Monday, October 31, 2022

Where white majority is fading, election deniers thrive

The New York Times reported last week from several places that are not necessarily rural, but which may be exurban, and where politicians who are election deniers are thriving.  The Times reporters Michael Keller and David Fitzpatrick see a correlation between this phenomenon and a fading white majority.  

The first place featured is Fort Bend County, Texas, which is part of the greater Houston metro area.  Another region featured is far southwestern Virginia, the more rural Buchanan and Wise counties, with populations of 20,000 and 36,000 respectively.  

Here's the gist of the story:    

A shrinking white share of the population is a hallmark of the congressional districts held by the House Republicans who voted to challenge Mr. Trump’s defeat, a New York Times analysis found — a pattern political scientists say shows how white fear of losing status shaped the movement to keep him in power.

* * * 

Because they are more vulnerable, disadvantaged or less educated white voters can feel especially endangered by the trend toward a minority majority, said Ashley Jardina, a political scientist at George Mason University who studies the attitudes of those voters.

“A lot of white Americans who are really threatened are willing to reject democratic norms,” she said, “because they see it as a way to protect their status.”

* * *  

Lawmakers who objected were also overrepresented among the 70 Republican-held districts with the lowest percentages of college graduates. In one case — the southeast Kentucky district of Hal Rogers, currently the longest-serving House member — about 14 percent of residents had four-year degrees, less than half the average in the districts of Republicans who accepted the election results.

* * *  

Representative H. Morgan Griffith’s [district] in southwest Virginia is among the poorest in the country. Once dominated by coal, manufacturing and tobacco, the area’s economic base eroded with competition from new energy sources and foreign importers. Doctors prescribed opioids to injured laborers and an epidemic of addiction soon followed.
Residents, roughly 90 percent of them white, gripe that the educated elites of the Northern Virginia suburbs think that “the state stops at Roanoke.” They take umbrage at what they consider condescension from outsiders who view their communities as poverty-stricken, and they bemoan “Ph.D pollution” from the big local university, Virginia Tech. After a long history of broken government promises, many said in interviews they had lost faith in the political process and public institutions — in almost everyone but Mr. Trump, who they said championed their cause.
From Marie March, a restaurant owner in Christiansburg, Virginia, had this to say about local support for Trump's dispute of the election results: 
You feel like you’re the underdog and you don’t get a fair shake, so you look for people that are going to shake it up.  We don’t feel like we’ve had a voice.

March attended the January 6 rally and won a seat in the Virginia state legislature last year.   The story continues:  

[March] said she could drive 225 miles east from the Kentucky border and see only Trump signs. No one in the region could imagine that he received fewer votes than President Biden, she insisted.

“You could call it an echo chamber of our beliefs,” she added, “but that’s a pretty big landmass to be an echo chamber.”

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Valuing rural schools and their communities

Bob Douchette writes of the value of rural schools--and rural communities--in the Tulsa World.  His essay also addresses how these institutions are on the ballot on Nov. 8.  

If you grew up in a small town, you know how integrated a school and its community can be.

Schools are a gathering place for the community. I remember as much for the sole year I lived in the little burg of Marengo, Illinois, a farm and manufacturing town just south of the Wisconsin border.

Douchette then turns to the illustration of Burbank, a town in Osage County, Oklahoma, that was struggling back in 2001 to keep its doors open, due to population loss. 

Burbank’s 40 or so students would be spread out to nearby schools in Shidler, Fairfax and Ponca City.

As I talked with people there, everyone understood that consolidation was inevitable. The best path forward was a planned death for the school, one last year of classes before Burbank School closed for good.

Underneath that acceptance were fears that with the school’s closure, there wouldn’t be much left to keep the town alive. It had been a boomtown during the great Osage County oil rush of the 1920s, with thousands of residents, thriving businesses and even a couple of movie theaters.

But the Burbank oil field played itself out, and all the money and jobs that came during those gusher days moved on.

By late 2001, Burbank residents worried that all they had left to keep the town together was its post office.

Burbank’s fate is what many small communities fear when the words “school consolidation” arise. For decades now, there has been a tug-of-war between fiscal hawks who decry the high number of Oklahoma public schools — and the administrative overhead that comes with them — and rural Oklahomans who wonder what will become of them if they lose a key anchor of their towns.

The rural pushback is strong, and one of the main reasons why consolidation has been rare. Nobody wants to lose their town, and closing a school is seen by many as a potential death knell for rural communities.

Douchette then goes on to explain how school vouchers are a threat to rural schools, a topic also addressed in Jon Tester's book, Grounded.   

School consolidation hasn’t gone anywhere in Oklahoma for this basic fact: The people in rural Oklahoma see their communities and way of life as something worth protecting. Not everyone wants to live in metro suburbs or larger cities. For many, they’d rather stay where they and their families have put down roots for generations.

I think that’s one of the reasons why there is concern in towns outside of Oklahoma’s metro areas. Folks have seen the voucher legislation proposed and shot down, but there are promises to bring the idea back next year.

And there are political candidates who are, in part, staking their campaigns on it. It makes people wonder how many battles they’ll have to fight to keep their schools intact.

The political reality they face is that you can win these battles repeatedly, but the win-loss record won’t matter if you lose just once.

Don't miss the entire column.  The same issues are playing out in other states, too, including Missouri, where Jess Piper's campaign for the Missouri legislature has repeatedly drawn attention to the peril facing rural schools in the Show-Me State.  

Saturday, October 29, 2022

How election denial may lead to a reversion to paper ballots, beginning in rural America

The Washington Post reported yesterday on an election denial scheme flourishing in rural Nevada, in Nye County, population 51,591, but covering 18,000 square miles and with a population density of 2.4 persons per square mile.  

Jay Goldberg, a retired electrician who enjoys four-wheeling with his wife, Bonnie, in the dusty hills that loom over this desert town, sat in a tiny government office here this week counting ballots by hand because he believes the 2020 vote was rigged against Donald Trump.

“If something can be manipulated, it eventually will be,” said Goldberg, 70, referring to unproven claims that tabulation machines made by Dominion Voting Systems threw the presidency to Joe Biden. “It’s that simple.”

And to Goldberg, there’s a simple answer: Go back to hand counts. It’s a solution being embraced this fall in Nye County, a rural outpost of 53,000 where officials who deny the results of the 2020 election hold sway.

Should Republicans prevail statewide in November, officials could be pushing it across Nevada next year. Like-minded GOP candidates nationwide have offered similar proposals, even as election experts and Democratic candidates have argued that such steps are only likely to further undermine faith in American democracy.

Don't miss the whole story by Amy Gardner.  

Friday, October 28, 2022

On vote by mail in rural Nebraska, across the partisan divide

Will Norris wrote this week for Washington Monthly under the headline, "The Rural Republicans Who Ignored Trump and Voted by Mail."   The subhead is "Exclusive: A new study further undermines the former president’s lies about mail ballots."

Here's an excerpt: 

Emerson, Nebraska, is a farming town of 900 in the state’s sparse northeast expanse. Its Republican-leaning, nearly all-white population makes Emerson not unlike dozens of other rural communities in the state. It is unique, however, for being the only town in the state divided between three counties: Dixon County, which covers the western half of Emerson; and Dakota and Thurston Counties, which make up the northeastern and southeastern quadrants of the town, respectively.

Those odd lines made Emerson a litmus test for one of the most contentious issues in the 2020 election: vote by mail. Under state law, Nebraska counties with fewer than 10,000 residents have the option to conduct their elections entirely by mail by sending ballots to all registered voters. Dixon County chose to do so. Dakota and Thurston Counties decided otherwise and ran their elections the old-fashioned way, with polling places.

Donald Trump had warned in 2020 that mailing every voter a ballot would lead to massive fraud and undermine the Republican Party’s electoral chances. Political scientists, by contrast, had concluded that vote by mail had little, if any, effect on turnout. The citizens of Emerson, however, didn’t get the memos—or perhaps ignored them. Not only did voting in the town go off without a hint of fraud, but turnout on the all-mail Dixon County half of Emerson was 8.3 percent higher than on the other side of town, according to a new study by the National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI), a nonprofit research organization.

* * * 

Nebraska was one of only two states in 2020, along with North Dakota, in which counties had the choice to run all-mail elections for offices up and down the ballot, including the presidency. That made it a natural experiment for [Amelia] Showalter [the lead researcher] to test the impact of vote by mail.

A California study also "found that states which mailed a ballot to every registered voter in 2020’s presidential election saw voter turnout increase by an average of 5.6 percent, with no clear advantage to either political party."

Don't miss the rest of this important story.  

Thursday, October 27, 2022

On the "rural organizer"

Another Halloween costume meme popped up on my Twitter feed yesterday, this one from Eli Hilbert (@ReptomCraddick), who identifies as "they/he | Poli Sci Major at UTSA | Partnerships Coordinator at TPFG | Former President of the Permian Basin Young Democrats."  

The "Not included" items are:

  • Pettiness
  • Unbelievable amounts of faith in the goodness of people
In a subsequent Tweet, Hilbert added: 
If you’ve never sat at a white plastic folding table with a 75 year old woman in a county Democratic Party headquarters, I do not want to hear anything from you about organizing

This post from a few days ago features another Halloween costume meme depicting a rural stereotype.  

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

What does it mean to be "anti-city" or "pro-city"? and where does being "scared of cities" fit in?

I asked that first question today at my Westminster Town Hall Forum talk in Minneapolis in relation to a 2019 Tweet by Jackson Kernion, then a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, who wrote, 

I unironically embrace the bashing of rural Americans. They, as a group, are bad people who have made bad life decisions ... and we should shame people who are not pro-city.

This made me wonder, what does it mean to be "pro-city" or "anti-city"?   

In any event, Kernion subsequently took down the tweet and offered this pseudo-apology: 

Pretty sure I did a bad Tweet here.  Gonna delete it. I'll want to reflect on it more later but my tone is way more crasser and meaner than I like to think I am.

Meanwhile, I also thought of this Kernion tweet today when I saw this Tweet (above) from Tyler Littwin.  It's a meme about Halloween costumes, this one called "Conservative Guy Scared of Cities".  

Is being afraid of cities the same as being "anti-city"?  Have to say, just never occurred to me that there were/are people who were legit afraid of cities.  

After this initial Tweet with meme, Litwin adds
Wrote this with VT in mind but could be pretty much anywhere in the US. Heck, I remember neighbors in in 90s being scared of going into Northampton MA.
New Englander | Graphic Designer | Illustrator | 2nd division co-ed footballer (false 9 or 6) | Red #LFC #YNWA | Green #VGFC

Post script from Dec. 3, 2022:  

"Why are suburbanites so obsessed with city crime?  Employee in store in Ruxton greeted me with 'how's the crime in Baltimore?'  Almost gleefully.  Is this all they think about?  This is the same community that blocked a light rail stop.  Which I noted before leaving."  MacGillis replies, 'To try to justify their own prior desertion." 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Coronavirus in rural America (Part CXXXV): On the racial shift in pandemic deaths (with a geographic angle, too)

Akilah Johnson and Dan Keating reported this week in the Washington Post on the racial shift in pandemic deaths.  The headline is "Whites now more likely to die from covid than Blacks: Why the pandemic shifted."  Some key excerpts follow:  
The imbalance in death rates among the nation’s racial and ethnic groups has been a defining part of the pandemic since the start. To see the pattern, The Washington Post analyzed every death during more than two years of the pandemic. Early in the crisis, the differing covid threat was evident in places such as Memphis and Fayette County [Tennessee]. Deaths were concentrated in dense urban areas, where Black people died at several times the rate of White people.

Over time, the gap in deaths widened and narrowed but never disappeared — until mid-October 2021, when the nation’s pattern of covid mortality changed, with the rate of death among White Americans sometimes eclipsing other groups.

A Post analysis of covid death data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from April 2020 through this summer found the racial disparity vanished at the end of last year, becoming roughly equal. And at times during that same period, the overall age-adjusted death rate for White people slightly surpassed that of Black and Latino people.

* * *  

After delta’s peak in September 2021, the racial differences in covid deaths started eroding. The Post analysis found that Black deaths declined, while White deaths never eased, increasing slowly but steadily, until the mortality gap flipped. From the end of October through the end of December, White people died at a higher rate than Black people did, The Post found.

* * * 

The easy explanation is that it reflects the choices of Republicans not to be vaccinated, but the reasons go deeper. The Post interviewed historians and researchers who study the effects of White racial politics and social inequality on health, spoke with relatives and friends of those lost to covid, and compiled data from federal databases and academic studies.

What emerged is a story about how long-standing issues of race and class interacted with the physical and psychological toll of mass illness and death, unprecedented social upheaval, public policies — and public opinion.

Resilience gave way to fatigue. Holes left by rural hospital closures deepened. Medical mistrust and misinformation raged. Skeptics touted debunked alternatives over proven treatments and prevention. Mask use became a victim of social stigma.

Many Republicans decided they would rather roll the dice with their health than follow public health guidance — even when provided by President Donald Trump, who was booed after saying he had been vaccinated and boosted.
The human face of this story is a paramedic out of Somerville, Tennessee, population 3,415.  Don't miss the entire feature, which is deeply reported, with a strong human interest angle.

Monday, October 24, 2022

California gubernatorial debate makes no mention of "rural" California

That's as far as I can tell from the coverage of Sunday's debate.  The Los Angeles Times did, however, refer to Republican Brian Dahle's rural roots.  
Newsom is expected to win a second term in the November election against the Republican farmer from rural Northern California, who hammered the governor on Sunday for focusing more on his national ambitions than fixing the problems vexing the state. (emphasis added)
* * *
“The governor is focused on his message to America,” Dahle said. “Californians are fleeing California for one reason — because they can’t afford to live here — and he’s out of touch with everyday, hardworking, middle-class Californians.”

The match-up, hosted by KQED on a sunny day in San Francisco, marked one of the few times Newsom has acknowledged his opponent’s existence since the contest began. In the sometimes intense debate, Newsom cast the state senator from Bieber as a Trump Republican, misaligned with California voters.
* * * 
Throughout the one-hour event, the two candidates appeared to be debating two different California realities.

Dahle blamed Newsom’s policies for the state’s highest-in-the-nation gasoline prices, struggling public schools, unreliable electrical grid and affordability problems.

Newsom touted California’s economic growth compared to the rest of the country, low unemployment rate and the clean energy jobs created under policies to reduce fossil fuels.
* * * 
While Newsom easily draws media attention as the governor of the most populous state in the country, it’s been more difficult for Dahle to break through and spread his message to Californians with limited campaign funds.

The Sacramento Bee also mentions Dahle's rural origins in Lassen County.   

One issue on which the candidates agreed, somewhat remarkably:  reparations.  Here's a quote from the Bee's coverage: 

Instead, he said, he has already has supported “common sense” reparation initiatives, including a 2021 bill that authorized the return of a property known as Bruce’s Beach to the heirs of a Black couple who had their land stripped of them by officials in Manhattan Beach a century ago. 
“It was with deep pride that we moved to right that wrong,” Newsom said during the debate. In a rare instance of agreement, Dahle echoed Newsom’s remarks, noting that he voted in support of creating the reparations task force and returning the Bruce Beach property to the Beach family. 
“Those people were wronged,” Dahle said, “and we made it right.”

Other posts about Dahle and rurality are here.   

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Paul Krugman misses the boat in response to empirical work on rural resentment and who gets what from the federal government

I wrote yesterday about a Monkeycage blog entry in the Washington Post about new empirical research regarding rural resentment and its impact on politics  I'd noticed that shortly after the article was posted to the Washington Post website, Paul Krugman tweeted a three-part response in which he wrote, "what's depressing about this is that in reality rural America is heavily subsidized by urban America."  

Then in part 2 of his little tweet storm Krugman continued, "You can see this by looking at states' federal balance of payments--what they receive versus what they pay.  Huge inflows to the most rural states."  Then in Part 3:  "But of course if you point that out rural voters will just see that as another example of elite disdain.  It's really a no-win situation." 

Then on Friday, just a day after the Monkeycage item appeared, Krugman wrote a column titled "Wonking Out:  Facts, Feelings and Rural Politics."  In it, he expands on his dispute with the "feelings" among rural folks that they don't get their fair share from the government.  Here's an excerpt: 
Political scientists have found that rural Americans believe that they aren’t receiving their fair share of resources, that they are neglected by politicians and that they don’t receive enough respect. So it seems worth noting that the first two beliefs are demonstrably false — although I’m sure that anyone pointing this out will be denounced as another sneering member of the urban elite.

The truth is that rural America is heavily subsidized by urban America. You can see this by looking at states’ federal balance of payments — the difference between federal spending in a state and the amount a state pays in federal taxes. Here’s a plot of those balances, on a per-capita basis, in 2020 versus urbanization in the 2010 census (the most recent data available)
Krugman cites the Census and Rockefeller Institute for these data.  

The first problem I see with Krugman's analysis is that he uses the scale of the state rather than, say, the county.  This is ham-handed and lacking in nuance (see more below from Hildreth and Pippa).  That is, it fails to consider what is happening within states--what percentage of federal dollars flow to, for example, metro counties versus nonmetro ones.   It reminds me of when elite colleges brag about their geographic diversity, but it turns out the students they admit from Montana are from Billings and Bozeman, or those they admit from Utah are from Salt Lake City.  

That's one critique picked up in the Twitter responses to the Krugman piece.  Here is a very thoughtful thread from Matt Hildreth of Rural Organizing:  

Krugman "points out that 'rural America is heavily subsidized by urban America' and 'Donald Trump sent $46 billion in aid to farmers.'  Does he really think all rural people are farmers?  WAY more rural people work in the care economy and in manufacturing than in ag."

"Rural and farmer are two very different things.  On-farm employment accounts for only 2.8 million people.  In contrast, there are 60.8 million people in the rural U.S. ... Stereotypes perpetuated by [Krugman] suggesting that 'ag subsidies are the same as 'rural economic opportunity' create even more resentment in rural America.  With the corporate consolidation, ag subsidies go to fewer and fewer people" 

"To really understand rural rage, @paukrugman should look at manufacturing and health care jobs in rural America.  Those industries have a much bigger impact on rural jobs than farming."  

"When a rural hospital closes, i tis devastating for jobs in a rural community of 2,000 rural U.S. hospitals, 150 have closed since 2005, and more than 300 are at risk."
"NAFTA was devastating for rural manufacturing jobs."

Krugman "forgets that Barack Obama had a very strong performance in the rural Midwest.  And Obama said he would 'renegotiate' NAFTA during his primary against @HillaryClinton.  Obama won the Iowa caucus and later abandoned his anti-NAFTA stance"

"The good news is that a new generation of Dems like @RepDerekKilmer, @AngieCraigMN, @RepCindyAxne, @TinaSmithMN, @repohalleran, @repjoshharder, @gillibrandny and @SenMarkKelly understand the real issues in rural America and are focused on solutions."

"The reasons why 'rural perceptions are so much at odds with reality' as [Krugman] writes is because he and the [New York Times] haven't written anything about all of these things Democrats are doing to delivery for rural people.  If the media won't cover it, how do voters know about it."

"They lack capacity because of decades of disinvestment by states and feds ini rural local govts, and b/c of their own fiscal policies that have historically depended on industries that have declined or left--and it's been tough to adapt."

"Also a big problem of fed investment in community & econ devp is decided by states and thus v. hard to follow/analyze.  So all of that is missing from [Krugman's] analysis.

"Talk to any local rural leader, and they'll tell you how much of that they get... and it ain't much."

Krugman "himself acknowledges that the balance of payments basically reflects greater social safety net spending.  

"That's exactly it!  Fed $$ are going to rural folks to barely keep their heads above water, rather than offering investment to help their communities succeed." 

Finally, here are some tweets from Kal Munis of Utah Valley University, co-author with Nicholas Jacobs of Colby College of the Monkeycage Blog piece (and a peer-reviewed publication on which it was based)  that kicked off the fight (again, see more about these here).  

"Thanks to [Krugman] for engaging with our piece in @monkeycageblog.  A couple of quick responses, tho:  
1. His balance of payments analysis focuses on the urbanish states vs. ruralish ones.  But there are urban areas in rural states & vice versa.  It depends on how you slice it, but ..."

"there's data showing that, within states (e.g., Florida, Wisconsin, etc), per capita spending to rural areas is lower than in cities.

2.  Relatedly, given that rural areas both fuel and feed urban America, rural states ought to [be] heavily subsidized and maybe aren't subsidized enough.

3. Krugman claims that rural people bash cities as being crime ridden hell holes but he can't recall instances of urban disdain toward rural areas.  This is an incredible claim and evidence that Krugman doesn't read replies and QTs of his own tweets lol.  For example... "

"Hateful people try to justify their hate by telling themselves that the object of their hate hates them." 
"Why aren't rural Americans hustling for work in the cities or studying their asses off to get into top schools, also in cities?  Why don't they learn from immigrants and hustle like them instead of whining?"

"Also, the subhead is 'Many of these voters think they are underrepresented, under-resourced and overlooked' but all of those are the opposite of true. 

"They have a lot of 'feelings' not reflected by reality.  Oh no, am I being elitist?" 

"Economic anxiety, rural resentment... Enough. They're deplorable bigots who want white supremacy via fascism.  it's a simple as that.  Stop pampering them and start treating them as the threats to democracy that they are." 

The Daily Yonder published analysis in 2011 and 2014 about what rural folks get from the federal government government and whether they are "subsidized" by urban folks. Those pieces by Bill Bishop are here and here.  

Saturday, October 22, 2022

The impact of resentment on how rural folks vote

Kal Munis and Nicholas Jacobs wrote for Monkeycage Blog for the Washington Post a few days ago under the headline, "Why Resentful Rural Americans Vote Republican."  
As the midterms approach, political observers are once again talking about the widening divide between urban and rural voters. Over the past 25 years, rural areas have increasingly voted Republican while cities have increasingly voted Democratic — a dividing line that has replaced the North/South divide as the nation’s biggest source of political friction. That divide will influence which party takes control of Congress in January.

But why are rural and urban voters so sharply divided? Some scholars and pundits argue that it comes down to who lives where: that the disproportionately White, older, more religious, less affluent and less highly educated voters who live in rural areas are more likely to hold socially conservative views generally championed by Republicans. Meanwhile, urban areas are filled with younger, more racially diverse, more highly educated and more affluent people who hold the more socially liberal views generally championed by Democrats.

While all that matters, our new research shows that place itself also matters. Unlike Republican voters in suburbs and the cities, rural voters care about what we might call “geographic inequity” — the idea that rural areas receive less than their fair share from the government, are ignored by politicians, and are mocked and derided in popular culture. Without these beliefs, the urban-rural political divide would not be as vast as it is today.

* * * 

Anyone who has spent time studying rural communities knows that rural residents hold deep and pervasive grievances about how they’re viewed. That can be resentment about their unfair treatment by the government, dismissive comments from politicians, or media portrayals that either simplify country life and its problems or flat-out ignore “flyover country.” Much of the scholarship about these attitudes has focused on a relatively small number of communities in a handful of states, including Wisconsin and Louisiana. Our research has involved numerous national surveys — and we find that rural beliefs about geographic inequity, or what we and others call rural resentment, are widespread across the country.

* * * 

In November 2020, we found that large majorities of rural respondents to our survey reported feeling resentment across all three areas. Asked whether rural communities do not receive their fair share of government resources, 47 percent somewhat agreed and 33 percent strongly agreed. Asked if politicians pay too much attention to urban areas and not enough to rural areas, 42 percent somewhat agreed and 33 percent strongly agreed. And asked if urbanites look down on rural people, 40 percent somewhat agreed and 25 percent strongly agreed.

* * *

This analysis found that rural resentment stood out as strongly predicting the Republican votes. For example, in 2020, we found that voters harboring high levels of rural resentment were 35 percent less likely to say they would vote for the Democratic U.S. House candidates than non-resentful rural voters, all else equal.

Don't miss the whole essay, based on these scholars' recent publication in Political Research Quarterly.  This essay is a nice compliment to my piece a few days ago on rural bashing because this survey suggests that rural bashing really does impact how rural folks vote.  In other words, there's more at stake than hurt feelings.  

One Colorado town's solution to the rural housing shortage

The Colorado Sun reports from Norwood, on the Western slope, home to a novel pre-fabricated home solution to the housing crisis being created by rural gentrification in one of the most scenic counties in the state: 

Norwood is an agricultural village of about 580 residents that has been swept up in the latest real estate boom that has permeated every corner of Colorado’s Western Slope, spiking prices well beyond the capacity of working families. The Pinion Park neighborhood is emerging as a model for easing the so-called housing crisis with a collaborative confluence of public and private, for-profit and nonprofit businesses, governments, agencies and groups.

Pinion Park is made up of 24 easy-to-assemble modular homes built in the first-of-its-kind Fading West modular home factory in Buena Vista. A unique lending program with low interest rate mortgages and down payment assistance has empowered paycheck-to-paycheck residents. Philanthropic investment, state grants and free land from San Miguel County have enabled the nonprofit developer, Rural Homes, to build infrastructure.

Rural Homes’ nonprofit model has harnessed these varied collaborators in a moment of record-setting real estate sales and a shortage of attainable homes that is altering the sense of culture and community in mountain towns. By aligning governments, foundations, lenders and a first-of-its-kind construction process, Rural Homes is able to sell new homes for less than $400,000 in a county where the average home price is more than $3 million.

Those prices are changing lives, enabling residents with important jobs to stay in their communities.

Norwood is in San Miguel County, population 8,072,  Earlier posts out of San Miguel County are here and here

Friday, October 21, 2022

My op-ed on rural bashing in MinnPost

A few days ago, I published this op-ed in MinnPost, a non-profit news website in Minnesota.  The headline was "With plenty of urban folks bashing rural folks and vice versa, what’s the goal?"  An excerpt follows:  
Urban folks, it seems, have nary a good word to say about rural folks these days.

The opposite is probably true, too, though I’d hardly know because I exist largely in a media echo chamber reflective of my status as what Fox News calls a “coastal elite.” I’m a law professor at the University of California Davis, and I’ve lived more than two decades in a bright blue state, in the capital of the self-important fifth largest economy in the world.

Because of where I live, what I do, and the newspapers I read, the algorithm that decides what surfaces on my Twitter feed seems to think I need (or perhaps even want) to see hateful comments about rural Americans, because I see a lot of them. Comments like Bette Midler’s tweet last year asserting that West Virginians are “poor, illiterate, and strung out” or UC Berkeley lecturer Jackson Kernion’s tweet “unironically embrac[ing] the bashing of rural Americans” who “are bad people who have made bad life decisions.” (For the record, both later offered pseudo apologies).

Social media aside, you’ll also see plenty of assertions of rural ignorance and insularity in response to op-eds about rural America in the left-leaning media.

I cringe at such rural bashing, not least because I grew up and have deep roots in rural Arkansas, what we’ve come to think of as “red America.”

I’m thus a sort of dual national, if you will, with some built-in empathy for both rural and urban, red and blue. But while I’ve got a foot in each camp, in this age of extreme polarization when battle lines are often drawn along the rural-urban axis, I’m no longer entirely at home in either.

This alienation between my two homes isn’t new.

I'll be talking about how to mend the rural-urban rift in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Oct. 5, as part of the Westminster Town Hall Forum speaker series. The series theme this fall is "Healing Our House Divided." 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Research in rural criminology: "Crime and safety in rural areas: A systematic review of the English-language literature 1980–2020"

The article by Jonatan Abraham and Vania Ceccato was recently published in the Journal of Rural Studies:

This article explores the nature and frequency of crimes and people’s safety perceptions in rural areas using a systematic review of the literature. It explores four decades of English-language publications on crime and safety in rural areas from several major databases; mainly Scopus, JSTOR and ScienceDirect. The number of retrieved documents was 840, of which 410 were selected for in-depth analysis and their topics later categorized by theme. We found that rural crime research took off after the mid-1980s and experienced an increase during the 2010s. Despite the domination by North American, British and Australian scholarship, studies from other parts of the world (including the Global South) are increasingly being published as well. Publications on rural crime patterns (e.g., farm crime) compose over one-fifth of the reviewed literature. This together with rural policing/criminal justice and violence constitute the three largest themes in rural criminology research. With ever-increasing links between the local and the global, this review article advocates for tailored multilevel responses to rural crimes that, more than ever, are generated by processes far beyond their localities. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

On competition for water in a drying California

The Wall Street Journal recently published this feature on the consequences, for farmers, municipalities, and salmon, of the historically low levels of water in Lake Shasta, in far northern California.  

With salmon getting highest priority because of federal court mandates, the rest of Shasta’s water is being divided up according to a tiered system of rights based on contracts with the federal government signed decades ago by various stakeholders.

Near the bottom are farmers 400 miles south in the southern Central Valley and the people who live in those communities. Next up are municipal and industrial users, with the exception of water for public safety and health. The most senior water-rights holders include farmers at the northern end of the Central Valley, some of whose contracts date to the late 19th century.

Other water uses are affected, as well. Hydropower from the Shasta Dam power plant has been cut in half this year due to reduced allocations to farmers.

Federal officials are taking drastic actions to fulfill a legal mandate to safeguard winter-run Chinook salmon, a threatened species and cultural touchstone for tribes like the Winnemem Wintu. “If the salmon go away, we feel the Winnemem will follow,” said Rick Wilson, tribal dance captain.

Salmon need cold water to spawn, and usually enough is available at the bottom of the lake to send downriver. But with lower, warmer waters this year, giant chillers had to be brought in to cool lake water that was delivered to a salmon hatchery located at the base of the 602-foot dam, Mr. Bader said.

Some of the most-senior water rights belong to the Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District. Until this year it had never received less than 75% of its federal water, which farmers use primarily for rice.

Last spring, the Bureau of Reclamation coordinated with Glenn-Colusa and other senior irrigators to reduce their water supply to 18%. “We would not have had enough cold water for salmon if we had not cut the rice farmers,” Mr. Bader said.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Legal Scholarship: "Can Micropolitan Areas Bridge the Rural-Urban Divide?"

Sheila Foster and Clayton Gillette recently posted this article on  The abstract follows: 

There exists a well-known and significant divide between urban and rural areas in the United States. The divide has been documented along multiple dimensions – social, economic, and political – and is seen as a detrimental characteristic of our national identity and capacity for both economic development and civil political discourse. In this Article, we explore a subset of the urban/rural divide and propose a mechanism for reducing its economic and political effects within that limited realm. Specifically, we focus on the subset of rural areas that lie within what the Office of Management and Budget defines as micropolitan areas. Micropolitan areas are characterized by an urban area with a population between 10,000 and 50,000, and adjacent rural counties. Data suggest that rural areas within micropolitan regions do better economically than rural areas unconnected to urban areas, though not as well as the principal city within the micropolitan area. If the objective is to reduce the economic, and perhaps the political divide between urban and rural areas, then micropolitan areas may represent low-hanging fruit for redress.

This Article argues that micropolitan areas are an important window into understanding the relationship between urban and rural economies, explores the characteristics of those areas that are likely to generate economic success and recommends policies that would capture those benefits. Additionally, we speculate that increased opportunities for economic interaction between the urban and rural parts of micropolitan areas could also address the political aspects of the urban-rural divide. Recognizing the complexity of the relationship between urban and rural economies, we identify various obstacles to realizing the kinds of interlocal cooperation that we believe are necessary to reduce the economic and political divide within micropolitan areas. We conclude with suggestions for a research agenda to remedy the underdeveloped study of micropolitan areas.

Monday, October 17, 2022

The impact of the rural lawyer shortage on access to justice in Indiana

Katie Stancombe reported in May of this year, for the Indiana Lawyer, on consequences of that state's rural lawyer shortage.  Here's the lede:  

Sharing attorneys with neighboring counties is a common, yet difficult, routine for Owen County Judge Lori Quillen.

Presiding over a rural, low-income county has been challenging to say the least. With no freshly graduated lawyers coming to Indiana's less-populated counties, rural trial court judges are feeling stretched thinner by the day.

"We are suffering from the same public defender drought that everyone else I've talked to is suffering from," said Judge Dena Martin, who presides in neighboring Greene County.

Getting legal resources to low-income litigants is a major struggle both nationally and on Hoosier soil.
* * * 
Efforts from undergraduate institutions in rural Indiana have tried to bridge the gap by providing pro bono legal services. In 2019, Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, in collaboration with Indiana Legal Services, piloted limited-scope representation pro bono legal clinics based out of DePauw University in Greencastle and Wabash College in Crawfordsville.

Andrew Dettmer, one of the Wabash clinic's founding volunteers, said the goal was finding ways to pull lawyers from other communities to provide limited scope, brief legal advice and clinics to Hoosiers in need of legal knowledge.
* * * 
Indiana University Maurer School of Law professor Victor Quintanilla, a 2021- 2022 American Bar Foundation/JPB Foundation Access to Justice scholar, is currently examining access to justice for unrepresented persons in virtual court proceedings.

In 2019, Quintanilla co-authored the Indiana Civil Legal Needs Study and Legal Aid System Scan, which addresses national findings and spotlights the legal needs of rural communities across Indiana where help is lacking.

"Some of these rural counties can be harder to reach with legal aid," he said. "They'll have fewer pro bono attorneys available to do work. And it really spotlights the need for creative and innovative solutions able to help serve people."

Sunday, October 16, 2022

How Oklahoma prison gangs use rurality to conceal crimes, hide bodies

Hannah Allam writes for the Washington Post under the headline, "Missing people, buried bones at center of Oklahoma mystery." The story is out of Logan County, Oklahoma, population 41,848, where "a dozen or more people...have disappeared in recent years from the wooded, unincorporated terrain outside the Oklahoma City metro area, a rural haven for drug traffickers."  Violent "white-supremacist prison gangs are suspected."

Acting on a tip this spring, authorities "found charred piles of wood and bone on a five-acre patch of Logan County."

[Logan County Sheriff Damon] Devereaux considers himself a stickler for policing that prioritizes constitutional rights. So, he said, when he first noticed the compound “getting fortified with metal 10-foot fencing and iron gates,” he was suspicious but had no probable cause to investigate.

Allam then includes this vivid quote from Devereaux:   

We’re a county that likes to burn our trash, shoot our guns and drink our beer. And that’s kind of what we embrace in Oklahoma, the freedom to do all that.  There’s a lot of people who move out there to be left alone.

I think that could be said of lots of rural places.  A few other posts about the use of rural spatiality to conceal are here, here. and here

Thursday, October 13, 2022

On California's very rural gubernatorial candidate

Hailey Branson-Potts reported in the Los Angeles Times a few days ago on the candidacy of Brian Dahle, the Republican nominee for governor of California.  As I have written previously here, Dahle is as rural as they come in the context of California--and he's going up against the uber-urban and cosmopolitan Gavin Newsom, who appears to have his eyes set on the prize of the U.S. presidency.  The headline for Branson-Potts story is, "Gavin Newsom ‘wants to be president.’ Republican Brian Dahle just wants California voters to know his name."  Here's an excerpt:  
Dahle’s family-run campaign has raised just more than $2 million. Newsom, as of late September, sat on a reelection campaign fund with more than $23 million on hand.

Dahle has been crisscrossing the Golden State by plane and his 10-year-old Ford F-150, stumping at county fairs and Farm Bureau luncheons. Newsom ran his first reelection ad on TV in Florida and has been making appearances in Texas and New York, fueling speculation that he might run for president.

Dahle’s supporters have been planting yard signs in the grass along the 5 Freeway in Northern California. Newsom used campaign money to buy billboards last month in seven Republican-led states with the most restrictive abortion bans, touting California’s publicly funded website with information on how to end a pregnancy.

“Gavin Newsom wants to be president. He’s out there talking about it,” Dahle told supporters at a fundraising dinner late last month at Hawes’ farm outside Redding. “He’s not focused on this race, and we’re going to come in from the backside, with God’s help, and we’re going to win.”

Polls show that would indeed take divine intervention in this liberal state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.

Newsom has the backing of 53% of likely California voters, compared with 32% who favor Dahle, according to a poll released this month by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies and co-sponsored by The Times.
* * * 
“Dahle’s a businessman. He’s a farmer. And he’s had to deal with some very real challenges that many Californians have faced,” Patterson [chair of the California Republican Party] said. “He’s not someone who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.”

The 57-year-old Republican served 16 years on the Lassen County Board of Supervisors before being elected to the California Legislature in 2012.

In Sacramento, he has earned a reputation for working with colleagues across the aisle. He and his wife, state Assemblymember Megan Dahle, have hosted more than 100 legislators from both major parties at their home in Bieber.
* * *
The family established roots in California during the Great Depression when Dahle’s grandfather was awarded an 80-acre land grant in Tulelake, near the Oregon border. In 1942, the World War I veteran bought additional land outside Bieber for what is still the present-day Dahle farm.

“We’ve been here 92 years. ... We’re the Californians that aren’t leaving. Amen. We’re going to stay and fight,” Dahle told supporters at the fundraising dinner at Hawes’ farm.

And here's a piece by George Skelton, of the Los Angeles Times, on Dahle as a serious and highly respected lawmaker.  Here's an excerpt:  

You could confidently vote for state Sen. Brian Dahle and smile — not feel the urge to throw up.

A seed farmer from the tiny Lassen County town of Bieber in the mountainous northeast, Dahle, 57, is likeable, level-headed and highly respected by colleagues of both parties. He’s a fighter, but not a ranting demagogue.

“He’s not crazy, which in 2022 puts him ahead of a bunch of other Republicans,” says Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College.

Pitney is a former Republican National Committee official who registered as an independent the night Donald Trump was elected president in 2016.

OK, but merely being a nice guy rather than a rude wacko is a pretty low bar. It isn’t enough to qualify someone to govern the nation’s most populous state with the world’s fifth-largest economy.

So, the second thing to know about Dahle is that he could handle the job.

Unlike other Republican gubernatorial finalists in the last quarter century, this one has actually held elective offices, and held them well. He served 17 years as a county supervisor, then more than six in the state Assembly, where he was minority leader, and now is in his fourth year as senator.

He knows the ins and outs of government and has immersed himself in the details of complex public policy, especially water. No training wheels would be needed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Rehabilitating vacant housing in the Adirondacks

NPR picked up this story by Northstate Public Radio yesterday, "Demand for housing is high in the Adirondacks.  So is the number of Vacant homes."  Emily Russell reports from Saranac Lake.  Here's an excerpt that describes a sort of "rural blight" phenomenon--and what can be done about it:  

The housing crisis in Saranac Lake and throughout the Adirondacks is complex. Vacant homes are just part of the problem, but Allan Mallach, a national housing expert at the Center for Community Progress, says it’s a delicate one that can start with just one abandoned home in a neighborhood.

“People start to say, ‘if this property is being neglected, why should I bother?’ And it sort of creates a chain reaction.”

Franklin County, which includes Saranac Lake, is applying to create its own land bank. Jeremy Evans is the CEO of the Franklin County Economic Development Corporation.

“When a town or village comes and asks the land bank for help with a problem property, the land bank has the resources, the technical expertise, the financial resources to say, ‘Yes we can help with that.’” 

The land bank can then decide whether to invest in the property and eventually put it back on the market or demolish it. Ogdensburg has its own land bank and Essex County is in the midst of a pilot project this fall. There are dozens of other land banks across the state.

This story is part of a series on the housing shortage in the region.  

Monday, October 10, 2022

More on the rural vote in the run up to the midterms--from Nevada, Montana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin

So many stories over the past few days have touched on the significance of the rural vote in different states.  I'm going to just summarize them here.  

Most recently is this CNN story out of Nevada, where Trump recently appeared at a rally in Minden, population 3001, in the northwest part of the state, not far south of Reno.  (This is not Trump's first appearance in Minden).  The context you need for this excerpt from Dan Merica's story is that Adam Laxalt is the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, challenging Catherine Cortez-Masto and Lombardo is challenging Demcrratic governor Steve Sisolak : 
“We believe that rural Nevada is the key to turning our state back,” Laxalt said during a stop late last year in Winnemucca, a mining town of under 8,000 people in northern Humboldt County.

Nevada, which Trump lost twice, represents one of the biggest tests for Democratic power in the 2022 midterms. The party holds all but one statewide office in Nevada, and Democratic presidential nominees have carried the state in every election since 2008, buoyed by the strength of the late Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid’s so-called Reid Machine. But those Democratic margins have been declining and after closures around the coronavirus pandemic dramatically affected Nevada’s tourism-centric economy, Republicans see a strong chance to make gains in the state, hanging their hopes on Lombardo’s bid to unseat Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and Laxalt’s challenge to Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto.

A CNN poll released on Thursday found no clear leader in either race: Laxalt and Lombardo had the support of 48% of likely voters compared with 46% for Cortez Masto and Sisolak.

* * * 

The urbanization of Nevada has long allowed Democratic candidates in the state to run on one strategy: Run up the vote total around Las Vegas, win narrowly or at least stay competitive in the Reno area and lose big in rural Nevada. Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the Senate, followed this strategy in 2016 when she lost every Nevada county, except Clark, but still won a first term by over 2 points.

In recent years, that strategy paid even greater dividends as Washoe County, the second largest in the state, has tilted toward Democrats. Democratic presidential candidates have carried Washoe County in the last four presidential elections, while Sisolak and the state’s junior senator, Jacky Rosen, both won the county in 2018.

Another great piece is this commentary from Sarah Vowell of Montana, who writes of cross-party efforts to field and support candidates who can be successful against radical Republicans like Matt Rosendale, the Congressman from what was the state's only congressional district but who is now vying for the state's first district, which is the eastern part of the state.  Here's the part of Vowell's commentary that touches on rurality:   

Here in the western mountains where I live, the First District could be competitive for Democrats if the college towns and Indian reservations can outflank clumps of Trumpists and armed Christian separatists. But when I asked Dorothy Bradley — a Democratic icon since she got elected to the state legislature as a 23-year-old in 1970 — about the Second District, she replied point blank, “A Democrat can’t win in eastern Montana.”

She is, however, floating a Plan B. In April, Ms. Bradley invited to the Capitol in Helena her opponent in the 1992 gubernatorial race, Marc Racicot, the two-term governor and former chair of the Republican National Committee. In the contest for the House seat in the eastern district, they endorsed an independent, Gary Buchanan, who is running against Montana’s current at-large representative, Republican Matt Rosendale. The Bradley-Racicot endorsement was a singular milestone in Montana politics, as if the C.E.O.s of Pepsi and Coke called a truce to sell some Dr. Pepper.

President Biden’s plea to rational Republicans and independents to vote for Democrats in the midterms, as a ploy to root out authoritarian Republican extremists, could persuade the already persuadable. But winning the popular and electoral votes in 2020 does not change the fact that he lost in about 2,500 of the nation’s 3,000 or so counties. While the Republican Party spurns observable reality, the Democratic Party has alienated most of the continent (which is also unrealistic in a republic if governing is the goal). In landscapes where, as former Senator Conrad Burns described eastern Montana, there is “a lot of dirt between light bulbs,” defending pluralist democracy might require a pluralist task force. Realistic Democrats allying with Republican defectors and the unaffiliated to elect civic-minded independents could look like the bipartisan coalition backing Mr. Buchanan and an experiment south of here in Utah.
* * *
Mr. Buchanan oversaw “Build Montana,” a program focused on beefing up what’s now the economic pillar of tourism. He created the still ubiquitous “Made in Montana” label to promote homegrown products, a marketing ploy I fall for every time I face life’s jelly and jam dilemmas. Endangered fossil fuel towns might appreciate his experience with tough transitions. And his fealty to the right to privacy in the Montana Constitution, which guarantees abortion rights (for now), provides an alternative to Representative Rosendale’s rigid opposition.

Mr. Buchanan told me that when he’s out campaigning in the eastern district, he meets Montanans who have never heard of the category of independent, but they instantly see themselves in that word.

And here is a Huffpost piece about how a Democrat can survive in "Trump Country," and it is about U.S. Congressman Matt Cartwright, dateline Honesdale, Pennsylvania, population 4458.  An excerpt follows: 

Speaking at a Wayne County Democratic Committee meeting last Sunday, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D) denounced Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 presidential election — and his plans to appoint people who might meddle in future results — in no uncertain terms. He called them “undemocratic” and the “definition of wiping away [the] American right to vote.”

But to a woman in the crowd sporting a “Biden” baseball cap, Cartwright hadn’t gone far enough.

“Fascism! Fascism!” she interjected.

Rather than indulge her, Cartwright disarmed her and her fellow party activists with a joking rejoinder. “There’s that ‘f-word’ again!” he said, prompting laughs.The brief exchange was lighthearted — and in another context, it might be entirely insignificant.

But Cartwright, a five-term incumbent from the Scranton area, is no ordinary member of Congress.

The former trial lawyer is one of just four House Democrats currently representing districts where President Donald Trump won in both 2016 and 2020. Reps. Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Cheri Bustos of Illinois are not running for reelection. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine is seeking another term.

But unlike Cartwright, Golden was first elected in 2018, sparing him the ordeal of having to run down-ballot from Trump during the unexpectedly lopsided 2016 election cycle.

“Cartwright has obviously proven himself as a guy who can pass through fire,” acknowledged Mark Harris, a Pittsburgh-based Republican strategist who is not involved in Cartwright’s reelection battle.

Cartwright’s decision not to label Trump-inspired election denial as “fascism,” even in front of a loyal Democratic audience, speaks to his winning formula in a largely blue-collar and white corner of northeast Pennsylvania where his survival has defied a rightward shift.

“You don’t win anybody over with name-calling. Fascists were Nazis, OK?” Cartwright told HuffPost in an interview at a downtown Honesdale cafĂ© following his remarks. “I don’t use inflammatory language.”

Lastly, there is this story out of Wisconsin by Henry Redman for the Wisconsin Examiner.  The headline is
"Ahead of razor thin elections, are Democrats overlooking rural Wisconsin?"  First some background from the story, where cities tend to be Democratic strongholds and rural areas are typically Republican strongholds. 

In 2012, Barack Obama carried 35 counties on his way to winning Wisconsin with nearly 53% of the vote against Mitt Romney. In 2020, Joe Biden carried 14 counties on his way to winning the state with 49.6% of the vote against former President Donald Trump.

23 counties flipped from Obama to Trump from 2012 to 2016 and only two, Door and Sauk, flipped back to Biden in 2020.

And here's a bit about what is happening now in the run up to the midterms, in which the Republican candidate for governor is campaigning in Milwaukee, but Democrats running for statewide office (Mandela Barnes for the U.S. Senate and Tony Evers is seeking a second term as governor).  

Democrats running and voting in rural parts of the state are questioning if the party will show up to fight for votes in the small communities across rural Wisconsin.

They see a party that failed to put a Democrat on the ballot in two congressional districts and a national party that they feel has written them off.

“The Democratic Party has abandoned us,” says Jayne Swiggum, a Democrat running to unseat Rep. Loren Oldenburg (R-Viroqua) in the state’s 96th Assembly District. “That makes those of us around here feel like, ‘Oh, apparently we aren’t important enough.’ You know, that flyover state feeling, that makes me mad. But yeah, I do think that the Democratic Party has forgotten us. It used to be the party of working people. It still wants to be but it’s not. It can be again. But truly it has forgotten us.”  

Jeff Spitzer-Resnick, an attorney who recently moved from Madison to Adams County, got so frustrated with the lack of outreach from Democrats to him and his new neighbors, he started paying to put ads supporting Democratic candidates in the local weekly ad mailer.

“It appears, for frankly no good reason, that the Democratic Party has written off rural Wisconsin, which is a horrible mistake,” he says. “A lot of Wisconsin counties are Obama-Trump counties. That means there are swing voters who can vote for candidates as opposite as Obama and Trump. In a purple state with razor thin margins, why wouldn’t you put as much into every part of the state?”

State Sen. Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska) is running for the open seat in the state’s 3rd Congressional District. Made up of largely rural parts of Western Wisconsin, the district is one of the most closely contested in the country. Pfaff, the former secretary-designee of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, can’t afford to ignore the rural parts of the district in his race against Republican Derrick Van Orden, but he says he recognizes the way voters in these parts of the state have felt left out by the modern Democratic party.

“I will say this, I will never abandon rural America. I’m a Democrat, I was raised a Democrat, raised with rural, Democratic values,” Pfaff says. “We didn’t talk about partisan politics in the house. We just talked about things like hard work, dedication, resilience, and we were part of a community.

“But, you know, the Democratic Party needs more rural voices,” he adds. “And the national Democratic Party needs more rural voices, without a doubt.”