Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Finally, the LA Times take up Oroville's declaration of "constitutional republic"

This story has been all over the California, national and even international media in recent weeks, and now Hailey Branson-Potts weighs in with coverage for the Los Angeles Times--on the front-page no less.  As is characteristic of her reporting, Branson-Potts brings us many local voices, including that of Scott Thomson, the vice mayor of Oroville and the brains behind the "constitutional republic" resolution.  Here are some excerpts: 

For some, the declaration was a stand for freedom. But others in town saw it as a reckless tantrum amid an ongoing pandemic that has killed more than 73,000 Californians.

Regarding Thomson's views in particular, the story includes these paragraphs:
“Now that the mandates have gone from not just putting something on the outside of your body or modifying how you run your business, but now shoving something inside your body that nobody knows the long-term effects of, that’s just like, OK, now you’re, in my opinion, crossing the line,” Thomson said.

Thomson, the pastor of an Assembly of God church, said he is not anti-mask or opposed to the vaccine for people who want it. He said he and his sons are not vaccinated but that they now have antibodies after a mild bout with COVID-19 in August.

“There are people out there who are like, ‘This whole thing is a hoax,’” Thomson said. “We are not like that, just being reckless.”

He said that unvaccinated city employees are tested weekly for COVID-19 at the city’s expense. And his church has handed out hundreds of masks to congregants.

Interestingly, Thomson declined to appear on a northern California radio program about the Oroville move, but he did appear recently on Fox News to talk about his stance.  

The Branson-Potts story continues:   

Oroville resident Celia Hirschman lost her father, former San Francisco poet laureate Jack Hirschman, to COVID-19 three months ago. She said the resolution insults people who have lost loved ones or are immunocompromised, just to score political points.

“It says we’re cowboys, and we’re not going to live by your rules,” she said. “I don’t think it’s about open dialogue at all. I feel it’s a dangerous measure that they have no business adding to our charter.”

* * * 

Brian Wong, who opened the Union Bar & Grill in Oroville in fall 2019, said he thought the city’s statement about the mandates was “very courageous.”

As a small-business owner, Wong said he felt like he had to navigate complicated and ever-changing state rules on his own.

“You felt angry, you felt weak. For a whole year, it was nothing but fear and anger going through this whole system,” he said. “Seeing politics creep into all of it, it felt like they were not being sincere about health and safety.”

Wong, who also owns the 109-year-old Chinese restaurant Tong Fong Low, said he spent a lot of money to build a patio for outdoor dining and required his dozens of employees to wear masks for more than a year, until vaccines became widely available.

He has heard all views about the pandemic from his customers and said he welcomes diverse perspectives. That’s why he named his restaurant Union, because it’s his vision of California: “a coming together of all these different people to make up the whole.”

An earlier post about the Oroville City Council's recent resolution is here.  Other posts mentioning Oroville in relation to other issues, e.g., water infrastructure, education and racial disparities, wildfires, are here.  

Monday, November 29, 2021

Another angle on the rural housing crisis: living "unsheltered" on one's own property

NPR reported yesterday from Park County, Colorado, between Denver and Aspen, on the struggle to stay housed in rural Colorado, where some are able to buy a piece of land but not also able to afford to build on it a licensed/permitted dwelling structure.  Here's an excerpt from the story that illustrates the problem, leading with a query/intro by Dan Boyce, the journalist reporting, about Jim McKinney, formerly homeless in Denver:  

BOYCE: He's been sober for a decade now, but a life roughly lived left him all broken up. He's too disabled to work. There's no way he could afford living in the city. So a few years ago, he scraped together $13,000 with help from his parents and bought five acres way up in the mountains, about 120 miles from Denver.

MCKINNEY: I can flip this on first thing in the morning, and it'll take the chill out of the air because I don't run the heat all night.

BOYCE: His house, if you can call it that, is a dirt pit dug into a hillside fronted by two walls of sun-bleached aspen logs.

MCKINNEY: I've got aspens right on the other side of the hill here.

BOYCE: The roof is nothing but canvas tarps and blankets. He has little windows cut into the logs, a wood burning stove inside. It looks surprisingly similar to a 19th century Western homestead, with the life style to match.

MCKINNEY: I mean, honestly, yeah, I'm definitely scratching out a living.

BOYCE: McKinney's income consists of $800 a month in disability payments from the federal government. And many of his neighbors have it much worse.

TOM MCGRAW: A lot of people are out here solely because of the fact that they're broke.

BOYCE: Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw sees a lot of that. He patrols this rugged and empty country. It's about 9,000 feet above sea level. Housing in his jurisdiction is a tale of extremes. Existing homes are very expensive. Construction costs are some of the highest in the state. But there are many small, remote plots of land that are extraordinarily cheap.

MCGRAW: Out here where we're going to, you can probably buy an acre of property for $5,000 to $10,000.

BOYCE: Not far from McKinney's homestead, McGraw points out places people try to shelter themselves.

MCGRAW: See - over here you got pallets set up. This was probably some sort of a campsite at one time.

BOYCE: We see across the landscape rusted RVs, teepees, shipping containers and unfinished one-room shacks. McGraw says desperate people are pulling together whatever they have, buying these cheap, barren plots of dry grass without understanding what it is they now own.

MCGRAW: When people move out here to this area and they're not totally prepared, they're not going to make it.

BOYCE: Miles from cell phone service or utilities, no electricity, no running water, no sewer.

MCGRAW: We've had so many examples, so many cases where we go out to these places, and they've got 5-gallon buckets sitting all over, and they're filled full of human waste - or 55-gallon drums filled with it.

BOYCE: McGraw says it's not only disturbing and unsanitary. It can be really dangerous. This time of year, temperatures regularly drop into the double digits below zero. His deputies responded to a call of a woman beaten by her husband last winter. They found him living in a garden shed from Home Depot.

MCGRAW: When we got there to arrest him, there was two babies, you know, sitting in cribs right next to the fireplace. I mean, he was keeping them warm, but the conditions were just horrible.

BOYCE: None of this is legal, even if the property is legally owned. County ordinance prohibits living any longer than a couple weeks on private land without a residence that meets basic building codes, in the colder months anyway. But Park County is far too cash-strapped itself to keep up with the violations out here. Jim McKinney is still not taking any chances. Inside that homestead, in that hole dug into the hill, right by the front door, he keeps a stack of papers, signed permits and schematics for the small, permanent home he's slowly building on his land.

MCKINNEY: You know, this comes from the engineer here with his stamp.

BOYCE: He looks for the best deals he can find on materials. He works on the house for as many hours as his back will allow, finishes the day in a plastic lawn chair on the hill.

MCKINNEY: It's peaceful and quiet and - I mean, the sun sets right between the - that’s the divide, all these peaks way out there. I mean, it's just beautiful.

The inability of local authorities to enforce the relevant laws and regulations reminds me of my earlier work on the barrier that spatiality represents to such enforcement efforts.  

Sunday, November 28, 2021

More on the rural vote, Democratic messaging, and the Build Back Better bill

NPR interviewed Michael Bennet, the senior U.S. Senator from Colorado, earlier this week, and the discussion included trends and challenges the Democrats are facing in relation to rural voters.  Broadly speaking, the story is about the Build Back Better bill, but at the end, Bennet is drawn out on what Democrats need to do to win (back) rural voters.  Here are some key quotes from Bennet's conversation with Steve Inskeep (emphasis mine):  

INSKEEP: You had a listener in this town hall meeting, a kind of remote town hall meeting, a kind of big conference call, who said I come from a coal-producing area - Colorado, of course, produces coal - and said, what's going to happen to people who work in the coal industry...


INSKEEP: ...If the industry shuts down?

BENNET: You know, a lot of times, I refer to the climate stuff we do in our office as my Craig, Colo., project. That person was from Craig, Colo., an area that's worried because they think they're likely to lose half their revenue because of coal mines shutting down and because of power plants shutting down. And I have long believed that unless we have meaningful ways for people to transition, it's going to be very hard for us to move ahead on climate change. But I think the most important thing is to make sure that we're investing in a new economy. There are discussions in northwest Colorado about the possibility of producing hydrogen there. There are discussions about how to train young people for the 21st-century jobs that are going to be there. But it can't just be lip service, you know?

This isn't just about, you know, a transition on the back end of this. It has to be central to what we're doing. And there's $27 billion in forestry work, which is incredibly important to my region of the country, where we - you know, and Colorado, for example, had three of the worst fires in our state's history last year as a result of climate change. Now we're actually going to be putting money on the landscape and creating jobs, doing the forest mitigation and watershed protection up front. And that's the kind of thing that I think can begin to create momentum in rural America for the work that we have to do on climate change.

INSKEEP: I'm really interested hearing you talking about rural Colorado. As a senator from a state with a lot of rural voters, what did you think about when you saw the election results in Virginia a few weeks ago, where Democrats in rural counties did even worse than they have in recent years? The trend was very bad.

BENNET: I think we have to try much harder. The Democratic brand is terrible in rural America. And - but we've got a path to it, to say people in rural America, look; we're trying to address the things that you need us to address. This infrastructure bill, which is bipartisan but signed by a Democratic president, is the most significant investment in infrastructure since Eisenhower. The work that we're trying to do to lower costs for preschool and for - and to make early childhood education available, the work that we're doing to limit the cost of prescription drugs for seniors to $2,000, the tax policies that favor our farmers and ranchers in Colorado over, you know, the biggest corporations and wealthiest people in the country, the broadband that we're creating as part of this legislation - now, none of that stuff is going to sell itself. One of the people on my town hall asked the question, why don't Democrats ever go on Fox News to try to explain what you're doing? And she's right about that. We've got to be out in rural America describing what we're doing and explaining what we're doing. The president is going to have to be out there in rural parts of this country saying, we're thinking about you. And we are.

Another post on the Democrats messaging problem in rural America is here, and my review of Jon Tester's book, which discusses the topic, is here.  I'll also add that Tester's recent messaging about the infrastructure bill has been phenomenal, calling out specific infrastructure projects in Montana that will benefit in many separate tweets.  He also never fails to point out that he "co-sponsored" the bill. 

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXII): U.S. Health and Human Services responds to rural strain

A New York Times story by Mark Walker from a few days ago suggests that the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services is responding to the particular stresses the rural health care system has faced during the pandemic.  Here's an excerpt that uses the word "rural" perhaps a record number of times compared to NY Times norms.  (In what follows, emphasis is mine).

Xavier Becerra, the health and human services secretary, said that Covid-19 made clear the importance of having timely access to quality medical care, especially in rural America.

“When it comes to a rural provider there are a number of costs that are incurred, that sometimes are different from what you see with urban providers or suburban providers,” Mr. Becerra said in an interview. “And oftentimes, they’re unique only to rural providers.”

Wow. Now there is a rare concession of rural difference--even uniqueness.  The story continues:  

Rural physicians serve a disproportionate number of patients covered by Medicaid, Medicare or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, who often have more complex medical needs. Many rural hospitals were already struggling before the pandemic, and 21 have closed since the beginning of 2020, according to data from the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina.

Under the program, every eligible provider that serves at least one Medicare, Medicaid or CHIP beneficiary in a rural part of the country will receive at least $500. Payments will range up to $43 million, with an average payment of $170,700. They are based on how many claims a provider submitted for rural patients covered by these programs from January 2019 through September 2020.

Rural America is home to some of the country’s oldest and sickest patients, many of whom were affected by the pandemic.

The new funding is supposed to help rural hospitals stay open in the long run and improve the care they provide, building on efforts the Biden administration has already made to help improve access to health care in rural communities, which it considers crucial to its goal of addressing inequities in access to care.

Friday, November 26, 2021

On SNAP (food stamp) adequacy along the rural-urban continuum: 4 of 5 counties hurting most are nonmetro

The Urban Institute has released a study of the efficacy of the increased SNAP benefit, which rose in August, 2021. The title is "Persistent Gaps in SNAP Benefit Adequacy across the Rural-Urban Continuum." Here's a summary of the findings by Olivia Fiol, Elaine Waxman, and Craig Gunderson:  
In August 2021, the USDA announced a landmark development in the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), changing the way benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are determined for more than 42 million people. The TFP represents the federal government’s assessment of a minimal-cost, nutritionally adequate diet and serves as the basis for determining SNAP benefits. On October 1, 2021, the value of the maximum SNAP benefit increased 21 percent, and the TFP will be reevaluated every five years. This increase in maximum SNAP benefits exceeds even the temporary 15 percent increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Before the temporary increase during the pandemic, the maximum SNAP benefit did not cover the cost of a meal in 96 percent of US counties (Waxman, Gundersen, and Fiol 2021). After this permanent increase, SNAP benefits fall short of the cost of a meal in only 21 percent of US counties, a dramatic decline. Although this is a very significant improvement, SNAP benefits are still inadequate for many families in both metropolitan (urban) and nonmetropolitan (rural) counties. In fact, counties with the largest remaining gaps between the cost of a meal and the maximum value of SNAP benefits include both the most rural and most urban counties.
* * * 
Gaps in SNAP benefits remain largely an urban problem, and policymakers should continue to give these counties attention because of the numbers of SNAP participants in those areas. Nevertheless, some of the largest gaps in benefit adequacy persist in rural areas. This analysis allows us to see that the rural experience varies widely. In fact, after the 21 percent increase in maximum SNAP benefits, four of the top five counties with the largest percent gap in benefits are nonmetropolitan. This indicates that families in areas across the rural-urban continuum, including in rural areas, will continue to struggle with SNAP benefit adequacy.  (emphasis added)

* * *

Although high food prices are often viewed as an urban challenge, this analysis shows that they occur in a variety of geographic locations, including the most rural areas, which are often left out of conversations about benefit adequacy. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

More on the hot rural housing market (and attendant housing shortage)

I've written a lot lately about the rural housing shortage and rising property prices in rural America.  Now, Frank Morris reports for NPR out of Osceola, Missouri, population 947, where the housing market is booming.  Osceola is the county seat of St. Clair County, but/and it is more than an hour from both the Kansas City suburbs and Springfield to the south.    

The story features folks migrating from California, like Robert Velasquez and Craig Yoder, looking for a home in mid-America where they can get more for their money.  

MORRIS: Velasquez, along with his wife and her siblings, are shopping for property here. They're approaching retirement and say that California has become too expensive and, for them, too liberal. And Velasquez's brother-in-law Craig Yoder says that coming from California, they're wielding substantial buying power in rural Missouri.

CRAIG YODER: We have three good incomes and three properties that we can sell in California for a big - I own my house outright. So it's pure profit. And the prices have gone crazy.

MORRIS: And prospective buyers like Yoder are driving up rural home prices, according to Daryl Fairweather, an economist with the real estate brokerage Redfin.

DARYL FAIRWEATHER: People are moving towards places that are more affordable because of remote work that they wouldn't have considered before. I'm actually part of this trend. I moved from Seattle, which had been seeing price growth for quite some time, to a rural part of Wisconsin.

Morris explains, "The rise in rural property values can vary dramatically from region to region and town to town. But Zillow economist Alexandra Lee says, on average, rural home prices are up around 16%, and that in many places, it's the first big price spike in anyone's memory." 

Sadly, the rise in housing prices in places like Osceola is hurting others at the lower end of the market. In Osceola, that includes folks like Misty Ketner, a cook at a restaurant/gas station who is couch-surfing because she can't afford a place to live.  

MORRIS: Ketner doesn't want to buy. She just wants to rent a place in a town where she's lived for 20 years. Michelle Johnson, who manages a gas station and restaurant here, says Ketner's struggle is a familiar one. Hurting businesses lose good workers.

MICHELLE JOHNSON: Finding them housing in this town is incredibly difficult. And then if they can't find housing here, they're going to move on and probably not continue to be an employee here.

Another story about urban-to-rural migration, driven largely by the pandemic, including the opportunity for remote work, is here.  Here's a comprehensive report from the Housing Assistance Council, which is a policy organization focused on rural housing, about the impact of the pandemic on rural America.   

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXI): California disparities

Ana B. Ibarra and Hannah Getahun report for CalMatters, with story picked up by Capital Public Radio  Here's the excerpt salient to California's rural-urban divide:
At least 18 counties have more hospitalized COVID-19 patients today than they did this time last year. Another five have just as many.

The vast majority of the ones faring worse are in the Central Valley and rural Northern California, which are still recovering from bad summer surges. Humboldt, Madera and Lassen counties have the biggest year-over-year increases. In Madera, the 7-day average stood at 32 hospitalized patients on Sunday, compared to 13 a year ago. Humboldt had 11 hospitalizations on Sunday compared to three on the same date last year.

It’s a different — and far better — situation in California’s urban counties. Of the state’s 10 most populous counties, all except Fresno have fewer COVID patients in the hospital today than a year ago.
* * *
Last year’s winter surge was harsh for most of the state. But for some counties — including Butte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Shasta and Placer — this summer and fall were even worse. Some saw more patients hospitalized in summer and fall than they did last winter.

In the Central Valley some local hospitals are still strained. And experts say that’s a dangerous situation going into the holidays when another wave of cases is expected.
Here's a Los Angeles Times story from a few days ago about how Central Valley hospitals are trying to move patients to hospitals in other regions.  An excerpt follows, mostly quoting Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County's interim health officer.  
We don’t have enough hospitals to serve the population and the needs.  [Hospitals across the entire San Joaquin Valley are] often running over capacity, so that they’re holding dozens and dozens of patients in the emergency department.

It’s really hard to transfer across counties in the state of California.  When you look at Los Angeles ... they have hundreds and hundreds of open beds in Los Angeles County.

If we need to transfer patients out to keep our hospitals operational, we should really be able to do that with one or two phone calls. That’s not the situation right now. And so that’s a point of frustration that we’re hearing from multiple different facilities.  We’re trying to really decompress as much as possible in anticipation of those winter numbers.

So, part of the problem is about disparities in healthcare infrastructure--not only the incidence in cases.  A dramatic story out of Oklahoma about the struggle to transfer patients from rural to urban hospitals is here.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLX): End of voice-only telehealth bad news for rural folks

Yuki Noguchi reports for NPR today under the headline, "Voice-only telehealth may go away with pandemic rules expiring."  Here's an excerpt, highlighting rural difference: 
Caswell County, where William Crumpton works, runs along the northern edge of North Carolina and is a rural landscape of mostly former tobacco farms and the occasional fast-food restaurant.

"There are wide areas where cellphone signals are just nonexistent," Crumpton says. "Things like satellite radio are even a challenge."

Crumpton, who grew up in this area, is CEO of Compassion Health, a federally funded community health center. The county has no hospital or emergency room. And for much of the pandemic, about half of the center's patients could only be reached the old fashioned way: a basic voice call on a phone landline.

"We have individuals who live in homes that wouldn't be able to make a cellphone call if they wanted to," he says. "High-speed internet is not available to them; furthermore, the only connection that they had to the outside world in some cases is a rotary dial phone."
So when state and federal governments temporarily eased privacy and security restrictions on telehealth early in the pandemic, many patients across the country were able to get diagnosed and treated by doctors over phones that don't have video or camera functions. That, in turn, made it possible for health care workers to connect with hard-to-reach patients — people who are poor, elderly or live in remote areas.

But today, the rules that temporarily eased licensing and reimbursement restrictions in ways that expanded the use of this type of telehealth service are rapidly shifting.

Here's a New York Times story, published today, on telehealth, but the focus is on video visits.  

Monday, November 22, 2021

Climate change is deterring farmworkers from following the harvest to the Pacific Northwest

Priscella Vega reports for the Los Angeles Times on the movement of farm workers between California and the Pacific Northwest--in particular how migration north is being diminished because heat in Washington and Oregon are making those less desirable places for workers to be.  An excerpt quoting a few experts follows: 

Edward Taylor, distinguished professor at UC Davis’ Agriculture and Resource Economics department, said to his knowledge there isn’t a study that statistically links harvest migration to extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest. But he found it interesting and worth studying because whatever makes migration less attractive makes people migrate less.

Taylor conducted research in Mexico that showed extreme heat “significantly” drove migration out of rural communities and into other parts of Mexico and the United States.

“I can imagine in this context that anything would make farm work less pleasant than it already is,” said Taylor, who also serves as director of the Center on Rural Economies of the Americas and Pacific Rim at UC Davis. “It would simply compound this big picture we see happening out there. Fewer farmworkers. Less and less are willing to migrate to follow the crop.”

“We can ban pesticides, but we can’t ban hot weather,” said Dr. Marc Schenker, distinguished professor emeritus of public health sciences and medicine at UC Davis and founding director of the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety. “We can’t regulate Mother Nature.”

But the heart of Vega's piece is the story of Enedina Ventura, a farmworker, and her family. She is based in Fresno, but made the seasonal journey to Oregon for years.  

Here's an NPR report from September, 2021, about the impact of heat on farmworkers in California.  Here's a story about the impact of climate change in Oregon. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

On the widening of the rural-urban divide--in Virginia

 I suppose we can treat this as a fourth post on the recent Virginia election.  This is from the Cardinal News, serving southside and southwest Virginia.  The writer is Dwayne Yancey, and he is featuring the work of a young Virginia demographer, Hamilton Lombard, whose analysis may help explain recent events: 

We all think we know the basic story – most rural areas are losing population. That’s true but only part of the story. Here’s the first headline: Virginia’s rural areas are losing population at a faster rate than rural areas in neighboring states. Why is this?

Politicians might point to policies but Lombard points to something more difficult to change. “I think one of the reasons why we see this difference,” he told the summit, “is in part due to the economic differences we have.”

The three wealthiest localities in the country are all in Virginia; the U.S. Census Bureau ranks Loudoun County, Falls Church and Fairfax County first, second and third based on median household income. Arlington ranks eighth, Fairfax city 10th. That means five of the 10 most affluent localities in the country – half – are in Virginia.

So are some of the poorest. The median household income in Loudoun is $142,299 per year. In Dickenson County, the figure is $29,932. No other state, Lombard said, has such a vast disparity between its richest county and its poorest county. The gap is even wider if you include two small cities in the comparison. In Norton, the median household income is $29,000. In Emporia, the figure is $27,063. The only reason he counts them separately is that Virginia is unique in that counties and cities are separate things. Regardless, whether you’re comparing county-to-county – Loudoun to Dickenson – or locality-to-locality – Loudoun to Emporia – the result is the same. Virginia has more disparity than any other state.

Lombard told me in a follow-up email: “New Mexico has the second largest difference in other states, between two small counties: Los Alamos (where the lab is) and Guadalupe. But within Virginia there are 33 counties or cities that have a larger income gap with Loudoun (one of our largest counties) than exists between Los Alamos and Guadalupe.”

Saturday, November 20, 2021

How concentration of power in a few urban places is bad for rural communities--and for our democracy

That's sorta the thesis of David Fontana's piece in the Washington Post Magazine this summer, "America's Hidden Crisis of Power and Place," though he draws the line between rural and urban less than the line between sorta' important urban places and all other places.  Fontana writes here about Plattsburgh, New York, where grew up:  

The North Country is more rural, and less diverse, than much of the United States. But it is emblematic of one of the most disconcerting, least-discussed aspects of our national political life: America is experiencing a political crisis rooted partly in the concept of place. Our political elite in both parties are disproportionately connected to a few neighborhoods in a few metropolitan areas that are distant and different from the places they are supposed to understand and govern. For too many of these people, the road to political influence involves effectively defecting from the places they know to the places where there are people it is important to know. That leaves many places in our country governed by strangers rather than neighbors—with disastrous consequences for American democracy.

His illustration of this phenomenon:  Elise Stefanik, congresswoman for that district, who grew up in nearby Albany but made her name in Boston (where she attended Harvard University) and Washington.  This is in contrast to her predecessor, a Democrat, who raised his children in the north country, where he lived for 30 years.   So, in a sense, this is a story of rural brain drain--of going to the city not only to make one's fortune, but to get the credentials the wider world will respect.  In Stefanik's case, coming home with those credentials gave her a certain credibility--both "at home" in rural New York to get elected, but also back in Washington, DC, as a congresswoman.  

The phenomenon Fontana is grappling with and his use of Stefanik's association with Harvard to illustrate it reminds me of this from Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, in which she criticized the press for "speaking of elite universities as if there are only a dozen or so institutions in the country where an excellent education can be had."  She continued, "there are literally hundreds of colleges and universities in this country that educate richly and ambitiously.  Many of the latest of them are public, a word that now carries the suggestion that the thing described is down-market, a little deficient in quality."  

So, how do we see congresspersons who have "just" state school credentials?  Also, are they sometimes seen more favorably by rural and quasi-rural constituents?  These same questions could be asked of Tom Cotton, Harvard educated U.S. Senator from Arkansas.  I've often wondered why his Harvard credentials don't hurt him in a state that is increasingly anti-university, expressing antipathy to higher education.  

Returning to Fontana's focus on place, he continues:  

The power of place persists in politics as well. Yes, people are heavily influenced by political and media figures they do not know — from cable pundits to Donald Trump. But people’s political engagement is shaped in important ways by those they know. Many studies have demonstrated that hearing our neighbors have voted or want us to vote increases the likelihood that we will turn out to vote. In the survey Hunt and I conducted, 63 percent of students reported that most of the people they talked to most frequently about politics live close to them.

This whole piece is worth a read in its entirety.  It relates to a bigger scholarly project of his, which I heard about recently at the Law and Rurality workshop hosted by the University of Nebraska College of Law.  It also helps explain rural disillusionment from urban centers of power, whether within a state or within the nation more broadly.  

Friday, November 19, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLIX): Rural counties lost more years of life than urban counties in 2020

This is from a policy brief by Yue Sun, published by the Lerner Center for Promotion of Public Health at Syracuse University:  

Rural mortality rates have been higher than urban mortality rates for decades in the United States. Now, higher COVID19 mortality rates in rural areas threaten to exacerbate the existing rural mortality penalty. Figure 1 shows average years of potential life lost (YPLL) due to all causes of death per 100,000 population by rural-urban continuum in 2019 and 2020. YPLL is the difference between 75 years old and the actual age of death. For example, someone who died at age 65 would have ten years of potential life lost. Figure 1 averages these lost life years across all counties within each category. Rural counties had higher average YPLL lost than urban counties in both 2019 and 2020. Compared to an average of 7,300 YPLL across large urban counties, the smallest most remote rural counties experienced an average of over 10,000 YPLL in 2020. Average YPLL also increased in nearly all categories between 2019 and 2020, but the increases were largest in the smallest rural counties and in large rural counties adjacent to metro areas. Given that COVID-19 contributed to more excess deaths than any other cause of death in 2020 (that is, more deaths than we observe in a typical year), we can likely attribute the increase in YPLL to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the short term, governments and businesses should take efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in rural counties. In the long term, federal, state, and local governments must target social, structural, and policy determinants of health and premature mortality that disproportionately affect rural residents.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

On guns and domestic violence in rural California

This extremely powerful piece by Robert Lewis for CalMatters is not about the rural-urban divide--at least not on its face.  But a close read can make it about that rural-urban axis and how geographic difference, including in relation to the availability of services, influences the outcomes of domestic violence cases where the accused has possession of guns. 

The story features the murder of Calley Garay, allegedly by her husband, Julio.  They lived in Chowchilla, in northern Madera County, just before you pass into Merced County proceeding north through the Central Valley.  It's the second part in a three-part series on gun control--or maybe we should just say guns--in California.  

This young mother was killed by her husband, and the question this article raises is why authorities didn't take away her husband's gun before he apparently killed her with it.  After all, the forms she completed with the Madera Superior Court, when she was reporting the abuse, suggested he had a gun.  Under California law, efforts should have been made to get it away from him. That didn't happen.  Lewis writes: 

But the beatings were getting worse, the threats more ominous, and local law enforcement was still investigating her allegations. She needed help. So in June of last year, planning for a new life with her children free from his control, Calley filled out the standard domestic violence restraining order request. Hers was one of 72,000 such forms Californians – mostly women – filed statewide that fiscal year, including 211 in Madera County.

We are now married or registered domestic partners. Check.

We are the parents together of a child or children under 18. Check.

I believe the person…owns or possesses guns, firearms, or ammunition. Check

The answer to that last question on Calley’s form told the court her case could be particularly dangerous. Research shows the presence of a firearm increases the likelihood domestic violence will turn deadly. It’s why people who are the subject of a restraining order in California – even a temporary one – aren’t allowed to have guns. By law, they are supposed to surrender their weapons to law enforcement or a licensed dealer within 24 hours of being served.
And if a simple checkbox wasn’t enough to grab a judge’s attention, Calley attached to the form more than a dozen pages of horror, including descriptions of assaults and photos of bruises on her leg, back and chest.
Through it all was mention of a gun – a gun in his pocket when he yelled at her outside their son’s school. A gun when he threatened to take her into the orchards and kill her.

What happened to Calley Garay – a story that culminated this week in the Madera courthouse – is about more than one woman. It’s about California’s inability to disarm abusers, a longstanding failure that judges, advocates and law enforcement have been warning about for years.

Here's more that suggests rural-urban difference--the difference between say Madera County and highly urban Sacramento County:

Threats. Beatings. Escape plans. Secret hotel rooms. This is the reality for domestic violence survivors every day across California. Many, like Calley, connect with a local nonprofit to help navigate the justice system.

In Sacramento County, these survivors end up on the third floor of a modern office building, at the Sacramento Regional Family Justice Center. Like the victim services organization that helped Calley, this is where police and prosecutors in the capital city often refer abuse survivors for everything from counseling and shelter to filling out court forms and legal advice. The center is conveniently located above the county’s child support services and across the street from family court.

Some people end up here on their own. In fact, many women and men experiencing abuse choose not to involve law enforcement for a variety of reasons, experts say, including fear of police, concern about the impact on child support, and the risk of further antagonizing a dangerous partner. Instead, they might only seek protection via a family court-issued domestic violence restraining order. That means a family court judge might be the only official to ask about a gun and try to ensure an abuser is disarmed.

On a recent morning at the Sacramento office, a handful of women sat in a waiting room for their turn to speak with a counselor or attorney. Inside, others were in private rooms – named after domestic violence homicide victims – sharing their tales of abuse and getting help filling out a state form called a DV-100, the court system’s restraining order request form. A Golden Labradoodle named Buddy wandered the office, trained to nuzzle up to those in emotional distress.

The office sees as many as three dozen people each day, mostly women. Hanging from the ceiling on one wing of the suite are stuffed sea creatures that a detective brought in, a cheerful addition for the kids who often accompany the abuse survivors and who sometimes must share their own stories in special interview rooms.
The Justice Center’s case managers and attorneys always ask new clients if their abuser has guns and make sure to include that information on restraining order request forms, said Faith Whitmore, the Justice Center’s chief executive officer.

But, she said, judges there don’t seem to follow up – failing to ask detailed questions or use their power to try to force abusers to comply. Among those powers: Family courts are empowered to hold hearings to check on the status of guns, and judges can hold abusers in contempt if a firearm isn’t surrendered.

Whitmore acknowledged it can be difficult for courts to know if an abuser is actually armed. Many guns are unregistered, invisible in a background check. And sometimes victims believe there’s a gun but lack proof.

Still, the stakes are so high the courts should be trying harder – asking questions, holding hearings, checking for receipts, she said.

“If it is the law – and there’s a reason there is a law and the courts are the ones to enforce that – it seems that throwing up one’s hands should not be the default response,” Whitmore said.

Lewis also provides a contrast with Mendocino County, where procedures are in place to better ensure that guns get removed from those accused of domestic violence:  

Take Mendocino County on California’s North Coast. CalMatters reviewed 19 cases filed in Mendocino County’s Superior Court the same month that Calley filed her request in Madera. The records reveal a clear and consistent process for handling firearm relinquishment in restraining order cases.

Cindee Mayfield has been a Mendocino County judge for almost 24 years, including 10 in family court. She praised the state Judicial Council for educating judges about firearm issues and said such training encouraged her to develop her court’s approach.

After a temporary restraining order is issued or a hearing set, her court does a background check of an alleged abuser, looking for registered firearms. The search is noted in every case docket. If there is a registered firearm, or the person asking for the order indicates the abuser is armed, the judge will ask about alleged guns at a hearing to make a record of the issue. If alleged abusers deny owning a gun, the court has them sign a statement under penalty of perjury saying they don’t have guns. If there is evidence of a gun and no proof of surrender, the judge holds a special hearing.

In the three cases CalMatters found where the court issued a full restraining order against an allegedly armed abuser, two of the men filed proof they surrendered guns. In the third case, Mayfield held a special hearing because the man didn’t file such proof.

Mendocino is a rural county where hunting and ranching is a way of life, so the issue comes up often, Mayfield said.

“We have a lot of people that do have registered firearms,” she said. “They’re sometimes kind of loath to give them up. And so sometimes we do have to do follow-up hearings with people just to verify the fact they’ve complied with the law.”

Mayfield said it’s important to have clear, consistent policies.

“I do kind of feel bad sometimes because they want them for wildlife or snakes or what have you on their ranches,” she said. “But it’s like, at this point for the next three years, I’m sorry, you’re just not going to have guns because it’s not safe.”

My own academic work about domestic violence in rural places is here.  An earlier post discussing the failure of California law enforcement to remove guns from those known to be a threat is here.  

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

More on Democrat strategies to connect to rural voters in (increasingly) urban states

Exhibit A is this piece in the Virginia Mercury (a nonprofit news site) by a long-time columnist who seems write on behalf of rural Virginia, which he cleverly calls ROVA, for "rest of Virginia," meaning the parts outside "NOVA" (suburban and exurban DC) and Richmond.  Bob Lewis writes, "How rural Virginia made itself politically relevant again."  The column includes lots of recent Virginia history, including about political consultants who helped Mark Warner, a Democrat, get elected governor several decades ago.  Here's an excerpt that focuses on Virginia political consultants Steve Jarding and David "Mudcat" Saunders who apparently saw the Youngkin victory "way back."   
”Talk about a guy who could not connect and relate to rural Virginia, that’s Terry McAuliffe,” said Jarding, who, with Saunders, was an adviser to the successful Virginia campaigns of Gov. Mark Warner in 2001 and Sen. Jim Webb in 2006.

The last intentional, sustained and significant rural outreach by a Democratic gubernatorial race was Warner’s 21 years ago. It was the centerpiece of his strategy. Republicans had ruled the countryside for years and put an exclamation point on that fact one year earlier when it went strongly for President George W. Bush and former Gov. George Allen’s in his inaugural Senate run.

Warner was lampooned by some for some of the tactics Jarding and Saunders employed for him to court the rural electorate. He entered a car bearing his campaign’s logo into a NASCAR race in Martinsville. He commissioned a plucky bluegrass campaign song with lyrics Saunders adapted to the melody of “Dooley.” The campaign formed a “Sportsmen for Warner” group led by hunting and fishing rights advocates that also helped reassure Second Amendment voters that he meant them no harm.

Saunders calls such high-visibility campaign contrivances “pyrotechnics” that weren’t intended to make Warner, a wealthy Old Town Alexandria resident with a taste for lattes, a bona fide Bubba. He’s wasn’t – and isn’t.

Rather, it’s a signal to rural voters that he understood and respected their communities and their culture and values, said Jarding and Saunders, co-authors of “Foxes in the Henhouse,” their 2006 book on how Democrats surrendered the rural South to the GOP.

“Democrats don’t do any pyrotechnics anymore,” Saunders, a Roanoke businessman who now resides in Craig County, said last week after a day of deer hunting.
Read more about the rural vote in the recent Virginia gubernatorial race here and here.  

Exhibit B is this piece from Joe Garofoli of the San Francisco Chronicle about two Democrats challenging entrenched rural Republicans in California.  The headline's focus is on how the candidates are listening to rural voters.  Both Democrats are veterans:  Dr. Kermit Jones, who is challenging Tom McClintock in California District 4 and Max Steiner who is running against Doug La Malfa in California District 1. The story is behind a paywall, but it's got some important insights into different approaches to reach voters in these two districts that have substantial rural territory. I'll excerpt some here.  

First, about Max Steiner, who only recently moved to Chico, in the district: 
The first part of his strategy in overcoming the "D" next to his name on the ballot: Don't try arguing with voters or winning an intellectual argument. Instead, start by showing up. And listening. "I think the real issue is that Democrats don't pay very much attention to what motivates rural voters," Steiner said. So he said he "leans in" on local issues, like the need to better care for forests. "Everyone knows the forests are a problem," Steiner told me. "So you say, 'Democrats are the party that spends money. Vote for a Democrat. Give me a chance to show you what I can do spending money on the forest.'" He describes himself as a "pro-gun Democrat" and thinks the way California regulates guns is "crazy." When voters ask where he stands on issues that are real on Fox News but not in reality -- like the teaching of critical race theory -- Steiner doesn't counter with research from the California School Boards Association ("There is no evidence that CRT is widespread in K-12 education"). Instead, he says, "I want school kids to be proud of their country, but I also want them to know that slavery was terrible, we killed a lot of Native Americans and we locked up U.S. citizens in World War II."

Dr. Kermit Jones who, by the way, lives in Roseville, part of the Sacramento metropolitan area, grew up on a farm in rural Michigan.  Regarding Jones' approach to rural voters, Garofoli's column includes this: 

"If I didn't grow up on that farm," Jones, 45, told me, "I wouldn't be the person I am." He wants to use his medical and policy expertise to help lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs for rural voters. Jones favors a public option, which enables recipients to buy into Medicare, much like President Biden does. Politically, he compared his approach to rural voters to how he would talk to a patient who was late to an appointment. Instead of "browbeating them," he tries to understand their perspective. "Maybe they had to drop their kid off to school and there was traffic or some other issue," he said. If he were more pedantic, "how far do you think I'm going get in terms of really trying to change their behavior for the better?"

Another recent post featuring Congressman LaMalfa is here.  He is mentioned in the several posts here, too, one going back a decade to when he was a California state senator.  

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLVIII): California's Central Valley faces perpetual surge

Here's an excerpt from Hailey Branson-Potts' story for the Los Angeles Times, "As infections rise, the San Joaquin Valley becomes the land of the eternal COVID surge":   
In Fresno County, understaffed hospitals have been so clogged that ambulance crews have stopped transporting people unless they have a life-threatening emergency.

In Tulare County, a Visalia hospital — which has been treating more COVID-19 patients in recent days than any other medical facility in the state — declared an internal disaster last week on a day 51 patients in the emergency room waited for a bed to open up.

And this week, sparsely populated Kings County, which has one of California’s lowest vaccination rates, had one of the state’s highest per capita COVID-19 hospitalization rates.

Why?  Well, there's the low vaccination rate, and some mixed messages from some of the region's politicians.  Also, many agricultural workers live in crowded housing.  Many of those falling ill to COVID now are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, making them their families' breadwinners.  Plus, Hailey-Branson writes: 

The San Joaquin Valley is plagued by a chronic shortage of doctors, and there are fewer hospitals and pharmacies across vast rural areas.

And the region has a high level of poverty. With that, medical officials say, comes high levels of chronic health conditions that make residents more vulnerable to COVID-19 hospitalization and death: diabetes, congestive heart failure, asthma and obesity.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

On the Central Valley and Sierra foothills in California's redistricting

This analysis from John Myers for the Los Angeles Times focuses on last-minute redistricting commission changes that would keep San Joaquin County, home of Stockton, in a single district.  San Joaquin County, like much of the Central Valley, is popularly thought of as rural because of its agricultural orientation, but like other counties up and down the valley, it has a large population.  Keeping San Joaquin County together means that other counties south of it will suffer more slicing and dicing.  One district that will look especially messy is one to the south of San Joaquin, which Myers describes.  Since it's a zero-sum game, the decision to keep San Joaquin together had implications for other districts, most notably it put Modesto, county seat of Stanislaus County to the South, "into the large eastern Sierra congressional district... now home to portions of 10 counties with what looks like two pincher-like arms on a map: one near Modesto, the other on the outskirts of Madera" which is further south still, between Merced and Fresno counties.  That district will include various eastern Sierra counties.

Further north, a "large congressional district was drawn from Clearlake down to the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma and then east to the college town of Davis. And Sacramento County, formerly proposed for four congressional districts, is now mostly contained in just two."  

Coverage from the local Fox affiliate earlier in the week is here.  Coverage from Cal Matters is here.  Coverage from Politico is here.  

What's in the infrastructure bill for rural America

The Rural Blog reports in some detail here, so it's a good place to start.

And here's a story from Ski-Hi News in Grand County, Colorado (Grand Junction) indicating that the infrastructure bill renewed the Secure Rural Schools Act, a significant boon to rural communities.    

I'm seeing lots of stories mentioning rural broadband.  Here's one from August, speculating about what might happen under the infrastructure bill.  I'll be on the lookout for more recent coverage post-bill passage.  

Here's a story that suggests several states with significant rural populations, e.g., Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Vermont, the Dakotas, and West Virginia are getting more money per capita from the infrastructure bill.  (Interestingly, uber urban Washington, DC, is also in the highest per capita range).  This may look like old-fashioned pork, but it probably more accurately reflects the fact that when a road or bridge needs repairing, it needs repairing regardless of how dense or how sparse the population.  

And this story calls out how much Texas, with vast rural reaches, specially in the west, will get from the infrastructure bill, $30 billion.  

Friday, November 12, 2021

Property prices at the wildland-urban interface

Well, technically, we're talking the national park-urban interface.   Here's a New York Times report on how proximity to a national park affects home values.  It's quite a range.   

Trans Nevadan, rural advocate seeks Lt. Governor job

 Molly Sprayregan reports for LGBTQNation under the headline is "Nevada’s Kimi Cole could be the first out trans statewide official elected in the country." Here's an excerpt: 

Nevada Democrat Kimi Cole announced her campaign this week to become the state’s next lieutenant governor. 

A victory for Cole would make her the first out transgender statewide elected official in the country.Cole is currently the chair of the Nevada Democratic Rural Caucus and before that she was the chair of the Douglas County Democratic Party.

She has devoted her political career to uplifting the voices of rural voters and told Politico that Democrats have a lot to learn when it comes to messaging to rural people.

“Talking points will [often] either come out of Las Vegas or Washington, D.C.,” she said, “and they really don’t connect with rural voters.”

Jane Fleming Kleeb weighs in on Democrats and the rural vote

Here's a link to her piece in The Nation, titled "Here's How the Democrats Can Win Back Rural Voters."  An excerpt from her rumination on last week's elections follows:  

The failure to even seriously contest—let alone win—statehouses and congressional seats over so much of the electoral map leaves the party perpetually behind. Our party has relied on suburban moms and black women to save the day repeatedly. They have capes—don’t get me wrong—but they also need a coalition of voters to step up to save democracy alongside them.

The solution will not come from focus groups or polls. It will come from people closest to the ground—state party leaders and grassroots organizers.

Gone are the days when our candidates were like Jesse Jackson, who rode on a tractor to find common ground with rural voters, working to earn their trust and respect. Jackson made the case that we need each other, urban and rural, to win—not just during the campaign but throughout life. The advice Jackson gave during the farm crisis, when he was standing with rural voters who were hurting, still rings true today: We must unite the “eaters and feeders” for justice in both urban and rural America.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLVII): The plight of public health officials

Today's episode of The Daily, the New York Times podcast, is about the toll the pandemic has taken on public health officials, with something of a focus on rural places, like Wilson County, Kansas.  There, in the southeast corner of the state, the public health officer had grown up in the community, gone away to medical school, and was wearing multiple hats as a clinician and public health official when the pandemic struck.  As a local "kid," she initially had the community's confidence, but that started to wane by May, 2020.  The entire episode is well worth a listen, with Mike Baker of the Seattle Bureau as Michael Barbaro's guest.  Rural lack of anonymity and community issues play out, especially near the end of the episode, as the community turns on the home-grown doctor, even as a man she went to high school with assures her it's nothing personal.  Also noted is a county in Idaho, unnamed, where the county officials hired a less qualified doctor who was essentially a covid denier, over a professional trained in epidemiology.  

The episode helpfully touches on the long-term impact these trends are likely to have on public health because changes being made to laws and regulations undermine the ability of state and local health officials to deal with outbreaks of "old" diseases that still crop up. 

On the same topic, this NPR piece from last month, focusing on Montana, is very good.  Kirk Siegler reports from Sanders County, in the northwest part of the state.  Here's an excerpt from the story, which features a local physician's assistant who was also playing the role of public health officer: 

When Nick Lawyer, a physician assistant in Sanders County, Mont. was asked by local leaders to take on the voluntary position of county public health officer, it felt like the right thing to do to serve his community in a crisis.

"I kind of think I was one of the few who expressed any interest in the position who had any reasonable qualifications for the job," Lawyer says.

Lawyer had worked as a PA at the 14-bed Clark Fork Valley Hospital in Plains, a town of about 1,000 people in a relatively remote river cut basin in northwest Montana, since 2013. When he agreed to take on the extra duties, he decided to also begin a master's program in public health at the University of Montana to further boost his qualifications.

Little did he know, those qualifications would soon become a mark on him in the eyes of some local activists.

We've certainly seen public health officials take heat in California, especially in rural and mixed rural-urban counties like Yuba, Sutter, and Placer.  In the latter county, the public health officer left her job in that county and moved to neighboring Yolo County, which skews more progressive because of the presence of UC Davis.  Both are metropolitan counties, but with significant exurban and rural populations. 

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are spiking in some states where public health officials have been maligned and sidelined, including Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado.  

Post script:  A new story out of Western Montana about a quack, with deceptive credentials, is here.   

Rural-urban divide again looms large in France, amidst renewed pressures over climate policy

Here is the New York Times story from Montargis, 75 miles outside Paris.  Roger Cohen reports:  
Three years ago, Montargis became a center of the Yellow Vest social uprising, an angry protest movement over an increase in gasoline taxes that was sustained, sometimes violently, for more than a year by a much broader sense of alienation felt by those in the outlying areas that France calls its “periphery.”

The uprising was rooted in a class divide that exposed the resentment of many working-class people, whose livelihoods are threatened by the clean-energy transition, against the metropolitan elites, especially in Paris, who can afford electric cars and can bicycle to work, unlike those in the countryside.
* * * 
There are plenty of people in the “periphery” who understand the need to transition to clean energy and are already trying to do their part. But if the theme of COP26, as the Glasgow summit is known, is how time is running out to save the planet, the immediate concern here is how money is running out before the end of the month.

Household gas prices are up 12.6 percent in the past month alone, partly the result of shortages linked to the coronavirus. Electric cars seem fancifully expensive to people encouraged not so long ago to buy fuel-efficient diesel automobiles. A wind turbine that will slash property values is not what a retired couple wants just down the road.

This story echoes a common theme in rural areas--where people feel they can't take the long view on environmental issues because their immediate economic needs--most particularly for jobs--are so pressing.   

Earlier posts about the Yellow Vest movement are here and here.   

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

On being "rurban": A Nordic academic conference

The theme will be "Rurbanity in Nordic Landscapes" when Nordic Geographers meet in February, 2022, in Joensuu, Finland. Abstracts are due by Nov. 12.
Here's a description of the concept "rurban."    
The dichotomy of the rural and the urban is one that has been cultivated and reproduced for a long time. One concept is defined by the other and their contestation affects everyday practices, biographical decisions and even institutional arrangements and political agenda. The concepts have long been in the focus of geographers in different research contexts. This session, however, is interested in the mingling of the two and calls for contributions that theorise and inquire empirical data through the prism of rurbanity. Rurbanity (Masuda & Garvin 2008) here is understood not only as a territorial indication, but also includes fusion of practices, movement, lifestyles, interactions, assemblages, hybridities etc. Thus, we call for papers that would assess enacted and experienced rural-urban differences and coexistences.

 This can include community relations, mobilities, narratives, mnemonic practices, heritage management, landscape change, bordering dynamics, institutional reforms, ruralisation of the urban as well as urbanisation of the rural. We encourage the papers to delve on the following questions:

  • Do we still have rural and urban landscapes or is it more beneficial to tackle them as rurban landscapes as the logic behind their operation is similar? 
  • How has the development of mobilities changed the structural and spatial processes in rural and urban areas? 
  • Do these mobilities reproduce the concepts and make them more distinct or do they blur the conceptual borders between the two? 
  • What are the relations between everyday practices and the rural/urban conceptualisation? 
  • How are the recent social and technological developments affecting the community relations in the context of the rural/urban borders? 
  • How are the people sensing these borders? 
  • How are migration processes shaping the understanding of the rural/urban borders? 
  • How are the contemporary urban elements shaping the rural everyday and what rural elements are affecting the urban lives? 
  • How have institutional reforms been shaping the urban/rural dichotomies? 
  • How much have institutional regulations been driven by these opposites? 
  • How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the rurban dynamics? 
  • Have the borders between rural and urban sharpened or blurred? Why?

Monday, November 8, 2021

Sweden's evening newspaper on rural poverty in California's Central Valley

Expressen, one of two evening newspapers in Sweden, reports today from Mendota, population 11,000, in Fresno County, which has twice been declared by USA Today the worst place to live in America.  Here's an excerpt, with translation from Swedish compliments of AI (Google Translate):  

Expressen has met women who need food for their family, the mayor who runs the city from a car repair shop and the former gang member who decided to help Mendota. 

In a parking lot at Rojas Pierce Park in Mendota, less than an hour's drive from the county [seat] Fresno, stands Jose "Jay" Huizar, 38.  Mendota is located in California, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but few know the city ... Today is Thursday, which means that Jay Huizar will distribute food to the many families who need it.  

A truck with food arrives at the parking lot and together with a dozen volunteers, Jay Huizar begins to open boxes and place food on tables that have been set up.  Today, there are, among other things, onions, crushed tomatoes, walnuts, peppers, oranges, chicken and melon.  

Later, Huizar is quoted criticizing Biden's immigration policy and work policy: 

Mendota's biggest problem is that such a large part of the population is undocumented.  And he has been critical of the Biden administration's grant [wondering about the translation here?] in recent months.  

Those who do not have documentation to be here legally cannot get the help that would be needed.  President Biden is handing out money as candy right now because for some reason they do not want people to work. But that does not help people in Mendota.  

This is very, very interesting in terms of immigration politics.  

I am quoted in this story, to provide context for the Mendota situation--context in relation to the county and the state.  Some will consider my take cynical:

This is important for jobs, which are in short supply, when businesses do not open.  The low level of education is also important... It's devastating for Mendota.  Companies do not open when there is no trained staff available. 

And Mendota's problems also reflect why the region is struggling.  

* * *  

You would need to invest in schools, healthcare, jobs.  But decisionmakers assume that the type of place will disappear when people are more or less forced to move to larger cities.  There is no immediate appetite for major investments.  

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Further parsing the rural vote in this week's Virginia election

(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2011
Food Lion Parking Lot, Kilmarnock, VA
Both the New York Times and the Washington Post are running big features today on what the rural vote in this week's election in Virginia tells us.  Both pieces conclude that the Democrats don't have any firm answers for how to go forward.   Here, I'm primarily going to highlight some of the folks the stories quote:  

Astead Herndon and Shane Goldmacher writing for NYTimes report from Hot Springs, Virginia, in Bath County, population 4731, in the southwestern part of the Commonwealth.  While their focus is on this community as a microcosm, they include a key national data point on the rural vote:  

From 1999 to 2019, cities swung 14 percentage points toward the Democrats, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center report. At the same time, rural areas shifted by 19 percentage points toward the Republicans. The suburbs remained essentially tied.

The story includes many colorful quotes of Bath County residents, most of them elderly, including this one  from 74-year-old Charles Hamilton: 

We’re a county of old country folk who want to do what they want.  They found out the hard way.

This reminds me of a bumper sticker I photographed in the Northern Neck of Virginia about a decade ago, "We're rural, not stupid."   

The journalists also quote Steve Bullock, former governor of Montana and a Democrat who lost his bid for the state's U.S. Senate seat last year:  

Look at some of those rural counties in Virginia as a wake-up call. Folks don’t feel like we’re offering them anything, or hearing or listening to them.
Bullock was a long-shot candidate for U.S. President early in the 2020 primary, and he has argued that the Democrats need to work harder at reaching rural voters.  Interestingly, no mention is made of another Montanan, Senator Jon Tester who has written a book about what the Democrats need to do to win back rural America.  I reviewed that book earlier this year here.  

Cheri Bustos, the Illinois congresswoman who led the House Democratic campaign arm early in the Trump administration and who is retiring from a heavily rural seat Trump carried in 2016 and 2020, is also quoted.  
It’s not sustainable for our party to continue to tank in small-town America... We’ve got a branding problem as Democrats in way too many parts of our country.  
Bustos also called Democratic neglect of rural places “political malpractice” and “disrespectful to think it’s OK to run up the score in big cities and just neglect the smaller towns.”

Dean Phillips, a congressman from exurban Twin Cities who flipped a seat blue in 2018, said the Democrats are afflicted with a "disease of disinterest."  
He especially lamented how his party’s strategists routinely tell candidates “to fish where the Democratic fish are instead of taking that canoe out a little further out on the lake.”

“For a party that predicates itself on inclusivity,” he added, “I’m afraid we’re acting awfully exclusive.”

Mr. Phillips called for Democrats to include “geographic equity” in their agenda along with racial and economic equity, noting that he is a proud member of the state’s Democratic Party, which is formally known as the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. “I’m a D.F.L.-er and yet the F’s and the L’ers aren’t voting for us,” he said.

In her launch video, Monica Tranel who is running as a Democrat for the new Montana house seat, lamented that the people she grew up with "feel like the Democrats look down on rural America."  

A Democratic consultant in Virginia, Ben Tribbett, comments: 
I don’t know what our message is there. Which is a problem, because I’m supposed to be creating content for political campaigns.
Ethan Winter, a senior analyst with Data for Progress, which studies voter behavior, was even more pessimistic, commenting
In rural America the bottom for the Democratic Party is zero. I am serious about this.

As for the Bath County residents, another quote is also worthy of note because it gives a nod to the perennial debate between race and the economy as factors that motivate voters.  It also highlights how rural folks resent being labeled racist, notably by a definition far more capacious than their own narrow one.   

In Bath County, a smaller group of voters cited economic concerns for why the area has become more conservative. They spoke of a time in almost mythical terms, when both parties had a foothold in the region — before rising gas prices, inflation and stagnant wages.

Sharon Lindsay, a 69-year-old librarian, said people were offended that today’s liberals assume their area is inherently racist or bigoted. “We know they wrote us off,” Ms. Lindsay said. “They never talk to us. We never see them. And we see Republicans all the time.”

Dan Balz wrote the Washington Post's story headlined, "Democrats again lament their weakness in rural areas, but they don’t have an answer to the problem," which is equally pessimistic.  He quotes Heidi Heitkamp, former Senator from North Dakota, who "has been preaching about the [Democratic] party's lack of support in rural areas for years."  

We go through this every time after an election, and we just never learned the lessons.

Heitkamp is quick to point out that this problem did not begin with Trump's candidacy:  

If you make it all about Donald Trump, then it’s transactional, as opposed to an institutional failure that the Democratic Party has had in the last how many years of not paying attention to rural America.

On that note, readers may find of interest my analysis of rural bashing in the 2008 presidential race, when Palin took up the mantle of "Main Street," code for rural.   

Politico is in on the Virginia post-mortem, too.  Their story includes this quote from Jane Kleeb, chair of the Democratic Party of Nebraska:  

What happened in Virginia and New Jersey is a warning sign for what will happen in every statewide election, either U.S. Senate or any statewide office, because the only way you win statewide in a red or purple state is by getting at least 30 to 40 percent of the rural vote. And we used to be able to get that.  Why don’t we anymore? We’ve completely lost touch with them.

That story by Zach Montellaro and Elena Schneider also notes the work of American Bridge, a "Democratic outside group [that] spent $62 million on persuading and mobilizing predominantly rural voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where Biden squeaked out a victory, in part, by improving his margins with rural voters."  

American Bridge found in a post-election analysis that Biden received 750,000 more votes in rural areas in those states than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. The group targeted these voters for months, through TV, radio and digital ads featuring voters who had voted for Trump in 2016 but were no longer supporting him.

Plus, there's been lots of action on my Twitter feed the past few days, including from rural organizers like Anderson Clayton in Person County, North Carolina (@abreezeclayton on Twitter, a great, energetic follow) and others.   

Here's a Twitter thread from Tom Perriello, a former congressman from Virginia who ran for the Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia against Ralph Northam in 2017: 

Part of his thread is captured here, and he also wrote this op-ed in the New York Times a few days ago, reflecting on Youngkin's election.  

David Axelrod, the Obama aide, also got in on the discussion--but mostly as a "me, too," tweeting the Washington Post story.

Meanwhile, as indicated by the screenshot above, RuralVote.org held a National Strategy session yesterday. J.D. Scholten, a former Democratic candidate for Congress in Iowa, is involved in that effort.  He famously visited every community in the district he ran to represent, crossing the territory in an RV he called Sioux City Sue.  

Another resource is Rural Voices USA, which says it "organizes rural people to advocate, communicate, and hold policy makers accountable for rural issues. We are a nationwide network of rural leaders, farmers and community members working ensure rural voices are being heard on key policy issues that impact them and their families."   Rural GoundGame says its mission is "to develop and execute programs for the support, training, and development of rural Democratic candidates, campaigns, and committees, securing a deeper level of investment in and by Democrats in every zip code in order to get Democrats elected and uphold our shared values."

Here's a report from the Daily Yonder in late October about what the respective parties were saying a few days before the election regarding what they would do for rural Virginia.  

A very good podcast about rural organizing is here--Chris Hayes interviewing George Goehl of People's Action.  

Here's a 2017 story on Virginia's uneven recovery from the Great Recession.   This was published in the run up to the last gubernatorial election in that state.  And here's a visual history of 73 years of election results in Virginia, this published after that 2017 election.  

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The legacy of systemic racism in the rural South

April Simpson reports out of Mississippi for the Center for Public Integrity under the headline,  "In the Rural South, Poor Health Tied to Systemic Racism and Legacy of Slavery."  

The legacy of slavery looms large in the rural South.

After the Civil War, Jim Crow and a sharecropping system robbed Blacks of wealth and power. Violence and other government-sponsored segregation disenfranchised many Black Southerners until a critical triumph of the Civil Rights movement — the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That same year, Medicaid was born.

But Southern politicians of the time opposed civil rights legislation. Making Medicaid a state-run program helped to address their concerns about federal overreach.

In the South, racism and poor health have always been linked.

“The ill health of African descendants, and a lot of poor whites for that matter, is directly tied to these economics, racial discrimination and white-controlled systems that emerged from slavery through Jim Crow through sharecropping through Jim Crow today,” said Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-Clifford M. Boxley, a local historian based in Natchez, a port city along the banks of the Mississippi River in southwest Mississippi.

Simpson reports that in the coming weeks, the Center will explore the differences between two Black communities, one in rural Mississippi and one in Louisiana, the latter the only state in the Deep South to have expanded Medicaid.  

Friday, November 5, 2021

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLVI): Small city in northern California declares itself "constitutional republic city" to avoid state health mandates

Here's today's story by The Guardian, headlined, "California town declares itself a ‘constitutional republic’ to buck Covid rules."  Dani Anguiano reports:  

A northern California town has declared itself a “constitutional republic” in response to Covid-19 health restrictions imposed by the governor, in the latest sign of strife between the state’s government and its rural and conservative regions.

The city council in Oroville, located at the base of the Sierra Nevada foothills about 90 miles from the capital of Sacramento, adopted a resolution this week stating it would oppose state and federal orders it deems to be government overreach.

Oroville leaders said the designation was a way of affirming the city’s values and pushing back against state rules it doesn’t agree with, although a legal expert said the designation was merely a gesture and did not grant the city any new authority.

These events raise important issues about state and local government powers and the relations between these scales of government.  

The only news outlet to take up this matter before The Guardian was the Chico Enterprise-Record, with a rather garbled report of what happened.  The definition of a constitutional republic and its relationship to being a municipality under California law is never explained, nor is its clear relationship to "democracy," though I'm sure that a form of government can be both a constitutional republic and a democracy--that the two are not mutually exclusive. 

Here is a clip about the matter from CBS Channel 13 in Sacramento.