Wednesday, March 30, 2022

On the rural vote in battleground U.S. Congress districts

Josh Kraushaar writes in The Nation under the headline, "Rural voters playing outsized role in battleground House races."  An excerpt follows, suggesting that rural voters matter more than usual in the mid-terms: 

In this year’s House races, a disproportionate number of battleground races are taking place in either rural districts or districts with a significant rural segment. Of the 20 races that are ranked as toss-ups by The Cook Political Report, over half have a sizable rural constituency. It’s a reminder that Democrats can’t take rural America for granted, at least if they hope to hold a House majority for the long term.

Several of the rural House battlegrounds are newly drawn districts, like North Carolina’s 13th, which combines the burgeoning, Democratic-trending Research Triangle exurbs with the deep-red rural outposts of Harnett and Johnston counties. One is a brand new seat, Colorado’s 8th District, which includes parts of Weld County where “cattle sun themselves on grazing land and feedlots,” as The Denver Post put it. Others have always been competitive, like Maine’s expansive 2nd District, home to one of the most independent-minded Democrats in the House.

* * *  

As national Democrats cater to urban, progressive interests, they’ve all but abandoned the rural constituencies that once made up a major part of their coalition.

On the ways in which rural voters have become the margin of difference in recent elections, don't miss this piece on the Virginia gubernatorial race of 2021.   This coverage of Missouri's 2020 vote to expand Medicaid also discusses the role of the rural vote, which generally opposed the expansion but wasn't strong enough to undermine the urban vote in favor of expansion.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

New strategies for closing the rural-urban justice gap: Maine grabs national headlines with plans for law students to serve in rural north

Last week, a bill introduced to the Maine legislature would send Maine Law students to Fort Kent, the farthest north place in the state, to provide legal services under the auspices of the law school's clinic.  The Associated Press initially covered the matter last week in a very short story that left me wondering what was going on.  Then, yesterday, Marketplace (American Public Media) offered this much more detailed report.  An excerpt from Robbie Feinberg's story, "In Maine, hopes turn to law students amid dearth of rural attorneys,"  follows:
The shortage of lawyers is especially difficult in rural Maine as many attorneys in the state approach retirement.

In Aroostook County, where Fort Kent is located, it can take two hours or more to travel from one courthouse to the next. Yet local court clerks say only about 20 attorneys are available to take indigent legal defense cases, and many aren’t from the area.

That means lawyers from other regions are routinely brought in. They either drive hours to the courthouse or communicate through phone or Zoom.

“A lot of us are just getting burnt out,” Jandreau [an Aroostook County attorney] said. “I mean, I stopped taking court appointments because it just became unmanageable.”

Now, the Maine Legislature is looking to step in. Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, who lives in nearby Allagash, said he’s heard about the legal challenges from his own constituents.

“We all understand that you have the right to legal counsel, but what good is it if you don’t have the ability to get that legal counsel?” Jackson said.
That’s what prompted him to introduce a bill that would bring practicing law students into the county to help fill that gap.

“Too many people leave our area to practice or try and get, to become a practicing attorney,” Jackson said. “And oftentimes, they don’t come back. And I just thought that there’s a way to actually do some of the training in Aroostook County. We might be able to actually draw some people.”

Under the three-year pilot program, students at the University of Maine School of Law would still spend the first half of their education on the school’s campus in Portland. But after their first few semesters, two or three students at a time would head to Fort Kent, where they would work under the supervision of a professor in a satellite office of the college’s student legal aid clinic.

They would receive academic credit for the work and stay at the dorms of another state college campus in town. Their clients would primarily be people with low incomes who can’t afford to hire an attorney of their own. The program would cost about $340,000 a year.

Other legislative efforts to support rural lawyers in Maine have not been passed into law, as documented here and here.  Still, I'm hopeful about this new proposal because it is a bridge between critical stakeholders--legal education on the one hand, and rural places on the other.  In short, it could meet legal needs in the short term while also creating a pipeline to rural practice over the longer term simply because it will systematically and institutionally expose more students to that sort of practice.

(A recent post featuring Aroostook County is here.  And, it so happens, Senator Susan Collins is from this remote county, with its particular rural culture.)  

Meanwhile, this piece on regulatory reform as a solution to the rural lawyer shortage ran a few days ago on the website Attorneys at Work.  Here's part of the regulatory reform pitch--basically that bodies responsible for governing the profession should "loosen up":

The ABA’s Legal Innovation Regulatory Survey, originally published in 2019, provides an overview of the legal regulatory landscape related to legal innovation and access to justice.

To date, more than 14 states are studying regulatory reform issues or are engaged in regulatory reform. Increased pressure to study regulatory reform is rising due to access to justice concerns, increasing legal technology innovations, changes in the legal marketplace, as well as the pandemic and the havoc it has caused for citizens, the courts and lawyers.

According to the Clio Legal Trends Report and other surveys reporting on law, solo and small firm lawyers face a challenging environment:
  • The cost of traditional legal services is going up.
  • Access to legal services is going down.
  • The growth rate of law firms is flat.
  • Lawyers serving ordinary people are struggling to earn a living.
The primary mechanism for regulating the market is lawyer ethics, including:
  • Rule 5.4 (who can own and invest in law firms)
  • Rule 5.5 (who can do the work)
  • Rules 7.2 – 7.3 (constraint of marketing efforts)
  • Most experts do not expect to see an improvement in these legal deserts in the next decade.
Lauren Sudeall, a law professor at Georgia State University, while not optimistic about seeing improvements in these numbers, says, “But I hope that we can have a broader understanding of what access to justice means … Not just by looking at justice as sort of this binary do-you-have-a-lawyer-or-not question.”
* * *
What Can You Do About Regulatory Reform?
Proposals open for discussion include the creation of a regulatory sandbox (allowed in Utah), limited licensed paraprofessionals (Ontario has had a limited license program for more than 10 years, and Utah and Washington have added limited license programs in recent years), and the use of court navigators (allowed in Arizona and New York).

For the record, I have no idea what a "regulatory sandbox" is.  However, I do know that the "limited license paraprofessionals" scheme has not been successful in Washington--at last not successful at getting licensed paralegals into rural locales.  I don't know how it has been faring in Utah, where the program is newer.  I understand the court navigators scheme has worked in New York City, but I don't know if it is working in rural locales with less formally educated folks to staff it.  

The Attorneys at Work piece continues: 

In addition, the Legal Services Organization recently launched a Rural Justice Task Force to study and recommend ways to enhance access to justice in rural communities. (The report is due in 2023.) The Rural Justice Collaborative — a project of the National Center for State Courts — recently launched an initiative to identify rural justice “innovation sites” that will serve as models for other communities. Over the next three years, the RJC will work with the sites to create educational materials that will be featured in an online resource center.

Full disclosure:  I serve on this Rural Justice Task Force, which was assembled in December 2021 and has been busy since January.  

The Attorneys at Work piece closes with an exhortation/opportunity: 

Lawyers have the opportunity to make a difference. Follow the work of the state bars and organizations that are implementing regulatory reform efforts and encourage your own state to explore the possibilities that exist to expand access to justice.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Literary ruralism (Part XXXI): Oh William!

When I first started reading Elizabeth Strout's books a few years ago, I was struck by her depictions of rural Maine in the Olive Kittredge books and of Amgash, Illinois, in My Name is Lucy Barton.  Earlier posts in the on those books, in the "Literary Ruralism" series, are here and here. 

Now I want to provide an excerpt from Strout's latest, Oh William!, a sequel to My Name is Lucy Barton. In this latest novel, Lucy Barton, a novelist, spends time with her ex-husband, William, as he experiences the disintegration of his subsequent marriage and learns that his mother had a child from her prior marriage, a daughter that his mother abandoned to marry William's father.  

Lucy, the novel's narrator, and William both live in New York City.  In this novel, she travels with William to Aroostook County, in far northern Maine, where his mother grew up and where his half-sister, Lois Bubar, still lives.  

The depictions are thus from those parts of Maine (Bangor up to the Canadian border, essentially), as well as from Amgash, Illinois, the tiny place where Lucy grew up, which gets compared to rural Maine.  

In this scene, they are arriving in rural northern Maine, having flown into the Bangor Airport. 
In the parking lot, right up near to the front door of the place, we walked past a car that was filled with garbage. Every space of it-except for the driver's seat-was filled with garbage. Trash. Nothing was growing, but there was to the ceiling of the car-the car was an old sedan-trash: newspapers and old wrappings of waxed paper and small cardboard cartons of the sort that food came in. The license plate had a big V on it and also said VETERAN.  (Page 110)
Veterans are a larger percentage of the population in rural America than in urban places.  

While traveling in northern Maine, William suggests a comparison with Lucy's home community in Illinois.
Then William said, "Probably it reminds you of your childhood up here."

I said, "It does not remind me of my childhood. Have you seen one field of soybeans?" But then I saw that he was right. Until we had stopped at this little place for breakfast we had seen almost no one, and the isolation made me panic.  (p. 112)
In the following scene, we see more on rural America as a source of military personnel, on rural America as religious, and rural America in need of economic development.  
We drove through the town where the diner was, passing a sign that said Libby's Color Boutique: Carpet, Laminate, Vinyl Flooring CLOSED. As we drove out of the town we saw American flags on many telephone poles, flag after flag, and interspersed with them was an occasional black flag for a POW. We could not find the turnpike entrance for a while. We kept driving through winding roads, and by the side of the road at one point were short little cat-o'-nine-tails, also goldenrod, and a grass that almost had a pinkish tinge to its top but was otherwise brown and dry-looking. There were no other cars, or even people seen, in the middle of a day, a Wednesday in late August. But there were lots of almost-falling-down houses, and lots of stars on the sides of these houses for veterans, gold stars for the ones who were dead.

We passed by signs that said Pray for America. And cabins for United Bible Camp.

A pile of rusted-out junk cars was next to an old building that hadn't, it looked, been used in years and years, all of it standing back from the road. (p. 115). 

I have often wondered about the stars one sees on the sides of houses, especially in rural America.  I have speculated to myself that this is because inhabitants are Masons.  In fact, Strout reveals, it is because these are the homes of veterans.  

In the next scene, Lucy thinks more about how rural Maine resembles the rural Illinois community where she grew up. 

That driving down this road and seeing the falling-down houses and the grass by the side of the road and no people around, I had an almost-memory of driving with my father in his truck and me in the passenger seat next to him as a very young child, the window open and my hair blowing in the wind, only the two of us-where would we have been going? But the memory was not one of the dismalness of my childhood. Instead, something in me moved deep, deep down and I felt almost-what can I say that I felt?-but it was almost a feeling of freedom as I rode alongside my father in his old red Chevy truck. As I rode now next to William I almost wanted to say, with a sweep of my hand: These are my people. But they were not. I have never had a feeling of belonging to any group of people. Yet here I was in rural Maine and what had just come to me was an understanding, I think that is the only way I can put it, of these people in their houses, these few houses we passed by. It was an odd thing, but it was real, for a few moments I felt this: that I understood where I was. And even, also, that I loved the people we did not see who inhabited the few houses and who had their trucks in the front of these houses. This is what I almost felt. This is what I felt.

But I did not tell that to William, who came from Newton, Massachusetts, and not the poor town of Amgash, Illinois, as I had, and who had lived in New York City for so many years. I had lived in New York City for years as well, but William inhabited it-his tailored suits-and I felt that I had never inhabited New York as he had. Because I never had.  (p. 116) 
* * *
We arrived in Houlton around noontime. The sun was shining down on big brick buildings: a courthouse, a post office. Main Street had a few shops-there was a furniture store and a dress shop-and we drove slowly through and then I saw a sign that said Pleasant Street, and I yelled, "William, we're on Pleasant Street!" I looked out the window and the houses were small and wooden, two white ones we passed. And then we passed by number 14, and it was the nicest house on the block. It was not a small house: It was three stories and freshly painted a dark blue with red trim, and it had a little garden in the front, and a hammock was in the front yard as well. William stared at it as we drove past, and then he kept driving and we pulled over on the next block up.  (p. 119)
14 Pleasant Street, Houlton is the home of William's half sister.  Houlton, population about 6,000, is the county seat of Aroostook County and right on the border with Canada. It is also the northern terminus of I-95, a fact that does not figure in Strout's narrative. 

Interesting that the house is so nice--much nicer than others on the street.  This suggests some class stratification, even in small towns--and a variety of housing even on the same street.  It becomes clear from the book that the woman who raised William's half sister--that is, Lois Bubar's step mother--was from an established, well-off family.  This had been that woman's family home, passed down to Bubar.  

The next bit illustrates the limited services in small towns, among other atmospherics of rural locales such as fields of crops, which Lucy is somewhat familiar with because of her rural upbringing.  
We tried to have lunch in Houlton, but the one place we found closed at 2:30 and it was 2:35. "Sorry," the woman said at the door, and then she closed the door and bolted it from the inside. "Is there any other place around here?" William tried to ask through the glass, and the woman just walked away.

"Jesus," William said. "Okay, we'll eat in Fort Fairfield."

William's plan was that we would drive to Fort Fairfield to see where Lois had been on a float through the streets in her glory as Miss Potato Blossom Queen--I did not know why this was important to William--and then we would spend the night in Presque Isle--a city forty miles away from Houlton but just eleven miles from Fort Fairfield "because it interests me since Lois's husband came from there" is what William said, about Presque Isle, and we would think about what we were going to do the next day when we drove back down through Houlton before getting our plane to New York that night. I mean we would decide what to do about the woman who lived at 14 Pleasant Street, William's half-sister, Lois Bubar.
On our way to Fort Fairfield there was suddenly much sky, and in a small way this thrilled me, because I had grown up with sky all around me. This sky was just gorgeous with sun but also very low clouds in places like a quilt, and the sun went in and out of these clouds, lighting up the pastures of green, and we passed a huge field of sunflowers. We also passed by fields with clover as a dark cover crop for nutrients that I knew from my youth would be plowed over in spring. It was interesting to me that I felt this small happiness at an almost familiar scene, that the panic of the isolation from this morning had changed into this. I felt a happiness, is what I am saying. And it made me think again about the memory of me driving as a young child next to my father in his truck. (pp. 127-28)
* * * 
We drove by two small houses that had satellite dishes. In the yard of a farmer, four long trucks stood, trucks that used to haul things; they had not been moved for years, grass was growing up all over them.   (p. 129)
The next bit is about Fort Fairfield, between Houlton and Presque Isle; it is the locale of the Miss Potato Blossom Queen contest, which William's half sister, Lois Bubar, had won.  It's a nice reminder of such festivals as a fixture of small-town life: 
We passed a sign that said: Welcome to Friendly Fort Fairfield.

William leaned forward to peer through the windshield. "Jesus Christ," he said.

I said, "Yeah. My God."

Everything in the town was closed. There was not a car on the street, and there was a place that said Village Commons- an entire building-with a sign on it: FOR LEASE. There was a big First National Bank with pillars; it had planks nailed across its doors. Store after store had been boarded up. Only a small post office by the end of Main Street seemed open. There was a river that ran behind MainStreet.

"Lucy, what happened?"

"I have no idea." But it was a really spooky place. Not a coffee shop, not a dress store or a drugstore, there was absolutely nothing open in that town, and we drove back up Main Street again where there was not a car in sight, and then we left.

"This state is in trouble," William said, but I could see that he was shaken. I was shaken myself.

"I'm really hungry," I said. There was not even a gas station in sight.

"Let's head to Presque Isle," William said. I asked how far away it was and he said about eleven miles-but we were not on the turnpike-and I said I didn't think I could wait that long to eat. "Well, keep your eyes open and we'll stop if we see a place," he said.

We drove along for a while, and I said, "Why did you want to see Fort Fairfield so badly?"

And William didn't say anything for a moment, just kept looking through the windshield, biting on his mustache. Then he said, "I thought when I met Lois Bubar I could tell her that we had gone to Fort Fairfield to see where she had been Miss Potato Blossom Queen, that she would think it showed a real interest in her, that it would make her feel nice."  (p. 133).
I looked around at the fields we were passing, and up on a small hill was a horse-drawn wagon driven by a man wearing a big hat. "Look at that," I said.

"It's the Amish," William said. "They've moved here from Pennsylvania to farm. I was reading about them."

Then we passed by a farmhouse, and on the front porch were two children. There was a small boy who also had on a big hat, and there was a small girl who wore a long dress and a small bonnet thing over her hair. They waved to us vigorously. So vigorously they waved!

"Oh, it makes me sick," I said, waving back at them.

William said, "Why? They're just doing their thing."

"Well, their thing is crazy. And the kids are forced to be a part of it." As I said this, I realized that it reminded me of my own youth, coming from the family that I came from.
* * *
William said, "And where do you suggest we find this food?" It was true that there were no places at all; we were going by trees and almost no houses, and this was the way it was for miles.
I've identified some additional rural excerpts from Oh William! that I want to share, but I'll save them for a future post.  

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate plays to rural, working-class communities

Hannah Trudo reports for The Hill under the headline, "How Fetterman is pulling away in Pennsylvania."  The story is about Pennsylvania Lt. Governor, John Fetterman, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat.  Two other Democrats are in the race, including U.S. Representative Connor Lamb and Malcolm Kenyatta, an openly gay member of the state legislature.  

The way fellow populists Sanders and Trump had electoral overlap, including with working class and rural voters, there’s potential for Fetterman to grab voters who are searching for something different in pockets of Pennsylvania that are traditionally overlooked.

“Fetterman has united people who understand that to win these races Democrats need to once again strengthen our support in rural areas,” the progressive strategist said.

That approach has worked for Sens. Sherrod Brown in Ohio, John Tester in Montana, and even Joe Manchin in West Virginia, who have tapped into qualities that resonate at home and get them re-elected by voters across party lines.

Fetterman is hoping to connect with people “as human beings,” the strategist said, not just over politics. “In order to persuade voters, you need to have that authenticity.”

Fetterman has attracted media attention in recent weeks for campaigning in the state's hinterlands. 

Here's more on the candidate's working-class bonafides and the all-important authenticity:

Fetterman, pro-union with a rotation of rolled up shirts to match, wants higher wages for workers and likes small dollar donations for his own bid. His campaign’s average contribution is $28, just one dollar higher than the $27 that fueled Sanders’ first presidential run.

He wants more government involvement on things like Medicare for All, the universal health care proposal where even some progressives are divided. He sees climate change as a racial justice issue. He also wants weed to be legal, full stop.

“John,” as aides and allies call him, has long been in favor of those things, they say. They are popular in polls across the country.

“Voters don’t have to be convinced that John’s not like other politicians,” said Joe Calvello, Fetterman’s communications director. “They know as soon as they see him step out of his truck. In 2022, that’s an especially good thing.”

Here and here are posts from last month that feature Fetterman campaigning in rural Pennsylvania.   And here's a post from 2009(!), the early days of this blog, when Fetterman was he mayor of a city called Braddock (greater Pittsburgh) doing innovative things with urban farming.  I would not have recalled this earlier post featuring Fetterman but it came up when I searched his name on the Blog.  Interesting to know what he was doing in his political career more than a decade ago.    

Postscript:  Just caught this screenshot by Fetterman at 7:50 am Pacific time on March 26, 2022, with commentary by a rural political consultant who frequently complains about Democrats lack of investment in attracting rural populations.   

Friday, March 25, 2022

Democrats as urban-centric?

That's a theme of this Thomas Edsall piece from the New York Times a few days ago.  The headline is "Democrats Are Making Life Too Easy for Republicans."  Here's the part that speaks to the rural-urban divide within the Democratic Party: 

In an analysis of the complexity of the current Democratic predicament, Sarah Anzia, a professor of public policy and political science at Berkeley, addressed the preponderance of urban voters in the Democratic coalition: “The Democrats have a challenge rooted in political geography and the institution of single-member, first-past-the-post elections.” Citing Jonathan Rodden’s 2019 book “Why Cities Lose,” Anzia argued that the density of Democratic voters in cities has both geographically isolated the party and empowered its most progressive activist wing:
They need to find ways to compete in more moderate or even conservative districts if they hope to have majorities of seats in the U.S. Congress or state legislatures. But large numbers of their voters are concentrated in cities, quite progressive and want the party to move further left in its policy positions — and not just on social-cultural issues.

I blogged about the white working-class content of Edsall's column at Working Class Whites and the Law.  

Buying up hospitals in rural Tennessee

Marketplace, the public radio program, reports today from Tennessee, where a company called Braden Health is buying up rural hospitals.  This excerpt leads with 22-year-old Kyle Kopec, chief compliance officer for Braden Health.

“They’re not the most complicated things in the world,” Kopec said of these hospital deals. “But if you don’t know exactly how to run them, you’re just going to run them straight into the ground.”

The mayor of Houston County, James Bridges, said he agrees. His county bought the local community hospital in 2013 for $2.4 million in order to prevent permanent closure.

“We had no business being in the hospital business,” Bridges said. “The majority of county governments do not have the expertise and the education and knowledge that it takes to run health care facilities in 2022.”

Those with the most experience — like big corporate hospital chains based nearby in Nashville — have been getting out of the small hospital business too, so communities have seen a revolving door of managers. Some even got in trouble for shady billing practices.

In nearby Decatur County, where Braden Health is also taking over, the previous operator has been indicted on theft charges.

“You’re looking to someone who supposedly knows what to do, who can supposedly solve the issue. And you trust them, then you’re disappointed,” said Lori Brasher, who sits on Decatur County’s economic development board. “And not disappointed once but disappointed multiple times.”
Brasher said she has much more confidence in Braden Health, which she said has concrete plans for reopening. But local residents still have trouble stomaching the sticker price. Decatur County agreed to sell its hospital for $100. The deal for Houston County was just $1.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Harper's Magazine on California's would-be State of Jefferson

James Pogue writes "Notes from the State of Jefferson," from Shasta County, California.  The following passage address the rurality of the would-be secessionist state:  
I asked Jones [member of Shasta County board of supervisors who supported the recent recall of Leonard Moty] whether he thought things would calm down after the pandemic, or if something larger had snapped. “This is going back to the 1850s,” he said. “You have this tension, those two different groups.” I assumed he was talking specifically about California, and the regional differences that helped build the Jefferson movement. But he was referring to a national gulf between the centers of globalized cosmopolitanism and the rest of the country. “The people in the rural areas—we’re different from the city areas. Because we want our freedoms and they want more controls,” he said. “You know, if I were living back in the 1850s, I’d think that this was probably what led up to the Civil War.”
I was still a bit hazy about what Jones wanted to accomplish in office. Everyone seemed to be talking about issues far bigger than anything that could get sorted out by a county board. And he didn’t have a majority to support his plan to pull out of the state’s COVID protocols. I asked whether he was involved in the movement to recall the governor, Gavin Newsom, which was then gaining momentum. Jones gave me a mischievous look and leaned over the counter. “You might want to check back on that here soon,” he said. “We haven’t announced it yet, but there’s going to be a recall here too.” I found the idea hard to take seriously—a sitting board member leading a recall against his fellow members in a fight that was more a clash of values than policy—but Jones looked serious. “Check back,” he said. “It’s going to get interesting.”

That local recall did happen, of course, earlier this year.  The next passage in the Harper's story refers to two men, Clendenen and Zapata, members of the so-called Cottonwood militia, who loomed large in that recall.  You can learn more about them and that recall of a Republican county supervisor here

The next day, I dropped by Woody Clendenen’s barbershop for a haircut. I had been having trouble contacting some of the key figures in the crusade to take over the county—Terry Rapoza, one of the Jefferson movement’s highest-profile leaders, had flatly declined to meet with me, and I couldn’t get Zapata to return my calls—so I figured I’d just show up as a paying customer. “You must be the one Terry told me about,” Clendenen said as I walked in. “I’d been thinking you might come by.” He was a graying, fit fifty-five-year-old, wearing a polo shirt over a slight paunch and chatting jovially with a row of customers. I asked how he knew who I was. “You don’t look like you’re from Cottonwood,” he said. A chorus of guffaws rose up. “You don’t smell like horseshit,” someone called out.

The shop was packed, its walls covered in the trappings of defiant rural patriotism: Jefferson flags, framed photos of young men in uniform, Confederate insignia, flyers advertising horse trailers for sale. Clendenen exuded an air of avuncular authority. He was a barber in the way that Tony Soprano was the owner of Satriale’s Pork Store. As he cut hair, he was constantly interrupted by calls from Zapata or Jones, and by people wandering in to ask favors or talk militia business. Just after I sat down, a hefty trucker in a black hoodie walked in. “Well, the FBI just came by,” he announced. Clendenen invited him to go on. “I just told them that I am a legally armed American in my home, I’m happy to talk to them, but they can’t come in the house. They weren’t too bad or nothing.” Clendenen barely looked up from the haircut he was giving to a boy who looked to be about eight years old. “You did good,” he said.

You can find more on the would-be State of Jefferson in the series of posts here.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Rural depopulation and the rural-urban gap in cognitive functioning among older adults

Rebecca Glauber, PhD, has published this paper in the Journal of Rural Health:  


As the population ages, the number of people with cognitive impairment will rapidly increase. Although previous research has explored the rural-urban gap in physical health, few studies have analyzed cognitive health. The purpose of this study was to examine rural-urban differences in cognitive health, with a focus on the moderating effect of population decline. 

The study used individual-level nationally representative data from the 2000-2016 waves of the Health and Retirement Study (N = 152,444) merged to county-level contextual characteristics. Hierarchical linear models were used to predict the cognitive functioning of US adults aged 50 and over by rural-urban residence, county depopulation, and their interactions while controlling for individual-level and county-level demographic and contextual factors. 

Older adults living in rural counties had lower cognitive functioning than urban adults. The interaction between living in a rural and depopulated county was statistically significant (P < .001). The rural penalty in cognitive functioning was 40% larger for those who lived in counties that lost population between 1980 and 2010 compared to those who lived in stable or growing rural counties. These results were independent of race-ethnicity, gender, age, education, income, region, employment status, marital status, physical health, and depression as well as the county's racial-ethnic composition, age structure, economic and educational disadvantage, and health care shortages. 

The results have important implications for those seeking to reduce health disparities both between rural and urban older adults and among different groups of rural people. Interventions targeting those living in rural depopulating areas are particularly warranted.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Pollster Stanley Greenberg on appealing to working-class voters across racial/ethnic boundaries

Greenberg writes under the headline, "Democrats, Speak to Working Class Discontent."  One thing I love about this piece for The American Prospect is his focus on coalition-building among working-class folks, across racial and ethnic lines.  Here's an excerpt (emphasis mine): 

Today, the Democrats’ working-class problem isn’t limited to white workers. The party is also losing support from working-class Blacks and Hispanics—a daunting 12 points off their margin since 2016, according to Ruy Teixeira.
* * *
After studying working-class voters for nearly four decades, I believe the trajectory can be shifted or reversed. But there is no room for error. There is no room for fools. There is no time for strategists who look down on or rule out voters who fail a purist civics test. There is also no room for sensibilities that keep us from clearly understanding our options.

* * *  

The emergence of Barack Obama signaled a shift in Democratic appeals. During the 2008 primary, Obama became the “change candidate” because of his early opposition to the Iraq War, not because he spoke to working-class discontent. At the Democratic Convention four years earlier, Obama had told a unifying story as an African American who saw only one United States of America, not separate Americas divided by race and partisanship. In focus groups before the 2008 convention, I was surprised by how many white workers were open to what would be the first African American president. Many of them would have scored high on any “racial resentment” scale, but they were not blaming Blacks for their current condition. They were blaming high-paid CEOs for outsourcing American jobs, and they were blaming NAFTA. Many decided Obama was different from other Black leaders and might govern for the whole country, not just work for “his own people.”  (emphasis mine).

If you govern for the whole country, you know that two-thirds of all registered voters never graduated from a four-year college. Well before the financial crash in 2008, they were angry. Employment in manufacturing had plummeted after 2000 from almost 18 million to 14 million jobs. Innovations in technology and structural changes in the economy were raising worker productivity, but the top 1 percent and then the top .01 percent were seizing all the gains in income.

During the 2008 campaign, James Carville and I, as heads of Democracy Corps, and John Podesta, the director of the Center for American Progress, convened a monthly meeting at my house in Washington to help fashion a Democratic strategy. Among the attendees was David Axelrod, Obama’s campaign chief. We created an “economy project” whose polling showed what should have been obvious. The Democrats’ most powerful message called for an end to trickle-down economics and a focus on creating American jobs and a government that worked for the middle class again.

But despite a deepening economic crisis, Obama didn’t talk much about the economy in his 2008 campaign. Under the banner “Change We Can Believe In,” he promised to get beyond “the bitterness” that “consumed Washington” to make health care affordable, cut middle-class taxes, and “bring our troops home.”

Greenberg's piece makes four mentions of rural voters specifically, three times clustering them with "working-class white" voters.  Here are the four mentions.  

The first regards the fall 2021 gubernatorial election in Virginia:  

Democrats lost Virginia’s gubernatorial race, where Republican Glenn Youngkin won three-quarters of white voters without a four-year degree and two-thirds of those in rural and small-town Virginia. His campaign generated such high voter turnout in Trump country that it increased the white vote share from two-thirds in 2018 and 2020 to three-quarters. If Republicans continue winning working-class votes at the rate they did in Virginia, Democrats have little chance.

The three linking rural voters to working-class whites are here (with bold emphasis mine):  

Trump’s evangelical style, rallies, TV persona, and reputation as a business genius—however phony—inspired many rural and white working-class voters who had scorned other politicians. Millions of new voters showed up at rallies, caucuses, and primaries to allow Trump to move quickly into the lead in the polls and win the nomination.


During the general election, [Hillary Clinton] did not campaign aggressively in working-class communities or in rural areas. Her description of some Trump supporters as “deplorables” just baked in the perception that she did not respect working people.

and here:  

The 2016 election did not set a record for turnout, in part because some Sanders supporters stayed home and Black turnout fell from 2012. What was historic was how poorly Clinton and Democrats did in suburban counties in the Rust Belt. She lost Macomb County by about 50,000—a margin well in excess of Trump’s 10,000 statewide margin in Michigan. New white working-class voters and rural voters rallied to Trump’s messianic, racist vision in breathtaking numbers. 

Cross-Posted to Working-Class Whites and the Law

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Academic research: J.D. Vance, Cultural Alien: On Upward Mobility

 Here's a link to the article by Milena Feldman and Markus Rieger-Ladich, published in Reading the Local in American Studies:

In the US, writing about oneself is still strongly influenced by religious discourses as well as by the idea that an individual’s success is primarily determined by his or her hard work and talent. Hence, focusing on oneself as the object of inquiry often fails to raise awareness of structural disadvantages, such as in the educational system. Against this background, this contribution turns to a memoir that takes a different approach and made its author famous overnight: J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (2016). Published at the beginning of the Trump administration, many hoped that his story of social ascent from the milieu of the white underclass would help explain Donald Trump’s success. Why do people have such high expectations when reading a book that focuses on the lives of those who some refer to as “hillbillies,” “rednecks,” or “white trash” but whom J.D. Vance calls “neighbors,” “friends,” and “family”? We read the book as an auto-sociobiographical text to find out what it might tell us about social mobility, educational careers, and institutional discrimination in the US and to examine in how far J.D. Vance’s can be read as a specifically US-American version of auto-sociobiography.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Georgia's rural-urban justice gap

I missed this op-ed by Prof. Lauren Sudeall (Georgia State University) when it was published last fall, so I'm highlighting now.  The headline for the Law 360 piece is "We Must Help Fix Justice Gap In Georgia's Legal Deserts."  Here's an excerpt highlighting some findings of rural-urban difference regarding the justice gap: 

In many of the counties with only a handful of attorneys, some of those attorneys may serve as public defender, prosecutor or judge; others may be functionally retired, working for government entities or otherwise not able to provide assistance.

Therefore, there may be even fewer attorneys available to help with everyday legal needs relating to housing, employment, benefits or family law issues.

Narratives about the availability of legal representation — or lack thereof — are often based on the experiences of urban communities, given researchers' and much of the media's focus on larger cities. For example, in the context of eviction, advocates often lament the fact that nearly all landlords have counsel, while nearly all tenants do not — 90% in both cases.

In more rural areas, however, it is most often the case that both tenant and landlord are unrepresented. In our study of eviction court in suburban and rural Georgia, the county with the highest rate of representation had tenants represented in just 1.2% of cases and landlords in only 12.2% of cases. In more rural counties, representation rates were 0.5% or less for tenants and less than 8% for landlords.

The parties may not be unique in this respect; in many magistrate and municipal courts, the judge is also not a lawyer.

The phenomenon of courts without lawyers is not unique to rural areas. Many smaller, lower-level courts might themselves be considered legal deserts, given the infrequency with which those appearing in court are represented by counsel. And this is true not only in the civil context, but in criminal cases as well.

Friday, March 18, 2022

New Book: Research Methods for Rural Criminologists

That's the title of a book published this week by Routledge.  The volume is edited by Ralph A. Weisheit, Jessica Rene Peterson, Artur Pytlarz.  The abstract follows: 
Conducting rural criminological research exposes researchers to concerns such as absence or inadequate official data about crime and superficial rural-urban comparisons, rural isolation and distance from the researchers’ office to the study site, and lack of services or access to justice. This distinct cultural context means that studying rural crime requires creatively adapting existing research methods. Conducting research about or in rural settings requires unique researcher preparation, as everything from defining the space at the conception of a project to collecting and analyzing data differs from urban research.

This book explores the various issues, challenges, and solutions for rural researchers in criminology. Integrating state of the art methodological approaches with practical illustrations, this book serves as an internationally comprehensive compendium of methods for students, scholars, and practitioners. While contributing to the growing field of rural criminology, it will also be of interest to those engaged with the related areas of rural health care, rural social work, and rural poverty.
Here's the Table of Contents: 

Chapter Chapter 1

Defining Rural
By Callie Marie Rennison, Hailey Powers Mondragon

Chapter Chapter 2
Studying the Rural Criminal Justice System
By Kyle C. Ward, Paul Hawkins, Alexandra Swanty

Chapter Chapter 3
An Essay on Theory and Research in Rural Criminology
By Joseph F. Donnermeyer

Chapter Chapter 4
Gaining Access to Rural Communities
By Jessica Rene Peterson

Chapter Chapter 5
Gathering Data on Male-To-Female Violence in Rural and Remote Places
By Walter S. DeKeseredy

Chapter Chapter 6
Investigating Access to Justice, the Rural Lawyer Shortage, and Implications for Civil and Criminal Legal Systems
By Lisa Pruitt, Andrew Davies

Chapter Chapter 7
Researching State Crime in Rural Areas
By Victoria E. Collins

Chapter Chapter 8
Crime Talk in the Countryside 1
By Artur Pytlarz, Matt Bowden

Chapter Chapter 9
Surveying in Rural Settings
By Alistair Harkness, Kyle Mulrooney, Joseph F. Donnermeyer

Chapter Chapter 10
Focus Groups
The Challenges and Advantages of Creating and Using Focus Groups in Rural Areas? 1
By Gorazd Meško, Rok Hacin

Chapter Chapter 11
Geographical Information and GIS in Rural Criminology
By Vania Ceccato

Chapter Chapter 12
Entering the Relational Space
Using Field-Analytic Methods in Researching Rural Security
By Matt Bowden, Artur Pytlarz

Chapter Chapter 13
Interviewing in Rural Areas
By Kreseda Smith

Chapter Chapter 14
Ethnographic Research
Immersing Oneself in the Rural Environment
By Michele Statz, William Garriott

Chapter Chapter 15
Visually Representing Rural
Ethics of Photographing Marginalized People in the Rural South 1
By Heith Copes, Jared Ragland

Chapter Chapter 16
Content Analysis in Rural Criminology
By Stephen T. Young, Brian Pitman

Chapter Chapter 17
Going Global
The Challenges of Studying Rural Crime Worldwide
By Ziwei Qi

Chapter Chapter 18
Future Directions for Rural Research Methods
By Ralph A. Weisheit

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Big LA Times profile of the man financing the far-right revolt in northern California

Jessica Garrison offered a deep dive yesterday for the Los Angeles Times from Shasta County, California, about former filmmaker Reverge Anselmo.  The headline is "The ex-Hollywood filmmaker bankrolling a far-right political revolt in rural California."  Mr. Anselmo has been mentioned in recent reporting out of Shasta County, especially regarding the successful recall of Republican county supervisor Leonard Moty in early February.  Read more here and here.  

Before this story, the best explanation I'd seen about Anselmo was from Doni Chamberlain, an independent Redding-based journalist, when she appeared on a Berkeley, California radio program in mid-February.  Sadly, no link to that program is available, but in it Chamberlain made a lot of the points that Garrison echoes in this story, with a focus on Anselmo's axe to grind over his winery, event-business, and a Catholic chapel he built on his ranch east of Redding.  For years, he fought both state and county efforts to regulate his use of the land, ultimately abandoning the property nearly a decade ago.  

Here' s a great quote from Mary Rickert, a member of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, who survived a recent effort to recall her when proponents of the recall failed to secure enough signatures to get it on the ballot.  (This was the same effort that succeeded with Moty's recall).  Regarding the Anselmo-funded effort to take over Shasta County's government:  
I’m watching a county collapse. They want to take over. They want to replace anyone who knows how to do anything with people that don’t know. I’m really scared.

Rickert says she and others in Shasta County didn't know why Anselmo left in a huff, "especially when his business was 'thriving,' his property 'beautiful' and his wine 'wonderful.'”

Another supervisor, Glenn Hawes, added, “Golly sakes, everything we did we tried to help him. ... We could never explain why he did what he did. None of us could.”

It's interesting that it was government regulation that enraged Anslemo, given that the northstate of California is notoriously anti-regulation.  Imagine if Anselmo had been building in a more urban setting, with a higher degree of regulation than the likely faced in Shasta County.  Or maybe he expected that, in choosing to move to and invest in Shasta County, he would avoid the very thing in which he ultimately got bogged down.    

Both Chamberlain's and Garrison's reporting suggest that Anselmo is an urban fellow (born in Connecticut and living there now) who is using the rural--here for political gain, or perhaps just pure revenge.  

Postscript:  Capital Public Radio reported this morning that Mary Rickert has been removed as vice chair of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, a position she rose to in January, before the recall.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXXIX): "Rural Adults Report Worse COVID-19 Impacts than Urban Adults"

Here is the abstract for Prof. Shannon Monnat's policy brief, published by Syracuse University's Lerner Center for Public Health:  
COVID-19 infection and mortality rates have been higher in rural than in urban America since late-2020. However, the consequences of COVID-19 extend far beyond the deaths that it has caused. This brief uses data from a national survey of working-age adults (ages 18-64) collected in February and March of 2021 to describe rural-urban differences in reported impacts of COVID-19 on physical and mental health, employment, financial wellbeing, and social relationships. Nearly 3 out of 5 respondents (58%) reported that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their lives. Across most outcomes, rural residents fared worse than their urban peers. Recovery policies must consider geographic variation in COVID-19 vulnerability and impacts.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Rural NIMBYism strikes planned electric truck manufacturing plant in Georgia

David Gelles of the New York Times reported yesterday from Rutledge, Georgia, population 781, about 50 miles east of Atlanta.  The headline is "How and Electric Truck Factory Became a Lightning Rod in Georgia."  The subhead is "The governor hailed the factory as an economic boon that would put Georgia at the vanguard of the green economy. Not everyone liked the idea."

And here's an excerpt that gets at the essential conflict about the proposed $5 billion Rivian factory, which would produce 400K emissions-free vehicles a year.  

Protests have at times grown vitriolic. At a public meeting with a local economic development group that supported the project, Edwin Snell, who lives nearby, excoriated the officials, removed his red baseball hat and kicked it at them. “It’s a rural area,” he said to loud cheers. “It’s not an industrial waste dump.”

"Industrial waste dump" sounds like hyperbole, but Snell's spin reminds me of the "property" section (specifically on the topic of "nuisance") of my 2006 law review article, Rural Rhetoric.  Here's a quote from that article, which documented how judges and legislatures tended to see rural property as distinct from an implicit urban norm:  

Courts have often distinguished between rural and urban in relation to various aspects of rights in real property. In the nuisance context, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court (incidentally using a rural metaphor) expressed a key principle in an early land use case: “A nuisance may be merely a right thing in a wrong place, like a pig in the parlor instead of the barnyard.” With respect to the rural-urban differentiation, this means that courts may be more tolerant of agricultural annoyances in rural areas but less tolerant of other irritations that interfere with the perceived rural idyll. Several states have held, for example, that while a race track is not a nuisance per se, it may constitute a nuisance per accidens under certain circumstances, as in a rural area. Many courts thus more aggressively defend rural areas against nuisances, especially non-agricultural ones, suggesting that these presumptively pristine and quiet areas are especially sensitive to the loud, the smelly, and the ugly. (pp. 187-89).

In any event, the proposed plant has split Georgia's Republican candidates for governor.  David Perdue, the recently deposed Republican Senator, now challenging Kemp for the GOP nomination for governor, is quoted: 

We can grow the economy without selling out and giving our tax dollars to people like George Soros. We can invest in rural Georgia without kicking our communities to the curb.
Soros, a major Democratic donor, owns $2 billion in Rivian stock.  As Gelles points out, there are some conspiracy theories swimming around in this story.  

Perdue's opposition is especially interesting because when he was the CEO of Dollar General, he did plenty to undermine rural economies.  

Don't miss the entirety of the Gelles story, bearing in the mind that the factory is the sort of economic development we typically see rural areas fighting to get.  

Monday, March 14, 2022

Small-town government run amok (Part IX): California sheriff charged with voter fraud

The Sacramento Bee reported late last week from Del Norte County, in the far northwestern part of the state under the headline, "California sheriff charged with voter fraud, perjury in vacation rental address dispute."  Here's the lede:  

Less than six months after he took the job, the sheriff of Del Norte County was charged Wednesday with felony voter fraud — the latest scandal for the small North Coast department whose previous sheriff resigned amid a flurry of staff departures and internal dysfunction. 

District Attorney Katherine Micks charged Sheriff Randall Waltz with perjury and filing false voter registration and nomination papers, court records show. Prosecutors say he knowingly listed an address that was not his permanent residence, a violation of election laws, and thus did not meet the requirements to run for sheriff. 

The address that he gave, which is listed in the documents, is for a short-term rental suite along Highway 101, a half-mile south of the Oregon border in Del Norte. Reached by phone Thursday, the property owners told The Sacramento Bee that Waltz turned in a security deposit last month, moved in shortly after that and has been living there ever since.

Given that the sheriff is from another part of the state, far away from Del Norte County, I wonder what role the rural housing shortage in places like Del Norte County will ultimately play in adjudication of this case.  That is, what if the sheriff couldn't find a place to live?  Curious to know where Waltz was living before he took this short-term rental, which he did only recently.  

A post from last fall about dysfunction in the Del Norte County Sheriff's department, which led to Waltz getting the Sheriff's job, is here.  

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXXIX): Vaccination rate in my tiny home county creeps up by a point, to 34%

I've been waiting for months for the vaccination rate in Newton County, Arkansas, my home county, to rise.  It finally did yesterday, on Saturday March 12, when it inched up a notch from 33% to 34%.  It had been at 33% since December 29, 2021, the day it ticked up from 32%.  The current vaccination rate for all of Arkansas is 54%.  
Screenshot of New York Times email Saturday March 12, 2022

Screenshot of New York Times email of March 11, 2022

Screenshot of New York Times email of December 28, 2021

Screenshot of New York Times email of December 28, 2021 

I can't help wonder what forces are keeping the vaccination rate ticking up, however slowly.  You can see that between late December and last week, the death rate has also crept up, from 1 in 180 to 1 in 172. 

Meanwhile the death rate in Sacramento California, where I live, is now 1 in 574.  In the United States as a whole, it is one in 344.  The vaccination rate here for all ages is double what it is in my home county, at 67%.

Screenshot of New York Times email, Saturday, March 12, 2022

These next two screenshots show vaccination rates in the United States and in Sacramento metro area as of Dec. 29, 2021:  62% (U.S.); 63% (Sacramento metro); and 66% (all California).  The death rate in greater Sacramento at that time was 1 in 684 with 1 in 9 infected.  The death rate for the United States then was 1 in 405 with 1 in 6 infected. 
Screenshot of New York Times email, December 29, 2021
Screenshot of New York Times email, December 29, 2021
Newton County, population about 7,000 (down nearly 1K from 2010 Census), is a high poverty county with a low rate of formal education.  Just over 20% of the population have a bachelor's degree or better, and the average individual income is just under $20,000.  

California's wolf pack another target of misinformation

The New York Times published a story out today under the headline, "Wolves, and Misinformation About Them, Make a California Comeback."  The subhead is, "For the past 10 years, wolves have been steadily returning to the state after being wiped out a century ago. But not everyone is rolling out the welcome mat."  This caption for one of the photos caught my eye as perfect for the blog; it's a quote from a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:  
Wolves have been politicized because they are right in the middle of this divide between rural and urban.
Here's the story's lede, also featuring the same wolf biologist:   
Kent Laudon, a wolf biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, woke up one morning last year to a flurry of text messages from a rancher in the state’s northernmost county. He was asking about a post with wildly specific details spreading across Facebook that urged people to find a red truck that was transporting breeding wolves along Route 97 into Siskiyou County, Calif. Mr. Laudon was not surprised. This wasn’t the first post of its kind, and it wouldn’t be the last.

“Wolves make people crazy,” he said of these persistent rumors. “And for the record: No, we’re not importing wolves. That never happened.”

Wolves don’t need to be dropped off in California because they are returning on their own.

I guess misinformation is everywhere--and about every topic.  It's not only about a purportedly stolen election and how ivermectin helps cure COVID-19.  It's about wolves, too.  

You can find prior posts about wolves here, and prior posts about Siskiyou County here.  

Saturday, March 12, 2022

GOP candidate for Governor of California launches series of campaign videos, the first with a focus on agricultural roots

I wrote a few weeks ago (here and here) about State Senator Brian Dahle's campaign for the GOP nod for Governor of California.  On Monday this week, Dahle launched a series of campaign videos with this, which focuses on Dahle's--and his family's--decision to make the run, a real David and Goliath contest based on relative campaign funds on hand.  The video is titled "Brian Dahle:  Road to Change:  Episode One," and as of this morning, it has been viewed 717 times.  Forty-two likes and no dislikes have been registered.  The Brian Dahle for Governor channel has 54 followers, and nine folks have commented on the video.  
Screenshot taken 8:15 am on March 12, 2022

Themes I saw in the video: 
  • Focus on his family, including the candidate's two sons and a daughter.  Dahle's wife Megan is the Assembly Member for a district that significantly overlaps with her husband's Senate District.  One son introduced Dahle at the announcement of his candidacy for Governor.  Another son, Chase, is said to be looking after the farm as Dahle and the rest of the family are away campaigning.  The daughter, referred to as Ros or Roz, looks about the age of tween or young teen.  
  • The campaign announcement took place in Redding, California with a seemingly small crowd present.  Redding, the county seat of Shasta County, is the largest city in the region Dahle comes from (far northern California) and probably the largest city in the district he represents.  That said, Dahle's district is huge, the largest in land area among state senate districts, and includes the area where I live, a suburb of Sacramento called Fair Oaks.  
California State Senator Brian Dahle's Office
in Gold River, California, a Sacramento suburb  
  • A contrast between rural and urban. We see Dahle leaving an urban house--presumably where he and his wife live while in Sacramento--and traveling to his home in Lassen County, where he farms and has a seed company in the tiny town of Bieber.  We see several shots of him driving in his pick up truck, including on an interstate--presumably I-5, which would link his homes in Bieber and Sacramento. I couldn't help think how much money he is spending on gas these days--and also how he seemingly could afford to move to an electric vehicle were he so inclined.  Dahle also talks about how much more he is motivated to be farming than to be in Sacramento working as a legislator.  I wonder if that is a message that works--one he wants to convey when he is running for Governor and will need to be in Sacramento and elsewhere in the state dealing with things other than farming.  
  • And, of course, Dahle talks about things that aren't going well in California, such as the migration of folks away from the state.  Dahle expresses concern about lack of opportunity in the Golden State.  
Meanwhile, I thought this was an interesting Tweet from the Capital Public Radio (Sacramento) program director, previously a political reporter for the organization.   

Adler, the journalist, seems to be contrasting Dahle with Larry Elder, the top GOP vote getter in the failed gubernatorial recall election last fall. 

Postscript:  The Los Angeles Times published this story today referring to Dahle and another (an independent) who is challenging him as "little known."  Here's the paragraph about the two men challenging Newsom: 
The field of candidates currently challenging Newsom includes Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle, a conservative, seasoned politician from Northern California, and independent candidate Michael Shellenberger, a longtime activist on energy and homelessness issues. Dahle has never run for statewide office and Shellenberger, who supported Newsom’s recall, ran for governor in 2018 as a Democrat and was backed by less than 1% of California voters.

Friday, March 11, 2022

The latest on the Klamath (California) water wars, from local journalists

From the Bill Lane Center for the American West, "As the Klamath Basin’s water crisis worsens, local journalism explores a way forward."  The subtitle is:  "With grant support, a Klamath Falls, Oregon, newspaper sought “kernels of solutions” for a divided community’s problems with drought and resource depletion. The lead reporter reflects on his experiences."  

Here's an excerpt:  
Water Year 2021 was, by many accounts, the worst the Klamath Basin had experienced in modern history. Water Year 2022 might give it a run for its money. Climate change is a big contributor — a recent study showed that, with the help of 2020 and 2021, the West’s current megadrought is the worst in 1,200 years. Warming temperatures were responsible for about a fifth of that intensity.

* * *  

Last summer, the Klamath became the ugly face of climate change in the dry West. Farmers in the federally managed Klamath Irrigation Project went without water for the first time ever. Thousands of baby salmon died of disease while C’waam and Koptu, two ancient species of suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, inched closer to extinction. Birds skipped their ancestral rest stops on the Pacific Flyway as 95 percent of the basin’s remaining wetlands dried up. When cooperation between stakeholders was never more crucial, anti-government activist Ammon Bundy threatened to show up and wreak havoc.

News crews flocked to the remote basin to cover what appeared to be Ground Zero for the new round of water wars. I saw countless pieces by reporters trying to wrap their heads around the situation’s dizzying complexity. Lacking space and time to tell the full story, some picked sides. Solutions are seldom as newsworthy as conflict.

Having joined the Herald and News in Klamath Falls as part of the Report for America service journalism corps, I had received a grant that spring from MIT’s Environmental Solutions Initiative to produce reporting on climate change impacts and solutions in my area. My challenge was to frame this climate-driven crisis, which magnifies the basin’s existing water woes, as an opportunity.

So I described the kind of clothes the Klamath would need to survive. A thick cloak with fabric made of wetlands would wick winter moisture and temper summer thirst. Sturdy boots of scientific inquiry and traditional knowledge would provide stability over shifting sands and soils. Everything would be held together by the stitches of collaboration among diverse communities.

Don't miss the rest of the story.  

Thursday, March 10, 2022

The move from urban to rural California as a cost-saving, survival measure

This story appeared in the Los Angeles Times this week under the headline, "L.A. sank them into debt. Will this family find a better life in rural California?"  It is the story of immigrants from Mexico who left  Los Angeles for Huron, population 6,754, in the Central Valley.  They made the move, in part, because they were not able to get ahead and, in fact, were sinking further into debt.  Here's an excerpt from Alejandra Reyes-Velarde's poignant story:  

While some urban dwellers fled to less crowded regions during the pandemic, working-class immigrants have largely stayed put, tied to jobs that required them to show up in person, as well as the extensive social networks of the big city.

Puebla, 44, is among the relatively few who have left, turning away from Los Angeles, long a beacon for immigrants from Latin America and Asia.

People questioned the decision. What would the kids do for fun? They might not have the same shot at success.

But Puebla and her husband decided that Huron held more opportunity.

* * * 

For a decade, Puebla’s family got by mostly on her husband’s salary. She managed their apartment building in exchange for cheaper rent — $1,000 instead of $1,700 for a similar two-bedroom unit.

The rent inched higher, along with gas.

The pandemic pushed them closer to the edge. With repairs inside apartments put off to avoid transmitting the virus, Cabrera’s hours were cut. Their debt skyrocketed to more than $25,000.

The kids — three boys and a girl, ages 9 to 17— grew restless and bored with Zoom school and few chances to leave the house. Puebla did what she could to entertain them.

Recently, more homeless people were walking through the neighborhood. There was an uptick in shootings, and two cars were set ablaze.

Eliazer Cabrera, Puebla's husband, got an offer to manage an apartment complex in Huron; they had previously visited the area for quail hunting.    

The family didn’t hesitate. Puebla believed the job offer was a sign from God. The apartment complex was just a few years old, and they would get a three-bedroom unit at no cost.

The rest of the story is about how things went after the move.  Turns out, the grass was not necessarily greener in Huron.  Read this excellent story for the details, including some common complaints about rural living.  Particularly striking to me are the complaints about the Huron and other Fresno County schools--and details about how the cost of travel for necessities drives up the overall cost of living in a rural places.  

Other posts about (or at least mentioning) Huron, California are here.        

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Why rural college graduates go home

Stephanie Sowl wrote in The Conversation yesterday.  Sowl reports that the rural brain drain trend is reversing and provides these details 

To find out what might be prompting some college graduates to return to their rural hometowns later in life, we conducted a study using national data on the well-being of adolescents into adulthood to look at why people who grew up in rural places decided to return. Specifically, we took a look at whether their middle and high school experiences had any connection to their decision to return home in their late 30s or early 40s. We considered only those individuals who had gone at least 50 miles away to complete a bachelor’s degree. We found three factors that contributed to college graduates coming back home.

1. Tight-knit school communities
We found that the more students enjoyed school and felt as if they belonged, the more likely these college-educated adults from rural areas returned home. Even after considering demographic, neighborhood and college characteristics, positive middle and high school experiences remained significant. This demonstrates the lasting value of supportive teacher-student and peer relationships.

This is consistent with other research that has found college graduates who return had roots that made them feel grounded in their rural hometowns.
2. Fewer people and more land
College-educated people from smaller towns or open, undeveloped land were twice as likely to return home as people who grew up in slightly larger rural towns.
3. Contributing to their communities
College graduates who grew up in rural communities where relatively few people went to college were more likely to return home than those from communities with more college-educated adults.
Read the entire essay here.   

Monday, March 7, 2022

Recalling local government officials: A rural-urban comparison (Part III: Shasta County)

The recall of a member of the Shasta County (California) Board of Supervisors was very much in the news last month, and one weighty word was used in nearly all of the headlines I saw about the matter.  See if you can identify it:  

The KQED (San Francisco, public radio) headline was "A Militia-Led Recall Is Targeting a Shasta County Supervisor – Who's a Republican.

Then just today, the Washington Post weighed in with "How far-right militia groups found a foothold in deep-blue California."

The momentous word, of course, is "militia."  We see "militia-aligned," "militia-backed," "militia-led" and "far-right militia groups."  But these stories generally do little to dig down on the nature of the militia.  What exactly is this militia?  How big it?  What has it done?  How big a physical threat is it?  I thought the best job in that regard is from this Los Angeles Times story from last summer, when the recall effort was initiated. That story's headline was "Threats, videos and a recall: A California militia fuels civic revolt in a red county"--so again the word militia was used.  

I blogged about that story at the time, but now I want to highlight what the story told us about the militia in an effort to get a sense of how seriously it should be taken.  LA Times journalists Hailey Branson-Potts and Anita Chabria describe Carlos Zapata, of the so-called Cottonwood militia (Cottonwood being the town where he lives, south of Redding, the seat of Shasta County) as a "high-profile militia member and a leader in a movement to recall a trio of Republican Shasta County supervisors who supported Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pandemic health orders."  

The story describes how Zapata threw a drink at a man named Pinkey, a Black Lives Matter supporter, who had been "making political parody videos of Zapata."  
Soon after the two saw each other, Zapata threw a drink at Pinkney, according to police. It escalated from there. That night, the BLM activist ended up with a black eye after two associates of Zapata allegedly assaulted him at the rear entrance of the restaurant while Zapata was present, according to police and interviews with people involved.

While the events of May 4 are disputed, the altercation involving Pinkney and Zapata has intensified tensions in this Northern California town. ... Shasta County residents [are] divided over the health risks posed by the pandemic, government’s power and the degree that armed citizenry should take matters into their own hands.
* * *
Speakers at supervisors’ meetings have repeatedly threatened violence, militia members have attended racial justice rallies carrying concealed weapons and opponents of the far right say they are increasingly afraid to speak out, fearing retribution.

Zapata has been at the center of this fray, becoming a literal “poster boy” for a media campaign that hopes to redirect the energies of Trump supporters into local politics, and spread civic revolt nationwide.

Zapata, a 42-year-old Marine Corps combat veteran, made his viral debut in August. At a Shasta County supervisors meeting, he warned of potential violence if elected officials did not drop pandemic health restrictions. “It’s not going to be peaceful much longer. ... Good citizens are going to turn into real concerned and revolutionary citizens real soon,” he warned.

Pinkney and his supporters say they’ve long cautioned that militia members could turn their threats into action, and are watching to see how authorities will now respond.

And here's more on the nature of the "militia." 

South of Redding, residents formed the Cottonwood militia more than a decade ago when five local businesses in the town were robbed on five subsequent nights, according to one of the group’s founders and leaders, Woody Clendenen. It has since grown from 11 members to a sizeable political force, including Zapata, with an increasingly savvy media reach across Northern California and beyond.

Its members are well-known in the community, offering a scholarship each year, hosting a boys’ camp, and sometimes being called in lieu of the police, said Clendenen.

“It grew into almost kind of a political action committee,” said Clendenen, a Cottonwood barber and bit actor in Hollywood B-movies. Candidates for office would call and court militia members for support, he said. Before the pandemic, he said, “our fundraiser dinners, the sheriff and the supervisors come.”

* * *  

During the pandemic, Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini made clear he would not enforce restrictions on businesses. Even so, the mandates became a rallying cry in Shasta and other counties statewide as “patriot” groups claimed their liberties were being trampled. Driven by that outrage, the Cottonwood militia has also backed efforts by an unaffiliated group to recall three conservative supervisors and replace them with like-minded “constitutionalists,” using videos to target elected leaders and “snitches” suspected of reporting businesses defying coronavirus restrictions.
In a video last year, Clendenen and Zapata issued a warning to those who informed on businesses defying health orders.

“Don’t think we are going to forget who you are because we are not going to. We know who you are,” Clendenen says in it, while he is seen sitting next to Zapata.

Zapata continues, saying his group is also collecting “intelligence.”

“We also have people on the streets. We know where you live. We know who your family is. We know your dog’s name,” Zapata says. “So if you think for one second that we are going to let you spy on us without us doing our due diligence and spying on you, you are absolutely wrong.”

* * *

“We’ve been accused of being insurrectionists and domestic terrorists, and calling for violence. No. All we’ve ever done is talk about the reality of, violence can happen if we fail,” Zapata said.

Critics say they are trying to have it both ways, claiming they are nonviolent even as they blast out incendiary messages around the recall and the pandemic.
Today's Washington Post story by Scott Wilson tells us this about the militia:  
The far right is rising in the ranchland of Northern California, using special elections and veiled intimidation to spread political influence across a historically conservative region of this deeply liberal state.

The movement is rooted here in Shasta County and includes the support of a roughly decade-old militia.
* * * 
What the movement will do with its increasing power remains unclear. But, just as it has across the country, its leaders have pushed against public health mandates and brought a sharp edge to once-civil local politics. Members, backed by the militia, have paid particular attention to Black activism, gun rights and rules preventing businesses from operating as they have wished. Homeless programs are also on the block.

The architect is Carlos Zapata, a retired Marine, militia member and restaurateur who raises bucking bulls on his ranch just outside this city, a hub of what locals refer to as “the north state.” Zapata filmed and podcast much of the recall campaign. He called his project “Red White and Blueprint,” a pointed invitation to neighboring conservative counties and others across the west to follow suit.

“This is a weird pie we’ve baked and I’m still trying to figure out exactly what the flavor is,” Zapata said during a recent interview in his light-filled living room on his ranch about 10 miles east of this city. “But we’re going to keep documenting this and look to help others because all government for us right now is local.”
* * *
A frontier ethic prevails among many here, and that explains in part why the region is out of sync with the state’s prevailing strictness on gun control.
Then there is this interesting factoid:
More than 12,000 residents of Shasta County, population 182,000, have conceal-carry permits. Local officials say that is among the highest proportions of any county in the state.

As for whether Zapata is peace-loving or not, journalist Wilson notes mixed signals:  

“Right now we’re being peaceful,” Zapata told the board in August 2020, his first appearance in the chambers. “But it’s not going to be peaceful much longer.”

The comments made him the face of the movement, even though “Recall Shasta” emphasizes that the grass-roots work was done primarily by “moms and grandmoms.”
* * *
Last August, as an increasing number of Shasta residents were reporting businesses breaking state pandemic rules, Zapata appeared next to Woody Clendenen, who heads the local militia and who referred to those notifying authorities as “ratting” out their neighbors.

“Go move off down to San Francisco,” Clendenen said. “Or somewhere where your kind live because I don’t want you here.”

The story then repeats the language quoted in the Los Angeles Times story from the Zapata/Clendenen video--the one that warns they know where informants live, they know the names of informants' dogs.  Wilson concludes:   

The remarks, coming amid the recall effort, were chilling.

So, you be the judge:  is the focus on "militia" in these stories' headlines sensationalizing?  Or is this so-called militia in Shasta County--with perhaps 10 members--actually a threat?  Are they all hat and no cattle, to use an old expression?  or at least more hat than cattle?

And how should we think about what happened in Shasta County--metropolitan, though the surrounding area is often thought of as "rural"--in relation to the recall of three school board members in San Francisco a few weeks later?  Is one more shocking than the other?  Both arose in relation to pandemic restrictions and conditions, but are the underlying motivations of one recall more rational than the other?  Is the underlying behavior of some of the recalled officials more problematic than others?  

Two enlightening 2018 Los Angeles Times stories about Shasta County's politics are here and here