Saturday, December 31, 2022

On the travails of California's small legal pot farmers

Kevin Rector reports from Garberville, in Humboldt County, California.  The headline is, "The War on Drugs Part II:  California taxes, rules are killing small legal weed farms."  An excerpt follows: 

Across California’s legal cannabis industry, small operators are facing financial ruin. 

Farmers have been forced to rely on government assistance and have stopped paying their taxes. Some legacy growers who entered the legal market are considering going underground into the thriving illegal market, where they would avoid state oversight and tax bills.

The farmers say they support regulations that ensure their weed is safe for consumers. But they object to rules that nitpick their farming practices and needlessly drive up their costs — rules that their illegal competitors don’t follow.

In addition to paying cultivation and excise taxes, state licensing fees and other upfront costs, legal cannabis farmers have been forced to comply with intense tracking and testing regimens and an array of bureaucratic rules that dictate how they can farm their crop — some of which state officials have conceded are excessive and have begun to walk back. One that the state eliminated had required farmers to weigh every one of their plants individually. Another restricted outdoor farmers’ use of “light deprivation,” a traditional farming method to limit the amount of sunlight plants get in the field.
* * *
Faced with increasingly desperate pleas from licensed farmers, California has eased regulations and state and local taxes have been reduced in recent months, after officials began realizing that legal weed can’t be the cash cow they once envisioned. Not if they expect it to also compete with and one day overtake the illegal weed industry, which is causing labor and environmental catastrophes across the state.

Friday, December 30, 2022

On resistance to green energy in small-town America

David Gelles reports today for the New York Times under the headline, "The U.S. Will Need Thousands of Wind Farms. Will Small Towns Go Along?"  The subhead is, "In the fight against climate change, national goals are facing local resistance.  One county scheduled 19 nights of meetings to debate one wind farm."  An excerpt follows: 

[W]hile [federal] policymakers may set lofty goals, the future of the American power grid is in fact being determined in town halls, county courthouses and community buildings across the country.

The only way Mr. Biden’s ambitious goals will be met is if rural communities, which have large tracts of land necessary for commercial wind and solar farms, can be persuaded to embrace renewable energy projects. Lots of them.

According to an analysis by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United States would need to construct more than 6,000 projects like the Monticello one in order to run the economy on solar, wind, nuclear or other forms of nonpolluting energy.

In Piatt County, [Illinois] population 16,000, the project at issue is Goose Creek Wind, which has been proposed by Apex Clean Energy, a developer of wind and solar farms based in Virginia. Apex spent years negotiating leases with 151 local landowners and trying to win over the community, donating to the 4-H Club and a mental health center.

Now, it was making its case to the zoning board, which will send a recommendation to the county board that will make a final call on whether Apex can proceed. If completed, the turbines, each of them 610 feet tall, would march across 34,000 acres of farmland.

* * *  

In Piatt County, the zoning board decided to conduct a mock trial of sorts. During the first nine hearings, Apex and its witnesses made the case that property values would not decline and that other concerns about wind farms — that they are ugly, that they kill birds, or that the low frequency noise they emit can adversely affect human health — were not major issues.

Don't miss this entire story.  It's textured, with lots of interesting folks and a bit of misinformation thrown in, too.  

Here's a recent related story, from the Associated Press, about rural voters being leery of Biden on climate issues

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Tony Pipa of Brookings writes of need for "policy renaissance for rural America"

The New York Times published the guest essay, which follows on the first episode of Brooking's "Reimagine Rural" podcast, out of Shamokin, Pennsylvania.  Here's an excerpt from Pipa's essay: 
Shamokin is a cautionary tale for what happens when we lack policy solutions that can truly help places cope and adapt to major economic and social shifts. Despite widespread acknowledgment since 2008 that rural places have generally been left behind, our nation still lacks a coherent federal rural policy.

Almost a century ago, federal policy like the Rural Electrification Act, Title V of the Housing Act and other national-scale development programs helped bring rural America into the modern era, and its contributions helped make the American economy the envy of the world. But today’s federal programs were built for a different era. We need a renaissance of rural policy to enable a renaissance of rural America.
What we have are lots of programs — over 400 available for community and economic development spread across every nook and cranny of the federal government. But navigating that maze and the peculiarities of their applications, reporting and matching requirements is a high bar for anybody, let alone the part-time volunteer elected officials and the bare-bones staffs that make up many local rural governments.

That leaves most rural communities starved for investment. Very few can get the type and level of resources necessary to reinvent their economy or unleash the full potential of their human, intellectual and natural capital as they face rapid change.

Too often policymakers mistake agricultural policy for rural policy. Farming now accounts for just 7 percent of rural employment. Service jobs, retailing, manufacturing and government employment all outweigh agriculture. And while $163 million of the relief the Trump administration distributed during the peak of the trade war with China went to high-income farmers making more than $900,000 annually, small-scale and family farmers are increasingly taking off-farm jobs just to get by.

Other posts about how rural communities struggle to compete for federal funds--and even apply for them--are plentiful on this blog, including one here.  

Rural policy is one issue where Republicans and Democrats should be able to find common ground to work together. The new Congress will present a concrete opportunity as it takes up work to pass a new Farm Bill in 2023, a major piece of legislation renewed roughly every five years that — among other things — authorizes rural development programs at the Department of Agriculture.

Yet early indications signal high-profile fights over food stamps, agricultural subsidies and conservation investments — and limited attention to rural development.

Reauthorizing the Economic Development Administration presents another opportunity. Its authorization expired in 2008, and conversations to renew it began in the current Congress but never made it to the finish line. The new Congress can reopen that process to seriously consider the federal role in promoting economic revitalization in left-behind communities.

One thing is clear: Tweaking around the edges will remain ineffective. A serious policy discussion should be dominating the airwaves. Rural America is listening for how public leadership and resources can better support the economic and social renewal of rural communities, but it hears mostly silence.

Don't miss the rest of this important essay.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

More than half of rural California now at "high risk" for wildfire

Hayley Smith and Sean Greene report for the Los Angeles Times yesterday.
For the first time, more than half of California’s rural and unincorporated communities could soon be classified as “very high” fire hazard severity zones, according to a proposed map from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Officials unveiled the new map — which ranks the likelihood of certain areas to experience wildfire as “very high,” “high” or “moderate” — this month and are taking public comments through February. If approved, nearly 17 million acres will fall under the worst ranking from the Office of the State Fire Marshal, a 14.6% increase since the map was last updated in 2007.

The change is largely a reflection of the state’s worsening fire activity, said Daniel Berlant, Cal Fire’s deputy director of community wildfire preparedness and mitigation. That includes larger, faster and more frequent blazes, many of which are being fueled by a buildup of vegetation and California’s warming, drying climate.

“That increase really is reflective of what our firefighters have been experiencing over the last several years — more severe wildfires in areas that maybe historically, or decades ago, didn’t have the same susceptibility to wildfires as they do today,” Berlant said. “While the results of the map aren’t necessarily surprising, they really are reflective of a changing climate and an increasing severity of wildfires.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

How one rural Georgian defied expectations in the 2022 vote

Stephanie McCrummen of the Washington Post reported from northwest Georgia a few days ago under the headline, "In rural Georgia, an unlikely rebel against Trumpism."  The focus of her story is Cody Johnson, and the dateline is Beulah, Georgia, an unincorporated community in the northwest part of the state.  Johnson voted for Joe Biden in 2020 and Raphael Warnock twice this fall.  McCrummen provides a great deal of background on Johnson, going back to his early childhood, to explain his recent political decisions:

How Johnson became an unlikely part of an emerging voter revolt against Trumpism is not so much the story of some political strategy, or even the policies of the national Democratic Party, which has long been accused of ignoring places such as northwest Georgia.

Rather, it is the story of a thousand life experiences that add up to a certain kind of American character, one that can arise from the very landscape where the Trump movement took root.

For Johnson, the process was one of slow accumulation, and to explain this, he took a drive one day, tracing a childhood across the 14th District, an area that stretches from the Appalachian foothills to the outermost edges of Atlanta’s sprawl, encompassing farms and factories and one small town after another including the one where Johnson’s first memories were formed.

He drove past the prim shops of downtown Jasper, past the gas station where his mother had worked, and the marble quarry where his father had worked for 20 years. He stopped in front of a weedy lot where his house used to be. He remembered two things.

One was his parents’ fighting, which left him with an urge for escape. The other had to do with his father, who, Johnson remembered, had him carry heavy marble blocks from one corner of the yard to another, back and forth for hours.

“I was always in trouble,” Johnson said, explaining that this was such a constant state of being that it became the bedrock of an identity. “I was the troublemaker. I guess I just always remember kind of not going with the group, no matter what.”

He continued driving down a narrow, pine-shaded road until he stopped at a cluster of low brick buildings that was a housing project where he lived after his parents divorced, and where his neighbors were White and Black and poor. He remembered two more things.

The first was the image of his mother putting away groceries in the kitchen as he tried out a racial slur he’d picked up on the playground. He remembered the box of macaroni and cheese she had in her hand at that moment, and the feeling of the box slapping his face, and the sound of her yelling, “You’re not better than anybody,” and the shame he felt as he cleaned the noodles off the floor, thinking of his best friend, who was Black, and his friend’s father, who was always helping his mother out.

I love how this defies the Southern stereotype of the racist parent and shows us the Southern parent who did not tolerate racism in her children, who taught them not to be racist.   

Johnson got motivated to vote after Trump was elected in 2016, followed by Marjorie Taylor Greene as congressperson from his district:  

“You couldn’t turn around without seeing some sticker, some post promoting violence and hate,” he said. It was the red hats, the flags, the conspiracy theories, the bullying, the racism. It was the sheer totality of how the Trump movement seemed to overtake people’s minds, he said.

“To me, anything that starts to dominate everything about you — when you can only interact with an ideal instead of have a conversation — I’m skeptical.”

But what was most insulting to him of all was the assumption that he would go along with all of it because of how he looked and where he lived. He started to feel like a spy. He had neighbors who made him aware of a bar near his house that was supposedly a gathering place for people in the white nationalist movement. He got a Facebook invitation to join some militia group, which he blocked. He had White co-workers who flagrantly used the n-word and made racist comments to him, and he came to enjoy their shock when he told them to cut it out.

Here's a long quote from Johnson: 

It was disgusting that people might think I was okay with that.  I decided I wasn’t going to just let it slide. Because if you let it slide, you become complicit, and complicity turns into guilt, and guilt turns into shame, and shame turns into fear, and I don’t want to live in fear.

And this bit refers to the recent Dec. 6 run-off election for the U.S. Senate seat from Georgia. 

And then a 33-year-old White man from northwest Georgia voted for the third time in his life.

He voted against the Trump-backed candidate, and as he saw it, he voted against all the politics of Trumpism that had been expected to work on somebody like him — white nationalism, grievance, bitterness, bullying and, perhaps most of all, fear of a changing world.

“I have relatives who retreated rather than adapted,” he said, thinking of the life he left behind. “I think of it as, I left the mountain to come into the world, to go out into the world. It’s something I’m kind of proud of.”

This highly textured story is so worth a read in its entirety.  

Monday, December 26, 2022

Legal Scholarship: Rural bashing

Kaceylee Klein, a joint J.D./PhD (English) student and I wrote this article for the University of Richmond Law Review symposium on "Overlooked America:  Addressing Legal Issues Facing the Rural United States."  The abstract follows: 
This article, written for the University of Richmond Law Review’s 2022-2023 symposium, 'Overlooked America: Addressing Legal Issues Facing the Rural United States', considers and complicates the increasingly hostile sociopolitical relationship between urban and rural America. Our focus is on what we call rural bashing, the harsh and even dehumanizing way that some metropolitan and coastal folks increasingly speak about their rural and 'flyover' counterparts.

We identify and assess three threads associated with the phenomenon. The first is a narrative about our representative democracy that assumes rural people have too much power because of the structure of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College. The second is that, partly as a consequence of those political structures, rural people and their communities get more than their fair share from federal government coffers, sometimes characterized as 'rural subsidies'. The third thread—and the harshest, most bare-knuckled rural bashing—mingles with these first two: a culture of annoyance, even disdain, that metropolitan dwellers direct at rural people, their cultural trappings, and their intelligence. We pull these threads from common talking points shared by news outlets, pundits, and social media users. After illustrating the rural bashing phenomenon, we challenge the veracity of some aspects of the rhetoric, while also demonstrating the damage it does.

We focus on two recent periods of acute rural bashing. The first arose during the 2008 presidential election and its aftermath, when Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin took on the mantle of small-town America. Because the mainstream media often criticized Palin in relation to her rural roots, rural people and places became collateral damage of the harsh and highly personal critiques. We then look at rural bashing during the 2016 presidential cycle and its aftermath, when the phenomenon exploded in the robust social media landscape of the Trump era, prompted by widespread attribution of Trump’s win to rural voters.

We next debunk the myths associated with narratives of undue rural power by showing that neither rural electoral heft nor government largesse in rural places is as simple or straight forward as most commentators imply. We further argue that, in some contexts, subsidies are appropriate because the market will not meet the minimal needs of rural residents. Broadband is the most obvious example of this, and we argue that it is indispensable in the early 21st century in the way rural electrification was in the last. Convincing urban folks that rural folks are worth these investments likely depends on an understanding that rural and urban are interdependent. Urban folks want—even need—what rural people and places provide, e.g., food, fuel, fiber, military recruits, recreation.

We close with a discussion of some other reasons rural bashing matters. Among these is empirical research showing that rural folks are paying attention to the negative depictions and are deeply resentful of them. Indeed, this widespread disdain, attributed to the left, is influencing rural voting habits. We emphasize that the practice is counterproductive, especially if the goal is building broad coalitions that can solve cross-cutting problems that undermine wellbeing along the rural-urban continuum. A better strategy is to drop the condescension and have respectful conversations based on shared definitions, e.g., what constitutes a rural subsidy, and an understanding of the mutual dependence and shared concerns of rural and urban.
Klein and I toyed with several titles and subtitles in lieu of or in addition to "rural bashing," and the title of this article may yet change.  Here are some alternatives we considered: 
Rural Bashing: Debunking Rural Myths, Building Broader Coalitions, and Saving our Democracy

Putting an End to Rural Bashing? How to Debunk Rural Myths, Build Broader Coalitions, and Save our Democracy

Sunday, December 25, 2022

"Us and Them" addresses rural v. urban in year-end episode

Here's a link to the year-end episode of "Us and Them," a podcast from West Virginia Public Broadcasting, in which I appeared as a guest.  No full transcript is available, but I will just highlight below the quote from me that the program featured:

The algorithms have decided that because I’m a law professor who lives in California, who... whatever it is that all the algorithms know about me, they assume I want to see people talking  about how idiotic rural people are. I don't want to see that.  I don't believe that.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

On the parallels between far northern California and West Virginia

Mackenzie Mays writes in today's Los Angeles Times in the wake of a magnitude 6.4 earthquake in Humboldt County, California. The 6.4 quake made even national headlines on Tuesday this week, but in this piece, Mays, who grew up in Appalachian West Virginia, is comparing California's far north with her home state. She begins by telling of her response to the urgent call from her editor to get to Humboldt after the quake:  
I opened my map app and typed in Fortuna — a historic logging town, population 12,000 — that I hadn’t been to in my eight years of living in California.

I didn’t have time to do much research but knew it was a magnitude 6.4 quake that led to two deaths, 11 injuries and the closure of a bridge over the Eel River. I knew that people had gone to bed the night before with a very different life than they woke up to.

What I didn’t know was that a new place would feel so familiar and that the reporting would be easy because of that sense of community. This coastal county, about 55 miles from the Oregon border, surrounded by giant redwoods, reminded me of my hometown in West Virginia, at the heart of Appalachia.

Both are regions defined by a connection to nature, fading 20th century industries and people who are resilient as hell.
When I arrived in Fortuna just before 2 p.m. — after a long, winding drive that included a snowy detour through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest that only God and my GPS can explain — I pulled into the first restaurant I saw. Double D Steak & Seafood was closed but full of people cleaning up broken bottles of liquor and wine — the smell hit you in the face.

Most of the folks helping weren’t employees but volunteers: The owner’s son had gotten his buddies to help sweep and take out the trash. The owner, wearing a camouflage Santa hat despite being awake since 3 a.m., welcomed me in and showed me the dining room that days prior had been readied for holiday cheer, now filled with shattered ornaments, crooked photos and a toppled Christmas tree.

It was my first glimpse of a town that had been wrecked by nature but was full of people helping one another get through the crisis while grasping for a shred of normalcy.

* * * 

In West Virginia, we don’t have earthquakes, but we have floods. Instead of old lumber-company towns, we have remnants of a once-booming coal mining industry.

Both places have immense natural beauty and are home to people who struggle with poverty but are proud of where they’re from. They are places rightfully leery of outsiders but astoundingly welcoming.

In this part of California, like West Virginia, communities are tight-knit in part because they believe no one else is coming to help them. I sensed a relatable frustration with feeling overlooked and misunderstood.

But I knew I wasn’t one of them. I was there for only two days. All I could do was listen. I always asked about more than the earthquake: What’s this place usually like? What do people get wrong about it?

“The more densely populated areas tend to speak for all of us,” Mcniece [a resident and source for her story] told me. “The Bay Area and Los Angeles and Sacramento — they get to be the face of what California has on its mind, but over here behind the redwood curtain, we have different needs.”
* * *
Both [Humboldt and Appalachia] have immense natural beauty and are home to people who struggle with poverty but are proud of where they’re from. They are places rightfully leery of outsiders but astoundingly welcoming.

In this part of California, like West Virginia, communities are tight-knit in part because they believe no one else is coming to help them. I sensed a relatable frustration with feeling overlooked and misunderstood.

Don't miss the rest of this poignant and charming read.  

Friday, December 23, 2022

Rural China especially vulnerable to "dark COVID winter"

Emily Feng reports for NPR this afternoon.  Here are some excerpts that illustrate the problem: 
As COVID-19 spreads largely unchecked from Beijing to Shanghai, China is bracing for a second surge, jumpstarted by millions of people who are planning holiday travel from cities back to their rural villages, where the health care system is far patchier.

"I really don't think the village doctors, or even the township or county hospital, can handle the increased number of severe cases," says Huan Wang, a researcher at the Stanford Center on China's Economy and Institutions. "I think the rural villagers are just left on their own in a dark COVID winter."

As the Lunar New Year approaches, health officials are concerned the celebrations could turn into superspreader events, catching rural systems off guard and driving up infections in a country where natural immunity is nearly non-existent and vaccine hesitancy has remained stubbornly high among the older population.
* * * 
However, the strain China's on countryside is already evident as medicine shortages hit rural pharmacies. On Chinese social media, rural residents have been asking for donations, posting pictures of ransacked pharmacy shelves devoid of fever and pain medication. Some of the medication has been diverted to cities, which were initially hardest-hit by the surge and where supplies first ran out.

"People from the cities have been coming over and buying all of our medicines, or they'll order online and have our pharmacies mail it over to them," says Li Qian, a recent college graduate, who lives in a village in China's southern Jiangsu province. She worries most about her asthmatic grandparents; the nearest hospital, she says, is two hours away.
* * *
Last Thursday, China's national health commission said it was accelerating the expansion of fever treatment clinics – where patients can get quick medical consultations and supplies from a pharmacy — to cover 90% of rural areas to prepare them for the anticipated increase.

The audio has some information not in the transcript, so it's worth a listen.  

Postscript:  Here's a mid-January 2023 story from the Washington Post speculating about the impact Lunar New Year travel will have on the pandemic in China, again because many will travel from urban to rural areas to mark the holiday.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Law and order in the Ozarks (Part CXXXVI): My hometown prepares for the 2024 eclipse

I've been aware for several years that Newton County, Arkansas (population 8,330), where I grew up, will be in the path of totality of the Great North American Eclipse of April 2024.  I made my reservation for lodging more than six months ago when no premium was being charged for rooms during this period, perhaps because the owners of the cabin were unaware of what was going to happen on that date nearly two years off.  I'd started nagging an area dude ranch to let me make a reservation two and a half years in advance, following up two years in advance, but they turned me away because it was a full year outside their usual window of booking.  They were so unbending that I wondered if they were completely unaware of the eclipse and the onslaught of requests that were sure to pour in at some point.  Thus I moved on to other, more flexible vendors.  

More recently, it's been interesting to see my hometown newspaper begin to cover plans for the event.  This story a few weeks ago was headlined, Cost of eclipse is a concern.   Here's the bulk of the story, which serves as a sort of laundry list of things a locality has to think about when expecting a big influx of visitors, a particular challenge when a locale has so little infrastructure and so little developed human capital: 
The Newton County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) met Nov. 14 to discuss the preparations that will be involved, but one question remained when the meeting ended. How much will the eclipse cost?

At this early date there are no funds budgeted for the eclipse. Kim Williams, named 2024 Eclipse project manager for Arkansas Tourism, spoked to local business owners in Jasper last October and said it is assumed the governor could release some state funds prior to the eclipse.

The LEPC is a non-funded coalition that works to help the county's planned response to emergencies. Byron Mann, pastor of the Jasper Methodist Church, serves as the chairman. He said while a lot of visitors are anticipated it's important to make sure the residents are taken care of and given information about the eclipse they need to know.

"We need to figure out the best way to gather information and to disburse it," Mann said. That should start in January 2024 with regular mailings. Organizations represented on the LEPC may be asked to help with the expenses of printing and mailing.

Jasper Postmaster Ken Fry said the post office offers Every Door Direct Mail service. It is the least expensive costing about 18 cents per flat piece. He recommended not doing it until the final month. He advised using fliers and handing them out at different locations and using social media before making mail outs.

The key focus is going to be water, fuel, groceries and medicine, Mann said. Residents will need to stock up on these items which will be in short supply after thousands of people suddenly arrive. The worst case scenario, due to the influx of vehicles on local roads and highways, is nobody is going to be able to move, unless you walk or ride a four-wheeler, Mann said. The residents who live in the county will be limited on access to town and won't be able to make their regular shopping trips.

"The pharmacy really needs to be on board on this," Mann emphasized. People need to have their medications in hand or in house a week to 10 days prior to the eclipse because they may not be available.

Not only will people be coming for the eclipse, but this is prime floating season on the Buffalo National River, Mann reminded, along with being in Arkansas's tornado season.

Mann said of an incident that happened in town the prior weekend when some computer lines went down and stores couldn't accept debit or credit cards. What could happen if the local digital transmission systems are overwhelmed. Can the communications utilities handle it?

Mitch Brasel, of Ritter Communications in Jasper, said "we never had it happen before." He said the credit card problem was an issue beyond the local service.

Tim Koren, a board member of the Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority, said he is concerned cell phone towers will be unable to meet demand for service. He said the companies that utilize the few local towers don't appear to understand the trouble customers have accessing service.

Toinette Madison, director of the Newton County Chamber of Commerce, said her organization has been bringing awareness to local businesses. Because Jasper will be in totality it will likely draw not only people just outside the area, but could draw people from as far away as Tulsa, Oklahoma. "We just don't know," she said. Businesses can prepare for the people who make advance reservations for accommodations. It 's those who come unannounced that the area has to be prepared for.

Margie Rutledge, information technology manager for the Jasper School District, asked about the costs to the city or the county. She asked if the city has money for events such as this.

Mayor Jan Larson said overnight rental businesses only pay sales taxes, there are no special fees or taxes collected by the city. There is a bed tax tbut that revenue goes to state tourism.

Rutledge also asked, who's going to foot the bill for clean-up? What if we have 10,000-20,000 people come in and leave behind their trash?

The county handles the city's trash, Larson said. She did not know the capacity of the county's solid waste transfer station.

Larson also noted the need for facilities for dumping liquid waste from the number of travel trailers that might arrive.

The city has only one dump station at Bradley Park.

Mann said he has heard people are already having to go out of state to reserve portable toilets.

Shane Kilgore, Newton county OEM manager, suggested charging additional fees for waste removal. Particularly people who will allow camping or parking on their property. They will be liable for clean-up. He said he believed the county's transfer station is capable of meeting the demand, but it might require hiring additional workers temporarily or working overtime.

Sheriff Glenn Wheeler was asked if his office has began planning to meet the increased demand for law enforcement.

He said he has begun contacting the National Park Service, the US Forest Service and the Arkansas State Police for possible assistance. "We started those wheels turning, but haven't got very far." He said he can also reach out to other counties for help if the need arises.

Will Jasper School have classes that day? Jasper Fire chief Pam Emerson asked.

Rutledge said school will not be in session that Monday. No decision has been made about Tuesday.

"Everybody knows we have a little time, but that window is going to close pretty fast. We don't want to get caught a month out and not know what to do," Mann said.

Here's a more recent story about what the Buffalo National River is doing to prepare for the eclipse.  The headline is "Park service prepares for the eclipse," but the story suggests that the federal agency is doing little to prepare.  Here's an excerpt:

Discussions continued at the Dec. 12 LEPC meeting that was attended by NPS staff members Justin Gibbs and and Casey Johannsen. They explained Buffalo National River hasn't made any specific plans as yet due to the park service does not make reservations for camping facilities no sooner than six months ahead of time. However, the pavilion at the Oark Campground near Jasper can be reserved a year ahead of time.

National Parks in other parts of the county have experienced eclipses in the past, they said, and protocols will be announced and followed at the Buffalo National River. They acknowledged the eclipse will come when floaters are attracted to the river at that prime time of year.

Newton County Justice of the Peace Arlis Jones attended the meeting. He was looking for more specific information about how many visitors the county will have, how traffic will be routed and the costs associated with clean-up afterward. He endorsed a heavy presence of law enforcement and local volunteers to police for littering and taking down license plate numbers.

He also said he would ask the quorum court to petition the state for additional funding to cope with the eclipse aftermath.

Newton County Chief Deputy Sheriff Mike Blocker said state and federal law enforcement will be busy within their own jurisdictions and that Newton County will have to rely mostly on its staffs, reserve officers and in most cases volunteers who can help direct traffic and assist wherever they can.

Jasper Fire Chief Pam Emerson said she plans to station some emergency vehicles to the north and south of Jasper to try to reduce response times to calls while the roads closer to the city are expected to have more traffic on them.

* * *

Besides roads, other infrastructure may also be pushed to capacity. Jacob Collins, director of the Jasper Public Works Department, said he felt the Jasper water system can meet the demands. He said there is a small number of public restrooms, which is a good thing because it is unlikely the wastewater plant would be compromised.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Legal Scholarship: Localizing minimum wage laws: a rural perspective

Travis Andrews published this essay in the Cornell Law Review Online.  The abstract follows: 
Since launching in 2012, the Fight for 15 movement has successfully lobbied for a $15 per hour minimum wage in many urban localities. Today, more than 50 localities have their own minimum wage laws that set a rate higher than state or national pay floors. Two of the primary justifications for raising the minimum wage are based on a nationwide surge in income inequality and the inability of a full‑time minimum‑wage employee to earn enough money to keep a family above the poverty line.

A significant amount of legal scholarship has examined whether localities have or should have the ability to pass minimum wage ordinances. The common theme in most scholarship is the focus on cities—which makes sense, given that the movement for a higher minimum wage has been mostly confined to urban areas. But remarkably little attention has been paid to the reverse issue: whether across‑the‑board minimum wage hikes, based on urban areas’ high cost of living and income inequality, are necessary or desirable in nonurban areas. Recent proposals by congressional Democrats and the Biden administration to increase the federal minimum wage ignore the impact of uniformly raising the minimum wage on rural small businesses and employment—a problem that Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has hinted at in his opposition to a $15 per hour minimum wage. Of course, it is not only Democrats who support increasing the minimum wage. In fact, nearly one-third of Republican voters support a higher minimum wage, and voters in Republican-leaning Florida approved a ballot initiative in 2020 to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026.

This Essay addresses some of the issues that universal minimum wage rates pose for rural areas. A modest hike in the minimum wage for all workers is debatable; what seems less justifiable are the calls for a $15 per hour minimum wage in nonurban areas, which generally have less income inequality and a much lower cost of living than the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. Herein lies the problem with minimum wage laws as we have come to know them: they are one‑size‑fits‑all prescriptions, whether at the national or state level. This model ignores the vast differences in the economies of nonurban and urban areas. Put simply, a blanket minimum wage, whether federal or statewide, risks disproportionately harming growth and employment in nonurban areas—particularly as these communities try to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This Essay contains three sections. Part I argues why the common justifications for a significant minimum wage increase are weaker in nonurban areas. Part II explains why nonurban areas are likely to be disproportionately and negatively affected by a large increase in the national or state minimum wage. Part III concludes with a few brief proposals for creating more precise minimum wage laws.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Encyclopedia of Rural Crime published today

The editors of this volume from Bristol University Press are Alistair Harkness, Jessica Rene Peterson,  Matt Bowden, Cassie Pedersen, and Joe Donnermyer.  Here's the link on amazon, and the brief overview follows: 

The key reference guide to rural crime and rural justice, this encyclopedia includes 85 concise and informative entries covering rural crime theories, offences and control. It is divided into five complementary sections: 
• theories of rural crime;
• rural crime studies; 
• rural criminal justice studies; 
• rural people and groups; 
• rural criminological research. 
With contributions from established and emerging international scholars, this authoritative guide offers state-of-the-art synopses of the key issues in rural crime, criminology, offending and victimisation, and both institutional and informal responses to rural crime.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Tom Vilsack on rural-urban interdependence

U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack tweeted this today.  It is, at least implicitly, a reminder of rural-urban interdependence.  I like it!  

Also, I'll just note that this interdependence is a theme of Ann Eisenberg's forthcoming paper in the Richmond Law Review, "Rural as Commons." It is also a theme of my forthcoming paper (with Kaceylee Klein), "Rural Bashing."  We will be presenting these papers at the University of Richmond Law Review symposium in mid February 2023.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

On politics in California's Imperial Valley

This LA Times column by Jean Guerrero, out of Imperial County, California, speaks to what Democrats need to do to attract the Latino/a vote there, on the Mexico border.  Here's the lede:

For Democrats who mistake demographics for destiny, Imperial County is a mystery. It’s California’s most heavily Latino county, and yet Republicans have been making gains here.

This isn’t south Texas, where former President Trump’s appeal was rooted in cowboy-idolizing Tejano culture. This is Southern California. The GOP’s allure here is more complicated.

About 200 miles southeast of Los Angeles, the still-blue county does have similarities to the Rio Grande Valley, such as proximity to Mexico and a rural economy. The sprawling fields of the Imperial Valley supply the country with winter vegetables such as lettuce and carrots.
Voting patterns among the valley’s more than 180,000 residents look like a paradox: trending progressive in some local races while inching toward Republicans in state and national ones. Michael Luellen II, an 18-year-old out gay Latino, won a City Council seat in Calipatria. Raúl Ureña, 25, who is transgender, was reelected to Calexico’s City Council, alongside their ally Gilberto Manzanarez, 29. Countywide leadership is becoming younger and more diverse, reflecting a desire for change.

At the same time, Democrats’ margins of victory for top-of-the-ballot positions, such as governor and attorney general, shrank in the midterm elections last month. The GOP is continuing to make inroads here after Trump won 36% of the county’s vote in 2020, up from 26% four years before. There’s one through-line here: rejection of the status quo.
At the county’s southern end in Calexico, where the border wall’s steel columns and barbed wire cast shadows over farms and houses steps from neighboring Mexicali, common adjectives that people used to describe Trump to me were “loco” and “racista.” Crazy and racist.

In this part of the county, people roll their eyes at Republican rhetoric about “open borders.” Locals see the reality: The region is militarized and has been for years. Border Patrol vehicles are everywhere. Green-clad agents stroll on the sidewalks and eat in the taco shops, guns on their hips. Nearly 50 miles to the north, a Border Patrol checkpoint serves as a second border.

The column is worth a read in its entirety.   

Interestingly, California's new Chief Justice grew up in the Imperial Valley.  She is the first Latina Chief Justice in the state.  Former Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court, Cruz Reynoso, also grew up in the Imperial Valley. 

Saturday, December 17, 2022

More on the rural vote, starting with Gluesenkamp Perez and WA-03

Coverage of the rural vote in the 2022 midterms continues to stream in, and I'm going to highlight some of it here.

First, I want to features this piece from The Nation on Marie Gluesenkamp Perez's victory in Washington's third district, which includes Vancouver, just north of Portland.  She defeated Trumpist Ed Kent, who had deposed moderate Republican Jamie Butler-Herrera in the Republican primary.  (I've previously written about the race here and here).  What follows is an excerpt from the story by Nick Bowlin, who writes for the High Country News, with a focus on rurality:
Without party support, Gluesenkamp Perez built a different kind of Democratic campaign. She talked candidly about the decline of the timber industry and the loss of manufacturing jobs, while promoting right-to-repair legislation, which would give people the tools and legal authority to repair everything from cell phones to John Deere tractors to medical equipment. Right-to-repair is an especially important issue in rural areas, where repairing heavy machinery can be banned by manufacturers.

I will just note here that Senator Jon Tester, the only farmer in the Senate, also talks frequently about right to repair.  

Here's more from the piece about Gluesenkamp Perez: 

Gluesenkamp Perez did not run as a centrist. She put abortion access at the center of her campaign, often telling the story of her own miscarriage. She also pledged not to support Nancy Pelosi as House caucus leader and talked openly about the guns she owns.

The Democratic Party’s collapse in rural areas ought to be obvious to all at this point. In the 2020 presidential election, Trump won 65 percent of rural voters.
The rest of the article is presented as Q & A between Bowlin and Gluesenkamp Perez: 
NB: It’s my understanding that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee [the party’s arm for House races] didn’t spend on your behalf, is that right? How did you pull off the win with minimal party support?

MGP: The DCCC never put in any money. Near the very end, I believe the House Majority PAC did come in [The House Democratic caucus’s main Super PAC spent $300,000 on her behalf in the final week]. I listen to my friends at home. I found allies. I found neighbors. I built a coalition. And I really got to stay focused on what matters to my district.

It was very frustrating to never be taken seriously by many in the party establishment. But it’s also not surprising, because people like me who work in the trades are used to being treated like we’re dumb.
NB: Do you think that perception explains why it took so long for them to even consider you as a viable candidate?

MGP: Yes, I do. I don’t think they think that, but when I went to a meeting with the DCCC after I won, I asked, “How many of your candidates don’t have graduate degrees? How many didn’t go to college? How many work in the trades?” And they said, “I don’t know.” Well, maybe you should know. Maybe that should be important to you, because it’s important to many, many Americans.

They really need to reassess what they think makes a qualified candidate. I’m not special. There are a lot of people like me, who really can serve our districts who understand them deeply. We have got to do a better job of recruiting those folks to run if we want to be relevant in rural places.

NB: I’m glad you brought up health care monopolies in rural areas. When we talk about corporate consolidation and power in the US, these conversations can leave out the specific ways these issues impact rural economies. On the campaign trail, you talked a lot about right-to-repair and other monopoly issues. Can you say more about this?

MGP: Right-to-repair is honestly one of the biggest reasons that I ran for Congress. Democrats love to talk about how they support the trades or being pro-labor. I think this is this is a crisis for the middle class, and it’s a crisis for the trades. Supporting the trades means ensuring that there are things to fix. That’s also part of being an environmentalist, ensuring that we have things to fix, that things are made to last and we don’t dispose of them. And it’s about cars and tractors, but also electronic waste. This is about home medical equipment. It’s this creeping, metastasizing problem, and it’s taking away a fundamentally American part of our identity. DIY is in our DNA. And I really believe that we’re being turned into a permanent class of renters who don’t really own their stuff.

Despite the language used in this story, it's worth noting that Washington's third district is not very rural--at least not depending on one's definition.  Matt Barron, a rural-focused political consultant, points out

"Why do you and other writers keep calling WA-3 a 'mostly rural district' when it is only 19% rural.  Perez only won one rural county (Pacific) by 2 points, while losing the other five.  I'm glad she won but this district is urban and suburban."  

Gotta say I agree with Barron on this one--at least I don't think it's helpful to call this area rural when its proximity to Greater Portland is what it is.  In fact, much of the district is metropolitan Portland.  

Other recent coverage of the rural vote in the midterm election includes these stories:   

Josh Kraushaar writes for Axios under the headline, "Democrats show signs of life in rural America." It features this visual of Democrats from the recent midterms who out-performed Biden's 2020 performance.

Here are some key rural datapoints:

  • The four Black Senate and gubernatorial nominees in the biggest battlegrounds (Georgia, North Carolina and Wisconsin) all underperformed Biden in their states' rural counties. Only one other Democrat in the analysis (defeated Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak) did worse than Biden in rural counties.
  • In the Georgia runoff, Sen. Raphael Warnock underperformed Biden by 1.8% in the state's rural counties, even as he overperformed the president by 5.3% in the urban counties.
  • Among Senate candidates, the party's top overperformer in the suburbs was Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, who ran 4.7% ahead of Biden.
Here's a piece from Newsweek titled, "How these Democrats bucked the trend and won over rural voters."  Erica Etelson, who works for the Rural-Urban Bridge Initiative, writes:
The GOP's lackluster performance in the midterms came as an enormous relief to most Democrats. But in rural America, with a few notable exceptions, Democrats sunk to a twelve-year low water mark. If Democrats are to regain ground with rural voters, an absolute necessity given the Electoral College map, they will need to up their game.

Luckily, we have just the playbook. For the past year, the non-profit Rural Urban Bridge Initiative has interviewed 50 Democratic candidates who ran in rural races in 2016, 2018, and 2020. Most of these candidates significantly outperformed the partisan lean of their district, and we wanted to know what they did right.

What we learned from Democratic "over performers" in previous electoral cycles is that they did a lot of the things that helped propel 2022 midterms candidates like John ("every county, every vote") Fetterman (D-PA) and Marie ("not your typical candidate") Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA) to victory.

For starters, they and their campaign staff have deep roots in and knowledge of their communities' values, history, and problems. Local fluency engenders trust even across lines of ideological difference and enables candidates to find islands of common ground in a sea of disagreement. An elderly Iowan family farm couple might not be keen to cancel student debt, but they may want to break up Big Ag monopolies, make sure their local hospital stays open, and regain the right to repair their John Deere tractor. They may appreciate if their state created a public bank like the beloved Bank of North Dakota that would extend them a non-usurious line of credit.

When it comes to personality, Democratic over performers in rural areas are typically humble, plainspoken problem-solvers, not dogmatic or grandstanding ideologues. They come across like ordinary people who care about the well-being of the places they seek to represent. They do not see their constituents as "deplorables," nor do they seek to "school them" on where their self-interest lies.
There's a lot of wisdom here, including that last bit that echoes Gluesenkamp Perez, so don't miss this piece in its entirety.  

Friday, December 16, 2022

More on the rural-urban rift in Peru, as protests erupt over ouster of President Castillo

I wrote last week about the ouster and arrest of Peru's president Castillo, who is associated with the country's rural reaches.  Now, protests have erupted in those areas, with many traveling to where the former president is imprisoned to protest.  Here are some excerpts from the New York Times coverage

Now, Dina Boluarte is the sixth president in five years in a country reeling from a long history of high-level scandals and deep divisions between its rural poor and urban elite.

* * *
Ms. Boluarte, a former ally of Mr. Castillo, has found herself increasingly at odds with the rural Peruvians who voted the two of them into office last year. On Thursday, her government expanded the state of emergency, imposing a curfew in 15 provinces.
* * *
Mr. Castillo is a leftist from an indigent farming family in the Andean highlands who had never held office before becoming president last year.

While Peru enjoyed a long stretch of commodities-driven economic success that pulled millions of people from poverty earlier this century, that wealth failed to reach much of the country’s poor, especially in rural areas that bear the brunt of Peru’s chronic inequality.

The protests over Mr. Castillo’s removal grew so quickly, many demonstrators said, because, whatever his misdeeds, he represented the voice of a swath of the population that has long felt marginalized by the elite.

“I am against the fact that my children don’t have the same opportunities as the upper class,” said Delia Minaya, 49, who had traveled an hour by car to the camp growing outside the prison complex, bringing with her breakfast for dozens of strangers.

She said she had spent years working at a clothing factory — pulling regular 20-hour shifts — to send her two children to private school.

It wasn’t that she was a die-hard Castillo supporter, she said. But he should have had the chance to govern for people like her. “It pains me to see my brothers fighting every day for this damn system we have in Peru,” she said.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Might the State of California subsidize flagging rural law enforcement? and a deep dive on other issues implicated by the rural law enforcement staffing shortage

Tehama County Jail
September 2021
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2021
I wrote about this topic last month based on this Los Angeles Times story out of Tehama County, California.  Now, CalMatters is expanding on the reasons for the shortage.  Nigel Duara's deeply reported story also discusses the possibility--which I assume is a very slim one--that the State of California might subsidize counties like Tehama that are unable to hire sufficient deputies to afford daytime patrols.  Here's an excerpt on the big picture, with a nod to rural self-sufficiency: 
This is a county where people are expected to take care of themselves, and in the last month, Tehama County itself has been operating without its own guardrail: Outgoing Sheriff Dave Hencratt said last month that deputies would no longer patrol during the day.
Next, here's a terrific excerpt on how the shortage--which has attracted attention from tabloids as far away as London and New York--has landed locally:  
On a recent December morning, lots of people’s faces hung low and heavy as the clouds.

The sheriff frowned when he met a reporter at midday on the edge of his property, dressed in barn clothes, declining to comment. The county administrator frowned because the sheriff’s abrupt decision threw his office into chaos. The tavern owner frowned because he works 23 miles outside of town and hasn’t seen a patrol car in weeks. The elected leaders, the motel owners, the rural residents left to their own devices — everyone, it seems, in this stretch of land between national forests, is unhappy with the circumstances, and they each have a different idea for how to solve it.
There's lots of colorful language from the retiring sheriff about how his department loses officers to neighboring agencies, like the Redding Police Department in neighboring Shasta County:  
The state, meanwhile, isn’t making it any easier to hire police officers — particularly those who leave larger departments with shoddy disciplinary or criminal records and find employment at smaller organizations. New laws have raised the minimum hiring age of law enforcement officers to 21 and require the community college system to create a “modern policing” degree program by 2025, laying the groundwork for a statewide officer education minimum.

In Tehama County, tensions had been building for months, if not years. Hencratt told the Red Bluff Daily News in February that other law enforcement departments were treating his office like a “supermarket of employees.”

“When (the) Redding Police Department says, ‘You know what chief, we’re down officers,’ ‘Well go down to Tehama County, go down the officer aisle and pick some,’ and that’s what they do. They’re cherry picking our people,” Hencratt told the newspaper.

Tehama County usually makes its hires from newly graduated applicants, said Tehama County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick. Since the county pays so poorly — about 22% below market rate, according to a county-commissioned compensation study from August — the new recruits don’t stay long. The police department in the county seat of Red Bluff pays better, and law enforcement in the nearby city of Redding and surrounding Shasta County both offer higher salaries and hiring bonuses of several thousand dollars.
Since 2012, the Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training, or POST, has certified on average about 3,200 officers each year. A basic certificate means that the applicant passed both the POST academy and a field training program, then completed a probationary period at the agency that employs them. The entire process takes about two years.

In 2022, however, the agency issued just 2,424 basic certificates as of Dec. 13, the lowest number of basic certificates issued since 2013, and well below the 10-year high of 4,530 issued in 2020.

“I would agree that it’s harder to be a police officer now than (in years past),” said Hydrick, the county administrator. “There’s a lot of disincentives to being an officer. The culture isn’t behind you anymore. We have more laws about policing and being a police officer than other states.”

But Hydrick also blames the working attitudes of the new generation making up the youngest ranks of law enforcement — or, in this case, not making up that new generation.

“We can keep throwing money at it, but if there’s a generation that’s not willing to work or apply for jobs, the money’s not going to fix that,” Hydrick said. “The younger generation wants to be gamers and YouTubers; maybe they cobble an income together from being an Uber driver.

“We’re not seeing people want to become professionals anymore.”
And here's more on the question whether too much state regulation is the problem--or at least part of it.  
One of the architects of California’s push for tougher regulations on police and policing is Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat and chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee. He said he doesn’t see a conflict between police hiring problems and the state’s stronger hand in hiring officers and the practice of policing.

“It’s almost like, if you’re saying the regulations are too stringent, you’re saying we can’t get people who are not racist, who do not want to brutalize people of color,” Jones-Sawyer said. “We’re not the ones making police officers look bad. It’s the bad police officers who are discouraging the good ones from applying.”
But Sawyer-Jones said it may be time to consider having the state send money to the smallest departments, like the one in Tehama County, to make sure they can afford to pay competitive rates.

“We probably do need to look at subsidizing smaller police departments so they can level the playing field,” he said.

* * * 

Police departments nationwide are calling for more officers, but in the smallest offices covering the largest geographic areas, the situation is more dire. In Shasta County, north of Tehama County, the sheriff’s office closed one level of the jail and blamed a lack of deputies. Sacramento has had a police officer shortage since the Great Recession 15 years ago, and in Los Angeles, the police department has no staffing problem, and is instead requesting more helicopters.

It’s not like policing pays badly in California — sometimes the opposite. At the opposite end of the spectrum, a Beverly Hills assistant police chief earned $716,284 in total compensation in 2021, making him the highest-paid municipal employee in the state. But Tehama County is no Beverly Hills: The entire county drew less than one-half the revenue that Beverly Hills did in the 2020-21 fiscal year, the latest year for which numbers were available

One recruiter who works with police departments said that law enforcement has been slow to change its recruiting practices, and that’s reflected in the smaller number of people joining the profession.

“This isn’t 1997,” said Epic Recruiting CEO Sam Blonder. “You’re not going to get 1,000 people signing up for the (policing exam).”

The issue isn’t just pay, Blonder said, citing research showing that the newest generation of recruits looks for work-life balance ahead of pure compensation. But policing’s issues also extend to intransigence among the old guard. His work to recruit new officers, Blonder said, is as much about convincing police brass to do the recruiting.

“Among command staff there’s this attitude that I shouldn’t have to do this,” Blonder said. “Ask 150 high school kids who wants to be a police officer — you won’t get one that will raise their hand. It’s not for me to say why that’s happened, but sometimes an industry needs a shakeup like that.”

That shakeup is happening in real time in Tehama County.

“People have expressed to me fear and concern based on the lack of the daytime sheriff’s office patrol,” said Tehama County District Attorney Matt Rogers. “Simply put, if they pick up the phone and dial 911, is someone going to come?”
Any Tehama County officials wishing for tax hikes to generate more county revenue watched those hopes fizzle in March 2020, when voters rejected the county’s 1-cent sales tax increase. And it didn’t just fail, it was crushed, 84% to 16%.

Tehama County is also setting aside money for about 30 vacant sheriff’s office jobs, eight of them for deputies and 13 for deputies in the county jail. Hydrick, the county administrator, said the sheriff’s hope was to eventually fill those positions and restore the sheriff’s office to its 2017 size of approximately 84 deputies.

But in the meantime, all of those vacant positions “encumber,” or put a hold on, the salaries those positions would be paid. That, Hydrick said, amounts to about $3 million each year in unused money by the sheriff’s office, which then reverts to the county’s general fund.

In place of the absent deputies will be the California Highway Patrol, which has 14 officers for the 15-county region that encompasses Tehama County.

“Since Nov. 20, the CHP has received numerous requests for assistance (from residents) to calls in Tehama County that don’t include their usual duties,” California Highway Patrol spokesperson John Crouch said in an email.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea, whose county borders Tehama and whose office pays more, said background checks are as much an obstacle to making new hires as the recruiting process is.

“It’s a challenge to find people you would want to entrust with the authority to carry firearms,” said Honea, who is also president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association.

Honea said his office tries to focus on retaining the people they already have by offering free gym memberships and yoga classes.

For some longtime residents like Tehama County Supervisor Bill Moule, the end of daytime patrols is a return to the county’s past.

“I moved to this county in 1978, and the first question I asked was, ‘What kind of service do you have in the rural areas?’” Moule said. “The sheriff was kinda this big guy, been sheriff a long time. He looked at me and said, ‘Son, get yourself a shotgun and a dog.’

“It’s no different today than it was in 1978.”

Grateful to be able to quote liberally from this CalMatters story, since this is a non-profit news website offering Creative Commons licensing.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

On the rural implications of Democrats' abandoning Iowa caucus as first state presidential race

Art Cullen, Pulitzer-Prize winning editor of the Storm Lake Times (Iowa) writes for the New York Times on Democrats' decision to move away from Iowa being the first presidential contest, "Want to Know Why Democrats Lose Rural America?"  Some pithy excerpts follow:  
We get it. Let someone else take a turn up front. But discarding Iowa is not a great way to mend fences in rural America — where the Democratic brand has become virtually unmarketable.

The Democratic big shots hated Iowa’s pride of place since the caucuses rose to prominence a half-century ago because money couldn’t control the outcome. Jimmy Carter broke through from Plains, Ga., with nothing but a toothy smile and an honest streak. Candidates were forced to meet actual voters in village diners across the state. We took our vetting role seriously — you had better be ready to analyze Social Security’s actuarial prospects.

* * * 

Iowa has its problems. We are too white. The caucuses are complicated, confusing and clunky. The evening gatherings in homes, school gyms and libraries are not fully accessible and not as convenient as a primary for people with jobs and kids at home.

But diversity did have a chance here. Barack Obama was vaulted to the White House. Iowa actively encouraged Black candidates to challenge the white establishment. Mr. Obama beat Hillary Clinton here. Iowa had no problem giving a gay man, Pete Buttigieg, and a Jewish democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders, the two top tickets out to New Hampshire last cycle. Black, white or Latino, it’s organization that matters in Iowa. You have to herd your people to the caucus and keep them in your pen for an hour while other campaigns try to poach them. It’s town hall democracy. Mr. Obama won with it. Candidates who ran feeble campaigns have to blame something. Latinos in Storm Lake overwhelmingly caucused for Mr. Sanders. Julián Castro can complain all he wants.

* * * 

Despite all the attention, nothing really happened to stop the long decline as the state's Main Streets withered, farmers disappeared and the undocumented dwell in the shadows.  Republican or Democrat, the outcome was pretty much the same.  At least the Republicans will cut your taxes.  

So it's OK that South Carolina goes first.  Iowa can do without the bother.  The Republicans are sticking with Iowa; the Democrats consider it a lost cause.... Democrats are barely trying.  The results show it. 

* * *  

Donald Trump landed in Sioux City on the eve of the midterm elections to claim his stake before a large crowd buffeted by the gales out of Nebraska. “The Iowa way of life is under siege,” Mr. Trump bellowed. “We are a nation in decline. We are a failing nation.”

They loved him. The Democrats view the crowd as deplorable and told Iowa to get lost.

More on Democrats' recent failure to reach out to rural America is here and here.

Rural America growing after a decade of population loss

Ken Johnson, University of New Hampshire demographer, has published a policy brief with UNH's Carsey School of Public Policy.  Here's the summary: 
Recent research suggests that the turbulent economic, social, and epidemiological conditions of recent years altered traditional demographic trends in non-metropolitan America. Between 2010 and 2020, nonmetropolitan (rural) America lost population for the first time in history because more people left rural areas than moved to them and because the excess of births over deaths dwindled. Yet, the latest Census Bureau population estimates document renewed population gains in nonmetropolitan America between April 2020 and July 2021. In fact, the rural population gain exceeded that in metropolitan areas, something that is rare in American history (Figure 1). This recent nonmetropolitan population increase occurred because a substantial net migration gain offset the growing excess of deaths over births fostered by COVID-19. In contrast, recent metropolitan population gains were smaller because of less natural increase and smaller net migration gains than between 2010 and 2020. Most of the recent nonmetropolitan population increase accrued to high amenity recreational and retirement areas because net migration gains to these counties accelerated early in the pandemic. Elsewhere in rural America, many areas continued to lose population, but a sizable number of counties had population increases because modest migration gains offset deaths from COVID-19. In many counties with histories of population loss, only sustained net migration gains can provide the demographic lifeline these communities need to stave off depopulation. Whether these nonmetropolitan migration gains will continue in this turbulent era remains to be seen.

This policy brief is based on an article by Johnson in the journal Rural Sociology.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Tester on Democrats' crummy messaging to rural America

Senator Jon Tester appeared on Meet the Press over the weekend and commented that Democrats "need to focus...'more on the things we’re doing for rural America.'”  The story continues, with plenty of criticism for Democrats:  
Tester pointed to bills he’s working on that deal with big packers and meat consolidation, which he said would help cow and calf operators make a better living.

He also said he doesn’t believe Democrats talk about their accomplishments in a way that appeals to rural voters “nearly enough,” citing the bipartisan infrastructure law that passed Congress last year.

“It’s going to help rural America big time, when it comes to broadband and electrical distribution and roads and bridges. We didn’t talk about it,” he said. “We didn’t talk about it from a rural perspective.”
In order for Democrats to get the message out to rural America, Tester said, it needs to be a “concentrated effort” because they have been “very bad” at delivering it thus far.

“And "If we’re able to do that and do that effectively, you’ll see those numbers change," he added.

Monday, December 12, 2022

On the Democrats' new heartland caucus, spurred by the urban, coastal provenance of their new Congressional leadership

A month ago, Matt Barron, a Democratic political consultant, tweeted about the proposed new party leadership:  "So the news House Democratic leadership will be from NY (45th most-rural state), MA (47th most-rural state) an CA (49th most-rural state).  Democrats really have become the party of the coasts."  He was referring to the likelihood that, with the announced retirement of Nancy Pelosi and her team as Speaker of the House, Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Pete Aguilar of California, and Katherine Clark of Massachusetts would take over the party's leadership mantle.  

That led me, two weeks later, to post the tweet below once this leadership team became official, "Problem of lack of geographic diversity--like same poor level of geographic diversity of #SCOTUS right now.  All urban states represented here, though I credit @RepPeteAguilar for being from the #InlandEmpire.  Still not a good look in the era of rural-urban polarization."  

Still, I didn't see any media coverage of this issue until the past week.  First, Scott Simon interviewed Michigan congresswoman Debbie Dingell on Saturday about this new Heartland caucus, which gives a nod to rural areas--and more than a nod to flyover states.  Here's an excerpt:  

Does the National Democratic Party have a problem in heartland America? Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, who ran and lost for a caucus leadership position in the House, displayed a map that shows the home states of caucus leaders. They're all from coastal states - New York, California, Massachusetts, Maryland. Representative Dingell is forming what's called the Heartland Caucus of Democrats, concerned their party isn't concerned enough with issues felt deeply in the Midwest. Representative Dingell joins us from her district in Michigan.

Thanks so much for being with us.

DEBBIE DINGELL: It's good to be with you.

SIMON: Republicans often call Democrats the coastal party. Is that true?

DINGELL: No, it's not. Would I be a member of Congress and a lot of my other colleagues if we did not have representation from the heartland? Though I think it's important at times that we need to make sure that our voices are heard. We are not going to win the majority back in the House without members of Congress from the heartland. But I think that our new leadership knows that and understands that.

SIMON: And what issues would you like to press?

DINGELL: Well, there are a number - I mean, manufacturing, union workers, trade. We're going to have reauthorization of the agricultural bill next year. There are very significant rural areas in our heartland. And their issues are - have different perspectives than California does. But we are a mosaic. We're just making sure that our perspective is heard and that we're educating people and that we're out there making sure that those in the heartland know that we do care.

SIMON: Representative Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, your colleague's been quoted this week saying she couldn't get fellow Democrats on the Special Committee on Economic Fairness to even mention the Midwest in their final report. Does that happen one way or another when Midwestern Democrats try to get attention to problems in their part of the country?

DINGELL: So I think it's important that we made our voice heard. But I can tell you that Hakeem and Katherine and Pete have all made it very clear that it is very important that the heartland be included. Hakeem has called me and said - all three of them - Katherine and...

The rural issue Dingell and Simon turn to here reminds me of this recent story, which is about the Democrats' move to shift the first presidential contest from Iowa to South Carolina.

Also regarding the new Democratic leadership, there's this from The Hill by Mike Lillis, "Heartland Democrats are feeling left out--again."  The lede follows: 

Midwest Democrats are warning that the party’s coastal image — encapsulated by its new leadership roster — could haunt them politically as they seek to make inroads in America’s heartland.

House Democrats this week elected a new team of leaders to guide them through the next Congress and into the 2024 presidential election, with the top five — and a presumed No. 6 — all hailing from either the East Coast or California.

Those optics are ringing alarms among the Democrats in the center of the country, who fear the party is only solidifying public perceptions that it’s run by urban “elites” out of touch with everyday Americans — perceptions that will hurt them in the same battleground districts that are crucial to winning back the majority.

“It’s always a current that we swim against every two years in middle America is the identity of our party,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), a 26-year veteran who’s retiring at the end of this term.

“For so many folks back home it’s viewed as an East coast, West coast Democratic Party, and not enough middle-America representation, people that they can identify with,” he continued. “It’s something I think the caucus needs to work on.”

Don't miss the rest of this story for more detail on the recent Democratic leadership contests. 

Back to the Scott Simon interview with Debbie Dingell, which at one point swerves away from rurality to talk about jobs and socioeconomic class, with some nice language about what's at stake for working-class folks who want their kids to get college degrees.

DINGELL: You know, everybody wants to pit people against each other. I know many union workers who have children with college debt, have it themselves. I think this president has worked very hard to let the working men and women who are members of the union know that he cares for them and fights for them. We do have to talk to them. We cannot take them for granted. I had some of the toughest union town halls, quite frankly, this year than I had in '16. But I stay there. I talk to them. We have to make sure that they understand what is being done for them. And we've got to do a better job of communicating how we are helping them.

SIMON: What made those town halls rough, Representative Dingell? What did people say to you?

DINGELL: They were very much listening to Fox, as I heard some of those talking points. They didn't think that people cared. They saw money going to a lot of people. People were worried about inflation and gas prices. And they hear what's happening in California and think that they don't matter. Well, they do matter. And President Biden has made it very clear and has been fighting for those working jobs.

Quite frankly, I think it took the pandemic and people to see for real how we had shipped jobs overseas. Our supply chain had gone overseas. We're making very concerted efforts now to bring that supply chain home. Not only is it economic security, but it's national security.

SIMON: Has the Democratic Party sometimes seemed to favor high-tech over factory jobs?

DINGELL: You know, the Republican Party does that, too, sometimes. By the way, we spend too much time pitting people, pitting issues against each other. What we have to do is to make sure all the issues are heard and not make false choices but figure out a way that we bring everybody to the table.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Big NYT feature on the federal effort to save rural hospitals, by ending inpatient care

Emily Baumgaertner reported yesterday for the New York Times under the headline, "A Rural Hospital's Excruciating Choice:  $3.2 Million a Year or Inpatient Care?"   Here are some excerpts from an important feature: 

For 46 million Americans, rural hospitals are a lifeline, yet an increasing number of them are closing. The federal government is trying to resuscitate them with a new program that offers a huge infusion of cash to ease their financial strain. But it comes with a bewildering condition: They must end all inpatient care.

The program, which invites more than 1,700 small institutions to become federally designated “rural emergency hospitals,” would inject monthly payments amounting to more than $3 million a year into each of their budgets, a game-changing total for many that would not only keep them open but allow them to expand services and staff. In return, they must commit to discharging or transferring their patients to bigger hospitals within 24 hours.

The government’s reasoning is simple: Many rural hospitals can no longer afford to offer inpatient care. A rural closure is often preceded by a decline in volume, according to a congressional report, and empty beds can drain the hospital’s ability to provide outpatient services that the community needs.

But the new opportunity is presenting many institutions with an excruciating choice.

“On one hand, you have a massive incentive, a ‘Wow!’ kind of deal that feels impossible to turn down,” said Harold Miller, the president of the nonprofit Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform. “But it’s based on this longstanding myth that they’ve been forced to deliver inpatient services — not that their communities need those services to survive.”

Some rural health care providers and health policy analysts say the officials behind the rule are out of touch with the difficulties of transferring rural patients. Bigger hospitals — bogged down with Covid surges, pediatric R.S.V. patients and their own financial woes — are increasingly unwilling to accept transferred patients, particularly from small field hospitals unaffiliated with their own systems.

There are also blizzards, downed cattle fences and mountain pass roads that close for months at a time.

“I really want to give this policy a chance to work well,” said Katy Kozhimannil, director of the University of Minnesota Rural Health Research Center. But gambling with transfers could mean that “some of the most extremely remote and marginalized communities could end up with no care at all — and that’s what we were trying to avoid in the first place.”

More than 180 rural hospitals have closed since 2005.   

There's lots more recent reporting on rural healthcare worthy of note.  Here are just a few: 

This one, from the Texas Tribune, is about rural hospital closures in the Lone Star State, with Jayme Lozano reporting: 

Texas hasn’t had a hospital close since 2020, a much-needed relief following the previous decade of closures that were predominantly seen in rural communities.

That could change soon: A new report from Kaufman Hall, a health care consulting agency, that was made public Wednesday shows that nearly 1 out of every 10 Texas hospitals are now at risk of closure, twice as many as before the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020.

“Ultimately, our concern is this will impact patient care,” said John Hawkins, president of the Texas Hospital Association.
The report highlights the pandemic’s striking toll on hospitals in the state as they face growing strain from surges in respiratory illness, workforce shortages and rising costs of medication, medical supplies and labor. This has caused hospital expenses to increase greatly — the total expenses for Texas hospitals this year have cost $33.2 billion more than before the pandemic.

While the risk is greater for all Texas hospitals, it’s higher for rural hospitals than for urban facilities — a 26% risk of closing compared with a 5% risk. Hawkins said there is concern about the challenges rural hospitals could face in the near future.

Health experts have long credited support from the federal spending spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic for lessening the closure risk in 2020 and 2021. Those funds are expiring soon, leaving hospitals without that financial safety net. Nearly half of all Texas hospitals are in negative operating margins because revenue is not covering the cost of patient care.

“We know, as that federal funding runs out, we’ve created a fiscal cliff,” Hawkins said. “These operating challenges are going to continue to be real for rural hospitals.”

And two recent stories about rural health care in Colorado are here and here, both from the Colorado Sun.