight twang with which she speaks.  

Another interesting scene is when The Morning Show "cleans up" Bradley's mom in West Virginia to bring her on air--reading from cue cards--to talk about what a great kid Bradley was growing up.  In fact, Bradley and her mom were frequently in intense conflict, and it is this ruse by The Morning Show's producers that causes Bradley to burst out and disclose a more honest portrait of her life in the Mountain State, including her teenage abortion.  

In another scene, Bradley is talking on air about a young adult author and says "ya"--as in "y'all"--rather than "Y", "A," as this term gets pronounced, with the letters articulated separately.  She handles it well, repeating "ya" in realization--or is it poking fun at herself?--and then saying it the way said by people in the know, upper class folks. 

I'm looking forward to more rural-urban differentiation in future episodes.  I'd also love to see some commentary on these issues, but so far, I've found only this piece offering a nod to Bradley's Appalachian roots.  (Oh, and there's this ad for the West Virginia hoodie Bradley/Reese wears in an episode of the show).  

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.  

Sunday, December 12, 2021

More red-state bashing in the wake of historic tornado damage

I wrote last week about how many urban dwellers and coastal elites are so angry at rural and red state folks that they don't even want to hear advice on how to get to them vote Democratic.  In fact, they just seem to want to flaunt their anger at these constituencies.   

Sadly, several responses to inappropriate and insensitive tweets have come across my Twitter feed since the string of tornados tore across six states Friday night, impacting mostly nonmetropolitan areas in Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois.  (Read coverage here, here and here).  Also sadly, this is a redux of Twitter backlash to earlier red state disasters, like the power outages amidst record cold in Texas last winter, when I saw Tweets ridiculing people for choosing to live in Texas.  (I'll bracket for now any response to the notion that people truly have choice about where to live, especially if they are low income)

Here, I'm just going to post some of the rural pushback to the hateful tornado Tweets.  They speak for themselves, except that you can't always see the ugly Tweets that folks are responding to.  In any event, this seems to illustrate well the ways in which blue states are hating on red states--and urban is hating on rural of late.    

Screenshot from Dec. 12, 2021

Screenshot from December 11, 2021

Another Arkansan's response to the same tweet--or more precisely to the profile of the woman who sent the tweet, a Californian:

Screenshot from December 11, 2021

And that generated these responses:  

Some of the lefty Twitter anger was directed at Rand Paul, U.S. Senator from Kentucky, who had earlier opposed disaster aid to "blue states."  That anger seems appropriate because Paul is an elected official with some power to control resources--and because he has specifically opposed aid to places based on their political leanings.  And now, of course the shoe is on the other foot given Kentucky's enormous need.  

I also note that coverage of the tornados, which impacted many small cities and rural areas, like Mayfield (population 10,000) and Dawson Springs (population 2,500) in Kentucky, has included a lot of rhetoric about community solidarity and everyone knowing everyone (lack of anonymity), as well as the terrible blow this represents to not only to individuals, but also to the economies of counties and regions.  One interview with an elected county executive yesterday mentioned the need to rebuild economies--in addition to the obvious need to rebuild homes, churches, schools, courthouses and other destroyed buildings.  Just imagine, for example, the impact that loss of the candle manufacturer in Mayfield will have on the region; it employed hundreds of people in a place with a relatively undiversified economy.  A story from the New York Times yesterday hinted at that issue, with this quote from 25-year-old Dashawntrey Cooper, 

This is going to make or break Mayfield.  It's going to take more than just strength to come back from this.  

Postscript:  here's a Washington Post report on President Biden's December 15 visit to Mayfield Kentucky, the hard hit city in the western part of the state.  The story is by Matt Viser, and the headline is "In Trump country, a willingness to set aside politics as Biden visits."  A representative excerpt follows:

Cliff Giambrone most certainly didn’t vote for President Biden and, in fact, was outside the U.S. Capitol protesting the election results on Jan. 6. On the trailer hitch on the back of his van, he usually uses two 10-foot poles to fly a flag with a derogatory message aimed at Biden: “Let’s Go Brandon.”

But when the 67-year-old retired construction worker drove from his home in Hamburg, Pa., to help the recovery effort here, he made a conscious decision to leave that flag at home, bringing an American flag instead. “Believe me, part of me wants to wave that flag and smile when he looks at it,” he said. “But I don’t want to be that guy.”

Pausing in his search for a lost photo album in the rubble of a home, Giambrone added, “I am political, but there are times you have to set that aside. This is one of those moments. I hope it’s not temporary. I didn’t vote for him, but he’s still my president. I want to support him.”

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Small-town America in Bob Dole's life

Frank Morris reports for NPR this morning on the memorial service for Bob Dole in his hometown, Russell, Kansas, population 4,401.  Here's an excerpt that highlights what Dole's hometown meant to him, with a vignette from 1976, when he was Gerald Ford's running mate:

MORRIS: At the Historical Society in Russell, about half the displays are devoted to Bob Dole.

ALDEAN BANKER: Yeah, he was a handsome guy - wasn't he? - very handsome and...

MORRIS: Aldean Banker is showing off a big photo of a dapper teenage Bob Dole. Dole worked long hours in his dad's struggling grain business and at the drugstore on Main Street. He was a star athlete recruited to play basketball at the University of Kansas. The first in his family to go to college, he quit to go to war. Grievously wounded attacking a Nazi machine gun position, he narrowly survived to endure years of surgeries that left him with a withered right arm and only partial use of his left one.

BANKER: Anybody who has gone through what he's gone through would have maybe given up, and he did not do that. His work ethic did not allow him to do that.

MORRIS: Back in Russell, Dole tried to strengthen his shattered body working out with homemade weights on pulleys. Banker says townsfolk stuffed donations in a cigar box at the drugstore to help with expenses.

BANKER: I think he was overwhelmed by the support that he got from the city, and he never forgot that.

MORRIS: Russell voters launched Dole's political career. And in 1976, Gerald Ford tapped Senator Dole to be his presidential running mate. Dole insisted that the first campaign stop after the convention would be Russell, Kan.


BOB DOLE: But I want to reemphasize, as I did before, if I have done anything, it's because of people I have known up and down Main Street. And I can recall the time when I needed help, the people of Russell helped.

MORRIS: Dole broke down on stage as Gerald Ford and townspeople applauded supportively. He struggled most of a minute to regain composure. After losing the election, Senator Dole worked across the aisle, joining liberal Democrats to improve food assistance, Social Security and the rights of people with disabilities. Dole fought pitched partisan battles, but he never slandered his political opponents as enemies - never called them evil. That kind of talk was way too grandiose for Bob Dole. He maintained a self-deprecating sense of humor and perspective grounded, he said, in his childhood on the high plains of Kansas.

This is fascinating--that Dole wound up supporting food aid, Social Security and people with disabilities.  Those are programs we tend to associate with Democrats--but they also do reflect rural needs, as well as urban ones of course.   Here's the end of the Morris story, which hints at the limitations of man--and therefore the limitations of self-sufficiency: 

DOLE: The first thing you learn on the prairie is the relative size of a man compared to the lay of the land. And under the immense sky where I was born and raised, a man is very small. And if he thinks otherwise, he is wrong. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Is an orientation to work and self-sufficiency making Democrats' domestic policies unpopular?

National Public Radio reported a few days ago on new poll that shows Democrats not getting credit for their assistance to low-income families.  Kelsey Snell and Domenico Montanaro report, with some excerpts following, including this part I want to highlight the most, but which doesn't show up in the transcript.  It's a quote from a Republican voter in Oklahoma who got the child tax credit for his kids but says it didn't help it all.  In that regard, he represents one in five voters who responded to the survey.  Curious, because it's hard to imagine how a cash infusion couldn't help "at all." 

Perhaps more importantly, that respondent--whose race is not specified--doesn't think it's good for government to give money to people.  Here's his quote (transcribed by me):  

Long term, it's a problem because you need a better choice.  What you're doing when you actually give these people that Band Aid is you're making them dependent on that Band Aid.

This reflects a long-standing attitude of Americans who value work--the idea of work.  These folks expect all people to work because they work--even if the fruits of their labor don't truly meet their economic need.  This is reflected most prominently in Jennifer Sherman's book, Those who Work, Those who Don't:  Poverty, Morality and Family in Rural America, and I've written about it here and here.  

What follows is an excerpt from the story's transcript with more context on the poll on which Snell and Montanaro were reporting:   

Democrats say the child tax credit has a particularly large impact on low-income families for whom the additional funds have been crucial. A recent study from Columbia University found that those monthly payments kept 3.6 million children out of poverty in October.

In the NPR/Marist survey, almost 6 in 10 eligible households said they received the child tax credit. But the 59% of eligible respondents is far below the number of families that the government expects should be getting funds. The IRS estimated earlier this year that the families of 88% of children in the U.S. would be eligible for the payments and said in September that 35 million families received them.

The disconnect between the government figures and respondents' answers is a perception and credit problem for Biden and Democrats.

Even among those who did recall receiving the tax credit, two-thirds said it only helped a little and 1 in 5 said it didn't help at all.
Biden's perception problem

For the president, there were further signs that voters don't give him credit for the policies of his own administration.

When it came to those direct payments, respondents gave Democrats in Congress a plurality of the credit for getting them to people (40%), while 17%, credited Republicans — even though zero congressional Republicans voted for the March relief bill.

The same percentage — just 17% — felt Biden was most responsible for sending the cash.
* * *
While the numbers are a sign of a deeply polarized society, there's also evidence of lackluster feelings for the president among even people in his own party.

For example, in the survey, while 76% of Republicans strongly disapproved of the job Biden is doing, only 38% of Democrats strongly approved.
* * *
Democrats have spent months repeating the message that their legislation will not add to the deficit or worsen inflation. In an address from the White House in October, Biden called the plans fiscally responsible policies to help the country grow.

"They don't add a single penny to the deficit," he said. "And they don't raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 a year. In fact, they reduce the deficit."

Overall, 61% of respondents said things in the country are going in the wrong direction. That's a significant drop from back in July, when .Biden was saying the U.S. was on the cusp of independence from the pandemic. Americans then were split but more optimistic than they are now on the direction of the country.

Cross-posted to Working-Class Whites and the Law.  

Thursday, December 9, 2021

On rural difference and why it justifies local control on public health measures

The San Francisco Chronicle interviewed Scott Thomson, vice mayor of the city of Oroville in northern California, which last month declared itself a constitutional republic in relation to wishing not to enforce the state's vaccine mandates.  You can read more about the matter here and here.  I'm covering this interview with Thomson because he provides more information than I've seen elsewhere about what he--the architect of the resolution--and others in Oroville were thinking when they passed it, including regarding the question:  why a "constitutional republic"?  I also think his description of rural difference is noteworthy and gives us insights into a "rural" mindset (though Oroville is a city of 20,000).  

Here's a quote from Thomson on the former:  

The founding document of this country protects the rights of its citizens against the government and says there are certain self-evident, unalienable rights that are not given by the government and should be protected. The second word "republic" was chosen because it is what America is. We didn’t declare ourselves a new country, or a community, or the Communist Party of China or something. We declared ourselves what we already are.

We are not a pure democracy but a republic, which gives a voice to minority because otherwise you have majority rule. In a pure democracy, if 51% of people want to take away your house they can take away your house, but in a constitutional republic, you have rights that no one can take away.

Other news reports have made it sound like we're trying to separate from California or the United States, which is not true, or that it's about seeking protection from all COVID mandates. The way Vice has written about us has been immature and they look like fools.

And here's a quote from the vice mayor on the latter, which elaborates on rural difference and why that difference from the implicit urban norm justifies local control: 

But given that there's a threat [from COVID-19] , the question is, "How should that threat be handled?" I think that it's not a one-size-fits-all approach like our governor and president believe. Assemblyman James Gallagher has long been asking Sacramento for local control in how we protect citizens here, which has fallen on deaf ears.

Some mandates and policies may work better in San Francisco or Los Angeles, where you have millions of people stacked on top of each other versus a rural area that's very spread out. And in a rural community like ours, where people have been around for decades, everyone knows each other. I've lived in the Bay Area before and know that when you go into a grocery store, there's a high chance you won’t see anyone you know. Here, it's sometime hard to leave the store without stopping and talking to everyone because we have such a tight-knit community.

When someone is sick, most of the town knows because we’re all friends. We've taken the pandemic seriously and rallied around each other. I can see why in places with less connectivity, it may make more sense for the government to get involved.

My main point is just because there's a policy in a large metropolitan area, it's not always the best decision to bring it to a community like ours. Or, at least let us have a dialogue with Newsom and the state's health officials because so far it's been one-way communication and we feel like we don't have a voice in some of these decisions.

We have no plans to secede from the state, we love California, but the sense and feel is that it's Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Francisco calling the shots while rural communities like ours have no say. If Gavin had listened to Gallagher, and said, "Let's bring them in and have a dialogue," maybe we'd come away saying, "We may not like this, but we're all in this together." But right now it feels like they're saying, "We're mandating it and you're following suit. Shut up if you have questions, you idiots."  

I'd love to see a State of California executive/gubernatorial response to this complaint about one-way communication.   

Postscript.  For the sake of contrast, here's a report out of Missouri on December 10, about an executive branch official going in the other direction on COVID:  the state attorney general, who is running for senate, has ordered Missouri counties to abandon all public health measures in relation to the pandemic.  

He wrote local public health agencies Tuesday threatening legal action if they do not drop mask mandates, quarantine rules or other public health orders. His letter followed a court ruling last month that stripped health departments of several legal powers to order disease-control measures.

The story features one nonmetro southwest Missouri county, Laclede, with a 35% vaccination rate, which is doing just that.  

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

On rural and urban in the California redistricting process

The San Francisco Examiner today picked up some New York Times coverage about the work of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, including what follows, which speaks to some issues and districts in rural California, including in the Central Valley and exurban southern California.  The tory starts with the announcement of Devin Nunes, who has represented a district in the southern San Joaquin Valley (specifically parts of Fresno and Tulare County) for two decades that he will not run for re-election:  

No longer able to count on his rural, agricultural base, Nunes would have had to win over the gracious neighborhoods along Van Ness Avenue in Fresno, with their verandas and Black Lives Matter flags, and the hipsters of the city’s Tower District, who have more affection for Devin Nunes’ Cow, a Twitter account mocking the congressman, than the man himself. The commission appears intent on giving Latinos in the Central Valley a chance to elect their first representative ever.

Nunes could have moved to a new district taking shape along the Nevada border, which will be heavily Republican, but he chose to go elsewhere. He was not alone in pondering a new future. After losing his San Diego-area seat to a Democrat in 2018, another outspoken conservative, Rep. Darrell Issa, moved to a conservative district abandoned by indicted Republican Duncan Hunter. That seat could end up far more competitive.

The Duncan Hunter district, in eastern San Diego County, is arguably exurban, as is a district that includes parts of northern Los Angeles County, in the area of Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley, which the article also discusses: 

Rep. Mike Garcia, a Republican, won a special election to replace a young Democrat felled by a sex scandal, then shocked Democrats by winning reelection last year by 333 votes in a district that Biden won by 35,000. The commission, however, appears intent on lopping off Republican-heavy Simi Valley from Garcia’s district in north Los Angeles County, leaving him holding on by a thread to a considerably less conservative seat.

Finally, the early maps of the California state assembly and senate districts are out, and they show a single state senate district down the eastern side of the state, from the Oregon state line south to Death Valley.  It is greater than the size of the state of Kentucky and would take 12 hours to travel from north to south.  A screen shot of the map follows (look right to the state's border with Nevada).  The only urban area in this district is in Redding the far north.  Lake Tahoe is roughly equidistant between north and south: 

Monday, December 6, 2021

As Roe v. Wade comes under threat, attention turns to the issue of travel in abortion access; it's nothing new for rural women

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring a woman's right to chose an abortion, appears to be under eminent threat, if recent commentary and the recent oral argument in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization is any indication.  If Roe falls, the states will once again represent a patchwork of abortion access.  

Interestingly, and probably not surprisingly, this turn of events has pro-choice advocates focused on the issue of distance--in particular the distance that women may have to travel, across state boundaries, to get an abortion in a state where they are available.  Travel across state lines has become more of an issue in recent years as abortion restrictions in some states made it easier for women in some states to cross state lines to get abortions in neighboring states--or even to fly across the country to states like California, where abortion services are more readily available.    

Here's one such resource, reflecting the renewed interest in distance and travel, from the Guttmacher Institute.  The heading is "If Roe v. Wade Falls: Travel Distance for People Seeking Abortion," and the subtitle, if you will, follows: 
If the U.S. Supreme Court weakens or overturns Roe v. Wade, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion. This interactive map allows users to see the potential effects of a total ban, a 15-week ban and a 20-week ban on how far people seeking abortion care would have to drive to find care. The map also shows which states are unlikely to ban abortion and would have the nearest clinic for people driving from states where abortion is banned.
Here's another story focused on distances within states, as I have done in my scholarly work.  This story details access and lack thereof in Montana, the fourth largest state in the nation in terms of land area covered.  Read more of my analysis of the travel burden within states here, here, and hereHannah Haksgaard has also written of travel in relation to abortion access.  

In any event, this issue much discussed in the pre-Roe era when some states permitted abortion, and still discussed in many other nations (think Irish women having to travel to Britain), is now suddenly, robustly back in our consciousness and in the news.  It's a pity we couldn't get pro-choice advocates to focus a bit more on distance and travel when issues like the "undue burden" and "substantial obstacle" were the legal standards at stake, back when we were not in panic mode about wholesale loss of a constitutional right to choose.  

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Former Montana Governor Steve Bullock on vying for the rural vote--and the snarky metropolitan response

Bullock's essay appears in today's New York Times under the headline, "I Was the Governor of Montana. My Fellow Democrats, You Need to Get Out of the City More."  Here's an excerpt: 

The core problem is a familiar one — Democrats are out of touch with the needs of the ordinary voter. In 2021, voters watched Congress debate for months the cost of an infrastructure bill while holding a social spending bill hostage. Both measures contain policies that address the challenges Americans across the country face. Yet to anyone outside the Beltway, the infighting and procedural brinkmanship haven’t done a lick to meet their needs at a moment of health challenges, inflation and economic struggles. You had Democrats fighting Democrats, letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, and desperately needed progress was delayed. It’s no wonder rural voters think Democrats are not focused on helping them.

* * *  

Democrats need to show up, listen, and respect voters in rural America by finding common ground instead of talking down to them. Eliminating student loans isn’t a top-of-mind matter for the two-thirds of Americans lacking a college degree. Being told that climate change is the most critical issue our nation faces rings hollow if you’re struggling to make it to the end of the month. And the most insulting thing is being told what your self-interest should be.

* * *  

We need to frame our policies, not in terms of grand ideological narratives, but around the material concerns of voters. Despite our differences and no matter where we live, we generally all want the same things: a decent job, a safe place to call home, good schools, clean air and water, and the promise of a better life for our kids and grandkids.

For me, that meant talking about Obamacare not as an entitlement, but as a way to save rural hospitals and keep local communities and small businesses afloat. It meant talking about expanding apprenticeships, not just lowering the costs of college.

I didn't think the essay was very controversial, but many reader comments suggest that Bullock was being anti-urban.  For example, he is taken to mean that only rural voters are "ordinary" voters, which may be a fair interpretation of what he wrote.  Still, I don't think it's what Bullock meant.  Given that implication, he is taken to task by various urban dwelling readers in ways that have become common on my Twitter feed and in conversations in my coastal elite world:  Who says rural folks--read as a dog whistle for white folks--are more "ordinary" or, God forbid, more American than urban and suburban voters, often code for voters of color.  One "Times Pick" reader, Patrick from Dallas, wrote:  

Maybe the rural voter needs to live in the city for a year or two.  Maybe the "ordinary voter" is a [sic] urban dweller.  I have personally gotten pretty tired of the "real" America narrative--it's as if the rest of us are fake Americans.  

Other readers looked right past Bullock's admonition not to tell rural voters "what their self-interest should be" and said things like Edward B. Blau of Wisconsin about people who 

vote against their own self interests because of racial grievances, xenophobia, misogyny and being evangelicals.  

Lots of readers mentioned these supposed beliefs and attitudes of rural voters, including "skeptonomist" from Tennessee, who also hinted at the theme of rural folks not knowing what was in their best interests.  

The problem is that Republicans appeal to racism, racial xenophobia, and the secular power of religion, thwarting any material progress.  The tribal instincts thus aroused cause many people to ignore their material needs and even the danger to their own lives from covid.  

A few readers suggest that Bullock must not know what he's talking about because he lost his own bid in 2020 for the Senate seat held by Republican Steve Daines, an election cycle in which Republicans swept the Montana state constitutional offices.  (For what it's worth, I still don't understand how this happened, given Bullock's popularity and track record in Montana, but I suspect Bullock was hurt by the steps he took late in his second term as governor to contain the pandemic).

But the primary gripe among the readers' comments, I think, is that rural voters are undeserving of Democrats' attention or government investments or really even any good thing, e.g., infrastructure investments, because they already have disproportionate power--by design--in the Senate and Electoral College.  Here's Patrick from Dallas again:  

Rural voters are over-represented in Congress and State Legislatures, they receive a disproportionate amount of Federal dollars; they have a disproportionate impact in the Senate and Presidential elections. 

This is an old argument that has become more urgent--far more urgent--in recent years, as a growing number of U.S. presidential candidates have won the popular vote but not Electoral College.  And that disproportionate rural or red state power has urban folks--especially progressive urban ones--furious not just at the Constitution and these historic structures, but at rural voters themselves.  I find that unhelpful, as if rural folks should be punished for the power that they wield--at least when they don't exercise that power in ways that urban voters approve.

In short, the pitting of rural interests against urban interests is unhelpful and, ultimately, counter-productive.  Instead of seeing rural and urban as complementary (rural folks provide food, fiber and so forth ... urban folks provide a lot of other important stuff...), they are seen as combatants in a zero-sum game which, admittedly, the Electoral College and Senate are.  Still, it is surely not a constructive way to approach a constituency the Democrats need if they are to govern at local and state levels, let alone at the federal level.     

In a sense, Bullock was saying, "here's what Democrats need to do to win the rural vote," and many readers--a majority of those who commented--responded with "f*&$ the rural vote."  They don't care what they can do to win rural voters because they don't like and are resentful of rural voters.  They remind me of law students who fight the hypothetical instead of working with the facts they're given.  I'm not saying folks shouldn't be trying to change or eliminate the electoral college, but for now, it's a reality and complaining about it and rural voters isn't going to garner rural votes.  Meanwhile, they're shooting the messenger.  

These readers seem willing to cut their noses off to spite their faces--to keep losing elections--if that is the consequence of clinging to a principle.  And that principle seems to be that it's distasteful to reach out to these (presumptively) bigoted and small-minded voters who don't deserve their solicitude.  

It makes me hope that folks responding to Bullock's essay--like many folks who are universally hateful to rural people and places in my Twitter feed and in my professional world--are not representative of those who are making decisions on behalf of Democrats at all levels of the party's organization.  

Advice from another Montana politician, U.S Senator Jon Tester, on how to cultivate the rural vote is here. You'll find lots of other posts about the rural vote here (nearly 400 posts in 14 years!) 

Post script:  Bullock appeared in this episode of Hacks on Tap in mid December, 2021.  The reason he offered there for his big loss to Steve Daines:  He was unable to counter the Democrats toxic brand in rural America because the pandemic stopped him from showing up to counter that narrative.  

An earlier post about Bullock, when he was a presidential candidate, is here.