Monday, January 31, 2022

U.S. Senate candidate from Ohio, Tim Ryan (D) pleads with the white working class to trust Democrats, again

Here's the lede for today's Washington Post story by Michael Scherer, as candidate Tim Ryan campaigns in Ironton, Ohio, population 11, 129, in the Ohio River Valley:  
Congressman Tim Ryan has been traveling the foothills of western Appalachia with a joke about marriage he hopes will make him Ohio’s next U.S. Senator.

The voters he needs to turn his way — the forgotten, the struggling, in communities with hollow factories, Trump flags and fentanyl epidemics — don’t agree with everything he stands for as a Democrat. But then, he asks his small crowds, who does?

“If my wife and I have 10 conversations in one day and we agree on six or seven of them, we crack a bottle of wine and celebrate how great our marriage is,” he said at a recent stop here along the Ohio River, just a few blocks from an empty brownfield where furnaces once burned. “So why would you think you are going to agree with someone 100 percent of the time?”

Ryan’s bet — and the national Democratic dream — is that a few issues still just might matter more than his party label. He lists three whenever he speaks, after talking up his small-town upbringing and all of his union relatives who once worked at steel plants or auto suppliers: rebuilding the country with major public works spending, new government investing in manufacturing industries and beating China.

“They have a 10-year plan, a 50-year plan, a 100-year plan,” he said of the Asian superpower. “We are living in a 24-hour news cycle talking about really dumb stuff, like Big Bird and Dr. Seuss.”

The pitch has made Ryan one of the most consequential Democratic candidates of the 2022 cycle, a test case on whether his party has any hope of reclaiming its erstwhile White working-class voting base, as former president Donald Trump, who sped their flight, waits in the wings. The struggle is, by any measure, uphill.

* * * 

With less than 10 months to go before the general election, Ryan has already visited 72 of the state’s 88 counties in a full-press effort to try to persuade the hinterlands, a handful at a time, that Democrats like him are human beings who breathe the same air.

Love that Ryan is using the whole state approach in his campaign, leaving no county behind.  Also bemused by the journalist's use of the word "hinterlands."   

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.  

Post script:  NPR's All Things Considered is doing a story on Tim Ryan on the afternoon of February 1, 2022.  Another one ran on February 4, 2022.  

Rural-Urban Differences in Adverse and Positive Childhood Experiences: Results from the National Survey of Children's Health

Here is the abstract for a paper published by the Rural Health Research Gateway at the University of North Dakota:  
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are events of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction occurring between birth and 17 years of age. Studies have found a direct correlation between ACEs and risky behaviors, poor physical health, and poor mental health outcomes in childhood. Positive childhood experiences (PCEs) include a nurturing, safe, and supportive environment allowing for health development and overall wellness. In prior research, rural-urban differences in PCEs have not been examined using all 50 states. This brief examines the types and counts of ACEs and PCEs for rural and urban children. The study also reports on the differences between rural and urban ACEs and PCEs across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Powerful story out of Colorado: ranchers v wolves, and what that battle reveals about rural v. urban

This Colorado Sun story "Wolves, ranchers, and the law," is a doozie, any way you slice or dice it.  Jennifer Brown reports out of Walden, population 609, in the North Park region of the state.  Wolves are killing cattle there, and ranchers are furious, not least because the state voted in 2020 to re-introduce wolves.  

Of course, at its core, this is an old story--the conflict between ranchers who wish to protect their cattle and conservationists who wish to protect the wolves.  The Colorado Sun piece features the Gittleson family, in particular, who've recently lost three head of cattle and had another cow injured in a wolf attack.  The whole story is very much worth a read, but I'm just going to highlight the part about how ranchers feel they are treated--by urbanites and the law--reflected mostly in quotes from Gittleson family members:
North Park is ground zero in Colorado’s wolf controversy. Almost no one here supported the 2020 ballot measure to reintroduce wolves to the state. And now that the wolves have arrived on their own, wandering across the Wyoming state line and helping themselves to cattle, residents here are wondering whether the city dwellers who voted to bring back wolves will finally understand what they’ve been saying.

“I don’t think they care, no matter what we say to them,” said Kim Gittleson, sitting at her kitchen table with tired eyes after another night on wolf watch. “These cows are our living. We don’t want to see that happen to our cows, not just because it’s our livelihood. It’s just sad to see any animal tortured that way that you cared for.”
It would be easier, many locals say, to “shoot, shovel and shut up” when wolves prey on their livestock, although getting caught shooting a protected species could mean a $100,000 fine and a year in jail. The Gittlesons, though, said they are reporting every wolf sighting and attack to their local Colorado Parks and Wildlife agents, seeking government compensation for their dead cows, and asking for help to scare the pack away from the ranch.
* * *
“If we wanted to shoot the wolves, we could have stopped this day one,” Dave Gittleson said. “We could’ve gone out there and wiped out the pack. Done. But that’s not a long-term solution. Don’t shoot the wolves. Everything we just lost would be for nothing.”

Instead, North Parkers are working together to protect their cattle — and to make a point.

Don Gittleson, who runs the ranch alone on weekdays while his wife and son work other jobs more than an hour away in Steamboat Springs, is exhausted from staying up most of the night for weeks. They’re hoping Colorado Parks and Wildlife will come through on hiring a range rider, someone to patrol the ranch in the dark, but they have their doubts.

It makes the Gittlesons chuckle that the state would require the range rider to have a COVID vaccination. It’s just one more example, they say, of how urban Colorado and its government does not “get” them, seeing as how the range rider would sit alone on a four-wheeler or in a truck on a ranch in the middle of nowhere.

Like the infamous “MeatOut Day” controversy of last spring and the proposed ballot measure that would have defined artificial insemination of cows as a criminal sex act, the wolf debate has widened the cultural divide. Ranchers feel their way of life is under attack, or at the least, misunderstood.

“It’s not just a Democrat-versus-Republican divide. It’s urban versus rural,” said Coby Corkle, who grew up in Walden and is a Jackson County commissioner. “Rural Colorado is really just trying to hold on.”

Gov. Jared Polis is not popular here. Neither is First Gentleman Marlon Reis, an animal rights advocate. North Park ranchers were fuming last week after governor-appointed State Board of Veterinary Medicine member Ellen Kessler called ranchers “lazy and nasty” and accused them of using a cow to bait wolves in a comment on Reis’ Facebook page. They cheered when she apologized and resigned from the board a few days later.

The sentiment up here, in the “Moose Viewing Capital of Colorado,” is made clear by a sign east of Walden. “If you voted for reintroduction of wolves,” it says, “Do not recreate here. You are not welcome!”
The rancher's talk about "shoot, shovel and shut up," reminds me of this post from a student more than a decade ago.  That student had grown up in rural Idaho and was a former law enforcement officer there, which gave him a distinct perspective I was glad he shared on the blog.   

Sunday, January 30, 2022

On rural communities and schools hanging on to Native American mascots

The New York Times reported today from Cambridge, New York, under the headline, "Facing a Ban, a School District Fights to Keep ‘Indian’ Nickname."  The gist of the story is in the subhead: 
Residents in a divided predominantly white town in upstate New York are fighting a state ruling to remove the Native American mascot.
Cambridge, about an hour north of Albany, on the Vermont state line, has a population of  2,152.  The following excerpt focuses on the community members who want to keep the mascot, the Indians--and in particular the divide between them and relative newcomers to the area, as well as those with more formal education who have returned there. 
Many supporters of keeping the mascot have dismissed concerns as political correctness gone amok, a movement spearheaded by a small group of liberals, many of whom have perhaps not lived in town long enough to realize that many nearby districts have similarly themed names, including the Mechanicville Red Raiders, the Averill Park Warriors and the Lake George Warriors.

Duane Honyoust, a Cambridge resident and a member of the Onondaga Nation, said he supported the school district’s use of the nickname and logo as a tribute to Native people and a reminder to students of the importance of local Native history.

Regarding the anti-mascot movement, he said, “Once you take references to Native Americans out of the schools, you’re starting to erase us.”

* * * 

Meetings of the once-obscure school board have been packed with vocal attendees, necessitating larger spaces and, at times, a local police officer assigned to ensure order.

One recent weeknight this month in a school cafeteria, board members sat on folding chairs emblazoned with the Indians mascot. Many of the roughly 75 attendees pointedly wore orange T-shirts and other garments adorned with the Indians logo.

Most of them were vigorously cheered as they spoke in support of keeping the mascot.

An official announced that it would cost over $90,000 in supplies alone to physically change the nickname and logo on the gym floor, hallway signs, the sides of school buses and other places.

One speaker took the lectern and attributed the name opposition to “woke racism.” Another stepped up and said she was sending her children to a school 20 minutes away because “I didn’t want them to have this experience in their education.”

* * *

By last June, the five-member board voted 3-2 to adopt a resolution to retire the nickname and logo. Then came the backlash, a vote to reverse the decision, the successful appeal to state officials, and now an outright culture war.

“It’s mostly outsiders, people who aren’t originally from here, who want to get rid of it,” said Belinda Sawyer, 49, a restaurant manager in town.
A cheerleader when she attended high school in Cambridge, Ms. Sawyer dropped to the restaurant floor one recent evening and began reciting “Indians on the Warpath,” a cheer chanted over a percussive drumming beat on the bleachers. (Her great-grandmother was a Blackfoot Indian, she said.)

Greg Woodcock, a Cambridge resident in support of keeping the name and mascot, estimated in a phone interview that some 85 percent of the district’s residents are supportive.

They will raise the legal fees themselves, if necessary, he said.

Many critics have dismissed the anti-mascot campaign as being spearheaded by recent transplants to Cambridge, said Alex Dery Snider, a Cambridge resident who was a petitioner in the appeal.

“The message is that outsiders are not welcome here,” she said. “I know of people who planned to move here who changed their minds because of this issue. It just felt really unwelcoming to new people. The message has been if you aren’t from here, you don’t belong here.”

For Mr. McMillan, it was only after moving away to college and gaining more diverse friends that he began viewing certain things in a different light. He started seeing the name as an insensitive caricature that perpetuated stereotypes of Native Americans. As a teen, he did the tomahawk chop to cheer on the high school’s football team.
Several Cambridge area residents of Native American heritage support keeping the Indian mascot. And that reminds me of this similar story out of Colorado last fall, "Rural Colorado students sue to block law demanding 26 schools shed their Native American mascots."  The subhead for Sue McMillan's story is, "The plaintiffs, some of whom claim tribal membership, say the Senate Bill 116 seeks to erase cultural references to Native American heritage."  The plaintiffs in this case are from Lamar, population 7,804, and Yuma, population 3,524, both in far eastern Colorado. An excerpt follows: 
“Erasing Native American names and images from the public square and from public discussion echoes a maneuver that plaintiffs have previously seen used by the eradicators of Native American heritage,” the lawsuit says. “Colorado repeats the same mistake in its paternalistic assumption that it must protect Native Americans by erasing cultural references to them and to their heritage.”

It says the plaintiffs “oppose the use of American Indian mascot performers and caricatures that mock Native American heritage.”

The plaintiffs intend to file a motion this week seeking an injunction that they hope will immediately halt implementation because districts can’t wait for the lawsuit to be heard and risk being fined $25,000 a month if they’re not in compliance, said William Trachman, an attorney with Mountain States Legal Foundation in Lakewood.

An important and deeply reported story, worth a read in its entirety.  

Friday, January 28, 2022

News from rural northern California implicates race and ethnicity

Three big stories out of rural far northern California this week arguably show both progress and stasis on matters of race and ethnicity.  The first "progress" story is about the return of a 500-acre redwood grove on the so-called Lost Coast to a Native American tribe, the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council.  The second progress story is from the Eureka Times-Standard, and it's about the return to the Wiyot Tribe of human Native remains.  The remains are from a massacre more than a century and a half ago, and they have been in the possession of UC Berkeley and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  

The "stasis" story (from the regional Press Democrat) is about the decision by the town of Fort Bragg not to change its name, though it is named after a Confederate general.  A story from a more local source, the Fort Bragg Advocate News, is here.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

More on travel--and rural women--as abortion rights come under threat

Daily Yonder commentary published yesterday is here, and NPR told this compelling story out of Idaho today.  The latter implicated travel from Twin Falls to Meridian (near Boise), not truly rural places, but plenty of distance covered nevertheless.  The NPR story also touched on issues of poverty and homelessness, and the fact the woman seeking an abortion already had a child and feared she could not care for another.  Women who already have a child(ren) and are financially precarious are most common among those seeking abortion in the United States.  

My academic work on rural women and the right to abortion is here, here, and hereThis post from early December sums up my thinking on the current attention--even panic--about distance and travel.  I'm not saying the attention and panic aren't justified, but it sure was hard before this current moment to get as much attention as I believe was merited about the burden of travel and distance.  

Data on who gets abortions is here, in a report noting the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Rural residents struggling with pharmacy closures

National Public Radio reported on this phenomenon this week, with a focus on Oregon.  
SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Americans have been going to their local pharmacy for more than just prescriptions during the pandemic. They've been going there for masks, COVID-19 tests and vaccines. But even with that increased business, retail pharmacies, big and small, are closing their doors. Oregon Public Broadcasting's April Ehrlich reports that these closures are straining small towns where options were already limited.

APRIL EHRLICH, BYLINE: Lisa Raffety has rheumatoid arthritis and needs to take an anti-inflammatory medicine every day. If she can't get it on time, the consequences are severe.

LISA RAFFETY: I'll go two to three days at the most, and then I'm pretty much - I can't walk.

EHRLICH: She lives in Baker City, a small town in eastern Oregon that had one of its four pharmacies closed last year. Fifty-five-year-old Raffety says, since then, lines at the remaining pharmacies started going out the door.

RAFFETY: And it hurts to stand for any length of time, to be on my feet. It's a hard, cement floor.

EHRLICH: Raffety says some people bring their dinners and eat them in line. Store clerks have to bring out wheelchairs for people who can't stand that long. Last year, the Pacific Northwest retailer Bi-Mart announced it was getting out of the pharmacy business, closing nearly 60 pharmacy counters in three states. Many of them were in rural areas.

* * * 

Bi-Mart's spokesman Don Leber says there are several factors that went into the decision to close its pharmacies.

DON LEBER: We were really forced to make a decision we never wanted to make.

EHRLICH: He says one big issue is affecting pharmacies across the country - increasing fees, specifically from the middlemen that bridge pharmacies and insurance companies, called pharmaceutical benefit managers, or PBMs. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has had his eye on these companies recently, which he says are charging excessive fees that are pushing smaller pharmacies out of business.

RON WYDEN: For rural communities in Oregon, this is a five-alarm emergency.

EHRLICH: Basically, when someone gets a prescription through an insurance or Medicare plan, the PBM is supposed to reimburse the pharmacy for the drug cost and some overhead. But in recent years, PBMs started decreasing the amount they reimburse when pharmacies don't meet certain sales markers. Wyden has called on Congress to increase its oversight of pharmaceutical benefit managers. And some states like New York have started regulating PBMs at the state level.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Texas agriculture commissioner undermines Black farmers' claims, assistance from federal government

James Pollard reports for the Texas Tribune under the headline, "Black Texas farmers were finally on track to get federal aid. The state’s agriculture commissioner is helping stop that."  The subhead is, "Sid Miller is challenging a debt relief program that the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw as a way to correct historic discrimination. An advocate for Black Texas farmers says the challenge “pushes us back even further.”

Here's an excerpt that further sums up what's happening under the Republican agriculture commissioner: 

Last March, Congress passed a sweeping debt relief program for farmers of color. The culmination of 20 years of advocacy, the law would have provided $4 billion worth of debt relief for loans many of them had taken on to stay afloat while being passed over for financial programs and assistance their white counterparts had an easier time obtaining. Black farmers made up about a quarter of those targeted in the bill.

As agriculture commissioner, Miller leads an agency tasked with “advocat[ing] for policies at the federal, state, and local level” beneficial to Texas’s agriculture sector and “provid[ing] financial assistance to farmers and ranchers,” among other duties. In a statement to The Texas Tribune, Miller called the debt relief program “facially illegal and constitutionally impermissible.”

“Such a course will lead only to disunity and discord,” Miller said. “Shame on the Biden Administration for authorizing a program it knows was unambiguously illegal, instead of enacting a proper relief bill that complies with the laws and constitution of the United States.”

But advocates of the program saw it as an attempt to make Black farmers whole after years of USDA discrimination.

USDA press secretary Kate Waters told the Tribune that she couldn’t comment on ongoing litigation. She added the agency is establishing an equity commission of about 30 non-USDA employees to help identify how the USDA can eliminate structural barriers to various programs.

“There is a long history of racism at USDA. It’s a lot to unpack,” Waters said. “We’re on the case and we’re here to regain trust.”  

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXXIV): New York Times takes up Omicron's impact on small-town government

Jill Cowan reports today on how widespread illness from the Omicron variant is affecting small municipal governments' ability to provide services.  Her story references what is happening in Marvell, Arkansas,  population 1,186, in the Mississippi Delta area and Verden, Oklahoma, population 530, in west central part of that state.   This quote sums up what is happening:  
It’s a familiar story in small towns across the country, where the spike in infections from the Omicron variant hit local governments with particular force. The virus has ripped through big cities like Los Angeles and New York, sidelining thousands of police officers and transit operators. In many, leaders have rushed to reassure residents that firefighters and paramedics will show up when they call amid record absences.

But in small communities, the people responsible for keeping crucial public services up and running say the strain is acute: With bare-bones workforces already stretched thin, there is no margin for error when multiple workers have to call in sick.

Brooks Rainwater, director of the National League of Cities Center for City Solutions, provided this context:  

Longer term, we’ve seen really strong economic challenges in rural America as the urban-rural divide has expanded.

* * *
Rural governments are small by design.

The story features Marvell's police chief, Bennie Daniels, Sr., who remarks, "I do everything my guys do, of course."  Daniels has been working 18-20 hour days.  He recently gave his officers a raise, from $13/hour to $15/hour.  

Lee Guest wears many hats in Marvell.  He is both mayor and assistant fire chief.  His day job is as a rural mail carrier.  He said he had to get off Facebook for a while because of backlash after he encouraged residents to get vaccinated.  

“I’m getting chewed out by people I grew up with,” said Mr. Guest, a lifelong resident who describes his ascent to the city’s top job almost like he was drafted. “There are times where I just want to be a mailman.”

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Literary ruralism (Part XXX): Kai Bird's The Outlier, a biography of Jimmy Carter

I started reading this very long but excellent book several months ago and I was immediately drawn in, even intrigued, by the depictions and representations of the rural South, where Carter grew up.  Here are some from the book's early chapters about Carter's childhood in Sumter County, Georgia, in the southwest part of the state (all emphasis mine):

This is from page 4, part of an overview, with a reference to the "enduring mystery about how a product of the Old South, a white boy reared in a highly segregated, conservative rural society, came to personify decency and an uncommon humanitarianism in the White House.”

Carter grew up in Archery, near the better-known Plains, the eldest son of James Earl Carter, Sr. and Lillian Carter.  The book reveals that the elder Carter was what political scientists now call an old-fashioned racist, whereas the man who became president was more influenced by his mother, who was more progressive on matters of race.  This is from page 16: 
Archery was a throwback to the nineteenth century. Jimmy’s father, James Earl Carter Sr., had a tenth-grade education before dropping out to join the army. In 1903, when Earl was only 10 years old, his father, William Archibald Carter, was shot dead during a violent brawl with a business rival. They had been arguing over who was the rightful owner of a desk. Earl was certainly not country “white trash”—but neither was he part of the southern plantation aristocracy. By the late 1920’s, he made more than a comfortable living growing peanuts, corn, and cotton and drawing “rents” from his Black tenants. He managed to expand his farm acreage even during the boll weevil blight of the 1920’s, which wiped out many cotton farmers.

Jimmy Carter was apparently a fan of William Faulkner.  Here's a salient passage from page 20 of the Bird biography:   

More than most white southerners, the rural folk of South Georgia had defied assimilation and loyalty clung to their native culture as a matter of principle. They had their own vernacular and distinctive accent. And they had their own religion, and unvarnished, evangelical southern Protestantism that affirmed the supremacy of the white race in society and patriarchy at home.

Two generations had passed since the Civil War, but that conflagration continued to define their collective identity. “The past is never dead. It's not even past”—so says Gavin Stevens, a character in Faulkner's novel Requiem for a Nun.  Curtis Wilkie, a celebrated journalist from Mississippi who later covered the Carter administration, wrote in his memoirs, “We deliberately set ourselves apart from the rest of America during the Civil War and continue, to this day, to live as spiritual citizens of a nation that existed for only four years in another century.” The South had lost the Civil War but most if not all white southerners unashamedly celebrated what they revered as the “Lost Cause”. On the eve of the Civil War, Georgia was the South's leading slave state with some 462,000 slaves, or nearly 45% of the population. It was also the last southern state to rejoin the union, in July 1870. It was all about slavery. The South was preoccupied with a history heavily laden with questions about guilt, evil, and sin. History mattered to these Georgians.

Here is more on Jimmy Carter's father, known as Earl, at p. 21, plus an interesting defense of the father by Jimmy Carter's more progressive mother: 

“Earl was a confirmed segregationist. “Jimmy Carter's daddy, I knew him before he died,” recalled Bobby Rowan, once a state senator from Enigma, Georgia. “He was a redneck, hard-nosed, hard-driving Southern plantation owner.” He called his African American tenants “niggahs.” but years later, Miss Lillian staunchly defended her late husband. “Oh, he said things,” she told a reporter in 1976. “He believed in the black man's inferiority, but he was no different from all those people around here and all over the country who are now trying to pretend they were never prejudiced. Earl would have changed... It annoys me to hear people denounce him when he was simply a Southern man who lived at a certain time.”

And from page 22, more historical context on the rural south: 

Jimmy's childhood was steeped in the old South. It was then, and arguably has struggled to remain, a nation within a nation, a foreign province that just happens to exist within the boundaries of the Yankee realm. A conquered territory. In the words of W. J. Cash, the author of the deeply melancholic 1941 classic The Mind of the South, “The South is another land.” Carter himself read the book in the late 1940s. Cash wrote in the anguished voice of a southern intellectual from South Carolina, and his critical portrait of the states that embrace for doomed Confederacy is heartfelt and sadly poignant. He wrote of the South's capacity for violence, it's inherent intolerance and “attachment to fictions and false values.” But the region's greatest vice, he argued, was its “attachment to racial values and a tendency to justify cruelty and injustice in the name of those values... and despite changes for the better, they remain its characteristic vices today.”

Cash was writing in the late 1930s, describing precisely the “sleepy old hamlets” in cotton fields that were scenery of Jimmy Carter's childhood. A belief in white supremacy permeated the red-baked clay earth of South Georgia. It defined the culture of Plains and other small towns across the old South. It was a culture that could foster both moments of gentleness and episodes of what the Mississippi journalist Willie Morris labeled “unthinking sadism.” Like Faulkner, Morris was one of a legion of astute southern writers who spent their writing lives exploring the curious gulf between the region’s “manners and morals, the extraordinary opposition of its violence and kindliness.” That was the way things were and, it seemed, always had been. The defining mystery of the future president’s childhood was how he nevertheless was molded into something quite alien from his South Georgian racist culture.

There are more passages that use the words "rural," "country," "redneck," and such, but I'll save those for a future post.  

Monday, January 17, 2022

How definitions of "rural" impact grant eligibility

Jonathan Ahl of Missouri Public Radio reported today on how varying federal definitions of "rural" impact which communities are eligible for federal funds for improvements like broadband.  Ahl reports from two contiguous counties in Missouri, Texas and Phelps.  Texas County's population is just 24.487, while Phelps County's population is nearly double that, at 45,000.  Bottom line: Phelps County is more populous and has a stronger tax base, but it gets greater benefits from federal broadband programs because it is farther--as the crow flies--from a metro area than is Texas County.  But since the counties sit right next to each other, it's only farther by a matter of degree.  And by other measures, Phelps County is less rural.  It's got a greater population and a higher population density.   The story doesn't talk about this, but it's also presumably got more human capital for chasing grant funding.    

Here are some excerpts from the story, starting with this one about Houston, the county seat of Texas County:  

Houston struggles with infrastructure, and city administrator Scott Avery was looking for ways to bring high-speed internet to town.

SCOTT AVERY: There's a federal grant that I was looking at with the broadband. There's a ton of federal grants. One of them defines rural as more than 100 miles from a metro area. Well, I'm less than 100 air miles from Springfield, so I don't qualify.

AHL: Springfield is a metro area of about a half a million, and it's an hour and 40 minute drive away on two-lane roads, but only 90 miles as the crow flies. So for that grant, this small town that prides itself on country life wasn't rural enough. About an hour north in Rolla, Mo., it's a different story.

Then there is this about Rolla, the county seat of Phelps County to the north: 

I'm on the pedestrian overpass above Interstate 44 at one of the four exits into Rolla. Right ahead of me is Phelps Health. It's a big hospital with its own cancer center. Off to the left, Missouri S&T - it's a high-tech research institution with 6,000 students. But this town of 20,000 - it's more than 100 miles away from Springfield and St. Louis. So according to that broadband grant, this is rural.

LOU MAGDITS: When I look at the city of Rolla, I don't think it meets the definition - any of the definitions - of rural.

AHL: Lou Magdits is the mayor of Rolla. He spends a lot of time telling people about Rolla's amenities, its airport, numerous manufacturing plants and high tech sector. And while his city didn't apply for that particular broadband grant Houston was shut out of, Magdits doesn't shy away from grants intended to help small towns.

MAGDITS: If a grant come down that was tied to rural, I would probably self-justify it by saying, you know, look; the Rolla and its periphery probably could meet that definition.

Bottom line:  Tiny Houston doesn't qualify for funding because it is marginally closer to metropolitan Springfield while larger Rolla and Phelps County do.   Let's face it:  doesn't make a lot of sense.  

But, then, I see this is the 190th post using the label "defining rural," which suggests just what a quagmire this matter is.  

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Resisting high tech industrialization in exurban northern Virginia

The Washington Post reported a few days ago on a land use conflict out of northern Virginia, in particular exurban Prince William County northwest of the District of Columbia and adjacent to Loudon County.  Antonio Olivo writes about a group of landowners in what is locally known as the "rural crescent" of the county who are trying to sell their land for use as a server farm.  This has created controversy among others residents and land owners who say they have moved to this area in order to live a rural lifestyle, some of them escaping the scrum of the District of Columbia in retirement.  Here's the story's lede:  
Residents along Pageland Lane once would have scoffed at the idea of their farms and regal brick homes becoming the site of a massive data center complex, given all the years of fighting to keep their rural oasis free of Northern Virginia’s relentless growth.

But after a string of defeats that has left their Prince William County neighborhood filled with traffic and towering transmission lines, those residents are now hoping to sell their land so it can become a 2,100-acre hub to the world’s Internet traffic.

“It’s just gotten worse and worse,” said Page Snyder, 71, who grew up on the farm she owns near a Civil War battle site and a sprawling retirement village whose development she and her neighbors opposed. “Basically, we’ve just thrown in the towel.”

Their effort to convince the county to change its land use policy in a portion of western Prince William, where most types of new development have been restricted, sparked a fierce backlash in the broader community — pulling even documentary filmmaker Ken Burns into a larger debate about the changing identity of the fast-growing county that, elsewhere, is struggling with crowded schools and widening pockets of poverty.
Another story about rural data centers, the one out West in Oregon, is here.  

An interesting aspect of this Washington Post piece is something I have seen in California, near Sacramento where I live.  In El Dorado County, for example, just to the east of Sacramento County, one often sees candidates signs with messages like "Keep El Dorado County Rural."  One rarely sees unpacked what this means policy-wise, for example, but it seems to a be a slogan that resonates with many voters.  Another post on the topic is here.  

Saturday, January 15, 2022

A young Mainer's ideas for cultivating the rural vote

Katrina vanden Heuvel writes in an essay for the Washington Post a few days ago (published simultaneously in the Nation magazine, for which vanden Heuvel is the editor and publisher) about Chloe Maxmin, a Maine state legislator who grew up in rural, impoverished Lincoln County, in the state's mid-coast region.  (Prior posts mentioning Wiscasset, the county seat of Lincoln County, are here).

 Maxmin and her campaign manager, Canyon Woodward, have a book coming out in a few months on the topic.  Here's an excerpt from vanden Heuvel's essay, inspired by Maxmin's work and ideas:  

First, to reach someone, you have to reach out. Rural Democrats consistently lament that the national party hasn’t invested enough money or time in rural organizing. By contrast, during her 2020 campaign, Maxmin says she had 90,000 voter contacts, the most of any state Senate campaign in the state. Her closest opponent had just 35,000. As a result, she connected with persuadable Trump voters who had never spoken with a Democratic candidate.

And Maxmin didn’t just talk to voters; she sought to understand them. As she told me during an interview last year, her canvassing strategy was “to stand there for 10 or 15 minutes and have a conversation — and then go back and follow up.” The progressive advocacy group People’s Action calls this approach “deep canvassing,” and found that it helped decrease Trump’s margins where implemented in key battleground states.

But once you’ve started a conversation with voters, how do you connect your policies to their problems?

Many Democrats respond to any reflexive rural repulsion against “progressivism” by disavowing it and running toward the center. (Just ask any average Joe, be they Lieberman, Manchin or Biden.) But Maxmin has a different strategy. She makes progressive ideals concrete, real and relevant to people’s lives — so conversations can move past talking points and cut straight to what these changes could actually mean.
I was struck, too, by this very poignant vignette, which had me thinking about how folks along the political spectrum judge those they deem "white trash."  (Bear in mind that Maine has one of the oldest and whitest populations in the nation).
Maxmin and Woodward describe an encounter when Maxmin, canvassing alone, walked down a dirt road leading to a nondescript trailer. She knocked on the door, which cracked open to reveal a man who appeared hesitant to hear from her. Nevertheless, she introduced herself and asked him about the issues he cared about most in the coming election. They chatted for a bit, and then he said something she may not have expected to hear: “You’re the first person to listen to me. Everyone judges what my house looks like. They don’t bother to knock. I’m grateful that you came. I’m going to vote for you.”

I was reminded of the article about Maxmin when this came across my Twitter feed today, from a young Minnesotan associated with the Rural Rising Project:  

Like Maxmin, this organizer is endorsing listening as a critical part of the process, something urban and coastal elites--so assured they know everything, have all the answers--are often not very good at.   

Other recent posts about cultivating the rural vote are here and here.  

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

What Rural GroundGame offers is a pathway to Democratic success everywhere. At Rural GroundGame, our mission is to develop and execute programs for the support, training, and development of rural Democrats. Programs that are created for candidates, campaigns, and committees to secure a deeper level of investment in and by Democrats in every zip code. This work is focused on getting Democrats elected, improving electoral margins, holding Republicans accountable for their public records, and upholding our shared values.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Majority-minority town in eastern Iowa elects a majority Latino/a city council

NPR reports today about a majority Latino/a city council in West Liberty, Iowa, population 3,858, in the eastern part of the state.  Kassidy Arena explains that West Liberty is just one majority-minority locale in what we tend to think of as racially homogeneous--that is, white--rural America:    

ARENA: When you drive into Iowa's first majority Latino city, the first thing you'll see is a building with an enormous mural. It declares, you belong here, on the left; tu perteneces aqui, in Spanish, on the right. Two-term City Councilman Jose Zacarias is bundled in a jacket on a cold day, standing in front of the colorful mural.

JOSE ZACARIAS: And the message is the right message. It's in English; it's in Spanish. This is who we are, you know? Now people, Anglo people, are talking about - we are no longer two communities living in the same place; we are growing into one.

ARENA: This is exactly the kind of town the Center for Rural Innovation (ph) has been focusing on. The nonprofit promotes economic prosperity and diverse leadership throughout rural America. Director Matt Dunne says he sees it in rural America's makeup all across the country.

MATT DUNNE: One of the things that we've spent a lot of time on over the last several years is making sure that the country knows that rural America is not white America, that the diversity of people in rural places is part of its vibrancy and its potential.

ARENA: Jose Zacarias has been in West Liberty for decades after emigrating from Mexico. He first came here for a job in the town's meatpacking plant. Over time, he's watched the Latino community blossom, watching residents become citizens, then voters and, finally, political candidates. But it hasn't always been an easy transition.

My writing about Latina/os in "new immigrant destinations"--especially rural ones--is here.   

Thursday, January 13, 2022

More on rural stuff in Newsom's California budget proposal

I wrote about this a few days ago here and now will just highlight some other items that are, shall we say, rural adjacent, though not necessarily labeled as "rural" explicitly in coverage of Newsom's new proposed budget.  What follows is all from Sammy Roth's climate newsletter, Boiling Point in the Los Angeles Times, which, by the way, is excellent.  My only beef is that in this column he does not use the word "rural" or "nonmetro" or even "wildland" (as in the "wildland-urban interface) anywhere in his reporting.  Here are excerpts from the newsletter, including the headings, that implicate rurality: 
1. Nothing more important than transportation.

The governor proposed $6.1 billion in new funds to help Californians ditch gasoline, including $256 million in clean car rebates and other programs for low-income families, $900 million to build electric vehicle chargers in low-income neighborhoods and $419 million for “community-based transportation equity projects.” Those projects could include electric van pools for farmworkers, for instance, or infrastructure to support electric bikes or scooters — whatever local communities determine they most need.  (emphasis added)  
Speaking of transportation, especially for farmworkers, the Los Angles Times reported a few days ago on a pathbreaking program out of the Central Valley town of Huronpopulation 6,754, at the southwest edge of Fresno County.  Here's an excerpt from Evan Halper's story about the city's small-fleet of electric cars for residents' free use:  
For most of Rey León’s life, the city of Huron has been a transportation desert.

When he was a child, it took three hours and 13 stops to ride a bus 53 miles to Fresno to visit a cousin in the hospital. “That experience stuck with me,” he said.

By the time he’d graduated from UC Berkeley and returned to the community to help his aging parents, little had changed. Even after he was elected Huron mayor five years ago, León’s lobbying for reliable bus routes to Fresno, Visalia and Coalinga got nowhere with regional planners, who chafed at the cost.

“It’s always about who do you value and what do you value,” León said. “Farmworker communities have never been valued.”
* * *
Tucked behind the boarded-up buildings of the town’s struggling main drag is an arsenal of innovation that León calls the Green Raiteros. It has put Huron on the map as perhaps the greenest migrant farmworker community in the country. Headquartered in a former diesel truck garage, the growing fleet of nine electric cars managed by León’s Green Raiteros program shuttles residents all over Fresno County free of charge.

Remarkable.  Well done, Mayor. 

Now, back to the Boiling Point newsletter and  the governor's budget:  

3. Cleaning up the electric grid

* * *  

The budget also sets aside $240 million for a specific pumped storage project at Oroville Dam, in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

When state officials built the State Water Project in the 1960s, they gave themselves the ability to “store” energy by pumping water upstream to Oroville Dam when electricity supply exceeded demand, then releasing water back downstream — spinning electric turbines along the way — when demand exceeded supply. But the system hasn’t been used for about 15 years, since it interferes with the state’s ability to release enough cold water from Oroville into the Feather River, to help salmon and other fish survive.
4. Not just traditional climate stuff

Sanchez was especially excited to talk about proposed investments that might not normally be considered part of a climate plan, but which she sees as critically important for helping Californians cope with — and work to prevent — rising temperatures.

One of those investments is $1 billion for new housing — and not just any housing, but “infill” housing within developed areas, rather than sprawling new subdivisions that create the need for long car trips. Newsom wants to spend $500 million building homes on “prime infill parcels in downtown-oriented areas.” Another $300 million would go to the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program, which funds “land-use, housing, transportation and land preservation projects.”
* * * 
6. A Unique Approach to Lithium Valley

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while, you know one of my favorite stories is lithium extraction and geothermal energy in the Imperial Valley, at the southern end of the Salton Sea. The super-heated geothermal reservoir thousands of feet beneath the salty lake could produce loads of lithium for electric vehicle batteries, along with round-the-clock climate-friendly power.

Newsom’s budget doesn’t propose funding the companies looking to tap that reservoir, but it does dangle a promise that might be even more valuable — faster and simpler environmental permitting. In exchange for that regulatory support, the companies would need to agree to some kind of revenue sharing, to make sure the people of the Imperial Valley — a low-income, largely Latino region dominated by the agriculture industry — actually benefit from the new economic development.
7. Maybe Tesla Will Come Back
* * *
Other budget provisions could create new jobs plugging abandoned oil and gas wells — a big source of pollution in Los Angeles and statewide. In addition to $200 million for well plugging, Newsom proposed $15 million for a pilot program to train displaced oil and gas workers for those jobs, and a $50-million pilot fund to support displaced fossil fuel workers more broadly.8. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget fire and drought

Last year’s budget included $1.5 billion to fight wildfires. This year’s adds $1.2 billion, much of it for forest thinning, prescribed burns and other projects to reduce fire risks. It also adds $750 million to last year’s $5.2 billion for drought response, including $180 million for water suppliers to plug leaks, tear out grass and improve efficiency; $145 million in emergency assistance for communities at risk of going dry; $75 million to protect fish and wildlife; and $30 million for replenishing groundwater.

One other item that caught my attention: $40 million “to repurpose irrigated agricultural land to reduce reliance on groundwater while providing community health, economic well-being, water supply, habitat, renewable energy, and climate benefits.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Good K-12 experiences in small rural high schools tend to draw former students home in mid-adulthood

Iowa State University's press release about a new publication on the rural brain drain came across my Twitter feed this morning.  Here's an excerpt:  

Many academics and journalists have written about rural “brain drain,” the migration of talented and bright young people who leave their communities, usually in search of better economic opportunities. But a team of Iowa State University researchers have identified three significant factors that draw people back to their hometowns a decade or two after leaving: public schools, population density and other college-degree-holders in the community.

The researchers’ findings, recently published in the academic journal Rural Sociology, reveal college graduates between 34 and 43 years of age were more likely to return to the rural communities where they grew up if they had a strong attachment to their public K-12 schools. Feeling like their teachers cared or that they were part of the school community and had close friends were significant drivers.

When examining high school characteristics, the researchers found the size of the school mattered; participants who attended a high school with more than 350 students were 74% less likely to return home than participants who attended a school with fewer than 125 students.

“We often hear that rural schools aren't as good as their urban counterparts, but here is an example where they are in a unique position to foster strong relationships and a sense of belonging, which can have long-term impacts,” said Stephanie Sowl, one of the paper’s co-authors and a Ph.D. candidate in higher education at Iowa State.  

* * * 

“A lot of the previous research on the migration of college graduates looked at people right after earning their degree; our study focuses on people in their mid-30s to early 40s who are going to be more stable and financially secure,” said Sowl. “During this life stage, they may also have a shift in priorities that would lead them back to their hometowns.”

Older college graduates may be more interested in a safe place to raise their kids, good schools, affordable housing and open space. Other life events, like needing to care for older relatives, divorce or taking over a family farm could also affect this decision to move back.

Here's a marginally related story about how the pandemic has slowed Wyoming's brain drain

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Nick Kristof on rural infrastructure and the common good

Nicholas Kristof, former New York Times columnist who is living back on his family farm in Yamhill, Oregon and running for governor of that state, wrote about rural infrastructure deficits last week on his Substack.  This was written after the late December snow storms caused lengthy power outages in Oregon and California.  

Prolonged power outages happen periodically, particularly in rural areas, and earlier this year our home lost power for about six days (the longest I can ever remember power ever going out on the farm).
* * *
[A] population disproportionately left to face the elements on their own are rural people, and not just in power outages, for rural families have been left behind in all kinds of ways. Americans often think of poverty as a problem of inner cities, but Save the Children says rural child poverty rates are higher than urban child poverty rates. Of the counties in the United States with child poverty rates above 50 percent, 93 percent are rural.
* * *
Depending on who does the math, the poorest county is sometimes said to be Holmes County in Mississippi (a rural county with a largely Black population) or Buffalo County in South Dakota (also rural, with a largely Native American population). Here in Oregon, the poorest county is Lake County, with a mostly white population in the south central part of the state.

There are rural areas without either cell phone service or broadband access, so how are children there supposed to engage in remote learning? More on that in a moment, but we have to do a better job bringing cell service and the Internet — and good jobs — to rural and urban communities alike, to knit them into the modern economy.

“I spent my whole life on the farm, and what did I get out of it?” Ron, a childhood friend, lamented to me once. “Debt. Meanwhile, my friends got jobs in the city and did fine for themselves. I wish that years ago I had given up the dream of keeping the farm and had done the same as them.”

Whenever the power goes out, I think with gratitude of President Franklin Roosevelt’s rural electrification, which from the 1930s through the 1950s brought power to so many farms around the country, transforming lives and opportunity. In Yamhill, some farms had set up little water wheels on streams to generate electricity to power a few lights — but most families didn’t have a stream nearby. Then the government strung power lines up, and the community was transformed.

If FDR hadn’t embraced rural electrification, I don’t know when power would have arrived, because it would have been enormously costly to connect farms far from the grid. Some families would have jury-rigged wires running from tree to tree, tied to limbs with baling wire, but this would have periodically caused fires. Rural America would be far less productive and far poorer without government programs that subsidized power.

Perhaps the most direct analogy with rural electrification is with President Biden’s proposals to bring high-speed Internet to areas that have been left behind, both rural and urban. Our own Internet service on the farm comes via a dish behind our house that is pointed at another dish seven miles away; if an owl perches on our dish, our connections waver. And this is a problem throughout rural Oregon. At last count, more than one-fifth of homes in Wheeler County, Sherman County, Harney County and similar rural counties lacked a broadband connection.

When communities lack this kind of infrastructure, the resulting frustration and sense of neglect magnify the distrust of government and proclivity for conspiracy theories and even violence.
Its a thoughtful column from a thoughtful writer with a long-standing engagement with rural issues, in both the United States and abroad.  I've previously featured 

Of somewhat related interest is the fact that Kristof was told by the Oregon Secretary of State last week that he is not eligible to run for governor because he has not lived in Oregon for the requisite three years.  According to Kristof, he has been splitting his time between New York and Oregon, fixing up the old family farm in Yamhill, since 2019.  It'll be interesting to see how this plays out--almost a proxy war between urban (New York) and rural-ish (Oregon)--like Kristof became too east coast, too New York to be absorbed back into Oregon.  What we do know at this point is that Kristof is pursuing legal remedies to reverse the decision by the Secretary of State.  

Monday, January 10, 2022

New York Times turns to rural California prison closure

I've written about the proposed closure of a prison in Susanville, California here and here. Now, the New York Times has sent Tim Arango to cover the issue, and he has filed a terrific story that appears on the front page and leads with the economic impact on the community. I'm going to highlight here what Arango reports on the legal efforts to stop the prison closure:
On a brisk late-fall evening, Ms. Cobb huddled with a group of public officials and prison workers at a pizzeria. As a waitress came in and out, carrying pizzas and beers, Ms. Cobb ran down the fund-raising: $7,700 so far, mostly from small donations.

The lawsuit has achieved an early victory: a local judge has issued a temporary injunction halting plans for closing the prison while the case moves through the courts.
The injunction issued by the Lassen County judge is interesting. It's a lot of power to be wielded by a little old trial judge in rural northern California (which reminds me of this recent story out of Lake County, California).

Here's what he says about the economic impact of the prison, also giving a flavor of the place: 
When the California Correctional Center was built in the 1960s, many people in Susanville, which cherishes its small-town way of life — “we’re not rural, we’re frontier,” said one resident — relied on jobs at the nearby sawmills and on cattle ranches. Those jobs eventually disappeared, and now almost every aspect of the town’s economy and civic life, from real estate to local schools, depends on the prison. Over the years, the inmate population has counted toward political representation, and factored into the amount of money the town received from federal pandemic relief funds and state money to fix roads.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

California governor's budget proposes investments in rural workforce development

This is from Sofia Bollag's story in today's Sacramento Bee--a rare mention of a California investment in the state's rural reaches and their residents:

Newsom’s plan also funds programs to train workers in new industries in rural California as part of the state’s response to climate change. One program would put $44 million into developing a modern-day logging industry in California. Instead of old growth trees, the state wants to promote businesses that would clear and haul smaller trees and shrubs that fuel fires. That lower-value timber could be made into composite products, such as the kind used in IKEA furniture, an administration official said, which would give private industry a financial incentive to help the state prevent forest fires. 

This reminds me of Tweets I saw in the wake of the Dixie Fire, which destroyed the Plumas County town of Greenville in August, about the revival of a mill in nearby Crescent Mills to process the timber detritus of that fire.

Here's a December, 2021 story from the Bee about the struggle to process the burned trees from the Dixie Fire, that one featuring a mill in Chester, at the Plumas-Lassen County line.   

The story about the California budget continues:  

California’s lumber industry has been in decline for decades, largely because of environmental restrictions. Now, California doesn’t have nearly enough lumber mills to process the millions of trees that threaten to fuel megafires, forestry experts say. 
Another program would put $50 million into the state’s four California State University farms to research ways farms can adapt to climate change, such as by testing drought resilient grasses and finding more efficient ways to feed livestock, said administration officials who agreed to speak only on background to candidly discuss the governor’s budget plans.
Newsom’s budget also proposes giving $83 million to California State University Bakersfield to research how to help oil and gas workers transition into new careers as the state decreases its use of planet-warming fossil fuels. The budget would add another $250 million to help those workers train for and find new jobs.

The Bakersfield campus sits in Kern County, home to much of California’s oil and gas industry, where workers will be displaced by Newsom’s policies to restrict drilling and ban sales of new gas-powered cars.

Wow.  I wonder when a California state budget has attended to so many rural and rural adjacent issues.  See the full story for more on how the budget would tackle California wildfires.  

Friday, January 7, 2022

Poignant reflection on a central Illinois town in decline

The last in a series of essays by Tom Morello (guitarist with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, among others). appeared in the New York Times a few days ago.  It's headlined "Class Struggle in My Family's Hometown."  This one is datelined Marseilles, Illinois, population 5,094, where Morello spent summers during his childhood.  The small city is on the Illinois River, and along with the good (e.g,  community events, Little League, bike riding) Morello highlights some negative aspects of its history (e.g., environmental degradation, high incidence of cancer).

Here's an excerpt about the recent "class warfare" there:  

Lately, Marseilles has seen some more hard times. The factories and the mines are long closed. Norman Rockwell streets once vied to see who could have the tidiest lawn. Recently, on our block, three abandoned houses had gone back to nature, roofs collapsed, trees growing through windows, raccoons taking up residence. There may still be a Little League, but when I spoke a few years ago with some teenagers with teardrop tattoos on their faces, they spoke of their limited prospects: Walmart, the Army, selling meth.

The town was once solidly union, voted Democrat and gave birth to America’s most militant leftist grandma, Mary Morello. Now Confederate flags dot some of the lawns. There’s a lot of good, hard-working people doing their best, but there’s a palpable feeling that they’ve been abandoned by Democratic and Republican administrations. It’s fertile ground for a demagogic grifter who attributes their problems to immigrants and Muslims, deflecting blame from a capitalist order that sees them as marks and cannon fodder. Where poverty meets disinformation, intolerance can bloom.

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law.  

Thursday, January 6, 2022

In other California wildfire news, judge puts kabash on luxury mixed-use development in rural Lake County

Screenshot from proposed Guenoc Valley development
website mentions "managed rural landscape" 

Judge J. David Markham of the Superior Court in nonmetro Lake County, California, ruled earlier this week that the proposed Guenoc Valley mixed-use development must halt pending development of a better wildfire plan.  

Dale Kasler and Ryan Sabalow report today for the Sacramento Bee.  The judge held that the county planners who signed off on the development's environmental documents didn't "account for what would happen when a fast-moving fire erupts and the resort's workers and guests all try to leave the area at the same time."  
“A significant number of wildfire related deaths in California occur during attempts to evacuate,” the judge wrote. Markham said developers had done a good job of attempting to reduce fire risks. That said, they hadn’t fully accounted for serious problems that could arise if a wildfire broke out. A portion of the project’s 16,000 acres burned in 2020, the worst wildfire season in modern California history. Markham wrote that the resort could bring up to 4,070 new people to the sparsely populated area of Lake County, where the roads could be overwhelmed during a wildfire.

The judge's decision continues:   

These people will likely compete with residents in the surrounding area for safe evacuation routes.  The additional people competing for the same limited routes can cause congestion and delay in evacuation, resulting in increased wildfire related deaths. This is undoubtedly a situation where the Project, by bringing a significant number of people into the area, may significantly exacerbate existing environmental hazards; specifically, wildfires and their associated risks.

The Lake County supervisor, Moke Simon, whose district includes Guenoc Valley expressed disappointment in the ruling.  This is from Simon's statement, released by the county:  

The investments proposed, including adding housing supply and even a fire station and helipad, offered the potential for lasting regional economic benefits. If the ultimate result of this decision is the project not moving forward, that will be a tremendous loss.  

Like Simon, the developers point to the need for housing, and Sabalow and Kasler provide this additional context about the competing concerns of housing and wildfire management in the context of places prone to wildfires:   

In 2020, as some of the worst fires of the season were still burning, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed SB 182, a bill that would have required communities approving new developments in wildfire zones to build evacuation routes and raise fees to clear flammable vegetation. 
In his veto message, Newsom said the bill would conflict with the state’s goals of easing its crippling housing shortage. California has been building 100,000 to 120,000 homes a year since 2015, well short of the annual goal of 180,000 set by the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
Yes, Lake County--like all of California, even the rural bits--is facing a housing shortage.  Indeed, Lake County has one of the greatest shortages of habitable housing in all of California, and a high eviction rate, too.  But the housing that would be built in the Guenoc Valley won't serve the impoverished folks in Lake County--those bearing the brunt of the county's housing shortage--because they won't be able to afford to live in the posh new community.  Here's how the Bee article describes the planned housing stock, also noting the resort's proximity near upmarket Napa Valley:
Located just over the line from Napa County, Guenoc Valley would bring luxury resort villas and upscale housing, along with a polo field designed by an internationally known polo star who counts Prince Harry as one of his friends.

I can see how the resort would bring jobs to Lake County, of course, but not how the new construction will alleviate the housing problem.  Indeed, based on the apparent physical geography of the Guenoc Valley (based on photos I'm seeing online), it seems workers will have to commute in on two-lane roads, like for example service workers commute into Telluride, Colorado, situated in a box canyon, or even how workers must commute into the Tahoe basin because they can't afford to live there.  Ultimately, then, this development seems to be an example of rich urbanites consuming rurality.  

The documents filed with the county regarding the project, two miles from Middletown, are here

Looking forward to seeing next steps with this litigation.  Meanwhile, it's interesting to see a lowly trial court judge in impoverished Lake County exert power over ultra-wealthy developers.  

Postscript:  Los Angeles Times reporting on this matter is here.  

Legal consequences of state investigators' finding that PG&E equipment involved in start of Dixie Fire

The Los Angeles Times is just one of many outlets reporting Tuesday on PG&E's role in the ignition of the Dixie Fire in July, 2021, one of the largest in California history.  Here's an excerpt from Gregory Yee's story:

State investigators have determined that a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power line was responsible for sparking last year’s massive Dixie fire, which torched more than 960,000 acres in five Northern California counties as it burned clear across the Sierra Nevada.

According to a statement by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, investigators found that the fire “was caused by a tree contacting electrical distribution lines owned and operated by Pacific Gas & Electric located west of Cresta Dam.”

The department’s investigative report was forwarded to the Butte County district attorney’s office, according to Tuesday’s statement.

Cal Fire officials referred all questions regarding the report to prosecutors. The district attorney’s office could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
This, from Scott Rodd of Capital Public Radio, provides further context on the utility's fire-related legal woes:
The utility giant said in a statement that it “will continue to be tenacious in our efforts to stop fire ignitions from our equipment and to ensure that everyone and everything is always safe.” Those efforts include a multi-billion dollar undertaking to bury 10,000 miles of powerlines and to keep cutting off power in areas where there’s high wind.

The announcement is not a total surprise. In July, PG&E reported to the California Public Utilities Commission that its equipment may have caused the Dixie Fire. One of the utility’s employees responded to a power outage reported at Cresta Dam and found blown fuses and a tree leaning into PG&E equipment, with fire burning at the tree’s base.

At the time, Cal Fire investigators took several pieces of PG&E equipment.

Last year, Cal Fire investigators concluded the utility started the Zogg Fire, which burned 56,000 acres and killed four people. The Shasta County District Attorney’s Office charged the utility with manslaughter and other crimes in September.
In 2018, PG&E’s equipment started the deadly Camp Fire in Butte County. The fire leveled the town of Paradise and killed 85 people. PG&E later pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter. In the following months, the company sought bankruptcy protection as it faced tens of billions of dollars in potential liability for wildfires it caused.

Here's a follow up from Rodd today focusing on a newish wildfire liability fund:  

Pacific Gas & Electric could be the first company to access a wildfire liability fund established by the state over two years ago, intended to keep utilities solvent after causing major wildfires.
* * *
Gov. Gavin Newsom established the liability fund by signing AB 1054 in the summer of 2019, as PG&E faced tens of billions of dollars in potential liability for wildfires it caused. The bill established a $21 billion liability fund to help utilities cover the cost of major wildfires started by their equipment.

At the time, PG&E — the state’s largest utility — had already filed for bankruptcy protection and faced uncertainty about its future.

The state’s three largest utilities — PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — will pay for half of the $21 billion fund, and their customers will cover the other half through rate increases. Currently, the fund has about $11 billion, according to a report released last week by the California Catastrophe Response Council, which oversees the fund.

Utilities must pay $1 billion in claims before being able to access the fund. PG&E’s liability for the Dixie Fire is expected to surpass that threshold.

Michael Wara, a senior research scholar at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, is on the council. He said claims tied to the Dixie Fire could be a useful test of the fund’s responsiveness, and see where there’s room for improvement.

Also today, The Guardian has published a feature on Greenville, the Plumas County town destroyed by the Dixie Fire.  The photos by Rachel Bujalski are powerful, as are the stories collected by journalist Dani Anguiano.  

Prior posts about the destruction of Greenville are here and here.  

Paraprofessionals in Utah can help domestic violence victims with filings

Here is an excerpt from Kristi Eaton's piece in the Daily Yonder. 
A legal pilot project that started earlier this year in Utah is helping victims of domestic violence in rural areas find affordable legal guidance to navigate the sometimes confusing maze of protective orders.

More than 10 million people are impacted by domestic violence in the U.S. every year. In rural towns, victims of domestic violence have a particularly hard time finding affordable legal guidance to navigate the protective order maze to prevent future harassment or abuse. In Utah alone, there are 13 different types of protective orders from child protective to dating violence to stalking. If the petitioner picks the wrong one or checks the wrong box, the victim can be denied life-saving protections.

Called the Certified Advocate Partners Program (CAPP), it certifies non-attorney victim advocates to file protective orders on behalf of victims. These advocates are often the most intimately familiar with the needs and rights of victims, yet until now their hands have been tied when it comes to providing valuable legal guidance.

Eaton quotes Susan Griffith of the Timpanogos Legal Center at BYU Law School.   

With our Certification program, the Victim Advocate has the authority to give legal advice on which type of protective order the victim should seek, assistance in drafting the petition correctly, and advice on how to present the evidence to the judge or commissioner at the hearing, all of which are critical to the victim’s success.

And from Devin Shakespear, a victim advocate in Kane County, in southern Utah, we get this added context: 

Especially in our rural area, we do not have legal services for victims.

A lot of victims, you don’t have the time off work, they don’t have childcare, they don’t have transportation at the time. There’s a lot of reasons why they can’t just up and go to the next city where they can access that type of stuff,”

So just being able to have that access right here locally, someone that they can call up and meet with within a day – maybe two days, depending on their schedule – just always available and then able to provide that help, I think it’s critical.

Shakespear notes that the nearest city with legal services is an hour and a half away.   

The story doesn't mention it--at least not explicitly--but this is happening amidst a shortage of lawyers in rural Utah.  My own work on domestic violence in the rural context, which discusses all of these barriers, is here and here.  

On the rise in rural domestic violence during the pandemic, don't miss a Daily Yonder report by Liz Carey.  

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

A conflict of interest for the US Secretary of Agriculture?

Mother Jones reported today that Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack's son works for an ethanol pipeline project, Summit Carbon Solutions.  Tom Philpott has the story:   

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s agribusinesses and farms, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack favors a “market-oriented, incentive-based, voluntary” approach—one that wields the carrot of government largess, not the the stick of regulation. In November, his son, veteran corporate lawyer Jess Vilsack, took a job with an Iowa outfit that could cash in from such a suite of policies.

The company, Summit Agricultural Group, has recently launched a private equity arm with a bold and controversial plan to build a $4.5 million, 2,000-mile pipeline to capture carbon dioxide emitted by 31 corn ethanol plants in the Midwest and bury it underground in North Dakota.

Jess Vilsack now serves as the general counsel of the venture, which is called Summit Carbon Solutions. Its planned pipeline, dubbed the “Midwest Carbon Express,” would count as the “world’s largest carbon capture and storage project when complete,” the company’s website states. So far, the project has drawn investment from venture capital firm Tiger Infrastructure Partners and farm-equipment giant John Deere, Bloomberg Law reports. It will rely on ethanol-friendly policies that Jess’s father has been advocating for his entire political career, from his stint as Iowa governor in the 2000s through his terms as agriculture secretary under Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

This is not acceptable.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Off-the-grid "earthship" homes in nonmetro New Mexico

The Washington Post feature by Nick Espinwall appeared today.  It's about a community of sustainable, off-the-grid homes built from, well, garbage, in nonmetro Taos County, New Mexico, in the northern part of the state.  Here's an excerpt about the community built by Mike Reynolds, 76, who began building these structures in the 1970s:  
Earthships are off-grid, self-reliant houses built from tires, dirt and garbage that have long been an offbeat curiosity for travelers passing by the ski town of Taos, but suddenly look like a haven for climate doomers. Residents of the 630-acre flagship Earthship community treat their own waste, collect their own water, grow their own food, and regulate their own temperature by relying on the sun, rain and earth, which Reynolds and other adherents call natural “phenomena.”

* * *  

“They were talking about a freak on the mesa in New Mexico building buildings out of garbage. That was scandalous,” Reynolds said. But he gained more followers as people became more conscious of climate change, and 2020 brought a surge of interest in new construction.

The structures used to sit dormant for a while once built, but they've become more popular of late--popular with both old and young. 

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXXIII): More rural hospitals in danger of closing

Kirk Siegler reports for National Public Radio on an expected spate of rural hospital closures.  This isn't really "news" for folks who follow rural health care, but Siegler captured some great quotes and also  explains how the pandemic has weakened these institutions: 
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:  Public health leaders in rural communities are sounding the alarm. They're warning of more small-town hospital closures looming in the new year, at a time when the omicron variant poses a very real threat. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: When the vaccines became widely available this past summer, rural hospitals like the 10-bed Guadalupe County Hospital in eastern New Mexico raced to put on mass vaccination events and other outreach campaigns.

CHRISTINA CAMPOS: We're older, we're sicker, we're poorer.

SIEGLER: The hospital's administrator, Christina Campos, says that even before the pandemic, hospitals like hers had a hard time meeting all the community's needs.

CAMPOS: You know, if COVID were looking for a place to make a huge impact, it would be a community like ours, and that's why we had to fight back with a huge vaccination effort.

SIEGLER: But by midsummer, vaccination rates in much of rural America plateaued, and soon after, unvaccinated patients overwhelmed small hospitals as the delta variant took hold. Most rural systems aren't set up to handle crisis care, let alone a global pandemic. Well, now there's more anxiety with omicron, especially with rural vaccination rates lagging behind cities. Alan Morgan is CEO of the National Rural Health Association.

ALAN MORGAN: We've asked rural hospitals to serve a function they were never designed to serve, and as a result, it's just crushed our rural health safety net out there.

SIEGLER: Twenty-two small-town hospitals have shuttered since 2020. Most federal relief money for rural hospitals is set to run out early next year, so leaders are pressing the Biden administration and Congress for another round to prevent more closures. This aid has helped pay for everything from temporary COVID isolation wards to overtime for staff to hiring more travel nurses. The outlook for the new year is pretty grim.

Don't miss the rest of the story, with some specifics out of North Dakota, too.  

Postscript:  From Public Radio's Marketplace on January 5, 2022.