Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Literary Ruralism (Part XXXIII): More excerpts from Groundskeeping, by Lee Cole

Earlier this month, I shared an excerpt from Lee Cole's new novel--his first--called Groundskeeping, and in this post I want to share a few more excerpts that capture aspects of rural Kentucky.    

Here's one where the protagonist, Owen, an aspiring writer, takes his Bosnian Muslim girlfriend, Alma, on a day trip outside Louisville.  They wind up at a flea market in rural Kentucky.  The "Tony" referenced here is Owen's writing instructor:

Tony always said that there were no two-dimensional characters in the real world, that everyone had depth, and that if you were going to write about someplace rural not to make it into a minstrel show. Don’t dress all your backwoods characters in camo and have them chewing tobacco, he’d said. This was easy for him to say, as someone who had not come from a rural place.


But looking around, many of the people were wearing camo, and they were dipping Skoal and spitting the brown juice into Mountain Dew bottles. I’m sure they had their depths and their private sorrows, but at the moment, they were staring at us and making us uncomfortable, and I didn’t much care about their depths. 

I took Alma’s hand in mine and squeezed it. She squeezed back—two quick pumps—and we entered the shade of the tents. After a few minutes of browsing and touching the little knickknacks, she seemed less nervous. There were antique Barbies and sock monkeys, broken radios, ashtrays of hobnail milk glass and mushroom casserole dishes. There were Styrofoam heads with wigs, dime-store romance novels, wicker baskets, and dreamcatchers. We came to a stall of old farming tools.


I picked up a tomahawk knife, used for cutting burley-leaf tobacco. Though rusted, the blade’s edge was still sharp against my thumb. I explained to her what it was. You could still see the ingrained tobacco gum in the scarred hickory handle. My grandfather’s got a few like it, I said.


How do you use it? she said.


I’m not sure.


It’s to cut the stalk, said the old man running the stall. He looked to be about the same age as Pop and wore bib overalls. He sat in a lawn chair with a bottle of Dr Pepper between his legs and a table fan blowing directly on his face. Lemme see, he said, standing unsteadily and motioning for the tomahawk. I gave it over and he demonstrated how it would be used, whacking the invisible base of a tobacco plant.

(pp. 134-35, Kindle edition)

Here's another vignette, this one from Owen taking Alma to a Cracker Barrel restaurant: 

We hadn’t eaten supper, and when I saw a sign for a Cracker Barrel, I suggested we stop. She told me she’d never been to one.


No way, I said.


Yes way.


I can’t believe that in twenty-six years of life, you’ve never been to a Cracker Barrel.


We. Were. Muslim. Immigrants, she said, punctuating each word. Why would we go to a Cracker Barrel?


I wheeled into the lot, which was mostly vacant. I knew this would be the case, since most of Cracker Barrel’s patrons were over the age of sixty, and therefore took their supper around 5 p.m., or thereabouts—if not earlier. It was nearly 7 p.m.


As we crossed the parking lot to the entrance, past the hedges and the wilted mums and the rocking chairs looped together with bicycle chain locks, I told her I’d been to Cracker Barrel more times than I could count, that it was the only restaurant my parents went to when I was growing up. Very rarely, on birthdays or special occasions, we went to Olive Garden. Otherwise, it was Cracker Barrel.


 So you liked this place when you were kid? she said, when we’d been seated.


No, I hated it, I said. I still kind of hate it, though the hatred is mixed with nostalgia. I drew over the little peg game from where it was nestled between the flickering oil lamp and the bottle of peppers in vinegar. Alma cast her eyes about curiously. The dining floor was sparsely seated. A table of boisterous bikers sat in the back in their leather chaps and flame-printed do-rags. 

Three  or four elderly couples were seated in our section, waiting for their food. A fire crackled in the fieldstone hearth, and the woodsmoked air was mingled with the aromas of coffee and bacon and maple syrup. All was warm and quiet. Even the hiss and clatter of the kitchen was hardly audible.


What did your parents like about it? she asked.


After mulling over the question, I explained that Cracker Barrel was cheap, and they were working-class people without a lot of money who nonetheless wanted the experience of a family outing. They loved the food and the décor not because they had bad taste, but because it was familiar to them. They’d grown up on actual farms, milking actual cows, and pulling the suckers from actual tobacco. They’d eaten stewed apples and turnip greens and ham hock, and the tools on the walls had been the tools their fathers used, in a time that was not, at least in Kentucky, some distant yesteryear. It was recent and vivid, and the ache of its passing away therefore still present, like a phantom limb. So, even though it was commodified nostalgia, used to sell gimmicky bullshit to octogenarians, I could understand why they liked it.


Apparently, some of the locations were segregating customers by race, she said, scrolling through an article on her phone.



Really. There was a big lawsuit.


It didn’t surprise me. There had always been undertones of racial animus, implied by the old-timey, those-were-the-days décor—scythes and harrows and pickaxes, fastened haphazardly to the latticework walls as if ready to be taken up by a mob. It was suddenly depressing to be there, as it had been when I was a teenager. Nostalgia was


always a lie, I decided. It always covered something up.


This place is pretty wild, Alma admitted, studying the black-and-white portrait of an unsmiling couple that hung above our table. Where do they get all this shit?


Believe it or not, they’re all real antiques, I said. There’s a big warehouse where they store and organize them all in Lebanon, Tennessee. It’s like two hours from my hometown.


Maybe we could go one day, she said. It’d be good material for an essay.


For you or for me?


Our waitress walked up before she could answer, a woman just shy of too skinny with fake eyelashes and a neck tattoo of a rose peeking from her collar. Cracker Barrel waitresses tended to be either matronly older women with their netted gray hair in a bun or youngish women like this, whose heavy makeup made it impossible to tell if they were twenty-two or thirty-six and who smelled faintly of smoke from their last cigarette break. Trailer-park pretty, as Rando would say. The kind of woman that belongs on the “before” side of a “Before and After Meth” poster. It was mean-spirited, but I knew what he meant. This waitress, whose name, lucida, was stitched on the front of her brown apron below two gold stars, fit Rando’s description to a T. She had the look of someone on the precipice of ruin.


Y’all wanna get some drinks started or are you ready to order? she said.


Ummm, Alma said, blinking dazedly at the menu. Honestly, I haven’t even had a chance to look yet. I was still taking in the ambience. Oh—okay, hon, said Lucida, a hint of worry in her voice, as if she realized we would not be easy customers. Well, take it all in, she said. I’ll be back in a few minutes with waters.


Lucida walked away and I watched Alma’s eyes scan the menu.


She looked distraught.


What should I get? she said.


What kind of country food do you like?


I don’t really like country food. 

I laughed. Well, you’ve come to the wrong place.


You brought me here! she whispered, eyes popping with faux anger. I didn’t ask for this!


The stakes are low.


I don’t want to disappoint Lucida, she said, and almost immediately after, Lucida reappeared and set down our waters.


We ready? she said.


You go first, Alma said.


I ordered catfish.
(pp. 182-84 Kindle edition).

Monday, May 30, 2022

On Uvalde's gun culture

The gun culture of Uvalde, Texas is a major theme in several recent stories, including this New York Times story by Jack Healy and Natalie Kitroeff, "Debate Over Guns Unfolds in Uvalde, a Rural Texas Town in Grief." An excerpt follows: 
Living in a rural Texas town renowned for white-tailed deer hunting, where rifles are a regular prize at school raffles, Desirae Garza never thought much about gun laws. That changed after her 10-year-old niece, Amerie Jo, was fatally shot inside Robb Elementary School.

“You can’t purchase a beer, and yet you can buy an AR-15,” Ms. Garza said of the 18-year-old gunman who the authorities say legally bought two semiautomatic rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition days before killing 19 children and two teachers. “It’s too easy.”

But inside another Uvalde home, Amerie Jo’s father, Alfred Garza III, had a sharply different view. In the wake of his daughter’s killing, he said he was considering buying a holster to strap on the handgun he now leaves in his home or truck.

“Carrying it on my person is not a bad idea after all this,” he said.

An anguished soul-searching over Texas’ gun culture and permissive gun laws is unfolding across the latest community to be shattered by a shooter’s rampage.

Uvalde, a largely Mexican American city of 15,200 near the U.S. southern border, is a far different place from Parkland, Fla., or Newtown, Conn., which became centers of grass-roots gun control activism in the aftermath of the school shootings there.

Gun ownership is threaded into life here in a county that has elected conservative Democrats and twice supported former President Donald J. Trump. Several relatives of victims count themselves among Texas’ more than one million gun owners. Some grew up hunting and shooting. Others say they own multiple guns for protection.

Another piece discussing the region's gun culture is this Washington Post op-ed, by Neil Meyer, a retired lawyer who grew up in Uvalde and lived there recently, and who now lives in Bethesda, Maryland.  

[Y]ou would be challenged to find a more heavily armed place in the United States than Uvalde. It’s a town where the love of guns overwhelms any notion of common-sense regulations, and the minority White ruling class places its right-wing Republican ideology above the safety of its most vulnerable citizens — its impoverished and its children, most of whom are Hispanic.
* * *
The killer allegedly bought his guns at the Oasis Outback, a popular lunch spot for wealthier Uvaldeans, known for its large buffet, hunting supplies and gun shop. On most days you’ll also see groups of Border Patrol agents and local law enforcement there. It’s a monthly meeting place for groups such as the Uvalde County Republican Women, whose Facebook page includes posts decrying “the border invasion.”

The Oasis reflects the establishment’s deep cultural reverence for guns, hunting and the Wild West mythology. I wasn’t surprised that an 18-year-old could walk in and easily buy tactical weapons without anyone being concerned.

Finally, here's a story out of a small city south of San Antonio, Charlotte, population 1,715, about a retired high school teacher and gun owner who was moved by the Uvalde massacre to give up his AR-15.  

On Saturday night, [Richard] Small, a self-described “devout NRA Republican,” did what he acknowledges would have been unthinkable days earlier. He unlocked his gun cabinet and pulled out his AR-15, similar to the one used by the gunman in Uvalde. He drove to his local police department and turned it in.

“I’m a gun advocate. I believe in the Second Amendment. But this AR, after what I saw in Uvalde, I’m done with it,” Small said as he turned the rifle over to an officer with the Charlotte police department. “I’m sick over it.”

Guns have long been an inextricable part of Texas culture — tightly woven into small towns like Uvalde, a predominantly Latino community of about 16,000 about an hour north of the U.S. border with Mexico. Here, children are raised to hunt and shoot from a young age, and many residents — including family members of the victims — say they own guns for their own protection. It is an affinity that cuts across the partisan lines that typically define the gun debate in other parts of the country.

I wrote last week about how Uvalde's rurality sets it apart from Newtown, Connecticut, site of the only school shooting in U.S. history to take more lives than the one in south Texas last week. 

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Rural Texas not getting fair share of state bonds for water projects

Erin Douglas reports for the Texas Tribune.  Here's the subhead:

Rural Texas communities often don’t have the resources, technical experience, or ability to take on large amounts of debt to pursue state funds for water supply and quality projects. So, many simply don’t apply.

This is a familiar rural story--including here on Legal Ruralism--small towns and nonmetro counties with insufficient bandwidth and developed human capital to seek these funds--not to mention the inability to take on debt. 

Here's an excerpt:  

Rural areas of Texas receive only a fraction of a percent of bonds for state water plan projects, far less than what lawmakers intended nearly a decade ago when the program was conceived, a state report shows.

The Texas Water Development Board is entrusted with billions of state dollars to issue bonds, provide loans and disburse grants for water supply, wastewater treatment, flood control and conservation projects. One of its programs, the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, or SWIFT, issues bonds to provide low-cost loans to finance water supply projects.

But while that program has committed $9 billion to help finance projects in the state water plan since 2015, the agency has failed to meet its legislative target to provide 10% of those funds to rural communities and agricultural water conservation, according to a report by the staff of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which evaluates the performance of state agencies.

Instead, only 0.17% went to rural communities between 2016 and 2020.

The report said the agency needs to bolster outreach efforts in rural and economically disadvantaged areas of the state and better track all of its programs to understand the barriers small communities face to apply.

Rural areas with small populations struggle to apply for loans, Texas water finance experts and water managers in rural communities said, because they lack the technical expertise to submit an application. Some don’t even know the programs exist. Plus, such communities often don’t have the population base, political support or local matching funds required to take on large amounts of debt, even with low interest rates or favorable terms.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

In California, gas prices highest in rural communities

Hailey Branson-Potts reports for the Los Angeles Times, "These parts of California have the nation's highest gas prices--and residents are reeling."  Turns out "these parts" are rural.  In particular, Branson-Potts provides illustrative anecdotes from Bridgeport and Lee Vining, in Mono County (Eastern Sierra);  Weaverville and Junction City, in Trinity County (Trinity Alps/far northern California); and Blue Lake and the Yurok Reservation in Humboldt County (far north coast).  Here's an excerpt: 
This week, the five counties in California with the priciest fuel were all in its rural north: Mono, Humboldt, Del Norte, Trinity and Napa.

Mono, a county of 14,000 people where Bridgeport is located, had the most expensive gas in the U.S., according to the AAA. A gallon of regular gas cost an average $7.04 on Wednesday — nearly a dollar more than California’s statewide average of $6.07.
One Mono County resident mentioned that some are driving 45 miles to fill up in Douglas County, Nevada, where gas prices are $1.70/gallon lower.
“We’re hoping to get some relief,” said Mono County Supervisor Bob Gardner, whose constituents regularly commute 60 to 120 miles roundtrip to work, in part because of a major housing shortage.

Even in a state as vast and seemingly engineered for driving as California, the rural north can feel overwhelmingly spread out, with destinations — schools, workplaces, postal offices, hospitals, supermarkets, home supply stores — often separated by distances that would span several of Los Angeles County’s 88 cities.

These vast expanses are unkind not only to gas tanks, but also to wallets, with prices for commodities like milk and eggs higher than in more heavily populated parts of California because of the cost of trucking them there.

To cope, rural Californians have taken to rationing trips and hauling gas cans to Oregon and Nevada, where prices are cheaper. Some have resorted to stealing gas from other people’s vehicles.

The story quotes Dee Davis of the Center for Rural Strategies: 

When people are paying $6, $7, $8 a gallon for gasoline and trying to get to work, you quickly get to a point of diminishing returns.

The reality is rural economies have been struggling a long time,” forcing people to drive farther to find work. Traditional industries like farming, timbering and mining have been under intense pressure in a globalized economy ... and when we have these unplanned costs, it’s hard on everybody.

This is another excellent and deeply reported story by Branson-Potts.  It's a great explainer for anyone who wants to better understand why the cost of living in rural places is not necessarily lower than in urban ones.  The story provides concrete examples, e.g., why it makes sense to spend $100 on gas to shop at a Costco or Walmart Supercenter.  It also touches on the tribal context and how federal grants aren't stretching as far because of rising gas prices.   

Friday, May 27, 2022

A rural justification for young folks to have guns? One judge thinks so

Anita Chabria writes in today's Los Angeles Times under the headline, "Trump’s judges are coming for California’s gun laws. Can we stop them?"  The context, of course, is two recent mass murders by 18-year-old men wielding semi-automatic weapons.  These events have resurfaced the issue of whether 18 year olds should be able to buys guns at all--and whether they should be able to buy assault weapons.  California previously had on the books a law prohibiting those under 21 from buying weapons, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit struck that law as unconstitutional a few weeks ago.  

Here's the gist of Chabria's column:  

[California] may be running out of options to control AR-15s and other high-powered firearms in California, and across the nation, because conservative judges are poised to return to a Wild West era of gun rights. As in, anything goes.
* * *
The greatest threat to controlling guns in the Golden State is “extremist judges,” [California Governor Gavin] Newsom warned, even as he promised to sign a dozen new gun laws if the Legislature passes them. Without a doubt, some will end up challenged in court, in front of those Federalist Society justices, many appointed by Trump, who are intent on pulling the U.S. as far right as possible.

Newsom particularly name-checked a Trump appointee to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Ryan D. Nelson, who wrote a recent 2-1 decision that found unconstitutional California’s ban on allowing anyone under the age of 21 to have an assault weapon. My personal favorite bit of reasoning in that opinion was this justification for why teenagers have a right to semiautomatic rifles:

“Semiautomatic rifles are able to defeat modern body armor, have a much longer range than shotguns and are more effective in protecting roaming kids on large homesteads, are much more precise and capable at preventing collateral damage, and are typically easier for small young adults to use and handle.” Nelson wrote.

I'm reading the "large homesteads" as signaling farms and ranches, or rural places generally.  It reminds me of some language in an Arizona state court decision a few years ago that struck down a state law that differentiated between rural and urban places in terms of gun ownership.  Read that case here.  The most salient parts follow: 

2 Section 13-3111 prohibits "an unemancipated person who is under eighteen years of age ... [from] knowingly carry[ing] or possess[ing] ... a firearm in any place that is open to the public or on any street or highway...."[2] The statute specifically exempts, however, those who are fourteen years of age or older and engaged in certain activities, such as "lawful hunting or shooting events or marksmanship practice at established ranges."[3] When the legislature enacted § 13-3111, it made several findings. Among them, it found that
[t]he subject of minors carrying, possessing or transporting firearms is a matter of statewide concern and that state law must continue to preempt local ordinances on the subject.... [T]he state reaffirms that laws on this subject must continue to be uniform so that minors have a fair opportunity to know the rules, the act of crossing a city boundary will not inadvertently subject a minor to criminal penalties and all citizens in this state can have full confidence that they are fully protected by the same law.[4]Nevertheless, under subsection H of the statute, the legislature limited its application to "counties with populations of more than five hundred thousand persons."
* * *

The state nonetheless asserts that § 13-3111 properly focuses on Pima and Maricopa Counties because "the problems of youth gun violence are most prevalent" there. The state argues that one can "infer that higher populated counties [contain] urban areas where juvenile street gangs are more likely to exist" and thus "experience a higher rate of juvenile gun-related crime than less populated counties." The state's argument, however, rests upon an inference *983 we cannot adopt. First, the legislative findings noted above do not reasonably support such an inference. Second, although an appellate court may take judicial notice of a fact, it "must be so notoriously true as not to be subject to reasonable dispute."[14] Here, we cannot indisputably say that "juvenile street gangs are more likely to exist" in the urban areas of Pima and Maricopa Counties and that, as a result, those counties have "a higher rate of juvenile gun-related crime." And, even if we did take judicial notice of these purported facts, we cannot say § 13-3111 rationally applies to the vast rural areas of these two counties but not to the equally vast rural areas of Arizona's remaining thirteen counties.

Other posts on gun regulation in relation to rurality are here.  

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Carsey: Growing Racial Diversity in Rural America

The Carsey School of Public Policy (University of New Hampshire) has published a new brief by Kenneth Johnson and Daniel Lichter titled "Growing Racial Diversity in Rural America: Results from the 2020 Census."  Here's the abstract: 
Many rural areas have been hit hard over the past decade by globalization, a rapidly changing U.S. economy, job instability, and high unemployment. The net result has been migration losses and low fertility. As a result, only about a third of nonmetropolitan (rural) counties gained population between 2010 and 2020. The other two-thirds lost population. In some cases, the losses were modest, but nearly one in three rural counties have experienced chronic population decline. And, for the first time ever, rural America as a whole lost population between 2010 and 2020. Recent 2020 Census data revealed that nonmetropolitan counties declined by 288,000 people (or 0.6 percent) between 2010 and 2020, after growing by 3.4 percent during the previous decade. Today, there are 46 million rural residents, which is just 14 percent of the U.S. total. This is the smallest percentage of the population to reside in rural areas in U.S. history.

Though population declines were widespread, rural America became more racially and ethnically diverse over the past decade. Rural population decline occurred in tandem with growing rural diversity. As we show in this report, the growing diversity of the nonmetropolitan population reflects differential patterns of demographic change among the numerous racial and ethnic sub-groups in rural America.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Rural community and a school shooting in nonmetro south Texas

News stories out of Uvalde, Texas, where 21 (including 19 children) were killed yesterday, speak to the lack of anonymity of a small city.  Uvalde's population is 15,214, and it is the county seat of Uvalde County, population 24,564. The area is being described by the media as a ranching community, and it lies between the Mexico border and the Texas "hill country" west of San Antonio.  The town is close enough to the border that border patrol agents were among those responding.  Indeed, it was a border patrol agent who killed the shooter.  

Two of the New York Times big headlines about the shooting highlight the Uvalde as a rural place.  One is, "The deadliest U.S. school shooting in a decade shakes a rural Texas town," and another is "Chilling Details Emerge after Attack Shakes Rural Texas Town."  Lots of the coverage is noting the small-town context, in particular the "everyone knows everyone" vibe.  One example of that is here, where Paul Flahive of Texas Public Radio reports:
While Uvalde is the kind of place where people know everyone, they just sort of knew him as another classmate, one who at times was bullied for his speech impediment.

Later in this story, Flahive mentions Texas Governor Greg Abbott in relation to mental health issues the shooter may have been experiencing: 

Abbott focused a lot on the importance of mental health and providing mental health care to the community, committing to ensuring Uvalde has access to mental health care it needs now. But we should point out that he said earlier in the news conference that the gunman himself did not have a history of mental illness that they're aware of. But it is worth noting that Texas ranks last in access to mental health personnel with all the states. It's especially bad for youth and in rural areas.

One New York Times story by Jack Healy and Edgar Sandoval also highlights lack of anonymity, leading with a 4th grader named Xavier Lopez: 

Xavier’s classroom, where a nightmare erupted when a gunman burst in and killed 19 children and two teachers, reflected the close-knit character of Uvalde, a Mexican American ranching town in southern Texas where lives are braided together by generations of friendships and marriage.

There was Xavier and his elementary-school sweetheart, who was also killed in the shooting. There were cousins Jackie Cazares, who had her First Communion two weeks ago, and Annabelle Rodriguez, an honor-roll student. There was Amerie Jo Garza, a grinning 10-year-old whose father said she “talked to everybody” at recess and lunch.

On Wednesday, their deaths united Uvalde in anguish as families began to grapple with the toll of the deadliest school massacre since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., 10 years ago.

“Why? Why him? Why the kids?” Leonard Sandoval, 54, Xavier’s grandfather, said as he stood outside the family’s home, holding one of Xavier’s younger brothers by his side as relatives and friends trickled up the driveway to drop off bottled water and fried chicken.

Certainly, while the tragedy in Uvalde looks remarkably similar to that in Sandy Hook, Connecticut (part of a relatively dense metropolitan area) nearly ten years ago, the place where this elementary school shooting occurred looks very different from Newtown.   

Here's a link to a story about a rural shooting that implicated a small school in California in 2017.

Postscript:  From the New York Times midday May 26, 2022, as law enforcement delay in entering the school and stopping the gunman is being scrutinized:

The first 911 call came in at 11:30, Mr. [Victor] Escalon [Texas Dept. of Public Safety] said. It is currently unclear what the response time was, he said. But an investigation is underway. “Once we interview all those officers — what they were thinking, what they did, why they did it, the video, the residual interviews, we’ll have a better idea: Could anybody have gotten there soon?” Mr. Escalon said. “You got understand, it’s a small town.”

Also from the New York Times, on the evening of May 26, 2022, a story about one of the 10-year-old victims, Lexi Rubio:  

“We live in this really small town in this red state, and everyone keeps telling us, you know, that it’s not the time to be political, but it is — it is,” Ms. Rubio [Lexi's mother] said, her voice breaking through tears. “Don’t let this happen to anybody else.”

Postscript on May 27, 2022:  There is still more rural lack of anonymity in this piece from The New Yorker,   Here's an excerpt: 

[Two chaplains] were sent to support the funeral-home employees, who were in for a trying week. “You absorb a lot,” one of the chaplains, Abiel Hernandez, told me, particularly in a town where everyone seemed to know, or be related to, everyone else. “We’re just here to support the staff and the families. Emotional and spiritual support.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Jesus Rodriguez was back at Stripes, wearing work boots and a Trump 2020 hat. He sat with his friend, Mark Bonnet, who wore a “Duck Dynasty” cap and camo pants. Both men had spent most of their lives in Uvalde. Word had just come out that the shooter had used an AR-style rifle to kill the children and their teachers. The issue of guns is a complex one in a town that skews Republican, and the men were deep in problem-solving mode.

* * *  

“What if, if a person wants to buy” a gun, a local deer hunter said, “you have to buy it in your home town? Because people in your town know how you are.”

The whole story is worth a read.  The author is Rachel Monroe, who gets credit for capturing such a vivid vignette, touching on law enforcement, gun control and hunting.  

Sarah Huckabee Sanders wins Republican nomination for Arkansas governor with rural-focused, culture wars campaign

March 17, 2022 Tweet 
by Sarah Huckabee Sanders

Sarah Huckabee Sanders victory in the GOP primary in Arkansas isn't a rural story per se, but I'm going to blog about it here simply on the basis that Arkansas is popularly thought of a rural state.  In fact, a significant portion of the state's population do live in rural places.  (A 2008 post on Arkansas's rurality, in relation to its politics, is here).
As anticipated, Sarah Huckabee Sanders has handily secured the Republican nomination for Governor of Arkansas.  She had a $14 million dollar war chest (raised mostly from outside the state) and no serious opposition in the GOP primary.  

NPR ran a story about Sanders the afternoon before the Tuesday primary, with this commentary on her campaign strategy; Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter:  

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Everything we love about America is at stake. And with the radical left now in control of Washington, your governor is your last line of defense.

BREEN: Much of Sanders' campaign rhetoric focuses on national issues, positioning herself as a crusader against the liberal agenda, cancel culture and government overreach.

* * *  

BREEN: Unlike Trump, Sanders tends to steer clear of large campaign rallies in favor of smaller events in mainly rural, largely white communities. She also rarely gives interviews. [Political science professor Heather] Yates says that's gotten more popular with the GOP since Donald Trump. 
Speaking of smaller events in mainly rural, largely white communities, this is from May 16, 2022 in my hometown newspaper, The Newton County Times:
Newton County Times, May 18, 2022,
below the fold photo of Sarah Huckabee Sanders,
a local businessman, and the county sheriff 
Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders was spied in Jasper last Thursday along with her family. They were visiting Bubba's Buffalo River Store. Pictured with Sanders are proprietor Walter "Bubba" Lloyd and Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler. Sanders said she, her husband, Bryan, and children, Scarlett, Huck, and George were going on a scheduled float trip on the Buffalo National River arranged by the Buffalo Outdoor Center of Ponca. She said she has been to Newton County and floated the river on several occasions. Sanders served as White House Press Secretary for President Donald J. Trump from 2017 to 2019. Her father is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

The short story accompanies a large front-page photo under the headline, "Look Who's Visiting?"

Meanwhile, PBS just ran this feature about the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Chris Jones, a 7th generation Arkansan, an ordained minister and physicist with degrees from Morehouse College and MIT.  Jones has committed to a "walk a mile in your shoes" campaign, in which he'll walk a mile in each of Arkansas's 75 counties.  He has already visited each county once--well, he has at least driven through each county once.  It's got to be hard for an African American like Jones to go into an all-white county like my home county to campaign, but I'm pleased he's committed to doing so.  Here's a photo of him passing through the county, which he posted on Earth Day.  Not sure when he was actually there.  

Monday, May 23, 2022

Dine (Navajo) woman confirmed as first Native American federal judge in California

Indian Country Today reports on the confirmation of Sunshine Suzanne Sykes as only the 7th Native American ever seated as a federal judge--and the first in California.  She will serve in California's Central District, which includes the state's "Inland Empire," east of Los Angeles and San Diego counties.  She is a graduate of Stanford University (1997) and Stanford Law School (2001).  Sykes previously served on the Riverside County Superior Court, part of the California Judicial System.  Before that, she worked for California Indian Legal Services.   She is a native of Tuba City, Arizona, and the first Navajo/Dine member to rise to the federal bench.  

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Coronavirus sent many urban Filipinos heading home to the hinterlands

Sammy Westfall reports for the New York Times from Leyte, the Philippines under the headline, "Rural Philippines, Long Neglected, Newly Appealing in Covid Times."  The subhead is:  "The economic disparity of the nation’s rural and urban areas is a problem of long standing. Will the lessons of the pandemic finally lead to change?" 

An excerpt follows, featuring the story of 50-year-old Marlen Zilmar:  
Since the 1970s, the era of Ferdinand E. Marcos’s dictatorship, every Philippine leader has encouraged rural development, in an attempt to alleviate overcrowding in Metro Manila, the dense patchwork of 16 cities that make up the Philippines’ urban core. His son, Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., known as Bongbong, recently elected as the nation’s next president, echoed a similar theme in his campaign, invoking his father’s legacy.

Despite the many government efforts, the percentage of urban dwellers has generally risen as the nation has grown. Less than a third of the population was urban in 1970; 47 percent live in urban areas today. Metro Manila had less than four million residents in 1970; it has over 13 million today.

Despite the many government efforts, the percentage of urban dwellers has generally risen as the nation has grown. Less than a third of the population was urban in 1970; 47 percent live in urban areas today. Metro Manila had less than four million residents in 1970; it has over 13 million today.

* * *

Over the decades, the government had devised programs to encourage people, especially informal settlers, to move to rural areas. Ms. Zilmar nabbed a slot in a pilot phase of the latest version, introduced after Covid-19 took hold and signed into law in May 2020 by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Participants in the program, titled “Return to the Province, New Hope,” got start-up cash, livelihood training, relocation assistance and subsidies, and a one-way bus or plane ticket as part of the project’s resettlement effort. Ms. Zilmar also got some seeds; others received a pair of piglets.

A recent Wall Street Journal story on this pandemic trend of migration to rural places, with a focus on older folks/retirees, is here

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Fetterman's 67-county campaign pays off in Pennsylvania Democratic primary for Senate

This week, Lt. Governor John Fetterman carried every Pennsylvania county--all 67 of them--in his race for the Democratic nomination for the state's U.S. Senate seat.  Importantly, Fetterman also visited every county as part of his campaign, declaring no place to red to visit.  His campaign slogan was "Every County.  Every Vote."  

On a single Saturday earlier in May, for example, Fetterman and his wife Giselle visited five counties in the state's so-called "rural T," all in the north central part of the state.  When Fetterman was hospitalized with a stroke the Friday before Tuesday's primary, he was campaigning in Lancaster, in the southeastern part of the state.  

Here's what the county-level election map looked like: 

Indeed, Fetterman's campaign for Senate was the second time Fetterman had done the 67-county tour.  He also visited each county after he became Lt. Governor, when he did a sort of listening tour.  At that time, Fetterman learned just how popular the legalization of marijuana is in the Keystone State, leading him to make that part of his campaign platform.

Fetterman's principal opponents were U.S. Congressman Conor Lamb from Pittsburgh and State Senate Malcolm Kenyatta from Philadelphia.  

Friday, May 20, 2022

Central Pennsylvania town offers incentives for remote workers to locate there

Jason Nark reports for the Philadelphia Inquirer from Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, in Centre County, "Two towns in rural Pa. are giving remote workers free housing for a month, in the hopes they’ll stay longer." Here's an excerpt: 
Last month, the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship launched a program called “The Wilds Are Working: A Remote Lifestyle Experience,” with the goal of luring remote workers such as Beal to rural corners of the state. Bellefonte, a town of 6,276 about 10 miles north of Penn State, and Kane, a McKean County town of 3,500 on the edge of the Allegheny National Forest, were chosen as the pilots for the program.

Rural “Zoom towns” across the country have launched similar programs, some of them giving workers $10,000 to relocate there for one year.
* * *
The Pennsylvania Wilds is made up of a portion of Centre County and 12 other rural counties in northern Pennsylvania, west of Harrisburg. Although the region has been an outdoors destination for camping, hiking, fishing, and hunting for centuries.
* * *
In the early months of the pandemic, when the outdoors seemed to be the only safe space, buzz about the Wilds region grew.

* * *

Some who left the cities got a quick lesson in rural America’s biggest drawback — poor Internet service — but that’s a cause that’s gotten rare bipartisan attention from every elected state and federal official between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

One Country's "Hot Dish" podcast takes up the issue of how to define "rural"

In this May 17 episode of the Hot Dish Podcast, Senator Heidi Heitkamp sits down with Dr. Glenda Humiston, President of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of California along with Rob Larew, President of the National Farmers Union. Together, they discuss lack of access to federal programs for those in rural areas, and the need to rethink notions of “urban” and “rural.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

How one rural Colorado high school is beating the odds to get more students into higher education

Jason Gonzales reports for Chalkbeat Colorado/Colorado Sun from Fowler, Colorado, population 1,253, in the state's eastern plains. Acknowledging the pattern of low college-going rates among rural students, Gonzales explains how Fowler is beating the odds.  He features two sisters, Ryanna and Shaelea Pruett, who've grown up raising cattle.  Here are some excerpts:  

The Fowler High School graduates know the ideal build for a bull and how to bottle-raise a calf. The sisters could try to make a living on their family ranch tucked between Manzanola and Fowler on Colorado’s southeastern plains.

Instead, their father Dane Pruett Jr. stressed college from an early age. He worked hard labor jobs at a cannery, steel mill, and farms throughout his life, but wanted his daughters to find work that would provide them flexibility and financial stability and wouldn’t tax their bodies.

“He wants a more comfortable life for us,” said Shaelea Pruett, 20, who graduated from Otero College and will attend Colorado State University Pueblo in the fall.

Shaelea Pruett wants to be a large-animal veterinarian, a high-growth field as an older generation retires. Her younger sister, Ryanna Pruett, 18, is studying at Otero College and plans to be an agricultural sciences teacher, preparing the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

Fewer than half of rural Colorado’s high school graduates go to college, a rate that’s about five percentage points below the state average.

The reasons are complex. College can feel far away, geographically and culturally. Colleges sometimes haven’t done enough to make degrees feel relevant to the interests and experiences of rural Coloradans. The cost can deter students unsure if college will improve their earnings. College recruiters don’t often stop at rural high schools.
Fowler fosters a college culture

Tiny Fowler, with its lone high school of about 110 students, shows how rural communities can use a partnership among educators, parents, and the broader community to foster the idea that college degrees will contribute to success — whether graduates return to Fowler or move to a bigger city.

* * * 

Agriculture dominates in Fowler, a community of about 1,150 residents, with farms and ranches dotting the valley on either side of the Arkansas River. Just up the road, the Crowley County Correctional Facility provides some jobs. In town, residents can work at the bank or the market. Those jobs don’t necessarily require employees to have degrees.

Yet, college has been a way of life in Fowler for generations. Residents aren’t sure when college became a priority, although some say it’s likely due to early settlers in the late 1800s who sent their children to college to become teachers or business owners.

What’s clear is the college-going culture has persisted. In 1916, Mathias Hermes created a scholarship trust to help Fowler students cover living expenses while at college. More than a century later it still provides about $100 a month to two scholarship recipients.