Thursday, August 31, 2023

New California Senate Pro Tem represents a vast rural district, along with some Bay Area suburbia/exurbia

The world of California politics appeared a bit surprised yesterday when the Democratic leadership of the State Senate announced that Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) would succeed Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) as President Pro Tem of the body.  McGuire lives in Sonoma County, toward the far southern (and more populous) end of a massive district that stretches along the Pacific coast from Marin County (on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge), up through Del Norte County at the Oregon state line.  His district is, I believe, the second largest of California's Senate districts in land area and includes vast rural areas  The largest is represented by Brain Dahle (R-Bieber) and runs from the Oregon state line south of Lake Tahoe to include Alpine county.      

Here's an excerpt from Politico's coverage of McGuire's ascension to leadership:
McGuire’s term would be brief — no more than 2 ½ years, since he’s termed out in 2026. He and Atkins are negotiating a transition that could begin as soon as January, though the exact timing wasn’t specified.

The decision came after a relatively short period of whipping votes and some brief discussions Monday. McGuire edged out other candidates, including Monique Limón; John Laird; María Elena Durazo; and Steve Padilla.
* * * 
McGuire's ascension comes after months of growing speculation about who would follow Atkins, the first woman and openly gay lawmaker to hold the post. He had pitched himself as an interim leader who can serve as a bridge between an outgoing class of veteran senators and a large group of newer members — some with future leadership aspirations of their own.

The process was devoid of the drama and prolonged leadership clash that just played out in the Assembly, where Speaker Robert Rivas pushed out Anthony Rendon in a fight that fractured the caucus. The Senate leadership contest was worked out within roughly 24 hours of McGuire telling colleagues he had secured the votes. Many senators and staffers also said they had hoped to avoid the Assembly’s fate.
Rivas represents a rural district of a somewhat different sort, one even more focused on agriculture, in the Salinas Valley in central California. 

McGuire has been on Atkins' leadership team since 2022. He has served in the state senate since 2014. He previously served as mayor of Healdsburg and was also a member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

I've followed McGuire on Twitter for years and have been pleased to see his concern and advocacy for far northern California's rural reaches, as in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties.  Among the headlines from his Senate page are these, which are relatively rural focused: 


Prior blog posts about McGuire's district, which mention the state senator, are here.

Here are some blog posts about McGuire's Republican counterpart, Brian Dahle, from that even more rural and sparsely populated district 1,  which is the inland counterpart of McGuire's and runs contiguous to it for hundreds of miles.  Dahle ran against Gavin Newsom in 2022 for the governorship of California and lost badly.  I see on his recent X (formerly known as Twitter) that Dahle is associated with an anti-crime rally on the Capitol grounds. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Maine Democrat Jared Golden doubles down in opposition to student loan forgiveness, with implications for rural folks


The Portland Press-Herald (Maine) reported last week on U.S. Congressman Jared Golden's provocative statement opposing student loan forgiveness.  Golden, a Democrat, is a three-term incumbent from the state's second district, which leans Republican and includes vast rural areas.  Golden's career and politically pragmatic stances are discussed in three prior posts, which also provide more information on the demographics and economics of his congressional district.  

Golden's mid-August Tweet responded to a report from the Maine Beacon that Golden, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, had received a donation from Sallie Mae after he was one of two Democrats who joined Republicans in May to oppose Biden's student-loan relief program.  (The other was fellow leader of the "yellow-dog coalition," Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, of southwestern Washington State).  Golden's Tweet led with 

I've always held the opinion that working class Mainers shouldn't foot the bill for someone else's choices. Once again, radical leftist elites prove they don't understand Maine.

It then included this text:   

Sadly, this is what the radical leftist elites are learning about "democracy" these days:  silence and destroy anyone who disagrees with your views or goals.  I stand by my vote and my opposition to forking out $10,000 to people who freely chose to attend college.  They were privileged to have the opportunity, andmany left college well-situted to make six figure salaries for life.  The Twitterati can keep bemoaning their privileged status and demanding handouts all they want, but as far as I’m concerned if they want free money for college, they can join the Marines and serve the country like I, and so many others, have in the past and many more will in the future. If they want a career and hard skills without college debt, they should join a union and enter an apprenticeship. But if they choose to attend college, they can pay back their loans just like working-class people pay back home mortgages, car loans, and many other expenses that people choose to take out loans for.

Golden's statement provoked lots of strong reaction on X, formerly known as Twitter.  One of those responding was Tiffany Bond, an independent who has twice challenged Golden in the past.  Bond broached the matter of the implications of Golden's position for rural Maine, writing:  

What the hell is wrong with you, Jared?  Rural Maine will have no dentists, doctors, lawyers, teachers or anyone requiring a professional education. You don’t understand rural Maine.

The Maine People’s Alliance account responded  “Really? I’m not sure the ‘Twitterati’ are the ones not understanding Maine right now.”

Academics responded, too.  History professor Heather Cox Richardson wrote, 

Heavens!  Did you really write this or have you been hacked?!? You always seemed a centrist voie of reason that represented your Maine district well.  What's with this "radical leftist elitists"?!? 

And University of Maine political science professor Amy Fried posted a few responses:

This language is divisive and nasty.  There is a real debate to be had about helping people go to and graduate college and if there are benefits to be gleaned by the whole society.  You've done nothing to contribute to that.  Just awful.  Don't think of running statewide, ever. 

An account holder called bre kidman's awkward blue check wrote: 

Yikes, bub.

Did you draw the short straw on making the cringe statement to get that Sallie Mae money for the team? You know college educated Mainers aren't making 6 figure salaries.

JS there are classier ways to quit Congress than slamming your constituents when they're down.
Then, from the same account: 
Also, real quick math question: how much money did Maine voters spend getting you elected to a job with a low six-figure salary?

The tone of Golden's statement--though not the substance--is in sharp contrast to the statement of another "rural" politician, former Montana Governor Steve Bullock who wrote in a New York Times op-ed in December, 2021

To overcome these obstacles [facing the Democratic party in rural America], Democrats need to show up, listen, and respect voters in rural America by finding common ground instead of talking down to them. Eliminating student loans isn’t a top-of-mind matter for the two-thirds of Americans lacking a college degree. Being told that climate change is the most critical issue our nation faces rings hollow if you’re struggling to make it to the end of the month.

Note that Bullock held himself out as representing what rural voters generally think, which is not necessarily the same as saying he would side with them on either student loan relief or climate change policies.  That is, we do not know what he thinks or what side he would land on faced with policies to ameliorate student debt or climate change.  What is clear is that Bullock's tone is more conciliatory than Golden's, that it leaves room for nuance and discussion.  

I blogged about Bullock's op-ed and the response to it in this post.

In any event, I'm curious to see how Golden's stance on student loan relief plays out when he's up for re-election next year.    

Here's an earlier post about higher education access for rural Mainers.

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law Blog and First Gen Course Blog.  

Monday, August 28, 2023

Small-town government run amok (Part XII): Who and what were behind the police raid of a small-town newspaper in Kansas?

This story out of Marion, Kansas, population 1,922, made big national headlines two weeks ago when police raided the local newspaper, the Marion Record, as well as the home of its publisher  The reason these events attracted so much attention, of course, is that the law does not typically permit prior restraints of media in the United States--and thus we don't tend to permit seizure of journalists' notes and tools.  After-publication liability can attach if, for example, a publication runs afoul of defamation law or some other laws. 

Since these dramatic events unfolded in Kansas, catapulting little Marion onto the world stage, national media have been revisiting the "scene of the crime" to reveal who and what were behind the raid.  What evidence justified the search warrant?  Early reports suggested that it came down to a dispute between the newspaper and the owner of a local business, Kari Newell, over a DUI she got 15 years ago, which caused her to lose her driver's license for a time.    

OK, I thought, but a local judge and local police still had to get involved for the raid to have occurred, which caused me to file these events temporarily under my "small town government run amok" folder.  This is my mental category for events when small-ish local governments do knuckle headed things--often unconstitutional things--because no one is watching the watchers.  That is, the officials aren't getting legal counsel or don't, for example, have a lawyer present to advise when decisions are being made.  In this case, though, a magistrate judge (with a law degree), Laura E. Viar of Kansas Eighth Judicial District, approved the police chief's request to search the offices of the newspaper and the homes of the newspaper editor and a councilwoman.  The judge granted that search warrant based on evidence suggesting unlawful use of a computer and identity theft, the latter being a felony.  (I note that in this district, the means of ascending to the bench is through "assisted appointment" and that Judge Viar is not listed on the ballotpedia webpage, though she is listed on the government webpage of the Eighth Judicial District).

The facts underlying that allegation were that a Marion Record reporter had checked the accuracy of an allegation about Newell, a local business woman, whose past DUI and loss of driver's license, the journalist was investigating.  The reporter did so by entering information gleaned from a screenshot purporting to document Newell's DUI and entering those details into a state government website to confirm Newell's loss of license.  Newell's old DUI and loss of license were of public interest only inasmuch as she was applying for a liquor license for her restaurant.  Nevertheless, the newspaper did not publish a story about the restauranteur's DUI. 

It appears that the judge, having the police department appear ex parte seeking the search warrant, never considered the first amendment implications of the warrant she signed off on.  That's a pretty significant oversight given how relatively little was at stake for Newell, the victim of the alleged identity thefl. 

Some of this detail is revealed in this Washington Post feature, published just this weekend, which provides the most detailed back story I've seen so far on these events.  It it a tale rich with rural and small-town themes, including lack of anonymity.  Here's the lede:

The phone conversation between the journalist and the town’s newly hired police chief quickly turned contentious.

Tipsters had been telling Deb Gruver that Gideon Cody left the police department in Kansas City, Mo., under a cloud, supposedly threatened with demotion. So now she was asking him difficult questions on behalf of the weekly Marion County Record about the career change that had brought him to this prairie community of 1,900 people.

The chief bristled.

“If you’re going to be writing bad things about me,” they both recall him telling the reporter, “I might just not take the job.”

He also advised Gruver that he had hired a lawyer.

Cody later said he had been on guard during the conversation, having been warned by longtime residents that the Record could be overly aggressive in its reporting.

“If you live in Marion, you understand,” he told The Washington Post. “If you don’t live in Marion, you don’t understand.”

Gruver wouldn’t publish any of her reporting on Cody for months to come. But their confrontation in April marked an escalation in long-running tensions between a group of local journalists and the officials and community members they cover that would boil over through the summer.

The small-town intrigue might have stayed in a small town, though, had Cody not initiated a dramatic step earlier this month. Responding to a local businesswoman’s allegation that the paper had illegally accessed her driving record, Cody obtained search warrants from a magistrate judge and led half a dozen officers on an Aug. 11 raid of the Record’s offices and the home of its editor and publisher — seizing computers, servers, cellphones and other files.

* * * 

Cody, 54, officially assumed his post in June. Shortly thereafter, he ordered his deputies to stop sending daily police activity logs to the Record.

Crime is infrequent in Marion, but the Record had consistently published these weekly reports — detailing every minor traffic accident police responded to, every report of wandering cattle — for decades. Cody told The Post that his review led him to believe these disclosures could violate privacy laws. In response, the paper began publishing a pointed notice where the reports had formerly appeared: “Chief Gideon Cody has ceased providing a weekly report of police activities.”

The story later suggests that Cody was motivated to seize the Record's computers not to vindicate restauranteur Newell, but because the computers would reveal details of who had made allegations against the police chief himself.  

And then there's this sort of "last chapter," involving someone else in Marion County who has a law degree and should understand the constitutional implications of what transpired with the newspaper seizures:  

Marion County Attorney Joel Ensey announced five days after the raid that he would withdraw Cody’s warrant and return the seized items to Meyer and his staff.
The announcement seemed to amount to an admission that the now-infamous raid had been a mistake. Ensey said in a statement that there had been “insufficient evidence” to justify a raid on the searched locations or to connect the sought-after items with an alleged crime.

You can read earlier coverage of these events here, here and here.  The last of these, from the Kansas City Star, alleges Marion County Sheriff copied the newspaper's hard drive before returning it and that the county is being asked to destroy that copy.

It all makes me wonder what sort of legal advice Marion County and the City of Marion are getting now, as they face fall-out from the raid--a raid that, incidentally, appears to have led to the death of one of the newspaper's owners/publishers/editors, a 98-year-old woman whose house was searched in the initial raid.  

Friday, August 25, 2023

Why the highest paid doctors (but not the highest paid lawyers) live in the Dakotas

"The real reason the highest-paid doctors are in the Dakotas" is the headline for Andrew Van Dam's recent report in the Washington Post.  Here's what the data show:    
The best-paid doctors in America work in the Dakotas, where they averaged $524,000 (South) and $468,000 (North) in 2017 in their prime earning years, including business income and capital gains. That’s well above the already astonishing $405,000 the average U.S. doctor made in the prime earning years, defined here as 40 to 55.

And it’s way above the $288,000 we estimate was earned by lawyers in that age group. Prime-earning-age attorneys in South Dakota made $165,000 in 2017, while their neighbors to the north made $183,000.

By contrast, lawyers in New York earned an average of $438,000, which is roughly comparable to the $447,000 earned by the average New York doctor. Their D.C. lawyer friends made $406,000, while the average D.C. doctor eked out just $349,000.

* * * 

Rural regions rule the doctor rankings: Alaska, Wyoming and Nebraska join the Dakotas in the top five states for physician pay, confounding the intuition hammered into our souls by more than a decade of covering economics. None of those are high-earning states overall, with the evergreen exception of Alaska. They’re also not high-cost: North and South Dakota rank 41st and 45th, respectively, in cost of living among the states and D.C.; only Alaska costs more than average, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

And here's the "why" part:   

“For lawyers, there is a strong relationship between the lawyer’s income and incomes of other people in the area. And that’s not true for doctors,” Gottlieb said, noting that doctor pay doesn’t have a strong relationship with local education levels and real estate prices, either.
Economists explain that competition is another key factor:  
Rural America has about 20 percent of the U.S. population but about 10 percent of its doctors, according to our analysis of Census Bureau data. So the talented young physicians willing to hang their shingles in North Dakota don’t have to worry about rivals undercutting their prices. They can charge more for everything, from appendectomies to vasectomies.
* * *
The government also influences physician pay directly through Medicare, perhaps the biggest spigot of health-care cash on Planet Earth. Typically, people in low-income areas can’t spend as much and merchants tend to earn less. But that’s not the case for health care, in large part because Medicare ensures that retirement-age Americans — by far the biggest health-care consumers — can afford about as much in South Dakota as they can in South Beach. Which means doctors work in one of the few industries where demand is not necessarily determined by disposable income.

* * * 

But Medicare plays an even more explicit role in fostering this geographic pay-gap anomaly. A stellar 2022 report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office lays out the astonishing design choices that have caused Medicare calculations for doctor pay to be remarkably flat from state to state.

Van Dam goes even to even more depth on this point, but you'll have to read the rest of his story for that level of detail.  His related story, "The states that produce the most doctors, artists and writers, and more!" is here

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Big wind energy plans for remote-ish far northern California

Politico reported last week on a proposal to "develop offshore wind at a depth and scale never before attempted in the world"--and to do it in a place that has seen little public investment in recent decades:  Humboldt County, California, population 136,000.  After noting the region's boom-and-bust cycle and high poverty rate, journalist Wes Venteicher describes the project:  

The offshore wind proposal, driven by the Biden and Newsom administration efforts to dramatically increase renewable energy, would erect dozens of turbines three times the size of that smokestack with blades as long as a football field in an area of the Pacific Ocean nearly 10 times the size of Manhattan.

He then turns to some of the projects challenges, including the region's recent history of boom-and-bust, resulting in low per capita incomes:  

[T]he project faces a host of major challenges. They include not just the obvious economic and bureaucratic hurdles but also a widespread distrust of outsiders in a region where indiscriminate logging engendered deep resentment and where an illegal marijuana industry created a counterculture haven in the fog-shrouded mountains.

The region is still recovering from mistakes of the past. International wind developers are pitching their projects just as many residents celebrate the removal of Klamath River dams the Yurok Tribe and the fishing industry fought for decades. The structures destroyed rich salmon habitat to export hydropower even as many native people lived without electricity.
Venteicher quotes Yurok Vice Chairman Frankie Myers: 
It has to be done right.  Because we have to avoid being in the same position we are now 50 years from now. I’ve spent most of my life fighting the dams. I do not want to leave my children a fight to remove offshore wind.
* * *
Humboldt Bay, now marred by rotted docks and contaminated soil, was home to 250 sawmills in 1950. By the 1970s, over half of California’s fish were being pulled from the bay. The county’s famously high-quality illegal cannabis took over after that, snaking across tens of thousands of acres in the hills. The plant’s skunky odor still wafts through Eureka, but legalization made it much less lucrative.
* * *
The land — which now hosts two seaweed farms, an oyster hatchery and temporary storage for freshly caught hagfish — would be transformed into an industrial terminal with up to 650,000 square feet of building space, lights mounted 150 feet in the air and giant cranes that crawl through the water on tank treads.
* * *
[L]eaders such as Yurok Tribal Court Judge Abby Abinanti worry how the expected influx of construction and manufacturing labor, some likely to occupy temporary “mancamps,” will affect vulnerable people such as native women who already go missing and are killed at higher rates than other groups.

“Our concern is that these camps end up elevating those kinds of statistics unless preventative efforts are made,” said Abinanti.

She also wants to make sure women have the same access as men to the new jobs through training.

A recent post about Humboldt County is here, with links to other posts from that part of the world embedded.

Postscript:  On Oct., 16, 2023, CalMatters published Part I of a two-part series on the Humboldt wind farm, by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Julie Cart.  

Monday, August 21, 2023

A story of rural-urban detente in upstate New York

Brian Mann reported for NPR last week about collaborative community problem solving in upstate New York, in the Adirondacks State Park.   
Across the U.S., we live in an era when school board meetings often erupt into battlegrounds, where church congregations unravel over flashpoint issues of race and gender.

But a few weeks ago, when a conservative town councilman named Gerry Delaney spoke at a public meeting about environmental issues in New York's Adirondack Park, he sounded a very different tone.

"There's different interests between the environmental groups and local government, but we all have a job to do and we all have to live together," said Delaney. "When there's a flood, a fire, a bad accident, we come together."

The audience in Elizabethtown, New York, which included local residents, environmental activists and government regulators, applauded.

What makes this peaceable moment remarkable is that it's increasingly common here. Once, New York's sprawling 6-million acre state-managed Adirondack Park was a battleground.

Warring interests squared off across familiar fault lines: urban versus rural and development versus the environment, people looking for compromise versus people itching for a fight.
But while much of the U.S. has grown more fractious and divided, communities and interest groups in this conservative-tilting region of small towns have found a way to build bridges.

Elsewhere, Mann notes that Republican Elise Stefanik, the congresswoman given to conspiracy theories, represents the district in the U.S. Congress.  He also credits former governor George Pataki, also a Republican, with the collaborative problem-solving vibe dominating the region now, where Pataki lives in the town of Essex. 

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Nostalgia for China's rural past, now manifest in miniature

Vivan Wang reported in the New York Times yesterday under the headline, "Recreating a Bygone China, One Miniature Home at a Time."  The young man featured in this story is Shen Peng, who had recently taken his grandmother to the site of the house where she and her husband had once lived.  The house in northern China had been demolished by the Chinese government for redevelopment.  Here was Mr. Shen's response to his mother's grief over the home she and her husband had at one time: 

For more than six months, he labored in secret after his day job as a hairdresser. Finally, Mr. Shen, now 31, presented his grandmother with a surprise — a handcrafted 1:20 scale replica of her old home.

There was the wire clothesline in the courtyard, draped with a blue blanket cut into the size of a postage stamp. There was the rickety bicycle, outside a shed constructed with foam boards and plaster. Mr. Shen had even traveled to the site of the old house to better recreate the fragment of brick wall that still remained.
The project led him into a small but growing community of artists in China filling an increasingly urgent demand: miniature replicas of homes that have been demolished, remodeled or otherwise swept away by China’s modernization.
Over the past 40 years, China has transformed from one of the world’s poorest countries into its second-largest economy. The share of city residents has tripled, and vast numbers of Chinese have seen the structures of their childhoods disappear, often through government redevelopment campaigns.
Here's a quote from Mr. Shen:
Nobody would actually want to live in these houses again. Once people have gotten used to nice things, they can’t handle these shabby one... the pace of life now is too fast. Just because you live in a high-rise doesn’t mean you’re happy.

Mr. Li is another artist who makes the miniatures: 

About half of Mr. Li’s clients are in their 30s; the rest are older. Most, like himself, were carried by China’s economic boom from the countryside to the cities, finding education and jobs that allowed them to afford nostalgia. Mr. Li’s miniatures cost between $1,400 and $7,000, in a city where the average disposable income for urban residents is about $8,000 per year. He has made about 80 in all.

Younger viewers on social media can find the urge to document these old houses confusing. Some comment disbelievingly on how run-down the houses look. Even some of Mr. Li’s assistants, many of whom are recent art school graduates, said they had little familiarity with the countryside.

Other posts about China's rural past are here and here.   

Saturday, August 19, 2023

On the rehabilitation of wolves, from California to Germany

Wolves have been the subject of about half a dozen blog posts over the years, most recently here and here.  Many of those posts have focused on environmentalists' efforts to save them ranchers' war on them (both the wolves and the environmentalists, that is)  The links between rural folks and these natural predators is thus well-worn territory, so it would seem an oversight not to acknowledge here some recent reporting about the resurgence of wolf populations--in both Europe and the United States.  

The first is this Washington Post story about wolves in Germany.  The dateline is Luneburg Heath, and the headline for the story by Loveday Morris and Kate Brady is, "Wolves, once confined to fairy tales, are back in Germany, stirring debate."   An excerpt follows: 

Virtually extinct in Germany for more than a century, wolves are flourishing here once again — a rare success story in a world of diminishing biodiversity. One factor: German reunification, which extended protections in the former West Germany to the former East. Their numbers have increased more than sixfold in the past decade, with Germany now home to as many as 161 packs, or about 1,300 wolves.

But accompanying their rebound are attacks on livestock — and an emotional debate.
* * * 
The spread of wolves — through Germany and into Belgium, the Netherlands and beyond — has become an issue at the highest levels of the European Union.

* * *  

At a local level, the conflict pits farmers against conservationists. People on both sides have been accused of taking matters into their own hands: Hunting shelters have been burned down and wolves have been illegally shot and dismembered.

The second story, from NPR, does not mention conflict with ranchers but does report on the spread of wolves in California, in the Sequoia National Forest, 200 miles south of where the nearest pack were previously known to be.  

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife said Friday the pack was found in Tulare County — the farthest south a pack of wolves has been detected in the state in more than a century.

* * *
CDFW visited the area and found tracks, scat and hair, and their DNA analysis found that all 12 collected samples came from gray wolves. The analysis found the new pack has at least five female wolves not previously detected in California.

Wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act.  

Postscript:  Here's a story dated Sept. 12, 2023, from WyoFile about how Colorado wolves are getting killed when they wander into Wyoming. 

And here's one from this summer in the Daily Yonder, also out of California. It's about how the State of California is compensating ranchers for living near wolves.  

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

San Francisco Public Radio considers California's rural teacher shortage

KQED Forum today addressed the rural teacher shortage, which Hailey Branson-Potts wrote about a few weeks ago in the Los Angeles Times.  (I was one of the guests)

California has not been spared from the national teacher shortage. The state Department of Education reported more than 10,000 teacher vacancies during the 2021-2022 school year, and Los Angeles Unified School District has 450 teacher openings for this new school year. But shortages are particularly acute in rural communities: Alturas Elementary School, in northern California’s Modoc County, is missing a quarter of its necessary teaching staff. From retention to credentialing requirements to logistically impossible state mandates, the problems plaguing Modoc are common among rural districts. We’ll talk about the problems California’s rural school districts are facing in the new school year and hear potential solutions.

A CalMatters report on where the state's under-credentialed teachers are is here.   A Learning Policy Institute Map showing where the greatest percentage of under-credentialed teachers are is here.  

It's interesting that nearly all (or maybe all) of the callers featured were urban or suburban.  I don't recall any who were rural.  I'm not sure of the locations of those emailing the show.  But the net result, it seemed to me, was to divert the listener participation part of the conversation away from the rural setting and toward urban K-12 education challenges.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

On the nonmetro county that looms large in Trump's Georgia indictment

Former president Donald Trump was, of course, indicted by a Georgia grand jury yesterday, along with a number of others, of violating the state's equivalent of the federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act for his efforts to overturn the result of the 2020 election and remain president of the United States.  I learned on the NPR Politics podcast this afternoon that some the charges--and some of those charged, including Sidney Powell and Misty Hampton, a former Coffee County elections official--relate to efforts to prevent the certification of votes in nonmetropolitan Coffee County, in the southeast part of the state.  Here's what the Politics podcast had to say: 

Sidney Powell is involved with a bucket of people that illegally copied election data from all of these voting machines and other equipment in rural Coffee County, Ga. And that's the former Coffee County supervisor Misty Hampton, and Atlanta bail bondsman Scott Hall, Cathy Latham, who was the Republican Party chairwoman there and also one of Georgia's sham electors.

CNN offered this further explanation about what happened in Coffee County, population 43,000, under the headline, "Exclusive: Georgia prosecutors have messages showing Trump’s team is behind voting system breach."

Six days before pro-Trump operatives gained unauthorized access to voting systems [in Coffee County], the local elections official who allegedly helped facilitate the breach sent a “written invitation” to attorneys working for Trump, according to text messages obtained by CNN.

* * *
Shortly after Election Day, Hampton – still serving as the top election official for Coffee County – warned during a state election board meeting that Dominion voting machines could “very easily” be manipulated to flip votes from one candidate to another. It’s a claim that has been repeatedly debunked.

But the Trump campaign officials took notice and reached out to Hampton that same day. “I would like to obtain as much information as possible,” a Trump campaign staffer emailed Hampton at the time, according to documents released as part of a public records request and first reported by the Washington Post.

In early December, Hampton then delayed certification of Joe Biden’s win in Georgia by refusing to validate the recount results by a key deadline. Coffee County was the only county in Georgia that failed to certify its election results due to issues raised by Hampton at the time.

Hampton also posted a video online claiming to expose problems with the county’s Dominion voting system. That video was used by Trump’s lawyers, including Giuliani, as part of their push to convince legislators from multiple states that there was evidence the 2020 election results were tainted by voting system issues.

Text messages and other documents obtained by CNN show Trump allies were seeking access to Coffee County’s voting system by mid-December amid increasing demands for proof of widespread election fraud.

Coffee County was specifically cited in draft executive orders for seizing voting machines that were presented to Trump on December 18, 2020, during a chaotic Oval Office meeting, CNN has reported. During that same meeting, Giuliani alluded to a plan to gain “voluntary access” to machines in Georgia, according to testimony from him and others before the House January 6 committee.

Days later, Hampton shared the written invitation to access the county’s election office with a Trump lawyer, text messages obtained by CNN show. She and another location elections official, Cathy Latham, allegedly helped Trump operatives gain access to the county’s voting systems, according to documents, testimony and surveillance video produced as part of a long-running civil lawsuit focused on election security in Georgia.

Latham, who also served as a fake elector from Georgia after the 2020 election, has come under scrutiny for her role in the Coffee County breach after surveillance video showed she allowed unauthorized outsiders to spend hours examining voting systems there.

This all reminds me of somewhat similar shenanigans in rural New Mexico where there was also a refusal to certify votes--though no known outreach to the president and his team to collaborate on actions.  

One question this raises from a ruralist perspective is whether what went down in Coffee County can be attributed to the lack of checks and balances typically associated with local government in sparsely populated places that have relatively few folks with formal education to watch the watchers, if you will.  

Monday, August 14, 2023

Literary ruralism (Part XLI): Ann Patchett's Tom Lake

I've just started reading Tom Lake, Ann Patchett's latest novel, published this year.  Much of it is set on an orchard (cherries, apples, plums) owned by the protagonist, Lara, and her husband, Joe. They run it, along with their three daughters, who are prominent in the novel.  

This passage from early in the book captured my attention as reflecting thoughtfully on rural places, especially in the farm context: 

Together we take the dirt road past the wall of hemlocks and white pines to the barn. The cherry trees are so burdened that I don’t know how we’ll get the fruit picked before it rots. Most of the crew trailers are empty, three families down from the usual ten or twelve. Joe has divided the acres and given everyone their parcel to work. We wave to each other at a great distance. I leave a tray of sandwiches at the sorting table in the morning and pick up the empty platter at night. Emily’s ever-helpful boyfriend, Benny Holzapfel, is no help at all since he is working sixteen-hour days on his own family’s farm. Holzapfel—meaning crab apple, or the crabby people who hang out near sour little apples—is a selling name but does not suit our warm and generous friends. You could spend years in a New York apartment never knowing the people who live two feet away from you, but live on an orchard in Michigan and you will use the word neighbor to refer to every person for miles. You will rely on them and know their children and their harvest and their machinery and their dogs. The Whitings have an old German shepherd named Duchess, though she could have just as easily been Princess or Queenie. Despite her wolfish appearance, she is a sweet girl. Duchess has been known to walk all the way to our back door in the summer. I give her a bowl of water and some biscuits, and after a nap on the warm flagstones, she heads off again. 

Past the pond there is a place where the two farms touch, ours and the Holzapfels. My husband used to joke that someday one of our girls would marry a Holzapfel, but when Benny started showing up in our kitchen his senior year of high school, Joe dropped the joke for fear of scaring the boy away. Since then my husband has whispered his dreams to me alone, in the winter, in our bed late at night: Emily and Benny would marry and join the farms. We would fix up the little house, put on a proper porch, a new kitchen, a real master bedroom, everything on one floor. Joe and I would move to the little house and give our house to Emily and Benny so they could have children here, children who may one day marry the children of the Otts or the Whitings nearby, weaving together an ever greater parcel, because even if a person can’t work the land they have, they will still want more.

(pp. 42-43 Kindle edition).  

Here's another passage about farm ownership.  Here, a much younger Joe Nelson is talking to Lara, long before she becomes his wife.  She is visiting the orchard for the first time, with her friends and colleagues Duke, Pallace, and Sebastian.  Joe is the nephew of Maisie and Ken Nelson, who at this time own and run the orchard in northern Michigan.   

“One Nelson or another has been here for five generations. Either they hate it—my father hated it—or they were like Ken and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. All Ken ever wanted out of life was Maisie and the farm.” 

“So who’s up next? Do they have kids?” 

Joe walked over and pulled an errant weed near the base of a tree then dropped it in the road. “That’s the question. Their daughter Alice lives in Phoenix. Alice is out. She’s got a husband and kids. They’re settled there, they like the heat. I don’t think she even eats cherries. My cousin Kenny is a forester in the U.P. Everybody’s looking to Kenny to save the day but nobody knows for sure if he’s going to do it, including Kenny. There might not be anything to save anyway.” 

Pallace was walking ahead of us in her little yellow shorts. She turned around to face us and started walking backwards. “Are they broke?” 

“Pretty much,” Joe said. “This business runs on a very small margin. The crop is bad one year and you’re broke, or the crop is good, which means that everybody’s crop is good, and so the prices drop and you’re broke. Gerber tells you to put in twenty acres of plum trees so you sink all your capital into plum trees—” 

“—and Gerber doesn’t want the plums,” Sebastian said. 

“And you’re broke.” 

“That’s so depressing.” I sounded like a petulant schoolgirl but the day was too beautiful to think that anything could change. Five generations of Nelsons had lived on this farm. Surely the sixth generation would live here as well. 

“Farming is depressing,” Joe said. “But once it gets in you, you can’t put it down.” 

“Farming is the new acting,” Duke said. 

“Couldn’t they sell off part of the land to pay the debts?” I said this as if it were an original thought. 

Joe laughed. “I’m glad you didn’t float that over lunch. Maisie would have handed you your napkins back.” 

“So no one sells land.” 

“Land gets sold when people die and the kids refuse to come home and take it over. Otherwise you keep the land.” 

(pp. 166-168, Kindle Edition).

Friday, August 11, 2023

Brookings Institute on whether the Build Back Better Regional Challenge will reach rural places

Brookings recently published a report titled, "Regional clusters and rural development: To what extent does EDA’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge include rural areas?"  The first several paragraphs are excerpted below: 

The divergence in economic outcomes across different geographic regions in the U.S. over the past two decades has spurred new interest among policymakers in pursuing place-based policies. The effects of that divergence have been especially acute in rural America: Employment and labor force participation rates in rural areas have still not recovered to pre-Great Recession levels. From most indications, rural America’s economic fortunes continue to diverge from the rest of the country.

These dynamics set forward a strong rationale for the inclusion of rural places in place-based economic programs like the $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBBRC), which was funded through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to boost economic recovery. A competitive grant program administered by the Economic Development Administration (EDA) in the U.S. Department of Commerce, the BBBRC awarded five-year grants between $25 million to $65 million to 21 regional coalitions in September 2022, choosing from 60 finalists and 529 initial applications.

The potential for rural places in the BBBRC

The BBBRC focuses on strengthening or growing industry clusters to broaden economic opportunities throughout a region, especially for underserved populations. In its guidance to applicants, the EDA explicitly highlighted the key role of rural areas in achieving regional success. This is in keeping with how the EDA articulates its Investment Priorities, stressing the importance of equity and reaching underserved communities, including rural and tribal communities. It reflects a similar recognition among rural practitioners that regional collaboration offers advantages for creating opportunities in rural places.

Yet formulating a regional cluster approach that is effective in benefiting rural places requires sensitivity to a complex set of dynamics. Almost by definition, a focus on industry clusters puts metropolitan areas at the center. In its guidance, EDA acknowledged that clusters are likely to follow a traditional hub-and-spoke model, where a metro area acts as a central hub for a coalition that reaches into or engages other communities.

Such a model generates an inherent tension in effectively reaching and serving rural areas, since simply including them as part of a service area does not guarantee successful economic impacts there. Rural places are often less than full partners in regional coalitions; intentional interventions to meet their unique challenges related to governance capacity, distance, workforce, and access to capital are frequently necessary to enable them to receive proportionate benefits. Program parameters can also play a role. Matching funds requirements, for example, immediately place a substantial burden on rural and tribal places, which often have less fiscal buffer and less access to outside resources. Authentic engagement and trusting relationships among urban and rural leaders—cornerstones for successful inclusion—necessitate investments of time and the building of beneficial partnerships.

Here's the conclusion:  

The BBBRC represents a bold innovation in place-based industrial policy, incentivizing proximate jurisdictions and partners to work together as a regional cluster to leverage unique local assets and accelerate economic and social development. EDA’s approach also incentivized applicants to seriously consider rural inclusion and provided flexibility to facilitate this. BBBRC implementation offers an enormous opportunity to advance the knowledge base of how regional approaches can benefit—or disadvantage—rural places. Remaining sensitive to the power dynamics, capacity constraints, and the unique value of rural partners will be important as projects are executed—and acting upon lessons learned and insights will inform future program design and regional models that successfully expand economic opportunity and community development in rural places.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

My Rural Travelogue (Part XXXVI): Southern Humboldt County, California and the Lost Coast

Along California's Lost Coast, Humboldt County
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit some time in parts of Humboldt County I'd not previously spent time (though I had passed through this segment of county, on Highway 101) over the decades.   I headed to the King Range to hike the "Lost Coast," a segment of California's coast so named because it is so rugged that when highway planners were building Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, they were essentially forced to divert the road inland in northern Mendocino County to join the 101, which traverses California north to south, east of the coastal range.   

Peg House in Leggett, built in 1961
The communities along this stretch of 101 are Leggett, Garberville, Miranda, and others.  Throughout this stretch, the Highway weaves through redwoods at Richardson Grove and Avenue of the Giants.  
Signs for Shelter Cove businesses, including health care

Peg House, Leggett
From Garberville, one can head west on a narrow state highway to Shelter Cove, which is the southern terminus of the Lost Coast trail.   Until I got there, I hadn't realized there was a town of sorts at Shelter Cove, but there is, with a small grocery store, volunteer fire department (of course), and lots of homes rising above the coast, some nestled high up the mountains nestled in trees.  

Lighthouse at Shelter Cove
The quickest way to get from one end of the Lost Coast tail to the other is to travel a Humboldt County road, Wilder Ridge Road, that runs primarily north to south on the east side of the King Range. 
Honeydew, California

 That road takes you through the communities of Ettersburg, where there used to be a school, and Honeydew, where there is a store (with a post office inside) and a shade-tree mechanic.  There's also an attractive and fairly new looking school.
Honeydew General Store, which houses the U.S. Post Office 

Auto mechanic in Honeydew, right next to the General Store

Bridge over the Mattole River in Honeydew

A large--and legal--cannabis cultivation facility in Honeydew

My traveling companions were not particularly pleased when I asked to stop for photos of the local places, so I didn't get as many along the way as I would have liked.  One photo I missed out on getting was of a new, large store north of Honeydew, which was built to sell not only groceries, but all sorts of growing supplies.  Now, with the traditional (illicit) cannabis growers squeezed out of the business, our local guides told us that the new store may not open at all.  

At the north of the road, past Honeydew, one can travel north to Petrolia or had back west to the coast, to he Mattole River trailhead, the northern terminus of the Lost Coast trail.  

You can read many other posts about Humboldt County (or at least mentioning it) by both me and my former students, here.  
The bus connecting Eureka and Arcata to points south, including to Amtrak,
stops in Leggett, by the Peg House.

The Peg House has a lot of good food, but I most
recommend the wild blackberry sundae.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The rural housing crisis: analytical dimensions and emblematic issues

This article by German scholars Stefan Kordel and Matthias Naumann appeared this week in the journal, Housing Studies.  The abstract follows:  

While the urban housing crisis is pivotal to current debates in housing studies, the question of affordable as well as sustainable housing in rural settings has arisen only recently. However, recent developments, including increasing demand for housing as well as for a specific supply, indicate that there is a rural housing crisis. Connecting the scattered strands of literature on rural housing, we propose an understanding of the rural housing crisis that involves spatialities, temporalities and intersectionalities. These dimensions are illustrated by three emblematic issues: the financialization/assetization of the rural housing supply, the increasing mobility of rural residents and the selective gentrification of rural communities. Building on a review of the literature on rural housing and its challenges, we argue that greater consideration of the rural in housing studies and a more nuanced focus on housing issues in rural studies would be fruitful, not only for future research but also for political action.

Monday, August 7, 2023

If Tulare Lake is back to stay, what will it mean for those indigenous to the area? Plus other stories from the aftermath of California's historic winter rainfall

Tulare Lake has been much in the news in recent months.  The lake is that massive body of water in California's Central Valley that historically existed but then disappeared at the hands of land management and "progress" only to appear again this winter and spring in the wake of record rainfall and subsequent snowmelt from the Sierras.  Much of the most recent coverage (such as here and here) focuses on the Tachi-Yokut Tribe's historic links to the lake.  Here is an excerpt from an NPR story that gives a sense of the extraordinary place and its history, with Soreath Hok reporting:
HOK:  On a recent afternoon, about two dozen members of the Tachi Yokut tribe gather at the shore of Tulare Lake. Water stretches as far as the eye can see.
ROBERT JEFF: And what you see behind us now is Pa'ashi has reawakened.

HOK: Robert Jeff is the vice chairman of the tribe. Pa'ashi means big water, the Tachi Yokut name for the lake.


HOK: Tribal members play rattles, clapsticks and sing as part of a ceremony to welcome it back.

KENNY BARRIOS: (Singing in Tachi).

HOK: Kenny Barrios is the tribe's cultural liaison. He wrote the song.

BARRIOS: That song said, we need our water. Thank you for bringing our water back.

HOK: The Tachi Yokut tribe once lived on these shores. The lake provided food, plants to build shelter and was the center of a trade route for tribes in the region. But today, the 1,200 members of the Tachi Yokut live a few miles away on a reservation called the Santa Rosa Rancheria. Now the community relies on a resort and casino as their main source of revenue. One paved road leads into the reservation, surrounded by flat, dry land. At the reservation's cultural center...

SHANA POWERS: These are baskets that have been repatriated to the tribe.

HOK: Cultural director Shana Powers shows off handmade baskets the tribe used to cook and fish when they still lived by the lake. They're made out of native plants and woven with intricate designs.

POWERS: This design right here - that is the goose design.

HOK: The geese that used to flock to the lake have special significance.

POWERS: They would come down in the winter. And that was, you know, the Yokut way of looking at prosperity. You know it's going to be a fat winter - you know, everybody's going to be doing good - based upon how the geese look.

HOK: By the mid-1800s, the Tachi Yokut tribe had been severely impacted by settlers. They killed many tribe members and introduced diseases that decimated the Tachi Yokut. Eventually, they were forced from their land, and the lake ultimately disappeared after water was diverted to clear space for crops and irrigate them.
This July 6, 2023 Los Angeles Times feature by Ian James is headlined, "Tulare Lake’s ghostly rebirth brings wonder — and hardship. Inside a community’s resilience."  An excerpt follows, also focusing on the history of indigenous people's use of the lake, which they were ultimately deprived of: 
Tens of thousands of Indigenous people lived and thrived around it. The Yokut tribes made their homes along the lakeshore and the rivers, and moved to higher ground when the lake swelled with runoff.

They built tule rafts and fished with spears and basket traps.

The arrival of Spanish colonizers, followed by fur trappers, gold miners and settlers, devastated the Yokuts. Many died from diseases, and the state government promoted the extermination of Native people with militia campaigns and bounties.

Driven from their lands, the surviving Yokuts ended up living on reservations or marginal lands that had little value to white farmers.

Several families were the first residents of the Santa Rosa Rancheria when the reservation was established in 1934 on 40 acres of farmland.

By that time, the rivers that fed Tulare Lake had been heavily diverted for agriculture. The lake dried up completely during a drought in 1898. And although the lake continued to return in wetter years, it was systematically drained in the early 20th century by a handful of farmers, among them cotton magnate J.G. Boswell.

When dams were built on the Kings, Kaweah, Tule and Kern rivers, the reduced flows enabled the lakebed to be farmed during all but the wettest years.
And here's a more recent Los Angeles Times story, this one from yesterday, "What’s in the mysterious waters of Tulare Lake? Contaminants, egrets and many unknowns."  This excerpt features a law enforcement dimension, though the story's focus is mostly ecological: 
As Tulare Lake reclaims its historic footprint in the lowlands of the San Joaquin Valley, long-forgotten ecosystems have been revived.

The Times took a tour with the Kings County Sheriff’s Office, which purchased an airboat this summer for the purpose of patrolling the reborn lake.

“When this lake obviously appeared, it just added a whole new dimension to what we needed to be able to accomplish,” said Sheriff’s Sgt. Nate Ferrier, standing on the lake’s southeast shore near Corcoran. Even months after Tulare Lake’s reemergence, he remains in awe of its size and presence. “I’ve driven up and down all these roads and dirt roads and levees, and to see this much water covering all this farmland, it’s … kind of like a biblical moment.”

While the sheriff’s office has boats deputies use to cut across the nearby Kings River, they needed something with a flat bottom because of all the junk floating in the lake, Ferrier said. A normal boat with propellers would likely get stuck, he said, so they purchased the airboat for about $95,000 and trained five deputies how to operate it.

Here and Now, from WBUR Boston, did this feature on the relationship between the Tachi-Yokut and Tulare Lake.  They also produced this piece on two journalists who kayaked from Tulare Lake to the San Francisco Bay.  One somewhat humorous part of the latter is when a Kings County Sheriff Deputy told the journalists they were trespassing (much of the lake covers private property, some of it previously cultivated).  The journalists responded by taking their kayak out and putting in again once they'd crossed into the neighboring county on their journey.   

A post about Tulare Lake from earlier this spring is here.

Also related to the storms this past winter and spring, California announced several weeks ago that it was sending $20 million in relief to Planada, a census-designated place in Merced County that suffered record flooding this past winter.  The story's subhead explains why state aid was necessary: "The undocumented status of many residents of Planada, east of Merced, meant they were ineligible for federal aid after winter storms ravaged their town."  Here's some further context: 
For the undocumented low-income workers whom California’s economy relies on, “there’s been just so many different major public emergencies, from Covid to catastrophic wildfires to smoke and drought, and now floods,” said Edward Flores, an associate professor of sociology at U.C. Merced who co-wrote the report. “It’s clear that this is a huge gap in the economic safety net for residents of California.”

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Literary Ruralism (Part XL): Ezra Klein interviews Barbara Kingsolver about Appalachia (and Demon Copperhead)

Ezra Klein interviewed Barbara Kingsolver for the July 21, 2023 episode of his podcast.  He appears motivated to have her on to discuss her perceptions of rural America as depicted in the Pulitzer Prize winning 2022 novel Demon Copperhead.  I previously blogged about the book (including excerpts) here and here, and I wrote about Kingsolver's interview in The Guardian here.  

This first excerpt from the Kingsolver interview with Klein is about Appalachia, which is both Kingsolver's childhood home and her home for the past 20 years or so, after a hiatus in Arizona and a short childhood year in central Africa, where her father went to work as a physician.  

I’m Appalachian. And it’s a funny thing. It’s a marker. Appalachian means you say, I live in Appalachia. It’s a region that’s a little hard to pin down on a map because it includes parts of a lot of states, starting from north Georgia, eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and Virginia, up into the coal country of Kentucky and West Virginia, and then up into the Ridge Country of Pennsylvania.

So that sounds complicated. But to us, it is a whole place. We’re more connected with each other, culturally and geographically, than we are with the far ends of our own states. It’s a place, and it’s a mind-set.

We are connected by our mountains, our economies, and the fact that, for a couple of centuries, we have been treated almost like an internal colony of the U.S. We have suffered the exploitation of extractive industries, managed by and profited from outside companies that come in and take what they can and leave a mess.

This excerpt is Kingsolver's explanation (at least partial) of why urban people are so disdainful of rural folks--and leads in with things people say to her about her choice to live in the country:  

How many people, well-meaning people, have asked me, how could I live there, in the middle of nowhere? People, this is my everywhere. This is my everything. I live on a farm that grows food where water comes out of the mountain among trees that make oxygen. City folks are depending on us for a lot of things that they routinely discount or make fun of.

It’s been a very long program in the development of the world that economies and governments have urged people into the cities, away from the countryside, tried to get land-based people into the cities because — there are a lot of reasons, but it boils down to this — people in the money economy can be taxed. People in a land economy produce a lot of what they consume on the spot. So if you’re growing your own food and eating it, there’s no way to pull taxes out of that.

So I know this sounds really simplified, but it is the bottom line.

* * * 

It feels like an impossibly simple thing. But if you look at all the ways that rural people are stigmatized, it comes down to their self-sufficiency that’s being mocked. If you look at the cartoon, “Hillbilly,” he’s got a fishing pole — that’s food self-sufficiency — he’s got the jug with the XXX on it — that is alcohol self-sufficiency — and he’s got a straw hat on. That’s because he’s a farmer. It’s all about what he’s making and consuming himself.

It’s so insidious people don’t realize it. But this long, long-term brainwashing has resulted in a widespread notion that city people have got it, city people are the advanced form of humans, and rural people are sort of having this provisional existence. They just haven’t made it yet into the real life. And so everybody looks down on the country people. And the country people sort of absorb that. You can’t help but absorb it.

* * * 

And I think this has left rural people feeling so unseen and their problems so trivialized or ignored that they have gotten vulnerable to a damaged extent so that they’re ready to vote for the person who comes along and says, look, I see you, and I’m going to blow up the system.

OK, not the right answer, not the right guy, but I understand why so many people, for the first time, felt like — for the first time in many election cycles, somebody was paying attention. And now we’ve got a mess because that validated this urban notion that those people, they’re voting against their own interests. They’re not well-educated, so they can’t make good choices, so we don’t really need to listen to them, so we just hate them.

So it’s worse than it’s ever been in my life, this urban-rural antipathy.

A lot of what Kingsolver says on this point is echoed in my recent article on Rural Bashing

When Klein challenges Kingsolver to think about the negativity flowing from rural folks toward urban ones, she concedes the point. 

You’re absolutely right. It’s a dialectic. It’s an antagonism. It’s like there’s no point in asking who started this because it’s a really, really old antagonism. And you know, I was just talking about a larger framework of development that has really tried to get people off of the land.

But here we are, in the middle of it, with a lot of rock throwing in both directions. And it’s become devastating for American politics. Because rural people, who are less frequently called heartland as called flyover country, it’s a sort of a self-defense, saying, well, they hate us. We hate them back.

Of Kingsolver's upbringing in rural Eastern Kentucky and the transition to college, she explains:  

Nobody in my school was telling me, you need to take these things called SATs. Nobody was advising me. I just kind of clawed my way into a scholarship. And I got to Indiana, DePauw University. And to my amazement, there, I discovered I was a hillbilly. I’d never thought of myself as a backward — coming from a backward place. But oh, my goodness. I needed only to cross the river into Indiana to discover what ignorant, backward folk we were from Kentucky.

And people laughed at my accent. People actually — I was a curiosity on campus. People I didn’t know would come over to me in the dining hall and say, say this. Say this world. What’s this? They wanted to hear me say syrup and mayonnaise and these other words that they thought were hilariously charming.

And so I set about slowly, not even that intentionally, altering my persona in the world, erasing my Kentuckian affect just so that people would hear my words instead of making fun of them. And so now, I’ve tried to become this imaginary cosmopolitan person.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

California rural schools facing teacher shortages

Hailey Branson-Potts reports in the Los Angeles Times today from Modoc County, California, population 8,700, under the headline, "‘No one is coming to our rescue’: Inside rural California’s alarming teacher shortage."  Some excerpts follow: 
In small, rural districts like Modoc Joint Unified in Alturas, a cattle ranching town of 2,700, being short even a few teachers can send a school spiraling.

At Alturas Elementary School, there are six vacancies — a quarter of the teaching staff.

It has become so difficult to hire and retain educators that administrators have attended hiring fairs not just across California, but also in Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon.

They tried going to North Dakota this year, figuring they could attract small-town folks who might prefer the slightly warmer Northern California winters. They made it all the way to Denver but had to turn back — it had snowed too hard, and their connecting flight was canceled.

All of the out-of-state travel has yielded zero qualified applicants.

The teacher shortage is so dire that administrators say they have no choice but to violate a new state law that will require public school districts to soon offer free TK — an additional year of instruction that precedes kindergarten — to all 4-year-olds.

The district, which had a single TK teacher, is scrapping the grade level altogether.

To recruit teachers, school officials try to sell the perks of rural life: The slower pace. The deer that walk right along Main Street. The postcard-pretty sunrises over the Warner Mountains. Low crime and so little traffic that there is only one stoplight in the whole county.

But they don’t sugarcoat the isolation. When they interview job candidates, they note: Alturas is 100 miles from the nearest Walmart, across the state line in Klamath Falls, Ore.

Branson-Potts then links what's happening to political context:   

People in California’s rural north feel as if this famously liberal state is leaving them behind — a feeling of alienation that has long fueled the region’s conservative politics.

The population is dwindling. Wildfires are getting worse. Law enforcement agencies are woefully understaffed. Hospitals are few and far between.
The state’s move to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035 is, to many residents, laughable in a vast region with few electric vehicle chargers, where people drive farther and, often, over mountain passes. Like universal TK, it feels like an edict from lawmakers who don’t understand the challenges of rural life.

Don't miss the rest of this well-told story.