Saturday, April 30, 2022

More on cultivating the rural vote, from Maxmin and Woodward's Dirt Road Revival

The book Dirt Road Revival: How to Rebuild Rural Politics and Why Our Future Depends on It, by Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodward, will be released in a few weeks by Beacon Press.  I can't wait to read it.  Meanwhile, I picked up these nuggets from the authors' interview with Dorothy Wickenden of the New Yorker podcast.  

First, on urban arrogance (and attendant dismissiveness of the rural), there's this: 
[The national Democrats] totally abandoned grassroots organizing in these spaces and that was reflected at the highest level of party leadership. But, you know, folks like the chair Tom Perez, that you can't door knock in rural America and Chuck Schumer's that, you know, for every blue collar that we lose in Western Pennsylvania will pick up two in the suburbs of Philadelphia and largely Democratic leaders were nowhere to be seen in rural America. 
We weren't listening. We weren't cultivating relationships of trust. We were not telling a story that spoke to the sharp pain and struggles of the rural working-class and. So that just created a huge void and into that the young, contested battlefield crushed right wing activist groups, media personalities and that's what led to the rise of Donald Trump and the capture of state legislatures that we're experiencing today.

To this, I'll just note that ceding door knocking in rural America is like saying we can't be bothered to provide broadband or a quality education or a rural hospital because you can't achieve economies of scale in places with sparse population.  

And on that note, second, I was interested in Maxmin's estimate that you can knock on about 100 doors a day in rural Maine, where she won a state senate seat that included the place she grew up, Nobleboro, in Lincoln County:  

I think you know it sounds so basic, but it's the most human and humane thing we can do is just go talk to people, go have an honest conversation about why we're failing, why people don't believe in us and see if there's any space to repair that relationship. 
It's simple in theory. You know, putting it to practice can be tricky because it has been under 200 doors a day and it's easy and are distracting, not to take away our drive from end to end and you know 100 doors a day is what someone can manage. So, it requires more time. It requires more investment, more volunteers, more resources. But we just can't take the easy way out. We keep doing that for too long, we are facing incredibly dire consequences. So, we just got to go talk to folks and make sure that what we hear is being reflected and how we campaign, how we message, how we serve and office.

Third, there is this, connecting to what is happening in other states:

And I think of Beto in Texas and Stacey Abrams in Georgia are key examples of that where it's all about people power campaigns and building these huge communities of volunteers that feel excited and motivated to go out into their communities and do this. Not all canvassing is created equal. 
You know, I think oftentimes when we've seen, you know, the party establishment come out in the rural areas and with clipboard wielding very generically trained folks or kind of whacking people over the head with policy and reading a script that that doesn't resonate and so not. It's not all created equal, but it is really all about having strong grassroots people powered campaigns.
I like to say that things move at the speed of relationship in rural America. And that's just like an essential part of life and our culture. And it's got to be in the central part of our organizing. If we're going to succeed, if the Democrats of all kinds appear to agree that the party is in need of some very serious soul searching.

Don't miss the interview, which you can hear in its entirety here.  

Related posts are here and here--and really every post under the "rural vote" (422 posts in 15 years!) or "rural politics" label. 

Postscript:  On May 2, this essay by Maxmin and Woodward appeared in the New York Times.  The headline is "How Two Democrats Fought and Won in Rural America" and "What Democrats Don't Understand About Rural America."  I'm going to excerpt here some of the more practical aspects of the piece.  

In our two campaigns, we turned down the party consultants and created our own canvassing universe — the targeted list of voters whom we talk to during the election season. In 2020, this universe was four times larger than what the state party recommended. It included thousands of Republicans and independents who had (literally) never been contacted by a Democratic campaign in their entire time voting.

Our campaign signs? Hand-painted or made of scavenged wood pallets by volunteers, with images of loons, canoes and other hallmarks of the Maine countryside. Into the trash went consultant-created mailers. Instead, we designed and carried out our own direct mail program for half the price of what the party consultants wanted to charge while reaching 20 percent more voters.

Volunteers wrote more than 5,000 personal postcards, handwritten and addressed to neighbors in their own community. And we defied traditional advice by refusing to say a negative word about our opponents, no matter how badly we wanted to fight back as the campaigns grew more heated.

Also of interest are some of the voice memos Maxmin made to herself as she canvassed.  Here's that context:   

Chloe has knocked on more than 20,000 doors over the last two cycles, listening to stories of loss and isolation. One man told her she was the first person to listen to him; most campaigns, he said, didn’t even bother to knock on his door — they judged him for what his house looked like.

* * *
When we first embarked down this road, the path was rocky. Chloe came home from canvassing distraught one day and dictated a voice memo to herself: “I talked to a lot of people I’ve known my whole life, and they wouldn’t commit to vote for me.” They knew she was a good person; the only reason they refused to support her was that she was a Democrat.

Another day she met a couple who thought people should be able to snowmobile and hunt and fish and ride ATVs on protected lands. Chloe told them she agreed; while she considers herself extremely progressive, there are some things she thinks the left is too rigid on.

Here's another interesting observation:  

What much of the party establishment doesn’t understand is that rural life is rooted in shared values of independence, common sense, tradition, frugality, community and hard work.

Friday, April 29, 2022

J.D. Vance pulls ahead in race for Republican nomination for U.S. Senate seat in Ohio, prompting comparisons to positions he took in his book

Though it's been much in the news, I've refrained from posting about J.D. Vance's race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat from which Rob Portman (R) is retiring, but with Vance garnering Trump's endorsement and pulling ahead in that race, I decided to feature a particularly interesting commentary about Vance and the race. 

Anyone following the race knows that, by the time Vance threw his hat in the ring last year, he had recanted his earlier criticism of Trump (something his opponents in the primary have used against him).  Since then, he's been lurching to the right on a wide array of issues, most notably immigration.  Earlier this month, he released a television ad that begins with, "Are you a racist?  Do you hate Mexicans?"  And tonight on Twitter I saw a clip of him accusing Joe Biden of purposefully letting fentanyl into the country to kill Republican voters in places like Ohio.  In other words, he is now trafficking in conspiracy theories. So, things have gotten a little out of hand.  

That may help explain the New York Times decision to run this essay about Vance's candidacy--and his about face.  Christopher Caldwell's piece is titled "The Decline of Ohio and the Rise of J.D. Vance."  (The print headline when this appeared on the cover of the paper's Sunday Review section on May 1 was "J.D. Vance Wants to Be the Patron Saint of Trumpism.") More than any other piece I've read since Vance got in the race, Caldwell situates Vance's current rhetoric and positions against what he said in his best selling book, Hillbilly Elegy.  Here's a provocative excerpt: 
Published on the eve of the 2016 elections, “Hillbilly Elegy” made Mr. Vance, then 31, a literary sensation. It sold more than three million copies, and is still a staple of high school and college curriculums. Pundits most likely speed-read the book for its sociological “takeaway,” a description of the left-behind whites who then seemed instrumental in rallying the Republican Party behind Mr. Trump and would soon put him in the White House.

While the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” retained a lot of the exotic patriotism of his kinfolk, even to the extent of choking up whenever he heard “Proud to Be an American,” he drew the line at their chosen candidate. In spirited interviews, articles, tweets and text messages throughout the 2016 election season, Mr. Vance described Mr. Trump as “reprehensible” and an “idiot.” He didn’t vote for him. Many of Mr. Vance’s cosmopolitan literary admirers must have been consoled to think that discerning citizens could see through Mr. Trump, even in the parts of the country most taken with him.

But Mr. Vance backed Mr. Trump in 2020. And now, 10 days before the Republican primary on May 3, Mr. Trump has traveled to Ohio to tell a frenzied crowd that, even though Mr. Vance once said a lot of nasty things about him, he is a “fearless MAGA fighter” and “a great Buckeye.” And here comes Mr. Vance, bounding onstage to call Mr. Trump “the best president of my lifetime.”

Mr. Vance’s readers may feel let down and misled. So too, in their own way, may his Republican primary rivals in Ohio, who have been professing their fidelity to Trumpism, only to see their leader confer his blessing on a Johnny-come-lately.
On the misled point, there is a funny video on Twitter right now showing a man walking up to Vance at one of his campaign events and asking for a refund on the book, $16.99 for the paperback, which he says he didn't care for.

Earlier in the New York Times piece, Caldwell offers another observation related to the book and how Vance has changed since its publication: 
Amid a nodding crowd of men and women in Trump T-shirts and MAGA hats, Mr. Vance’s gray suit may have looked a bit funereal, but his applause lines were decidedly unstodgy. He assailed Joe Biden as a “crazy fake president who will buy energy from Putin and the scumbags of Venezuela but won’t buy it from middle class Ohioans,” who live in a top fracking state.

“Scumbag” is a word that seems to have entered Mr. Vance’s public vocabulary only recently. It didn’t appear in “Hillbilly Elegy,” the tender 2016 autobiography in which he described his clannish and troubled Kentucky-descended family.
Then there is this: 
Readers of “Hillbilly Elegy” who find Mr. Vance’s campaign rhetoric a jarring departure may actually be misremembering the book. His Mamaw railed at the so-called Section 8 federal subsidies that allowed a succession of poor families to move in next door. Southern whites were migrating to the Republican Party, Mr. Vance wrote, in large part because “many in the white working class saw precisely what I did, working at Dillman’s,” a neighborhood grocery. There, thanks to food stamps, he wrote, “our drug-addict neighbor would buy T-bone steaks, which I was too poor to buy for myself but was forced by Uncle Sam to buy for someone else.”

And that is a good segue to my own commentary on Hillbilly Elegy, published in Appalachian Reckoning:  A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, reviewed in the New York Times here.  My big criticism was that Vance threw working class whites under the proverbial bus.  Now, of course, he needs them to vote for him.  And I think that's one of Caldwell's primary points. 

Other recent commentary on the race, in which Josh Mandel is Vance's principal opponent, is here.  

Postscript:  This news item about J.D. Vance and the Ohio Senate primary appeared in the New York Times about 18 hours after this posted went up.  It's by Trip Gabriel and Jonathan Weisman.  "Once Soft-spoken, Ohio Conservatives Embrace the Bombast." The alternative headline is, "In Ohio, Republicans have gone from the Country Club to the MAGA Club."  

Also on Sunday, May 1, Donald Trump references is endorsement of J.P., then correcting himself, "J.D. Mandel."  There is no J.D. Mandel, of course.  There is Josh Mandel and there is J.D. Vance.  Uh oh.  

Cross-posted to Working-Class Whites and the Law

Thursday, April 28, 2022

On science skepticism in rural America

Monica Potts reported this week for Five Thirty Eight on how science skepticism has taken hold in rural America, with a focus on her home state, Arkansas.   The headline is "Why Being Anti-Science Is Now Part Of Many Rural Americans’ Identity."  The subhead is:  "And why that will make communication around the next crisis so much more challenging."

She marshals a lot of empirical research in the piece, including this about what was happening before the pandemic:  

Matthew Motta, a political science professor at Oklahoma State University, and his colleagues Timothy Callaghan, Steven Sylvester, Kristin Lunz Trujillo and Christine Crudo Blackburn studied parents’ hesitancy about giving their kids routine vaccinations, like those for measles, mumps and rubella. Reasons varied, and the most prominent was conspiratorial thinking.1 Some parents who delayed their children’s vaccines also held strong ideas about moral/bodily purity, which often correlated with higher levels of religiosity. Evangelical Christians, people who distrusted scientists and other experts and people prone to believing in conspiracies were also among the groups finding a home in the Republican Party, too.

Many of these characteristics also tend to cluster in rural areas, where COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to lag. “With the very important caveat that we’re talking about two different vaccines … I would say it’s roughly the same groups of people,” Motta said. “My colleagues and I … tried to shout this from the rooftops. … We saw this coming for sure.”
Potts brings us this discouraging data about rural attitudes toward science, following on research about general resistance to vaccines, a resistance that pre-dated the pandemic:
Some nonprofit groups struggled to correct these rural disparities, but unfortunately, the underlying issues were too deep-rooted for them to fully counteract. Rural Americans were far less likely to take precautions against COVID-19, like wearing a mask, avoiding restaurants or working from home. Last September, during the delta wave, the death rate in rural areas was double that of urban areas. As of Jan. 10, 2022, only 48 percent of rural Americans were vaccinated, compared with 61 percent of their urban counterparts, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These patterns are partly explained by preexisting issues. People in rural areas hold old, well-known anxieties about scientists, particularly when the scientists come from the government. Kristin Lunz Trujillo, a postdoctoral researcher with the COVID States Project, said this anxiety stemmed from an attitude that pits rural, hands-on knowledge against the kind of knowledge obtained from institutions like universities or government bureaucracies — a kind of anti-establishment view that extends to scientists.

* * *

In a 2021 paper published in American Political Science Review, political scientists David C. Barker, Ryan Detamble and Morgan Marietta looked at Republicans’ growing distrust of scientists and other experts. Their research shows that partly due to the education divide — i.e., college graduates prefer the Democratic Party, and white people without a college degree prefer the Republican Party — the divide between those who are pro-intellectualism and those who are anti-intellectualism is more entrenched in party politics.

I hate to admit it, but the next part resonated with me in a particularly powerful way because it echoes so precisely what my mom was saying to me 40-50 years ago--that I had "book smarts" but "no common sense": 

Importantly, Barker and his colleagues defined anti-intellectualism not as a respondent's ability or personal level of education. Instead, it was about respondents having positive feelings about trusting one’s gut and having negative feelings toward experts, schools and “the book-smarts of intellectuals.” In their paper, the researchers wrote that those who distrust scientists and other official sources of authority “distinguish those who are ‘book smart’ from those who have common sense, the latter of which they view as a superior means of ascertaining truth.”

How is it that these scholars' work is channeling my mom--channeling things she was saying to me probably before they were born?   Has the phrasing of rural skeptics actually changed so little over the decades? Or was my mom somehow a prototype, on the cutting edge?  

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

What Biden has done for rural America

Robert Leonard of Iowa published an essay in the New York Times yesterday titled, provocatively, "Biden Has Already Done More for Rural America Than Trump Ever Did."  The title provocative given that Trump garnered a lot of votes from rural folks and purported to care about rural people and places. But not only is it provocative, I have every reason to believe the headline and content are truthful.  Leonard, who has previously published op-eds in the Times, supplies the receipts.  Here are some key excerpts: 

In under two years in office, President Biden has done more for places like Guthrie County and other parts of rural America than Mr. Trump ever did. The rural economy is stronger, wages are higher and infrastructure projects are popping up all over.

Mr. Biden and his fellow Democrats are responsible for many of the improvements and for bringing back a sense of stability. For the midterms, they should run on these successes — the American Rescue Plan, the infrastructure bill. And they should run on why they have worked: Democrats should run on Democratic values.

Here in Marion County, where I live, some modest investments will make a big difference, like partial funding of a new shop for road equipment, which will extend the life of expensive equipment by sheltering it from rain and snow, or the repairs and upgrades at the law enforcement and public health centers and at the courthouse.

Last week, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Representative Axne noted that $5 billion from the infrastructure bill will reach Iowa and is targeted to help rural areas. The infrastructure bill is so obviously beneficial to the communities that even Republicans who voted against it are taking credit.

The piece is chock full of facts, comparing, for example, the Trump administration's Farmers to Families Food Box Program to SNAP (previously known as food stamps).  

Earlier New York Times essays by Leonard are here (from November 2020); here (from February 2020) and here (January 2016).   

My own co-authored essay from January 2021 about what Biden should do for rural America is here.  

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Rural Legal Scholarship: on state and local laws and contracts regarding renewable energy infrastructure in middle America

I believe this is the first time I've posted about rural legal scholarship in back-to-back posts, but I'm delighted that there is sufficient rural legal scholarship for me to do so.  Prof. Christiana Ochoa of Indiana University and two law students, Kacey Cook and Hannah Weil, posted to a few days ago "Deals in the Heartland," forthcoming in the Minnesota Law Review.  The abstract follows:  

Informed by original empirical research conducted in the Midwestern United States, this Article provides a rich and textured understanding of the rapidly emerging opposition to renewable energy projects. Beyond the Article’s urgent practical contributions, it also examines the importance of formalism and formality in contracts and complicates current understandings.

Rural communities in every windblown and sun-drenched region of the United States are enmeshed in legal, political, and social conflicts related to the country’s rapid transition to renewable energy. Organized local opposition has foreclosed millions of acres from renewable energy development, impeding national and state-level commitments to achieving renewable energy targets in the face of the mounting climate crisis. This Article analyzes why and how communities, using county ordinances, township regulations, and electoral processes, mobilize against renewable energy companies and repel commercial wind projects. It describes the surprising and complex interplay of national, state, and municipal law governing the transition to renewable energy, and provides tangible reform proposals that can address this emerging policy crisis.

This Article also advances theoretical understandings of contractual governance and contractual relations, as well as the role of informal law and institutions in tight-knit communities. The field work at the heart of this Article provides evidence that the importance of government in contracts is currently underappreciated. This is particularly so in the context of the transition to renewable energy, where national and state governments have articulated ambitious policy objectives. Governments can add value to the deals between companies and communities, by incentivizing the deals ex ante and by stabilizing the resulting legal relationships ex post. The Article thus concludes that the trend restricting governmental presence in contracts also limits governments’ ability to achieve articulated public goals. The Article also illustrates the importance of contract formality, especially in tight-knit communities. In such local contexts, transparent, clearly articulated deals and deal-making can inspire trust, serving as the pivot point in local decisions about whether to allow renewable energy projects. Because formality opens possibilities for durable relationships in tight-knit communities it can serve as a catalyst for renewable energy projects in America’s heartland.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Rural Legal Scholarship: Reconstructing Rural Discourse and "Where the Crawdads Sing"

Michigan Law student Bailey Tulloch has published a book notice in the Michigan Law Review titled "Reconstructing Rural Discourse," and it analyzes Delia Owens' Where the Crawdads Sing.  The abstract follows: 
Delia Owens “defied the new laws of gravity” with the success of her 2018 novel Where the Crawdads Sing. Described as “both a coming-of-age tale and an engrossing whodunit,” the novel situates readers in the desolate marshlands of the North Carolina coast, looking through the eyes of an abandoned child named Kya. The first half of the story feels almost transcendentalist, focused largely on Kya, her self-reliance, and the bond she forges with the nature that surrounds her. But interspersed throughout this narrative are snippets of a future murder investigation, which leads readers into the events that transpire during the second half of the novel.

This combination of bildungsroman and courtroom thriller placed in an unconventional, natural setting has captivated audiences of all backgrounds. Publishing experts remain baffled by the book’s sales, which hit 4.5 million copies in under a year and a half, as well as its steadfast hold on the New York Times bestseller list still today—nearly four years after publication.  

While accolades such as a spot on Barnes & Noble’s Best Fiction Books of 2018 and a book club endorsement by Reese Witherspoon contributed to the novel’s success, critics suggest that “the story of a young woman wrestling with isolation and loneliness in lushly descriptive settings resonate beyond political boundaries and in defiance of falling sales of adult fiction.”  Further, the dialogue surrounding Kya and her life in the marsh appears far from over, as a film adaptation is currently in the works.  Where the Crawdads Sing’s unifying effect has propelled it to a position of literary importance, and it has also created an audience for a literary voice not often, nor accurately, represented in popular culture: the voice of ruralism.

Depictions of ruralism in books, movies, and television frequently perpetuate stereotypes and create misunderstandings about the realities of rural life and law. For example, most characterizations of rural lawyers, like those in Where the Crawdads Sing, portray them as efficient and accessible. But in reality, studies show that the pool of attorneys serving rural communities is shrinking, making it more difficult for rural dwellers to access legal services. The American Bar Association (ABA) describes rural residents as “disproportionately poor[] and . . . forced to travel long distances to find lawyers to handle routine matters that affect their everyday lives, such as wills, divorces and minor criminal and civil cases.” The attorney shortage is due in part to social perceptions of rural lawyering, and this Book Notice evaluates the role that Where the Crawdads Sing plays in contributing to these and other rural stereotypes.

This Notice focuses on misconceptions about rural realities and how representations of ruralism in Where the Crawdads Sing either perpetuate or deviate from these misunderstandings. Part I provides an overview of the impression of ruralism that Where the Crawdads Sing creates. Part II discusses the current state of rural life and justice, highlighting issues of access to justice and other challenges caused by misconceptions about ruralism. Finally, Part III evaluates how Where the Crawdads Sing reflects or diverges from reality and considers the real-world implications of those representations.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

On Marine LePen's attractiveness to France's rural (and working class) voters

Today, Emmanuel Macron was re-elected to the French presidency.  As he did five years ago, Macron defeated Marine LePen, typically styled as a "far right candidate."  This time, however, Macron's  margin of victory was narrower, about 58% to 42%.  In 2017, he garnered twice as many votes as she did. 

Many have drawn parallels between Trump and LePen, just as parallels have been drawn between Macron and, say, Obama.  The former are viewed as "in touch" with rural and working-class voters, the latter as over-educated, imperious elites who are globalists, looking out for the rich and out of touch with common folks.  

Rachel Donadio picks up on this LePen association in her guest essay in the New York Times this weekend, writing from Semur-en-Auxois, in rural Burgundy.  Here I'm picking up only the bits of the essay that speak to either rurality or the working class (emphasis mine): 
President Emmanuel Macron won in Semur-en-Auxois in the first round of voting this month, but Ms. Le Pen took the larger Burgundy Franche-Comté region, with 27 percent of the vote over Mr. Macron’s 26 percent. Ms. Le Pen’s success comes from casting herself as the defender of the countryside and the working class, focusing on cost-of-living issues and defending social protections. She has also been helped by an image makeover in which she opened up about raising her children as a single mother and now combines tough talk on immigration with social media posts about her cats.
* * *
As I drove around rural Burgundy after the first round of voting this month, I came away with a strong sense that while Mr. Macron may well defeat her in the second round this Sunday, in many ways, Ms. Le Pen has already won. In the first round, she put Mr. Macron on the defensive and convinced almost a quarter of voters that she has their best interests at heart. In the second round, polls predict she could easily win more than 40 percent, potentially 10 points more than in 2017.
* * * 
“The era of high growth is gone,” Niels Planel, a city councilor in Semur-en-Auxois and the author of a book on French economic inequality, told me. In his view, the government should “worry about mobility, worry about training, delivering a high-quality education,” so that workers are ready for today’s economy, not yesterday’s. Otherwise Ms. Le Pen is likely to maintain her grip on many of France’s rural and deindustrialized areas, while Mr. Macron will continue to win more-prosperous urban areas.

I have consumed other media this week, including reporting by NPR's Eleanor Beardsley,  that referred to LePen's base as the working poor.  And, of course, the "yellow vest" movement is often referenced as emblematic of the disgruntlement of France's non-urban workers.  Posts about that movement are here.   

Other posts about European countries where cleavages along the rural-urban divide are being discussed are here (Brexit), here (Catalonia), here (various) and here (Turkey + collecting posts).  

Post-script from David Leonhardt's column in the New York Times on April 25, 2022

It’s a common story across Western democracies, including the United States. As many working-class voters have struggled with slow-growing incomes over recent decades — a result of globalization, automation and the decline of labor unions, among other forces — they have become fed up with traditional politicians.

Roger Cohen, The Times’s Paris bureau chief who was previously our foreign editor, said these voters have a sense “of being invisible, of being forgotten, of being the lowest priority.”

In France, many were angry that Macron raised a tax on diesel fuel in 2018. “Just fine for the hyperconnected folks in big cities like Paris,” Roger says, “much less so for people who have seen train stations and hospitals close in their communities and need to drive to work in some Amazon packaging warehouse 60 miles away.”

Geography is a dividing line, in France and elsewhere. Frustrated working-class voters often live in smaller metropolitan areas or rural areas. Professionals tend to live in thriving major cities like Paris, London, New York and San Francisco; they also tend to be more socially liberal, more in favor of globalization and less outwardly patriotic.
The “cosmopolitan elites,” as the Democratic political strategist David Shor notes, are now numerous enough to dominate the leadership of political parties — but still well shy of a majority of the population in the U.S. or Europe.
You can find Roger Cohen's story on Macron's win here

Saturday, April 23, 2022

My Rural Travelogue (Part XXXI): "Redneck wine" in northern Arizona

As regular readers will realize, I've been traveling through the American Southwest the past few weeks, ending with a few days in Sedona, Arizona, 
population 10,031.  Sedona straddles two counties:  (1) Coconino, a massive county the size of the state of Connecticut with a population of 145,401; it is home to the Grand Canyon and (2) Yavapai County, population 236,209, which more precisely is home to "West Sedona," and whose county seat is Prescott.  

One of the recommended outings from Sedona--recommended by my hotel and Trip Advisor, for example--is Cottonwood, population 11,265, about 20 miles from Sedona.  In particular, Old Town Cottonwood is touted, and I must say the town has done a great job of spiffying up a street and making it attractive to tourists.  One of the things going on in the town and region is grape-growing and wine-making.  Indeed, on my flight home from Phoenix yesterday, I sat next to a man from Phoenix who told me that he'd recently visited the area.  He called the wine from this region "redneck wine" and told me that the best grapes came from near there, in Cornville, also in the Verde Valley, population 3,280.  

Here are some photos, starting with the most interesting to the person who studies the rural lawyer shortage.  I have seen a lot of small-town lawyer offices, but never one with a sign quite like this:  

The lawyer's office below the flashy, diner-type sign 

I happened to catch the farmer's market, held
on Wednesdays from 3 pm til 6 pm
Antique/junk store on the corner 

A gas station turned .... something else

Historic building used as a community center. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

More coverage of efforts to garner the rural vote

The Washington Post is the latest publication to feature John Fetterman, Democrat and candidate for the nomination for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania.  Here's the part of the story that mentions rurality, which is marginal to journalist Paul Schwartzman's overall story:
Rural Democrats. The muted minority. An embattled species. Here in Adams County, Pa., which borders Maryland, 66 percent of voters went for President Donald Trump in 2020 — about the same that voted for him in 2016, and 3 percent more than went for Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee in 2012. That’s the trend in Pennsylvania, and in many parts of the country. As rural counties grow redder and redder, some Democrats have focused on winning over suburban swing voters turned off by Trumpism and trying to maximize turnout in Democrat-heavy cities.

Fetterman, 52, who is the purported Democratic front-runner for the coveted U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, has made a show of not giving up on the red counties. These are the places where Trump campaign signs still sit in front yards and banners hang from flagpoles and porches. Several are visible along Lincoln Highway, the road leading into Gettysburg. Plus, on the edge of town, a banner on the side of a shed that says “F--- Biden.”

Fetterman campaigned in these areas in 2016, when he ran for the Senate as a pro-Bernie Sanders candidate and finished third in the primary. After a similar strategy helped him become Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor two years later, he visited all 67 counties during a listening tour about legalizing pot. “This is old hat for us,” he says.

It’s mainly Democrats here at the community center, and at other such stops he has made over the months of his campaign. Fetterman has come to see them. To validate them. To listen. To feel their angst.
Then there is this piece by the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin about Tom Nelson, one of the candidates for the  Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate from Wisconsin.  The dateline is Appleton, population 75,000, in the central part of the state, and the headline is "Wisconsin's Tom Nelson Reminds Democrats How Populists Should Sound."   Here's an excerpt (with admittedly no mention of "rural"):
With 28 years in politics and 17 years in office, Nelson has put in the work and displays a granular understanding of the state. “You don’t just wake up one day and decide to run for the U.S. Senate,” he tells me. “I’m not running just to check the box.” (That’s an implicit dig at one of his primary opponents, Alex Lasry, the son of a billionaire who has never run for office.)

Unsurprisingly, Nelson names Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), whose career is built around the dignity of work and workers’ rights, as a role model. No one would accuse Brown of being a conservative, yet Nelson points out that Brown wins in a red state by talking directly about issues that affect workers, such as trade deals and, now, the pandemic. His other role model is the late William Proxmire, the Democratic senator from Wisconsin who spoke daily on the Senate floor in favor of the United Nations’ genocide treaty, shook every hand he could find in the state, and popularized the Golden Fleece award to highlight wasteful government spending.

Though Rubin situates Nelson as a populist, he has degrees from Carleton College and Princeton.  He previously served as the county executive of Outagamie County, population 190,000, one of three counties straddled by Appleton.  He was previously a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly.   His ballotpedia entry is worth a look.  

Finally, this New York Times piece on Democratic cash flowing to lost causes, while not explicitly about rural, is interesting for ruralists.  Here's why:  the party seems to see so many rural districts as lost causes and makes that the reason not to channel funds to those Democratic candidates, even as it channels money to urban and suburban "lost cause" districts.    

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CLXXX): the Navajo Nation continues with mask mandate

Coronavirus guidelines at Lower Antelope Canyon
Tribal Park, administered by Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation
Near Page, Arizona
I spent much of the last week on the Navajo Nation, mostly in Arizona. It was my son's spring break, and after our stop in Moab, Utah we were in Chinle and also the outskirts of Page, which includes a lot of Navajo territory.  In all areas of the Navajo Nation, everyone was expected to wear a mask--even outdoors.  

This requirement of masks both indoors and outdoors has been the Navajo position since early in the pandemic when the mortality rate for this sovereign nation was very, very high. Since then, the Navajo have boasted a very high vaccination rate and some of the strictest public health controls in the continental United States.  Here's a New York Times story about the state of affairs on the Navajo Nation, and an NPR story about the virus' toll on the sovereign nation, which is spread over four states in the Southwest, is here.    

As of today, there were 53,221 cases of Coronavirus in the Navajo Nation.  The number of deaths was 1,741. 

Two days ago, I was at Lower Antelope Canyon, an extraordinary tourist attraction just a few miles outside Page.  All guests were told that failure to wear a mask would get you kicked out of the tour, which was entirely outdoors.  

Within a small area, I took photos of these six different public health posters--including several that were Navajo specific in their images--and perhaps also in their messages, e.g., caring about their families.  

At the entrance to Dixie Ellis' 
Lower Antelope Canyon Tours

This, put out by the Navajo (Dine) government
addresses the differences among masks, specifying
which are more protective.

This one is Navajo-specific in hair style.

This one regards the Delta variant, in particular. 

Note the detailed scenarios in this one, regarding
relative protection depending on whether one or 
both parties are masked and distanced
Meanwhile, yesterday a federal district judge in Florida struck down the mask mandate on public transportation.  Although most major airlines announced they would immediately cease to require masks, I was in the Grand Canyon today, where public transit continued to require masks.  Indeed, they had a number of different signs regarding masks, including these I photographed and one I didn't catch a photo of but that featured the Arizona flag, suggesting it was produced by Arizona's state government.  
At the transit bus stop for Hermit's Rest 

Monday, April 18, 2022

My Rural Travelogue (Part XXX): Moab, 13 years later, "consumed by excessive tourism"?

Back side of a road sign in central Moab,
a block from Hoodoo Moab Hotel, part of Hilton's Curio Collection

The sticker says "Moab is being Consumed by Excessive Tourism"
and it appears to have been placed by the "Moab Wellness Project,"
for which no website exists

I visited Moab, Utah in October, 2008, and wrote this blog post about its rural gentrification at that time.  Last week, I returned to Moab and found it much changed after more than a decade.  Its tourism infrastructure has expanded, and it feels bigger, more sprawling.  Certainly, more hotel chains are now there, including the hip and trendy brands of big chains.  There's a hospital on the west side of town that I don't recall being there 13 years ago, though perhaps I just overlooked it then.   People are still coming for two major national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, as well as the area's world-class slick rock mountain biking.  The city of about 5K was thrumming perhaps more than usual last week because it was hosting the Moab Easter Jeep Safari.    

Given how much bigger and happening Moab seems, I was surprised to see that its 2020 Census population barely rose above its 2010 Census, which wasn't much bigger than the numbers I noted in my 2008 blog post.  Ditto Grand County, which has a population still hovering at less than 10K.  I assume that much of the region's growth is occurring south of town, in the areas called Spanish Trail (in the Spanish Valley) and La Sal, the latter in San Juan County.  As we drove south through that area, we saw a great deal of new and ongoing construction of multi-family units.  

Here are some photos I took, which illustrate the changes around Moab since my last visit: 

Typical Moab fare, with a new-ish Pizza Hut
right behind it on Main Street

This part of Main Street looks much like Moab looked
on my prior visits, in 2004 and 2008
Who wouldn't want to eat at the Jailhouse Cafe, on Main Street

I thought this old "beauty shop" was permanently closed
but then saw and "open" sign on the door, next to
school buses and a new hotel, a few blocks of Main Street

Here is a more contemporary salon, on Main Street just a few blocks away: 

Old mobile home park, between Main Street and the
spiffy new hospital;  across the street from our Vacasa rental,
 in a row of newish duplexes

Food truck park is new since my last visit,
and highest ranked "restaurant" in the city is here!
And here's a photo of a place that probably looked very similar a decade or two ago--the Uranium Building on Main Street.  I suspect, however, that the tenants have changed over the decades: 

Friday, April 15, 2022

Risky home-ownership schemes disproportionately pursued by rural folks and people of color

Jennifer Ludden reported this week for National Public Radio under the headline, "Millions of Americans are resorting to risky ways to buy an affordable home."  An excerpt highlighting the rural angle follows: 
People of color and those in rural areas are more likely to use these risky arrangements

A first of its kind national survey by The Pew Charitable Trusts finds 36 million Americans — about 20% of all borrowers — have used alternative ways to finance a home at some point, including 7 million currently in such arrangements. The borrowers are largely low-income, more likely to live in rural areas, and disproportionately Hispanic and Black, reflecting the racial gap in homeownership.

Unlike mortgages, alternative financing deals are usually not recorded with any government office. They don't start with a bank or mortgage company, and so are not subject to the same state or federal regulations.

"In most of our cases, we have handwritten notes that wouldn't pass muster," says Peggy Lee, an attorney with Southeastern Ohio Legal Services. She says some of her clients have even been duped into thinking a verbal contract was binding, though they're not recognized in Ohio.

This leaves borrowers with higher costs and fewer protections. They can be suddenly evicted without a right to a normal foreclosure process. They're shut out of tax and other homeowner benefits. The legal ambiguity prevented many from being eligible for COVID-19 financial relief or the moratorium on evictions, creating a double whammy for families most likely to suffer during the pandemic.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Talking to Pennsylvania's candidates in Democratic U.S. Senate primary about the rural vote

WJAC, a television station out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, chatted with the three top contenders for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate about how to garner the rural vote.  Here's what they said.  

John Fetterman, Lt. Governor, gave the most rural-specific response: 
Infrastructure is critical. I would never be the kind of senator that votes against your broadband expansion or your bridge project and show up for the ribbon-cutting.

Journalist Douglas Braff provides this context on Fetterman:  

The towering candidate, dressed in a black hoodie, added that Democrats need to appeal to farmers, touting his so-called "right-to-repair" platform.
Next, Braff is on to U.S. Congressman Conor Lamb, from Pittsburgh, whose focus is on listening--and on his military service:

Lamb, a moderate, told 6 News he's "an effective legislator who's gonna get things done," having worked with both Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

"I've seen, at least, a lot of rural voters feel like the Democrats are coming and talking at them all the time and trying to tell them what to do. I always show up and just listen to people," the Pittsburgh-area congressman said. "And I talk about my service in the Marine Corps and the way it makes me feel like Americans really can get along and go after the same mission and same goals together."

And when it comes to rural voters, Lamb said it's all about the economy.

"Costs are going up for a lot of people right now," he explained. "And I know it's affecting farms in particular, but really just anyone's life, a normal person day-to-day, food and gas is all getting more expensive."
Finally, Braff has this on state representative Malcolm Kenyatta, from north Philly, who is the least rural-specific in his comments.  Kenyatta is a Black man, which means his response suggests the opportunity for cross-racial coalition building among the socioeconomically disadvantaged.  Here's that response: 
Kenyatta told 6 News the key to winning rural votes means going everywhere, talking to everybody, and "disrupt" what he thinks is a disconnect between Philadelphia and rural Pennsylvania.

"Every place I go, people are asking, 'What are we gonna do to make sure we make America's basic bargain real for every family,' the idea that you can have one good job backed up by a union, that your kids can go to a good, fully funded school... If you get sick, you can go to the dang doctor and be able to fill the prescription when you leave the appointment," the North Philadelphia native explained.

Kenyatta said he thinks his working-class background will help get those key votes in the general election.

"I feel strongly that we need a working-class person in the U.S. Senate," he said. "I grew up in a working poor family. My dad was a social worker. My mom was a home healthcare aid, and I know in my bones what happens when government works or doesn't work for working people."
Johnstown is 60 miles east of Pittsburgh and has a population just over 20,000.  The dateline for the story was Centre County, home of Pennsylvania State University, in State College, PA.  Centre County is just to the northeast of Cambria County, which includes Johnstown.  

Here is some prior coverage of Fetterman's efforts to attract the rural vote in the race for this U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania.  

And here is a recent Politico story about how the Washington, DC, Democratic establishment has made its peace with Fetterman, who is the front-runner among the Democratic candidates at this point.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Electric trucks chipping away at rural America's truck culture

 Don't miss Elizabeth Remberg's piece for Nebraska Public Media, picked up by NPR today.  The headline is "Will Electric Pickup Trucks Get Rural America to Switch from Gas to Electric?"    

Remberg reports mostly from the Midwest, and she challenges conventional wisdom that rural folks aren't really interested in electric vehicles. She does so by going to the heart of the matter:  farmers and their love affairs and close associations with their pick up trucks.  

Here's the lede: 

The electric Ford F-150 Lightning rolls off the assembly line this spring. But will rural Americans, who make up an important demographic for the company and the future of EVs, make the switch?

And here's the salient excerpt: 

REMBERT: Brad Brodine farms in Nebraska and says technology has been good for agriculture. After all, he's now using huge, sophisticated tractors and harvesters after growing up watching his dad plow behind a horse.

BRAD BRODINE: Farmers kind of sit back, and we want to make sure things are going to work because everything's expensive. We don't mind trying new things. You know, if we think it's going to work, we're pretty excited about it because innovation has been a good thing in agriculture.

REMBERT: John Murphy follows the auto industry for Bank of America and says rural drivers are key to EVs catching on. He says all of the electric truck options could bring a transformation to rural America.

JOHN MURPHY: Electric pickups may drive the real tipping point for electric vehicles, meaning your mainstream Midwestern truck buyer may join the forces of the Teslas on the coast to really start tipping the scale.

REMBERT: Wanda Young is a chief marketing officer at Ford. She says the automaker knew it needed to get the Lightning right for old-school drivers who identify so strongly with their trucks.

WANDA YOUNG: You cannot separate a farmer from their truck. You know, it's just like their favorite pair of jeans. We get to see so many of our customers who are coming in, and they're from all different kinds of vocations, from plumbers to landscapers to electricians. And they are talking about how to make this transition to electric.
You'll find prior posts about electric vehicles in rural America here (don't miss embedded links to prior posts) and here.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Biden's rural infrastructure tour will publicize "Rural Playbook"

Here's a key paragraph from the White House's "Rural Playbook," which was publicized in a press release with a very unwieldy headline, "Biden Administration Releases Rural Playbook, Launches Building A Better America Rural Infrastructure Tour to Highlight Impact of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law on Rural America."  A key paragraph--listing lots of states that will benefit, all with significant rural populations--follows:   
Across the month of April, the Biden-Harris administration will announce billions for rural areas including rural water projects, flood mitigation, transportation, healthcare, and tribal community grants, along with new technical assistance programs for rural and tribal communities. Earlier this month, the Department of the Interior announced $420 million for rural water systems across six states: Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and South Dakota. Today, the President is also announcing a $1 billion America the Beautiful Challenge that will leverage Federal conservation and restoration investments with private and philanthropic contributions to accelerate land, water, and wildlife conservation efforts across the country. The America the Beautiful Challenge is anchored by an initial commitment of $440 million of Federal resources over the next five years to a new public-private grant program, administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), that will support locally led ecosystem restoration projects that invest in watershed restoration, resilience, equitable access, workforce development, corridors and connectivity, and collaborative conservation, consistent with the America the Beautiful Initiative. The America the Beautiful Challenge will offer states, Tribes, territories, local groups, non-governmental organizations, and others the opportunity to apply for multiple grant programs through a single application that is managed by NFWF.

Note the key role of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, among many federal agencies with a footprint in rural America.  Interesting.   

Meanwhile, Biden was in Iowa today to announce the relaxation of rules regarding production and sale of "E15," ethanol-infused gasoline, in light of sky-rocketing fuel prices due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  Here's what that looked like in White House publicity in advance of the trip (as picked up by a New Orleans news source because former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is involved in this initiative as infrastructure coordinator: 

The president will travel to Menlo, Iowa, on Tuesday, a small town about 40 miles west of Des Moines, to discuss the infrastructure law's impact on rural communities, as well as efforts to lower costs for working families and combat inflation.

Other officials participating in the rural tour include Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu.

Biden said that the tour will "double down on our unwavering commitment to building a better America where rural communities thrive."

And here's how the Washington Post and Des Moines Register covered the story today.  Here's the NPR coverage.  

Postscript:  Here is the Daily Yonder's coverage of the Rural Playbook, written by Bryce Oates.  

Monday, April 11, 2022

Cultivating the rural vote in Indiana

The Washington Post published a feature over the weekend on Democrats' effort to flip red states, with a focus on Indiana.  Dan Balz reports on state party chair Mike Schmuhl's efforts:   
Indiana has 92 counties, and local organizations are the backbone of the party structure. Schmuhl said that as in many other Republican-trending states, the county Democratic parties “have just been completely decimated. They’re up against the ropes.”

When former Vermont governor Howard Dean was Democratic National Committee chair more than a decade ago, he promoted the idea of a 50-state campaign. His argument was that party building should not be limited to the relative handful of states that decide presidential elections. For Democrats to be competitive up and down the ballot, they needed to be visible constantly and compete everywhere.
* * *
What these now solidly red Northern states have in common is that they have predominantly White and generally older populations. Geographically, they are heavily rural or populated with small cities outside a few urban enclaves. Culture war issues and the cleavages they have produced add to the challenges for Democrats trying to make their way back to competitiveness.
* * *
Any turnaround for Democrats must include the revitalization of the Democratic Party at the local level, a task complicated by the image of a national party that cares less about rural and small-town voters. Schmuhl says one priority is simply to be visible. “You’ve got to start to communicate with people, to offer them a choice,” he said, “and so I think showing up is first and foremost.”

He cited his experiences working for [former presidential candidate, now Secretary of Transportation] Buttigieg and [former U.S. Senator] Donnelly. “They both had a central focus in their approach to politics, which is, you go everywhere,” he said. “If you’re invited to something, you try to show up and talk to anybody. You take the tough questions. You just show up here.”
* * *
This year, the political winds are blowing against the Democrats, even in places that are less red than Indiana. Next year, Indiana will have local elections, and he expects Democrats to perform better in those contests.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

The toll of the Russian invasion on Ukraine's rural and agricultural sector

Ukrainian farmer stealing Russian tank, an image that appeared
in many memes during the early days of the Russian invasion

I've been thinking about this topic since the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine:  how will the war's impact be different in rural places than in urban ones?  I was drawn to the topic in the first instance because of reports of the Russian occupation of rural areas north of Kyiv and references to the challenges of urban warfare for an invading force. The suggestion was that the density of population in cities was a greater challenge to an invading force because someone came pop out from behind the walls of an apartment building at any time and attack the invading force.  Indeed, this is what happened early in the Chechen war, when residents of Grozny stopped the Russian columns en route to the presidential palace in 1994.

Back to Ukraine:  also from the early days of the invasion, there have been the videos--and memes--highlighting Ukrainian farmers hauling off Russian tanks with their tractors.  Social media led us to believe that the Ukrainian "peasants" were getting the best of the Russian invaders--or at least giving them a run for their money.  Here's another example of that: 

Meme from early in Russian invasion of Ukraine.  
Caption is, "It's not much, but it's honest work," referring to theft of Russian tank

Other reports after the first weeks of the war told us the Russian columns dispersed from the roads going into Kyiv and scattered into the countryside, under cover of forests and such.  

Then, more recently, came the post-occupation reports of war crimes out of Bucha and other Kyiv exurbs, previously rural places but more recently satellite exurban communities for the nation's capital.  

Now, today, the New York Times has published a story under the headline, "'Everything was Destroyed':  War Hits Ukraine's Farms.  This important story is reported by Emma Bubola, Valeriya Safronova and Maria Varenikova.  An excerpt follows, with a focus on the bad news and no hint of farmers prevailing over Russian forces:  
“My farm has turned to ruins,” said Grigoriy Tkachenko, a farmer in the village of Lukashivka, near the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv. “There is almost nothing left.”
* * * 
The farm — his cattle, warehouses and machinery — was the product of his life’s work. After working in collective farms when Ukraine was under Soviet rule, Mr. Tkachenko bought about 15 acres of land and seven cows in 2005. Over the years, he expanded his operation to 3,700 acres and 170 cows, also producing corn, wheat, sunflowers and potatoes.

“What we built over decades,” he said, “they destroyed it over just a few days.”

Farmland covers 70 percent of the country and agricultural products were Ukraine’s top export, making up nearly 10 percent of its gross domestic product. Ukraine was one of the world’s main exporters of corn and wheat and the biggest exporter of sunflower oil.

The country now has 13 million tons of соrn and 3.8 million tons of wheat that it cannot export using its usual routes, primarily by sea, the deputy agriculture minister, Taras Vysotsky, said last week.
The story is well worth a read in its entirety--a sobering antidote to those heartening farmer memes from the first few weeks after the Russian invasion.  

Among other things, reports (like that by the New York Times) of the mining of Ukrainian fields is reminder of Anthony Marra writing of this phenomenon is The Tsar and Love and Techno, an excellent book with threads about the Russian war on Chechnya. The mines haunted--and terrorized--rural populations in Chechnya decades later.  

Post script:  NPR ran this story about the war's impact on Ukraine's farms and farmers on May 6, 2022.

Post script:  NYTimes story by Carlotta Gall on June 4, 2022, out of the Siversk District in eastern Ukraine.  This one features a farmer who keeps farming, in part for his animals, but also to feed his village.  There's a compelling quote reflecting rural lack of anonymity--and community: 
Mr. Chaplik is a fraying connection to the world for his increasingly isolated village, which he asked not be named so it would not suffer retribution from Russian troops. At considerable risk to himself, he provides vital supplies and information, and keeps producing food as best he can.

Many other farmers have left the area but he said he could not. “I can’t leave the people,” he said. “If I leave, I will not be able to return to the village, I will not be able to look people in the eye.”

But as the war has crept closer, he has had to shrink his business while trying to keep the farm producing and workers fed and paid. With utilities cut off, he runs the milk machines on generators, but can only operate his refrigerators for 12 hours a day.