Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Mary Peltola digging in for (rural) Alaska

NPR reported yesterday afternoon on her campaign and, implicitly or explicitly, its Alaska Native and rural orientation.  Here's an excerpt: 
Alaskans will learn tomorrow whether they've elected former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin to the U.S. House. They voted in an August 16 special election to fill the state's lone House seat for a partial term. The initial results have Palin trailing a little-known Democrat, Mary Peltola. If she wins, Peltola would be the first Alaska Native ever elected to Congress. Alaska Public Media's Liz Ruskin reports from Peltola's hometown of Bethel.

LIZ RUSKIN, BYLINE: Mary Peltola can't wait to get on the river. The wind and rain have let up. The tide is favorable. She's throwing things into her open aluminum boat - buckets, an anchor, waterproof gloves.

MARY PELTOLA: Everybody has a float coat?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: If by float coat you mean life jacket.


RUSKIN: Bethel is a town of 6,000 on the Kuskokwim Delta, upriver from the Bering Sea. Most people here are Indigenous - Yup'ik, like Peltola. She's pulled salmon from this river since she was a child. But for this fishing trip, she has a camera crew with her because, whatever the outcome of the special election, Peltola will also be on the ballot in November. She needs footage of her fishing for TV ads. It's cumbersome.
* * *
RUSKIN: There's a more serious problem with this fishing trip - there are no fish. It's a tragedy beyond words for this region. Protecting salmon is a major campaign theme.

RUSKIN: Mary Peltola is 48. She's the daughter of a Yup'ik mom and a dad from Nebraska who went north to teach school. As she drives her skiff through the braided Kuskokwim, she points out the bank where her great grandparents lived and, on the other side, where her mother was born.

PELTOLA: Yeah, this is kind of the center of my universe just because my uncles taught me exactly where to put the net to get certain kinds of fish.
* * * 
RUSKIN: At age 24, Peltola ran for State House and beat an incumbent. She stayed in office a decade, overlapping with then-Governor Sarah Palin. They bonded in the state capital as two pregnant moms in office. Palin didn't respond to interview requests. She vilifies Democrats in general, but recently called Peltola a sweetheart. Peltola isn't badmouthing Palin either.

PELTOLA: Oh, yeah.

RUSKIN: Oh, I've seen the photos.

PELTOLA: Yeah, no. Yeah, I think she's great.

RUSKIN: In the legislature, Peltola was known for uncommon kindness.

ANDREW HALCRO: She was never bitter. She was never angry. She was never partisan.

RUSKIN: Andrew Halcro and Peltola were freshman legislators in 1999. The Anchorage Republican ignited fury with a speech that he now regrets, saying bush residents were like children who don't learn to tie their laces because the state keeps sending Velcro shoes. A lot of Alaskans wrote Halcro off as a racist. But within hours, he says, Peltola was at his office door asking if she could offer a different perspective on the rural energy subsidy he derided. Halcro became an ally.

HALCRO: I think with Mary Peltola, you should never, ever misconstrue kindness for somebody who's not going to stand up for what she believes in.

RUSKIN: Peltola says yelling isn't productive - and not her style.

PELTOLA: The region where I'm from - there is a big premium on being respectful, on not using inflammatory language or harsh tones.

RUSKIN: Peltola says she once diffused an urban Republican legislator just by pointing out that he, decades her senior, had a longer tenure in Alaska than she did. They got on well after that. To her, that's effective politics.

An earlier post about Peltola's race is here.   And lots of posts about Alaska, including Bethel, are here.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Reporting from Demstock ("all things Democrat") in rural Pennsylvania

Here's an excerpt from the story by Jon Moss of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, dateline Frenchcreek Township, population 1,412 in Venango County, population 54,984.
Paul Woodburne and his fellow rural Democrats sometimes feel disconnected from their political party while living in deeply Republican areas, worrying about nabbed signs and lost friendships.

That’s why Mr. Woodburne and hundreds of others from across rural northwest Pennsylvania camped out at the Venango County Fairgrounds this weekend for Demstock — an annual convention of sorts billing itself as “all things Democrat.”

“If you’re isolated, you don’t realize what power you have,” said Mr. Woodburne, who leads the Clarion County Democrats. “We’re marginal, but sometimes the margins are what drive the elections.”
* * *

A trio of women strummed ukuleles outside the main hall, playing Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin,'” as attendees ranging from State House candidates to the state party chairman, State Sen. Sharif Street of Philadelphia, chatted up attendees.
* * *
Mr. Woodburne said a key takeaway from the event was that rural Democrats aren’t alone and together can flex their electoral muscle.

“They know and we know our votes are very important,” he said.
* * *
“Providing organizational spaces in which folks – who are in the minority within their own counties, but having had shared experiences and shared values and visions – can sort of find each other and network across those spaces has been really important,” said "Laura Putnam, a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied grass roots politics]. “Demstock is an example and sort of an outcome of that.”
Ms. Putnam added that Democrats must campaign in all parts of the state to win, and sees the current candidates not repeating what she described as mistakes made in previous election years. She said some party strategists had made a “false diagnosis” by solely focusing on voters in big cities and their surrounding suburbs, while Republicans racked up ever-larger vote margins in rural areas.

The website for Demstock is here.  Needless to say, I think the decision to associate with rural Pennsylvania was brilliant.  A description from the Demstock website follows: 

Simply put, Demstock is like your local county fair except it is all things Democrat! Camp out for the weekend with Democrats from across Pennsylvania, enjoy an evening bonfire with your congressional candidates, throw a few rounds of cornhole, and then check out The Big Dipper through a telescope once the stars come out. Have breakfast with some hard-working Democratic County Commissioners, then, drink a locally sourced craft brew while you meet with advocates from groups on the front lines fighting for the issues we care about the most. Snap a picture in our photo booth and share it, (maybe use #Demstock too) listen to some live music from a local musician, and try to win a basket at our silent auction. Browse the Demorabilia from campaigns past which have been carefully curated by PA’s most dedicated collectors. Take a selfie with Senator Casey, eat dinner with your new Democratic friends, and hear remarks from Pennsylvania’s most respected lawmakers. Demstock is the biggest rural Democratic festival in the country and you don’t want to miss it!

Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by about a million voters, but that margin is down sharply in recent decades.  Some of my writing about Democrats in Pennsylvania (especially John Fetterman) is here and here.  

Monday, August 29, 2022

A week at a rural food delivery site

A few weeks ago, I spent several days in Crescent City, California (population 6,673) as part of a service project with an organization called Sierra Service Project.  

My assignment (and that of the Sacramento youth I was working with) was to help paint the exterior of the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods, which is centrally located in the small, coastal city.  

The school district truck arrived at about 9:45 each morning to 
drop off several coolers full of bagged, single-serve meals

When we arrived late morning on Tuesday August 9, the building was thrumming with activity, mostly thanks to it being a summer food distribution center.  Cars were pulling up, kids or parents jumping out, and coming to collect individual bags of food--typically some milk, an apple or some apple sauce, some source of protein like a PBJ sandwich or a slider-size sandwich with ham and cheese.  

That morning, I watched as a pair of kids showed up on foot asking, "can we have ten?"  Another, hopping out of his parent's car asked, "Do you have six?"  No one was turned away, and all, including adults who came to the table, were given as many as they requested.  Indeed, we were there on the last day of the summer meal program, August 12, when the man delivering the lunches (apparently prepared by the school district and delivered in a school district truck) instructed the women doing the distribution, "we don't want any of these back."  So they gave two lunches for every one anyone requested.  On prior days, extras were put in the refrigerator at the center so they could be handed out to late comers or on subsequent days if the supply of about 100-120 a day ran short.  

The whole operation was very positive. Indeed, everything going on the Resources Center was positive, and I hope to write another post about the facilities and services, including a food pantry, at a later date.  For now, I'm just going to include this photo of new backpacks the center was preparing to distribute the next week. 

Meanwhile, I was reminded of my time hanging out at the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods this past week when I saw this NBC story out of Missouri about that state's decision not to allow "grab and go" delivery of the summer lunches. Instead, the state requires students to sit at the distribution center to eat the meals.  Missouri is the only state to make this decision.  In the past few years, "non-congregate feeding" had been allowed because of the pandemic.  

According to Sarah Walker, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ bureau chief of community food and nutrition assistance, "making sure to-go meals were going to the right place was another concern."

It’s very difficult to maintain program integrity when the program is not operating under normal circumstances. If the children aren’t there, you can’t always guarantee those kids are the ones getting the meals — as opposed to sitting on-site eating, you can assure that it’s the child themselves getting the meal.
Vehicles coming and going
from the Resource Center
to collect free grab-and-go lunches

And here's some information from the story on the impact that Missouri decision has had across the state, including in rural-ish places like Neosho (population 12,590)and Nevada (population 8,212):

At the Tri-State Family YMCA in Neosho, staff distributed about 9,800 meals a week last summer. That fell to just over 300 a week, a 97% drop, without the waiver extension, CEO Benjamin Coffey said.

Osage Prairie YMCA in Nevada, Missouri, went from serving 2,400 kids a week last summer to about 200 kids a week, a nearly 92% drop, CEO Jeffrey Snyder said. The drop in meals is even steeper, he said, because last summer, families received multiple grab-and-go meals at once.

These numbers likely reflect a lack of access to meals among families, not a lack of need, anti-hunger advocates say, warning that Missouri is a case study in what could happen for the rest of the country next summer.

The No Kid Hungry campaign estimates that before the pandemic, 6 out of 7 kids who may have needed summer meals were not getting them, said Lisa Davis, a senior vice president of the program at Share Our Strength, a nonprofit organization working to end hunger and poverty.

On a related note, here's a 2014 post about the creative means being used to feed rural Kentucky kids, given that they are scattered across the countryside.  And that reminds me that we saw a number of food distribution locations around Crescent City, including one at the middle school that was a relatively short distance from the Family Resource Center.  Bottom line:  no kid in Crescent City had to walk too far to get lunch this summer--and all could take them home to eat.  That's surely a good thing, though I suspect kids living in outlying areas of the county, like Gasquet, Klamath and Smith River, may not have had such easy access, though lunches were being distributed in those farther flung parts of Del Norte County, too. 

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Is a power line from rural Wyoming to Los Angeles a prototype for transforming energy production and delivery in the West?

Sammy Roth writes for the Los Angeles Times as part of the "Repowering the West" series, "This power line could save California — and forever change the American West." Here, I'm highlighting just some parts of the story that feature the rural-urban conflict--or, one could say, the opportunity for rural-urban collaboration.  The focus of the story is a wind farm in rural Wyoming that will supply power to California, via a network of power lines through other parts of rural Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.
More than 800 miles from Los Angeles — on ranchland littered with so much cow dung it’s hard not to step in it — the pastel-green hills are studded with wind giants. They dominate the scruffy sagebrush landscape, hundreds of them, framing the snow-streaked heights of Elk Mountain and casting dramatic shadows as gray clouds threaten to overtake a brilliant blue sky.

Before wind energy took off, there wasn’t much going on in this corner of Wyoming cattle country, says Laine Anderson, director of wind operations at PacifiCorp, the company owned by billionaire investor Warren Buffett that built these turbines.
* * * 
Wyoming’s half-million residents don’t need all that energy. California’s 40 million residents do. So Anschutz is getting ready to construct a 732-mile power line across Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Nevada, to ship electricity to the Golden State.

It’s an audacious plan — and a harbinger of what’s coming for communities across the West.

To see what the future might look like, Los Angeles Times journalists visited Anschutz’s sprawling wind farm construction site, then traveled the planned route of his electric line. We talked with the project’s fiercest supporters and harshest critics.

Along the way, we came to realize the West’s great cities have a choice. They can open themselves up to hard conversations with small-town residents, ranchers, Native American tribes and wildlife advocates, and do their best to find common ground. Or they can try to steamroll whoever gets in their way.
* * * 
Nobody would dare stick wind turbines or solar farms on the rims of the Grand Canyon, or on the floor of Yosemite Valley. National parks and wilderness are the West’s sacred spaces, protected by law and culture and an unmistakable aura of mystique.

Farms and ranchland are another story. To city slickers, they might seem like the perfect places to put renewable energy — sun-swept fields and windy plains degraded by pesticide use and overgrazing, practically crying out for a second economic life.

But there are two problems.

First, many rural Westerners see clean energy infrastructure as a threat to the lifestyles and mythologies they hold dear — at least in part because they associate it with Blue America and the Green New Deal. And second, plenty of farms and ranches are owned by wealthy investors — people with the time and money to fight renewable energy projects they don’t like.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

NPR reports on how rural stores are surviving these days

Stephan Bisaha reports for NPR from Kewanee, Mississippi, on the Alabama state line in Lauderdale County, population 80,000.  Here's an excerpt: 
STEPHAN BISAHA, BYLINE: The Simmons-Wright Company store in Kewanee, Miss., has two floors filled with baskets of cotton, cast-iron skillets and Mississippi-shaped magnets. And with inflation squeezing customer wallets, sales are down for nearly all of it.
* * * 
BISAHA: Even before dollar stores, there was Walmart, and many country stores had to shut down. Those that did survive have been the ones able to adapt with the times. Pickett expanded his restaurant business by delivering burgers to a truck line across the border in Alabama. But even the food side of Pickett's business is feeling the sting of this high inflation that we haven't seen in 40 years.

PICKETT: Well, the beef and the meat has almost doubled in price. And we've gone up just a little bit. We hadn't gone up the percentage we need to go up. I know we're going to have to go up. We just don't want to run everybody off, regular customers.

BISAHA: Other country store owners say the same thing. They're raising prices as little as they can because they're based in poor communities that just can't afford it. Before, Pickett wouldn't mind throwing some extra fries into the meals. But now, to keep prices down, Pickett's team measures everything. Even the hamburger patties get weighed before cooking. Yet concern about a possible recession means long-term survival could require more drastic changes. One idea he's considering is leaning into the store's nostalgia and making the place an event venue.

PICKETT: Like a wedding on the weekend - if you let them rent the cotton gin for a photo shoot and have a wedding up there, it'd be 10,000 bucks, you know, or more.

BISAHA: Country-like nostalgia is already a big part of the business. The old nutcrackers and antique soda bottles might not sell, but they draw in customers like 75-year-old Lewis Hankins (ph). He made the short drive here from Alabama, and he can't stop playing show and tell with the rusted farm equipment he pulls from the shelves.

Other posts about country stores are here and here, and one touching on rural nostalgia linked to farm instruments and other old paraphernalia is here.   Also, don't forget there was a country store in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the subject of this post

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Washington Post on Beto O'Rourke's forays into hostile, rural territory

The latest coverage of O'Rourke's effort to cultivate the rural vote in his run for Governor of Texas is by Jada Yuan in the Washington Post,"Beto O'Rourke's risky quest for votes in deep-red Texas."  Here are some excerpts, with a focus on issues barely touched on--or ignored altogether--in prior coverage:  

Could a victory for Beto lie not in liberal cities such as Austin or Houston but in spending these last precious three months of the campaign driving his Toyota Tundra to the least populous, most Republican parts of the state, mining for untapped votes?

“I mean, there’s a reason to do this,” Beto says in Spearman, sweating through his white button-down. Having been married for 17 years, Beto often says, he knows no two people agree on everything, but he’s hoping people around here might at least like his plans to repair Texas’s power grid or to pay teachers more.

If nothing else, maybe they’ll respect that he came.
“I understand that if we’re only interested in those who are already with us, we’ll never get there,” he says, “We’ll end up in the same place every Democrat has for the last 28 years.” That’s how long it’s been since Texas had a Democrat as governor, when Ann Richards held the job.
* * *
In these rural areas, Beto is essentially drilling for oil. “There are a lot of votes out there,” Beto says. “There are 7 million people who didn’t cast a ballot who were eligible in 2020.” There are the first-time voters and the Democrats who need an extra push to vote in the midterms and the people who don’t stick to party lines. “I would say they are persuadable,” he says.
* * *
And then there are the votes no political scientist could tell him how to find. In Dumas, a Panhandle city that’s 55 percent Hispanic, truck driver Pablo Campos tells Beto he woke up at 3:30 a.m. so he could complete half his work shift and have enough time to go to the town hall gathering during his break. There, Mary Jane Garcia, 47, a devout Catholic, stood up to talk about the “spontaneous abortion” that saved her life when she miscarried at 17, and how scared she is that her daughters might be denied that medical care.
Over in Quanah, a city of 2,272, Darby Sparkman, 23, was astounded to see 64 people at Beto’s town hall meeting, since she’s an election worker and “like 10 people vote Democrat.” Edith Aguirre, 26, was among the nearly 200 people who showed up in Bowie, a growing city of 5,534 in verdant North Texas, where the radio stations veer from country to worship to worship country. She was brought here as a child from Mexico so her father could work in the oil fields. She’s not a citizen and can’t vote but brought her sister, Ashley, who turns 18 this year. They wept while talking about how Ashley will be the first voter in her family.
* * *
If deeply conservative places like Spearman are his path to victory, though, it’s going to be a bumpy road.

Beto is holding his town hall gathering in a park. According to Beto’s press director, Chris Evans, the owner of the restaurant they originally booked called and explained that his staff might have signed off, but he was not okay with it.

By the time Beto arrives, people in MAGA and NRA hats, carrying “Pro-life” and “Build the Wall” signs or wearing “Team Jesus” T-shirts make up three-quarters of the 70-person crowd. Beto’s staff has invited them to join the town hall meeting in the shade.
As a related matter, don't miss Jon Mark Hogg's column in the San Angelo newspaper today, where he writes under the headline, "What we have lost in Texas politics":
Whether you like or vote for Beto O’Rourke or not, his campaign has sparked a political memory among the people of Texas. He reminds us of a time when candidates for Governor barnstormed into every nook and cranny of our state, spoke with and listened to anyone who wanted to talk about what they as persons were facing. There was a time that was expected of every candidate. That is something we have lost.

These are some of the issues, e.g., margins among rural voters, the way candidates used to show up, that I touched on in my recent Politico piece analyzing John Fetterman's quest for Pennsylvania's rural vote.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

California warns farmers and ranchers to stop diverting water as thousands of fish in Klamath River die

The Associated Press reports, dateline Happy Camp, California, population 905.  

California has warned a group of farmers and ranchers near the Oregon state line to stop diverting water from an area already wracked by extreme drought and a wildfire that killed tens of thousands of fish.

The State Water Resources Control Board issued a draft cease-and-desist order Friday to the Shasta Water Assn., warning it to stop taking water from the Shasta River watershed.

The association has 20 days to request a hearing or the order becomes final and could subject the organization to fines of up to $10,000 a day, according to the state water agency.

* * * 

Since last year, the state agency has curtailed water use in the watershed in order to keep water flowing in the Shasta River, a main tributary of the Klamath River and a nursery for a fragile and federally protected salmon species.

Prior posts about the Klamath River basin are here.  The pieces most closely related to today's news are these.   

Monday, August 22, 2022

An update on the proposed closure of prison in rural California

Hailey Branson-Potts brought us an update this weekend in the Los Angeles Times on the fate of a prison in Susanville, California, population 16,278, which was slated for closure more than a year ago.  The town of Susanville responded by suing to keep the prison open, arguing that they'd face economic devastation if they lose some 1000 prison jobs.  A Lassen County judge issued a temporary restraining order to stop the closure.  Here's an excerpt from Saturday's LA Times story: 

As the outside world debates the future of the prison, the men incarcerated there say their voices must be heard.

This summer, prisoners tried to file an amicus brief in support of the closure, detailing problems in the facility.

An amicus brief filed last year by Service Employees International Union Local 1000, which represents prison employees, argues that if the facility were to close, workers “risk losing their livelihoods and will be forced to upend their lives and families, decimating their community in the process.”

The lawsuit — with a mostly white town arguing that its survival depends on the incarceration of mostly Black and Latino men — has “this kind of gross, unseemly character,” said Shakeer Rahman, a Los Angeles-based attorney who represented inmates who signed the amicus brief.

“The court is deciding whether a form of bondage, a form of cruelty, is going to continue based on the personal financial benefits of the people around the prison,” Rahman said. “At every single turn, the judge and the city have silenced the voices of our clients in order to keep marching on in this decision making that treats them as a source of revenue.”

The inmates are not challenging their convictions, Rahman noted; they simply want to report dangerous conditions that justify the prison’s closure.

The case in rural Lassen County could foreshadow conflicts to come as California’s inmate population declines and other prisons are considered for closure.

Earlier posts about the proposed closure are here and here, and embedded in them are links to  earlier posts about Susanville, like the ones here and here.   Here's one about the threat of last summer's Dixie fire to the Susanville prisons. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Another rural vote story, this one by The Economist, out of Maine

Here's the lede for the Lexington column, titled "Democrats are wrong to give up on rural America.
Maine’s 1.3m citizens are divided into just two congressional districts. The first is small, since half of Mainers live along the coast around Portland, a fizzy entrepot of lobster-and-scallop mousse and vegan doughnuts. But the second district, which stretches north to Canada, is vast, as big as Ireland. Its forests of pine and birch are so thinly settled that it counts as the second-most-rural district in America. Its people are whiter, older and poorer than Americans in general. The district tells the story of how Democrats lost their appeal to rural and working-class Americans, and with it at times majorities in Congress to match the party’s consistent majorities in the national vote.

It also suggests how the Democrats might recover. Because whereas Donald Trump twice won the district easily in presidential elections, it has been represented in Congress for two terms by a Democrat, Jared Golden. Only seven Democrats represent districts won by Mr Trump, and none is more Trump-loving than Mr Golden’s, according to the Cook Political Report, a non-partisan newsletter.

Friday, August 19, 2022

New York Times finally covering Beto O'Rourke's tour of rural Texas

Beto O'Rourke, Democratic candidate for Governor of Texas, began a "Drive for Texas" a few weeks ago, in which he is visiting 65 counties in 49 days.  I've written about it here, and mentioned it here and here.  Now, J. David Goodman is reporting on his rural outreach for the New York Times, in a story headlined, "In Deep Red Texas, Beto O’Rourke Takes on Guns and Abortion."  (To be honest, the story is not that much about guns and abortion, but never mind).  Here's an excerpt highlighting the rural nature of many of the places O'Rourke is visiting.  
Locked in a race against Gov. Greg Abbott that has grown unexpectedly close, Mr. O’Rourke has been venturing into deeply conservative corners of rural Texas, sparking confrontations and conversations between Democrats and Republicans who may rarely speak with each other about politics, even if they cross paths every day in the local grocery store or at church.

“This is refreshing to see people like me — there’s probably five Democrats in the county,” said John Wade, 73, a retired Methodist elder who came to see Mr. O’Rourke in Bowie, Texas, where nearly 90 percent of voters chose Donald J. Trump in 2020.

At five recent town hall-style gatherings across the deep red rural northeast of Texas, Mr. O’Rourke invited protesters inside for a break from the oppressive heat, answered questions from supporters of Mr. Abbott and took pains to direct his attacks against the governor, not Republicans in general.

Not featured in these excerpts, but also in the story are vignettes that illustrate the lack of anonymity that marks rural communities.  (See the opening paragraphs, for example).   

Oh, and by the way, the story's dateline is Whitesboro, population 3,793, in metropolitan Grayson County (seat Sherman). Also mentioned in Goodman's story is Bowie, population 5,218, in neighboring Montague County, population 19,965.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Native Alaskan at top of field for U.S. Congressional seat for Alaska, but has anyone noticed she's rural

The New York Times reports on the surprising strength of the candidacy of Mary Peltola, the Democrat leading the race to replace Don Young (R), who was the state's only congressperson when he died in March.  While the Times and other outlets are talking about Peltola's identity as Alaska native (Yup'ik), the paper did not mention that she is from Alaska's quintessential rural place, Bethel.  (Other posts about Bethel are here, here, here, here, here, and here). I found that detail in the coverage of the Anchorage Daily News.  The Times notes that 15% of Alaska voters are Alaska native, and further reported these details of the election:   
Ms. Peltola, 48, took 37.8 percent of the vote in the special election to fill Alaska’s lone congressional seat through January, putting her more than five percentage points ahead of Ms. Palin, the state’s former governor and 2008 vice-presidential Republican nominee. Ms. Peltola was also leading Ms. Palin by nearly four percentage votes in the primary race to fill that seat beyond 2023.

A win in the special election could provide a major boost in name recognition and momentum for Ms. Peltola, who has quickly risen to prominence since placing fourth in a June special election primary. On Tuesday, Ms. Peltola mingled with supporters at an Anchorage brewery as the results rolled in.

“It’s just really overwhelming to see the kind of support that I’m getting,” she said. “I am hopeful.”

* * * 

Ms. Peltola...has strongly championed abortion rights, called for higher taxes on the wealthy and has sought an approach to development of Alaska’s resources focused on sustaining communities over corporate interests. As a Yup’ik woman, she has said a “pro-family ethic” shapes her identity.

And in the strange bedfellows department: 

[I]nfighting [among Republicans] appeared to give Ms. Peltola an edge as she campaigned on bipartisanship and healing divisions.

She and Ms. Palin have had a warm relationship since the two were expectant young mothers when Ms. Palin was governor and Ms. Peltola was still serving in the State Legislature. At a candidate forum hosted by The Anchorage Daily News, Ms. Palin even pointed to Ms. Peltola when asked whom she would rank second on the ballot. On Tuesday, Ms. Peltola said Ms. Palin had texted her that morning to wish her well and remind her to dress warmly.

From the Anchorage Daily News is this bit of analysis regarding the election to fill the seat starting in January, which Peltola also leads: 

John-Henry Heckendorn, a political consultant who runs Ship Creek Group, which has advised Peltola’s campaign, said the results are particularly encouraging for the Democrat’s campaign. Rural Alaskans and progressives — two groups that are likely to favor Peltola — have higher turnout in the November election. And Peltola has had less money to spend on getting her name out there, meaning that there are still many voters who aren’t familiar with her, he said.

* * * 

Peltola worked on fishery and food security policy in rural Alaska before announcing her congressional run; her campaign ads tout her as the only candidate in the race who is not a millionaire.

Here is the coverage by Indian Country Today.  

A study of urban evictions, which may have implications for rural places

Here's the abstract for the paper, Longer Trips to Court Cause More Evictions, by two University of Pennsylvania professors:  
Studying ~200,000 evictions filed against ~300,000 Philadelphians from 2005 through 2021, we focus on the role of transit to court in preventing tenants from asserting their rights. Over the time period, nearly 40% of all tenants were forced to leave their residences because they didn't show up to contest cases against them. An important driver of that result is easy access to the courthouse. Controlling for a variety of potential confounds at the tenant and landlord level, residents of private tenancies with longer mass transit travel time to the courthouse are more likely to default. A one hour increase in estimated travel time increases the probability of default by between 3.9 to 8.6 percentage points across different model specifications. The effect holds within landlords, when controlling for the direct distance to court and even weekend travel time. However, it is absent in public housing evictions, where timing rules are significantly laxer, and during Covid-19, when tenants had the opportunity to be present virtually. We estimate that had all tenants been equally able to get to court in 10 minutes or less, there would have been 4,000 to 9,000 fewer default evictions over the sample period. These results open up a new way to study physical determinants of access to justice, illustrating that where a courthouse is located---and its relationship to urban transit---can affect individual case outcomes. We consequently suggest that increased use of video technology in court may reduce barriers to justice.

The  authors don't talk about the implications for rural renters, where distances to court are almost always going to be greater, but it's hard for me to imagine that there aren't some.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Why higher pay for forestry work would hurt rural communities

The headline for this Dale Kasler & Ryan Sabalow story caught my eye because of the rural angle, "Unions want higher pay on California forestry work. Here’s why rural counties are worried."  Here's the rural scoop: 

As California scrambles to reduce wildfire hazards by thinning its overgrown forests, rural government officials and forestry lobbyists are making a last-ditch effort to kill legislation that would mandate hefty pay hikes under the state’s “prevailing wage” laws for the workers wielding chainsaws and heavy equipment in the woods. 

In other words, higher pay means fewer acres cleared in the context of a fixed budget, and that's bad for rural places, who are under greatest threat from wildfire.   

Assembly Bill 1717, authored by Yolo County Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, has the support of influential labor unions looking to grow their ranks and get their dues-payers a bigger share of the massive amounts of state and federal money that’s going to be spent on forestry projects in the coming years.

The unions usually get their way in a Legislature ruled by Democrats, but opponents of the bill are urging lawmakers to buck unions just this once. They say the bill would put California’s forested communities at risk by jacking up costs, which would dramatically reduce the number of acres that are in desperate need of thinning.
“If this bill passes, it will necessarily shrink the dollars that are going into the projects,” said Staci Heaton, senior policy advocate for Rural County Representatives of California.

* * * 


The exact wages for forest-thinning projects would vary by job description and the local cost of living.

 The Department of Industrial Relations would set the pay scales. But it’s clear the pay hikes would be significant. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says logging-equipment operators were paid an average of under $27 an hour in California last year. Cremins [who leads the California-Nevada Operating Engineers, the bill's chief sponsor] said the same equipment operators would earn about $45 an hour on projects covered by prevailing wage rules.

Meanwhile, CapRadio in Sacramento published this story today on the U.S. Forest Service's failure to execute in a timely fashion its own plan to alleviate some of the fire risk for the community of Grizzly Flats, which burned a year ago in the Caldor Fire.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

John Fetterman went full-on rural in the Pennsylvania primary

Lock Haven. Coudersport. Wellsboro. Towanda. Sunbury… A scenic road trip through north central Pennsylvania? A line for a Pennsylvania version of Johnny Cash’s 1996 hit, “I’ve been everywhere, man”?

This list of towns in the Keystone State’s so-called rural “T”—the vast area that lies between the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metro areas, stretching north to the New York state line—could have been either.

In fact, this was U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman’s campaign itinerary on Saturday, May 7, just ten days before the Pennsylvania primary. This 245-mile, five-town circuit was part of his commitment to visit each of the state’s 67 counties, a very literal execution of his “every county, every vote” slogan.
(Source: John Fetterman’s Twitter)

And the strategy paid off. Fetterman won every Pennsylvania county to claim his party’s nomination, with 59% of the Democratic vote.

In doing so, Fetterman deposed opponents associated with the state’s urban centers, State Senator Malcolm Kenyatta, of Philadelphia and U.S. Congressman Conor Lamb of Pittsburgh. Not a bad showing for a boy from York who served for 13 years as mayor of Braddock, population 1,761 (albeit part of the Pittsburgh metro area), before he was elected Lt. Governor in 2018.
Extraordinary Rural Outreach

If you’ve never heard of the five Pennsylvania towns Fetterman visited that day in early May, you’re surely not alone. With populations between 3,000 and 10,000, they’re small enough that many folks in Philly or Pittsburgh would be hard-pressed to place them on a map.

And that seemed to be the point. Fetterman’s messaging wasn’t aimed at metro Pennsylvania. He was talking to rural Pennsylvanians, letting them know he sees them. He put his body—all 6 ft. 8 inches of it—where his mouth is and showed up to meet them in their community centers, VFW halls, and churches.
Fetterman thus swam against the tide: In recent years, most Democratic candidates for statewide office have left rural voters to the GOP, letting them slip away without a fight. New York Senator and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer admitted as much in 2016—specifically referencing Pennsylvania. “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania,” Schumer said, “we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia.”
That strategy didn’t work out so well for the Democrats. Pennsylvania was one of three states (along with Michigan and Wisconsin) that handed the presidency to Donald Trump by a relative handful of votes. Trump beat Hillary Clinton by just 44,000 Pennsylvania votes (out of 6 million cast) in 2016 to claim the state’s 20 Electoral College delegates.

As it happens, that Trump margin over Clinton is about as many votes as were cast in both party primaries combined in the five counties Fetterman visited that Saturday in early May.

Rural votes, it turns out, do add up.
Truth is, Fetterman didn’t just show up in rural Pennsylvania. The rhetoric of his primary campaign regularly elevated rural people and their concerns. He talked frequently about reaching both red and blue voterssprinkling red and blue dots generously throughout his tweets to illustrate the point.
In sharp contrast, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh got barely a mention in his Twitter feed this spring, which touted no appearance in either city in the run-up to the primary. When Fetterman did mention the population behemoths anchoring the eastern and western ends of the state, he used them as a foil to remind voters in overlooked places that they matter, too. “Don’t forget that a vote in Tioga County counts as much as one in Pittsburgh or Philly,” he declared at a stop in the nonmetro county of 41,000. It’s a line Fetterman rolled out frequently on the campaign trail, a fill-in-the-rural-county _____ schtick that delighted audiences in the hinterlands. “Right. Yes,” the crowds cheered in response.
It was almost as if Fetterman was taking urban dwellers for granted—leaving them to play second fiddle, for a change, to their rural compatriots.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette analysis of Fetterman’s trajectory between his first state-wide race in 2016 (his first run for the U.S. Senate) and the recent 2022 primary shows, at the county level, how his popularity grew. Part of that growth was due to rising name recognition associated with being Lt. Governor. (A generally obscure office, being Lt. Governor in Pennsylvania means Fetterman’s photo, like that of the Governor, hangs framed in every rest stop, a not insignificant visual exposure). Fetterman’s rising popularity is also surely attributable to his leave-no-county-behind tack. Indeed, over those six years, his rise in support was steepest in the Republican stronghold of the “T.”

It’s surely significant, too, that Fetterman’s 67-county primary campaign tour was not his first visit to the state’s rural reaches. In fact, his inaugural circuit was in 2019 when, as newly minted Lt. Governor, he visited every county to conduct town hall meetings on the issue of cannabis legalization. As Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch expressed it, when Fetterman returned to ask for their votes, he was “shrouded in the purple haze of a political rock star.”

The Democrats’ Rural Problem

Fetterman’s extraordinary investment in the rural vote came amidst a national crisis for Democrats. A February survey showed that two out of three rural voters view the Democratic Party unfavorably.

According to a Meet the Press segment on the Democrats’ rural problem this spring, rural voters’ declining support for Democrats is a long-term trend that has only accelerated in recent years. Bill Clinton carried roughly half the nation’s rural counties (1,117) in 1996, but Barack Obama carried only 455 in 2008. Joe Biden won just 194 in 2020, a mere 17 percent of what Clinton garnered a few decades earlier.

Trump is one reason for the sharp recent decline in the Democrats’ rural fortunes. He tapped not only rural nostalgia but also rural anger over crummy job markets associated with the widening regional inequality that has left most nonmetropolitan areas struggling. Trump openly bashed urban phenomena, as when he linked inner cities to “American carnage.” Though progressives heard this as a racist dog whistle, it proved an odd salve on the deep rural wound of being unseen and underappreciated.

Of course, that rhetoric also aggravated polarization along the rural-urban axis, and some bad behavior predictably ensued. An Associated Press feature in February included vignettes of small-town Democrats removing bumper stickers and yard signs to avoid harassment by conservative neighbors.

Meanwhile, progressives have wrung their hands over what to do—if anything—to attract rural voters. The New York Times ran an essay in December by former Montana Governor Steve Bullock advising how to cultivate the rural vote, and Dirt Road Revival, a recent book by Maine State Senator Chloe Maxmin and her campaign manager, Canyon Woodward, was all the rage for a few weeks this spring. It was held out as a how-to manual for Democrats willing to vie actively for rural voters, but also critiqued as the work of a silver-spoon candidate in a district experiencing rural gentrification.

But not many candidates have recently done what Fetterman did in Pennsylvania. Few have actually pulled a Johnny Cash and “gone everywhere, man.” Fewer still have done what Fetterman did this spring, proving he wasn’t a flash in the rural pan by showing up a second time. (For the record, Beto O’Rourke deployed a similar strategy in 2018 when he visited all 254 Texas counties in his narrow loss to Ted Cruz for a U.S. Senate seat, and he’s recently announced he’s doing it again in his bid for Governor. Meanwhile, Chris Jones, a political newcomer who is the Democratic nominee for Governor of Arkansas, is “walking a mile in your shoes” in each of the state’s 75 counties as he takes on Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
A Good Fit for Rural Pennsylvania?

Great as his investment in rural Pennsylvania has been, Fetterman faces the added challenge of endorsing especially progressive policies in places that tend conservative. His stances on abortion, unions, LGBTQ rights, and legalizing “dreamers” are all pretty far left—and articulated firmly and decisively. He recently declared health care “a right, NOT a privilege” in relation to the anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid.

Fetterman has called repeatedly for abolishing the filibuster to advance a progressive agenda, and he’s criticized his neighbor, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, for obstructing the Democratic agenda in Washington. The only issue on which Fetterman doesn’t align with the progressive playbook is fracking, which he supports. It is, after all, a staple of the Pennsylvania energy economy.

But Fetterman may have a not-so-secret weapon for appealing to rural voters, apparent policy mismatches notwithstanding: He’s a “dude” with an unconventional, anti-elite vibe. The Democratic establishment did not initially embrace him, endorsing other candidates in the primary, though they’ve since rallied around Fetterman.

More visibly, Fetterman has attracted national attention for his wardrobe choices, most recently hoodie and gym shorts on the campaign trail. (In his official Lt. Governor portrait—the one in the rest stops—Fetterman is wearing a gray button-up work shirt, no tie, and his trademark serious face, which borders on a scowl). He owns a single suit and, as of the primary debate, it didn’t fit well. Fetterman’s arms are tattooed, the Braddock zip code on one and the dates of shooting deaths in Braddock on the other. It was a spate of shooting deaths there—with victims including two of social worker Fetterman’s GED students—that led him to get involved in politics two decades ago.

In short, having played the everywhere card, Fetterman is now prioritizing the everyman card. And even some Republicans admit he wins the “someone-I’d-like-to-have-a-beer-with” contest. The question is: will Fetterman’s relatability be enough to bring conservative-leaning rural voters along with his progressive agenda?
A Shift in Focus for the General Election

Fetterman’s energetic engagement with rural Pennsylvania came to an end just a few days before the Pennsylvania primary in mid-May. Less than a week after traveling that 245-mile loop to visit those five small cities on May 7, Fetterman was hospitalized following a stroke. He is on the mend after getting a pacemaker, but barely back on the campaign trail. (The two July stops he publicized on his Twitter feed were both in the Philly metro—still in hoodie and gym shorts among the well-heeled crowd).

Meanwhile, Fetterman’s messaging has shifted as much as how he spends his time. The colored dots in his Twitter feed are more recently used to illustrate rhetoric about flipping the seat from red to blue (Republican Pat Toomey is retiring). Fetterman is now trolling his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz (television’s “Dr. Oz”) for only recently having moved to Pennsylvania, to his mother-in-law’s address, no less.

The Fetterman campaign engaged Snooki from the reality TV show “Jersey Shore” to chide Oz for leaving Jersey to “look for a new job,” and Stevie Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band to implore Oz to “come back to New Jersey where you belong.” Among Fetterman’s popular campaign merch is a bumper sticker that says, “Dr. Oz for NJ” and, in smaller print, “Fetterman for Pennsylvania.”

Fetterman is also attacking Oz’s wealth—noting he owns nine homes and is worth a reported $104 million. In contrast, Fetterman appears to live a modest life with his wife and three children in Braddock, in a building that used to be a car dealership. (After he was elected Lt. Governor, he forewent the mansion in Harrisburg, instead opening its swimming pool to locals). Fetterman’s tweets about inflation and corporate greed reference the cost of filling up his Dodge RAM pickup and buying groceries at Giant Eagle, a Pennsylvania grocery chain. He’s been tweeting a lot in recent weeks about “making sh*t in America” again. He’s also been writing guest editorials about inflation in small city newspapers like those in Johnstown and Erie.

It remains to be seen how Fetterman’s new focus will play in rural Pennsylvania, especially since a less energetic candidate isn’t likely to make a third circuit of the Keystone state. But it may not matter much with rural voters, given that Fetterman has probably already done what he can to woo them—just by showing up and demonstrating his respect for the forgotten places, the forgotten people.

The bigger wild card now is Fetterman’s health.

Meanwhile, one can only hope that other Democrats running for statewide office—among them Senatorial candidates like Tim Ryan in Ohio, Mike Franken in Iowa, Trudy Busch Valentine in Missouri, and Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin—are looking with envy at what Fetterman built in rural Pennsylvania and rethinking their own rural strategy.

Or maybe they’re finally asking if they even have one.

They might start with a listen to Johnny Cash’s traveling song.

Cross-posted to Daily Yonder.  

A plan to revive Sierra-Nevada towns with a new hiking trail to draw eco-tourists

That is the gist of Jessica Garrison's story out of Portola, California, population 2104, in nonmetro Plumas County.  The headline is "‘We have to remake ourselves’: Can a new trail help revive this crest of the Sierra?" Here's an excerpt that provides the economic background on this initiative to remake the "Lost Sierra Route" trail, which would bring more tourism to towns that have been experiencing population loss.  
Yard by dusty, backbreaking yard, workers have set out to build 600 miles of trails to connect remote mountain towns such as Sierra City and Chester that once flourished because of gold mining or logging but now are withering. Downieville, for example, was once one of California’s most populous towns; as of the 2020 census, its population was less than 500.

The project — dubbed “Connecting Communities Through the Lost Sierra Route” — aims to reverse the decline. If all goes as planned, mountain bikers, off-road bikers and hikers would flood in, drawn by the opportunity to traverse from town to town a la the Swiss Alps. They would exult in the stark beauty of the landscape, spend oodles of money in local restaurants, bars and hotels, and then go home again — hopefully without driving up housing prices too much.

* * *  

“We had an economy based first on gold and then on timber, and both of those have waned,” said Lee Adams, who sits on the board of supervisors for Sierra County, which had a population of just 3,200 people according to the 2020 census.

“We have to remake ourselves,” added Plumas County Supervisor Kevin Goss, who represents Greenville, the town that was burned to the ground last year by the Dixie fire. Included in the wreckage was Goss’ business, a pharmacy. “I am looking for … anything to create a little more tourism.”

Goss spoke of bringing high-speed internet, food trucks, luxury camping, “anything and everything” that might boost the economy. Even before the Dixie fire incinerated Greenville last summer, Plumas County was already seeing its population decline.

But, of course, there are downsides:  

Already, some locals are fed up because of a lack of parking on weekends. And they think they know who to blame: all those cars with bike racks on the back, and other accouterments that seem to scream “Bay Area Driver.” Not to mention a housing crisis that already feels dire.

Sierra City, mentioned above, is a place where the Pacific Crest Trail pass through a town.  I've written about it here.  And here's a post about Downieville, also in Sierra County.  Posts about Plumas County are here and here.  And here's a post about the so-called "Lost Sierra," also out of Plumas County which, by the way, is the size of Delaware with a population of about 20,000.

Monday, August 15, 2022

On the rural vote in Wisconsin's Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate

John Nichols writes for The Nation about the success of Mandela Barnes, the young, African-American lt. governor who earlier this week won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate from Wisconsin.  He faces Ron Johnson, the Republican incumbent, in November.  Here are the story's excerpts about Barnes' strength in the state's rural reaches:  

Barnes swept every one of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. In a number of counties, he took more than 80 percent of the vote—winning especially wide margins in Dane and Milwaukee counties, as well as in the rural counties where Barnes, an ardent advocate for family farmers, focused much of his attention as an elected official and candidate.
* * *
[I]n a state that, historically, has been closely divided, that’s a problem for the incumbent, especially in the rural western Wisconsin counties where Barnes won some of his best totals. Consider Iowa County, where Barnes won 82 percent against multiple active and inactive opponents on Democratic side, while Johnson gained just 73 percent of the vote against a single opponent on the Republican side. In neighboring Richland County, Barnes won 81 percent of the Democratic vote, while Johnson secured only 75 percent of the GOP vote.

Here's another story about politics out of rural Wisconsin, dateline LaCrosse.  The gist is that a young woman candidate for a congressional seat came in second to the incumbent endorsed candidate.  That woman, Rebecca Cooke, had courted the rural vote.   Here's an excerpt: 

Democrats say last night’s primary proved there is victory in loss. State Senator Brad Pfaff won the Democratic nomination for the 3rd Congressional District with 39% of the vote. Candidate Rebecca Cooke, a political newcomer, came in second, with 31%.

Underdogs don’t typically come out on top.

“She very much was an underdog,” political analyst Anthony Chergosky said.

If you ask Cooke, she disagrees.

“People underestimated me,” she said.

Over the past ten months, Cooke toured 19 Wisconsin counties on her way to second place.

“Eight hour days packed back to back to back working to really connect with stakeholder groups,” she said, recalling what the tour consisted of.

At 33, Cooke was the youngest candidate in the 3rd Congressional primary.
* * *
Cooke is small business owner who grew up on a farm. She won rural votes Democrats have historically lost.

“Democrats are really hungry for someone who can connect with their rural audience,” Chergoksy said.

Rural areas are votes state senator Pfaff failed to win.

Cooke is committed to campaigning for Pfaff and doing what she can to help him win rural votes.  

Saturday, August 13, 2022

A story of rural attachment to place (among other things)

The house in which I grew up, in Newton County, Arkansas
September, 1964
Melody Gutierrez, a journalist with the Los Angeles Times writes from Wonder Valley, California, population 615, where she recently revisited her childhood home near Twentynine Palms in San Bernardino County.  She found it dilapidated, but with some artifacts from her childhood (e.g., a Barbie doll) still where the family had left them when they were forced from their home due to foreclosure.  
The story is chock full of attachment to place, in this case the rural variety.  Here's an excerpt:  
It’s an experience millions of Americans seek out each year, said Jerry Burger, a retired Santa Clara University psychology professor. Burger spent more than a decade researching people who visit their childhood homes for a book titled “Returning Home: Reconnecting With Our Childhoods.”

He found that one-third of Americans older than 30 have returned to their childhood homes. His own interest in the subject stemmed from his nagging desire, as he neared his 40s, to revisit the places that served as a backdrop to his childhood.
Exterior of my childhood home 1975

Burger says people feel particularly strong emotions about the place they lived between the ages of 5 and 12. “It seems to be those are key years,” he said. “For many people their identity is tied up with that place, with that time.”  (emphasis mine)

I know this is true for me. ...

We [Gutierrez and her family] set out in April, our rental car bumping along the dirt road, a dust cloud following closely behind us as we headed toward Raymond Drive. When people used to ask where I lived, I would tell them, “Along the back road to Las Vegas.” Now, I regularly see stories glamorizing Wonder Valley and the eclectic lifestyle offered here.

We passed the myriad homesteads that are now rentals, boasting amenities such as outside baths called cowboy tubs, a rock climbing wall or yoga rooms. I talked about the impact it was having on locals who were being priced out of the desert, and added “gentrification” to my son’s vocabulary.

“There was nothing like that when I was here,” I told him.

I appreciated Gutierrez's reminiscences, not least because they reminded me of my own.  

Kitchen interior of my childhood home at a 1974 Birthday party
The cabinets and washer/dryer were new just a few years earlier

I lived in the same house from the time I was three weeks old until I went to college--and I returned most summers to live and work there until I was well into my twenties.  I have definitely experienced this curiosity about where one comes from and a desire to track periodically how it has changed and is changing.  Indeed, I've sometimes perused family photo albums to see how my family home looked at different times during my childhood and youth, tracking the little improvements we made.  These included a wood-burning furnace in the basement to replace the wood-burning stove in the living room in the late 1960s; more kitchen cabinets over and straddling our first washer and dryer in the early 1970s; and a carport in 1979.