Friday, July 19, 2024

The school vouchers story I've been waiting for because it centers rural schools and communities

This excellent long read comes from Alec MacGillis for ProPublica, and it came to my attention only because it was on the New York Times audio site.   Bottom line:  rural folks, normally conservative, have lots of reasons to oppose conservative state leaders when it comes to school vouchers.  Why:  school vouchers, by depriving public schools of money, will lead to the closure of those schools.  Of course, school vouchers, by channeling public tax dollars to private schools, will hurt all public schools.  But rural schools are more vulnerable to falling student enrollment and therefore to closure.  All of that has big implications for rural communities.  I've blogged about this issue previously, such as here, here and here (among others) 

Following are some key quotes from the story, which features vignettes from rural parts of many states, including Tennessee, Ohio, Georgia, and Texas.  But first, there's this lede from Tennessee:

Drive an hour south of Nashville into the rolling countryside of Marshall County, Tennessee — past horse farms, mobile homes and McMansions — and you will arrive in Chapel Hill, population 1,796. It’s the birthplace of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who helped found the Ku Klux Klan. And it’s the home of Todd Warner, one of the most unlikely and important defenders of America’s besieged public schools.

Warner is the gregarious 53-year-old owner of PCS of TN, a 30-person company that does site grading for shopping centers and other construction projects. The second-term Republican state representative “absolutely” supports Donald Trump, who won Marshall County by 50 points in 2020. Warner likes to talk of the threats posed by culture-war bogeymen, such as critical race theory; diversity, equity and inclusion; and Shariah law.

And yet, one May afternoon in his office, under a TV playing Fox News and a mounted buck that he’d bagged in Alabama, he told me about his effort to halt Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s push for private school vouchers in Tennessee. Warner’s objections are rooted in the reality of his district: It contains not a single private school, so to Warner, taxpayer money for the new vouchers would clearly be flowing elsewhere, mostly to well-off families in metro Nashville, Memphis and other cities whose kids are already enrolled in private schools. Why should his small-town constituents be subsidizing the private education of metropolitan rich kids? “I’m for less government, but it’s government’s role to provide a good public education,” he said. “If you want to send your kid to private school, then you should pay for it.” 

Here are some others:

Eleven states, led by Florida and Arizona, now have universal or near-universal vouchers, meaning that even affluent families can receive thousands of dollars toward their kids’ private school tuition.
* * *
Voucher advocates, backed by a handful of billionaire funders, are on the march to bring more red and purple states into the fold for “school choice,” their preferred terminology for vouchers. And again and again, they are running up against rural Republicans like Warner, who are joining forces with Democratic lawmakers in a rare bipartisan alliance. That is, it’s the reddest regions of these red and purple states that are putting up some of the strongest resistance to the conservative assault on public schools.
* * * 
Conservative orthodoxy at the national level holds that parents must be given an out from a failing public education system that force-feeds children progressive fads. But many rural Republican lawmakers have trouble reconciling this with the reality in their districts, where many public schools are not only the sole educational option, but also the largest employer and the hub of the community — where everyone goes for holiday concerts, Friday night football and basketball. Unlike schools in blue metro areas, rural schools mostly reopened for in-person instruction in the fall of 2020, and they are far less likely to be courting controversy on issues involving race and gender.
* * *
The response from voucher proponents to the resistance from fellow Republicans has taken several forms, all of which implicitly grant the critics’ case that voucher programs currently offer little benefit to rural areas. In some states, funding for vouchers is being paired with more money for public schools, to offer support for rural districts. In Ohio, voucher advocates are proposing to fund the construction of new private schools in rural areas where none exist, giving families places to use vouchers.
But the overriding Republican response to rural skeptics has been a political threat: Get with the program on vouchers, or else.

That’s what played out this year in Ohio’s 83rd District, in the state’s rural northwest.

* * * 

In Georgia, of the 15 Republican state representatives who blocked a voucher proposal last year, more than half came from rural areas with substantial Black populations. One of them was Gerald Greene, who spent more than three decades as a high school social studies teacher and has managed to survive as a Republican in his majority-Black district in the state’s southwestern corner after switching parties in 2010.

Greene believes vouchers will harm his district. It has a couple of small private schools in it or just outside it — with student bodies that are starkly more white than the district’s public schools — but the majority of his constituents rely on the public schools, and he worries that vouchers will leave less money for them.

* * * 

The highest-profile rural Republican resistance to vouchers has come in Texas, the land of Friday Night Lights and far-flung oil country settlements where the public schools anchor communities.
* * * 
Among those targeted was Drew Darby, who represents a sprawling 10-county district in West Texas and who frames the issue in starkly regional terms: The state’s metro areas depend on his constituents to provide “food, fiber and hide,” to “tend the oil wells and wind turbines to provide electricity to people who want to be just a little cooler in the cities.” But without good public schools, these rural areas will wither. “Robert Lee, Winters, Sterling, Blackwell,” he said, listing some hamlets — “these communities exist because they have strong public schools. They would literally not exist without a good public school system.”

* * * 

“In rural Texas, there’s not a whole lot of private school options, and we want our schools to get every dollar they can. This doesn’t add $1, and it’s not good for rural Texas.”
* * * 
But in Tennessee, Todd Warner and his allies staved off the threat again this year. To overcome rural resistance, voucher proponents in the Tennessee House felt the need to constrain them and pair them with hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding for public schools, but this was at odds with the state Senate’s more straightforward voucher legislation.

Then the story circles back to Warner, the rural Tennessee Republican, with a vignette hitting on rural intergenerational attachment to place:  

For Democratic voucher opponents in the state, the alliance with Warner and other rural Republicans was as helpful as it was unusual.
* * * 
Warner remains unfazed by all this. He is pretty sure that his voucher opposition in fact helped him win his seat in 2020, after the incumbent Republican voted for a pilot voucher system limited to Nashville and Memphis. And he notes that no one has registered to challenge him in the state’s Aug. 1 primary. “They tried to find a primary opponent but couldn’t,” he said with a chuckle. “I was born and raised here all my life. My family’s been here since the 18th century. I won’t say I can’t be beat, but bring your big-boy pants and come on, let’s go.”

Just remembering that my most recent post on "school choice" is here, out of my home state, Arkansas. 

Legal vulnerability and rural ATJ

Brian Farrell, Daria Fisher Page and Ryan Sakoda have posted their new paper to ssrn.com; it is "Theorizing Legal Vulnerability to Enhance Rural Access to Justice."  The article will appear in the forthcoming University of South Dakota Law Review symposium issue that marks the 10th anniversary of the Rural Lawyer Recruitment Program.  The abstract follows: 
The “justice gap” describes a seemingly simple phenomenon: The difference between a community’s civil legal needs and the supply of resources to address those needs. Yet this simple equation has dire consequences, particularly for low-income and rural Americans. Our ability to measure legal need and supply with relative ease and accuracy is critical as measurements of these elements dictate the allocation of scarce resources to increase access to justice. 

This article theorizes our concept of legal vulnerability and presents the contours of a legal vulnerability index to measure this concept. It is an extension of our earlier work interrogating the relationship between the decline in rural attorneys and rural access to justice. We draw on decades of rich scholarship and dialogue around social vulnerability in order to better parse the conditions that make a legal need likely; the nature of that need; and how it becomes an unmet legal need. As geographers use social vulnerability to anticipate how different communities will experience natural disasters, legal vulnerability allows us to anticipate how different communities may experience civil legal problems.
 
Legal vulnerability is a prerequisite to legal need: It describes the potential for a given community to experience justice problems, events (like several missed car payments or the unraveling of a marriage) that have civil legal underpinnings or consequences. Historically, legal needs surveys were the primary tool for understanding the type and frequency of legal problems, though the tool has practical and theoretical shortcomings. The legal vulnerability index (“LVI”) we propose in this article, in turn, would use Census and other publicly available data to measure the likelihood that individuals with certain characteristics (e.g., low-income), histories (e.g., veteran status), and contexts (e.g., limited access to public  transportation) may develop civil legal problems (e.g., unpaid car payments and debt collection lawsuits). The LVI will rely on readily available and replicable data and allow for meaningful comparisons between communities. Rather than capturing information about justice problems in the past, the LVI will give us forward-looking insights. The LVI will be a useful tool in several contexts and has the potential to provide much-needed awareness and understanding of the justice problems of rural communities, the differences between rural communities, and the tailoring of interventions to increase access to justice in rural areas.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

"Rural" makes an appearance in chatter about J.D. Vance, but not in his convention speech

This is from the New York Times right now:  

Live Election Updates: J.D. Vance Addresses Republican Convention

A night focused on foreign policy featured fiery denouncements of President Biden on his policies and age. Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son, assailed Democrats and the president.

Here’s what’s happening:

In the biggest speech of his political career, Senator J.D. Vance connected his difficult upbringing in rural Ohio to challenges now confronting the working class, decrying Democratic policies and Wall Street.

To be clear, Middletown, Ohio, population 50,000, is not rural by any measure.  Also, Vance did not himself use the word "rural" in his speech. 

Here's a report from The Hill's live reporting on Vance's speech, which played to "rural" and/or "hillbilly" themes:

Vance shared a story about his grandmother that drew loud applause from the audience.

“My Mamaw died shortly before I left for Iraq in 2005, and when we went through her things we found 19 loaded handguns,” Vance said, prompting cheers and chants of “Mamaw.”

“Now, the thing is, they were stashed all over her house … This frail old woman made sure that no matter where she was, she was within arm’s length of whatever she needed to protect her family,” Vance said as the crowd cheered. 
— Julia Mueller

This is a quote from the NewYork Times story about Usha Vance's introduction of her husband's acceptance speech (emphasis mine):  

She leaned into the story about her husband’s impoverished upbringing and the laws of opposites attracting, highlighting their different backgrounds.

“When J.D. met me, he approached our differences with curiosity and enthusiasm,” Ms. Vance said. “He wanted to know everything about me, where I came from, what my life had been like.”

The couple met at Yale Law School, where Ms. Vance helped Mr. Vance organize his ideas about social decline in rural white America, the basis of his breakout memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy.” They were married in 2014 in Kentucky and have three children. She is the daughter of Indian immigrants.

Here's an interesting tweet from the right, but it doesn't ring true.  

I exist in a very lefty media ecosystem, and I've not (yet) seen the left talking of Vance's "insufficiencies."  I've not seen his class of origin made an issue--nor, as of yet, any "insufficiency."  What I am seeing made an issue of is Vance's increasingly intolerant leanings.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

J.D. Vance's rise prompts hillbilly musings from Latino columnist

Columnis Gustavo Arellano writes in today's Los Angeles Times under the headline, "I know what a true hillbilly is, and it's not J.D. Vance."  Here's an excerpt, which at least nods to the rural connotation of hillbilly:  
From the moment I learned about hillbillies as a child, I was entranced.

Good ol’ boys and girls born high up in the mountains? That’s my parents. People who moved from rural towns to metro areas in search of a better life? Story of both sides of my family. Working class? My upbringing. Lovers of things — food, fashion, music, diction, parties — that polite society ridiculed? Yee-haw! Stubbornly clinging to their ancestral lands and ways? ¡Ajúa!

I learned to love bourbon, bluegrass, “Hee Haw” reruns and Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might Be a Redneck If ...” series. As an adult, I drove through the small towns of central and eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, feeling at home in areas even my white friends warned wouldn’t take kindly to “my type.” I might not have outwardly resembled the ’billies I met — I’m a cholo nerd, after all — but we got along just fine, because they were my brothers and sisters from another madre.

That’s why I was intrigued when J.D. Vance’s memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” was released in 2016. From what I heard about it, the familial dysfunction, generational poverty and inherent fatalism that Vance overcame were similar to the pathologies of my own extended clan. The up-from-bootstraps message he preached in interviews was what my parents had always preached, and what I still subscribe to. Vance’s critique of conspicuous consumption among the poor is something everyone should consider.

But the parallels between the clean-cut Vance and me only went so far. He was a Yale graduate and venture capitalist, while I’m a community college kid who chose a dying profession. He was far removed from his roots, while I experience mine nearly every other weekend at family parties. More importantly, Vance cast himself as an extraordinary exception to his fellow Appalachians, describing ’billies as encased in a toxic amber that kept them from improving their lot and left them embittered with a country that has moved on without them.

My Mexican hillbilly family never had time to whine and mope.
And that's where I'm more like Arellano than Vance, even though I'm non-Hispanic white.  I wasn't raised to talk about how the deck was stacked against me.  I was raised to reach for what I wanted, for what would empower me.  No one ever suggested any shame at the public university route to that success.  

But we live in a different time.  Now, everyone is encouraged to play up their disadvantages and to downplay their agency.  And that is as big a difference b/w Arellano and Vance as their different ethnicities--indeed, I'd say it is a greater difference.  

Cross-posted to Working Class Whites and the Law. 

Monday, July 15, 2024

My Rural Travelogue (Part XL): Esmeralda County, Nevada

Esmeralda County Seal on county vehicle behind courthouse in Goldfield
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2024
I got interested in Esmeralda County, Nevada (population 729) last month after reading Eli Saslow's piece in the New York Times about how conspiracy theories regarding elections have taken over there, threatening the recall of a Republican county clerk in this remote corner of The Silver State where the population density is 1 person per five square miles.  Here is an excerpt from the story, which centers on Cindy Elgan, the County Clerk, a Republican, who some residents wanted to recall once they became suspicious of her handling of the 2020 election results:  
They falsely claimed the election was stolen by voting software designed in Venezuela, or by election machines made in China. They accused George Soros of manipulating Nevada’s voter rolls. They blamed “undercover activists” for stealing ballots out of machines with hot dog tongs. They blamed the Dominion voting machines that the county had been using without incident for two decades, saying they could be hacked with a ballpoint pen to “flip the vote and swing an entire election in five minutes.” They demanded a future in which every vote in Esmeralda County was cast on paper and then counted by hand.

And when Elgan continued to stand up at each meeting to dispute and disprove those accusations by citing election laws and facts, they began to blame her, too — the most unlikely scapegoat of all. She had served as the clerk without controversy for two decades as an elected Republican, and she flew a flag at her own home that read: “Trump 2024 — Take America Back.” But lately some local Republicans had begun referring to her as “Luciferinda” or as the “clerk of the deep state cabal.” They accused her of being paid off by Dominion and skimming votes away from Trump, and even though their allegations came with no evidence, they wanted her recalled from office before the next presidential election in November.

* * *  

[Elgan] took the recall petition back into her office, and over the next several days she continued to flip through the pages in disbelief. She counted at least 130 signatures, which at first glance appeared to be enough to force a recall election if the signatures and corresponding addresses proved legitimate. 

You'll have to read the rest of the story to find out what happened with the petition. 

A place of business, apparently, in Goldfield

 So, when I drove through a few different parts of Esmeralda County a few weeks after Saslow's story appeared, the place was definitely on my radar screen.  I stopped--even amidst 100 F temperatures--to  take lots of photos.  

Esmeralda County Courthouse, Goldfield, NV
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2024
One of many flyers on front door of the courthouse
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2024

Back of Esmeralda County Courthouse, presumably jail
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2024
A church across from the county courthouse, Goldfield
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2024

Esmeralda County Transit 
(c) Lisa R Pruitt 2024

Public School Gymnasium, Goldfield
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2024
Yesterday, The Daily, the NYTimes podcast, featured Saslow's story as its Sunday read, so it seemed the time was right to publish my photos of Esmeralda County and Goldfield, the tiny county seat where the vast majority of residents live in what looks like an outsider to a time warp, or maybe a twilight zone.  

Surprise:  an electric car charger at the Visitor Information Center, Goldfield
(c) Lisa R. Pruitt 2024


Sunday, July 14, 2024

On the rural-urban divide in food insecurity and the role of federal aid

That is not the primary point of Annie Gowen's Washington Post story out of Elk City, Oklahoma, population 12,000, but it is a point that ultimately gets made in the story headlined, "A mom struggles to feed her kids after GOP states reject federal funds."   One of the consequences of Oklahoma's decision to turn away federal food aid is a burgeoning reliance on the local food pantry.  Here's that part of the story, which explicitly highlights rural disadavntage: 

Inside the Elk City Help Inc. Food Resource Center, volunteers assemble grocery carts full of U.S. Department of Agriculture-branded peas, applesauce and pork patties as well as donated items for residents who meet income guidelines. On Fridays, Executive Director Meghan Palmer puts out a call on Facebook that they’ll be offering perishable leftovers for anyone in town. The hopeful begin arriving two hours early.

There is a growing number of families among the 1,900 people Palmer feeds every month — a distressing though not surprising development given the city’s poverty rate of 26 percent, more than double the national average. Donations fund the center’s $98,000 annual budget. She’s tried for federal grants in the past, but those often require a recipient to be located near a larger city to capitalize on existing infrastructure and maximize impact.

Here's a direct quote from Palmer: 

One of the biggest issues we have is that all of the organizations and programs are tailored for larger cities and larger communities.  In rural America, we often get forgotten. It’s really powerful and extremely frustrating.

* * *  

We were pretty beside ourselves.  The ball has been dropped for Oklahomans. We’re constantly on the bottom — in mental health, poverty, food insecurity, education. It was just another slap in our face.

The story continues: 

The town’s rural location hampers its ability to respond to needy residents in other ways, too. In the eastern part of the state, two Native American tribes — the Cherokee and the Chickasaw — are administering the summer card program on their own and reaching 250,000 children, according to federal officials.

The tribes, nonprofits and local school districts expanded the spots where kids can get free meals or pick up a sack lunch. Yet a large swath of Oklahoma remains unserved. The closest location to Elk City is 25 miles away.

Here's a post from a decade ago detailing the struggle to effectively distribute food aid in rural locales.  

Friday, July 12, 2024

Both NYTimes and LATimes cover the matter of electric school busses in rural America

Last December, Hailey Branson-Potts wrote this LA Times story about electric school busses in far northern California,  The dateline was Susanville, population 17,000, county seat of Lsssen County, which is about the size of Delaware, with a population density of 7.2 persons per square mile. The headline is "California is pumped about electric buses.  Rural schools say they're a pain." (The alternative headline is "California rural schools say electric buses won't work."

Dionne Searcey wrote this NY Times story about electric school busses in Nebraska, published just this week.  Her story is out of her hometown of Wymore in Gage County, population 21,000, in the more populous eastern part of the state.  Because Searcey is writing about her hometown, she frequently mentions having been in school with several of the men featured in the story.  Her headline is "A Brand New Electric Bus, No Charge. (That Was One Problem)."  The subhead is "In tiny Wymore, Neb., a sleek new battery-powered school bus became a Rorschach test for the future."

As reflected in their respective headlines, both of these stories engage the politics of the rural-urban divide, as well as the practical challenges of traversing the long distances associated with rural living and doing so with little charging infrastructure.  Here's a representative paragraph from the NYT story:
[T]he electric bus became a surrogate for far bigger issues this quiet corner of the nation is facing. In conversations in the school boardroom, at the volunteer fire hall and at the American Legion bar, the bus exposed fears of an unwelcome future, one where wind turbines tower across the flatlands, power generated by Nebraska solar farms is sent out of state and electric cars strand drivers on lonesome gravel roads.
Both pieces are well worth a read.  

For contrast, here's a Los Angeles Times story on the uber-urban Oakland (California) School District going all electric with its school bus fleet. 

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Luxury housing market goes rural--in SoCal, and likely elsewhere

The Los Angles Times ran a story today by Jack Fleming, "Mansions in the desert: Why Californians buy big in cheap, remote areas."  There's a rural angle here, though it is not called out as such.  Here's an excerpt: 

DeeAnn Noland has crafted her own slice of paradise in Southern California.

Her property is perched in the hills, overlooking the city below. It spans nearly 7 acres and feels more like a resort than a home, boasting a 6,000-square-foot Spanish-style villa and a swimming pool topped by palm trees.

Her dream house isn’t found in Beverly Hills or Bel-Air or Malibu.

It’s in Hemet — and it cost her $740,000.

Southern California is riddled with luxury enclaves, but it’ll cost you. As housing prices soar, some Angelenos are bailing on the big city in favor of places that are hotter, dryer and more remote, sprawling out into Riverside, San Bernardino and Kern counties in search of dirt-cheap mansions.

In L.A., $1 million might not even buy a second bedroom. A few hours outside L.A., $1 million can buy a dream house. 

* * *  

Noland does well, but she’s far from rich. Her late husband was a civil engineer, and she breeds animals for extra income. But in Hemet, she lives like royalty.

Tucked in the San Jacinto Valley, Hemet has a median family income of $49,901, and a median home value of $444,221, according to Zillow. Five years ago, Business Insider named it the 44th most miserable city in the country, citing high poverty and crime rates.

“It’s no Beverly Hills,” said resident Eric Hernandez on a walk through the Hemet Valley Mall. “It’s a nice community, but not luxurious.”

The story features several other illustrations of what it calls a trend. 

This recent post about home prices in remote parts of California is related.  As they say in real estate, it's all about location, location, location.  To state the obvious, rural and remote locations typically do not add much, if any, value to home prices.  That said, some of the owners of massive homes featured in this LA Times story talk about enjoying the privacy associated with their remote locales. 

Saturday, July 6, 2024

On loss of services--aka "desertification"--as a reason for rural disgruntlement

"In the French Countryside, a Deep Discontent Takes Root" is the headline for the pre-election story by NYTimes Paris bureau chief Roger Cohen.  The subhead is "In northern Burgundy, services have collapsed and the far-right National Rally has risen."  What's striking to me about this story is the similarity between this French form of rural neglect/resentment and what we have seen in the United States of a similar ilk.   Here are some relevant quotes: 

Residents in this sparsely populated region of France — the Yonne district in northwestern Burgundy has only about 335,000 inhabitants — describe what is happening to their community as “desertification,” by which they mean an emptying out of services, and of their lives.

Schools close. Train stations close. Post offices close. Doctors and dentists leave. Cafés and small convenience stores close, squeezed by megastores. People need to go further for services, jobs and food. Many travel in their old cars but are encouraged by the authorities to switch to electric cars, which are priced way beyond their means.

At the same time, since the war in Ukraine, gas and electricity bills have shot up, leading some to switch off their heating last winter. They feel invisible and only just get by; and on their televisions they see President Emmanuel Macron explaining the critical importance of such abstract policies as European “strategic autonomy.” It is not their concern.

Along comes the National Rally, saying its focus is on people, not ideas, the purchasing power of people above all.

The story quotes National Rally party candidate Sophie-Laurence Roy, whose reference to territory I read to be linked to "place," even land. 

My party is anchored in this territory, it is not, like our president, trying to give moral lessons to the whole world.

As for the receptivity to these appeals, here is a quote from André Villiers, "a centrist allied to the party of Mr. Macron — and Ms. Roy’s opponent in Sunday’s runoff":  

Our French heartland has the feeling of being forgotten.  What you see here in the National Rally surge is anger and alienation.

Note how similar some of these thoughts are to what has been labeled rural resentment--and often dismissed as unreasonable--in the United States. Another relevant post is here.   Recall that Kathy Cramer's 2016 book about the shift in Wisconsin politics was titled The Politics of Resentment

The yellow vest protests of a few years ago also seem relevant.  Some posts about those protests are here.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

NY Times magazine's long read on Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez invokes rurality (and, of course, class)

Marie Gluesenkamp Perez's X (formerly Twitter) bio

Jason Zengerle's story appears in the New York Times Magazine this week under the headline, "The Blue-Collar Democrat Who Wants to Fix the Party’s Other Big Problem."  The subhead deploys the "r-word," which is frequently used to describe Gluesenkamp Perez's southwest Washington district.  "Marie Gluesenkamp Perez flipped a rural red district to get to Congress. Now she wants to help her party do more of the same."  I'm going to refer to her as MGP in this post.

I've written a lot about MGP here on the blog.  For this post, I'm just going to excerpt the bits of this story with the word "rural" in them; there are nine including the subhead.  (Elsewhere, on the Working Class Whites blog, I emphasize the parts of this story that are more explicitly about class).  

The first use of "rural"  comes in the opening paragraph where the lede describes her as "a first-term Democrat from a rural district in Washington State."  The story elsewhere describes her district as "includ[ing] Portland’s northern suburbs and exurbs but is more than 7,000 square miles and largely rural."

The next mention comes much later in relation to another rural congressperson, Jared Golden, whose politics are similar to MGP's:
Representing Maine’s almost entirely rural Second Congressional District, [Jared Golden] was one of only four Democrats who deviated from the party during the vote on Trump’s first impeachment (two of them subsequently became Republicans) and the only Democrat to vote against President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Build Back Better Act (over a tax break for the wealthy); at the same time, he voted for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and Biden’s $700 billion Inflation Reduction Act. “The Republican Party spends millions of dollars telling people I’m a progressive,” Golden told me. “The Progressive Caucus spends time telling people I’m a conservative. A lot of people, especially the media, like to call me a moderate. I would say I’m none of these things and I’m all of these things. And my constituents are too.”
Describing MGP and her husband Dean, who have an auto repair shop:
They lived in a school bus that Gluesenkamp Perez bought off Craigslist, vagabonding around Portland until they found a rural piece of land on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, where they built a house for themselves and, eventually, their son.

* * * 

The most intriguing is Rebecca Cooke, who’s running to unseat the Republican firebrand Derrick Van Orden in a rural Wisconsin district. Cooke, age 36, operates a small hospitality business and works as a waitress. On the campaign trail, she is attacking Van Orden on abortion, Jan. 6 and a well-reported incident last year in which he cursed out a group of teenage Senate pages in the Capitol; she touts her parents’ dairy farm and her own employment history as crucial touchstones. “You don’t see a lot of people my age or with my type of background running for Congress,” she says. “And it’s because we’re all busy working.” 

At a campaign stop MGP talked about what this year's vote will say about her constituents and their community:  

I’m trying to get the political machine to understand that rural people aren’t going to put up with Joe Kent’s [expletive].  People think that we’re just ignorant, that we are small-minded, that we are uneducated in rural communities. And we know that’s [expletive].

I'm thinking about how there's a lot of Michael Sandel's Tyranny of Merit in her messaging. 

A a rally in Longview, Washington, population 37,818, MGP said,
The reason that I am on the top of the R.N.C.’s hit list is not because of my bangs. It’s because if Democrats figure out how to hold and represent seats where people work for a living in rural communities and in small towns, places like here, we will break the map on what it means to have a governing majority.

I'll also note here that MGP's X (formerly Twitter) account seems to claim her rurality where it includes "lives in the woods."  

Monday, July 1, 2024

Playing on the presumptive conservativism of rural customers to quash private-sector DEI efforts

Sarah Nassauer reported yesterday for the Wall Street Journal under the headline, "How Tractor Supply Decided to End DEI, and Fast."  

The gist of the story is that in a period of less than a month, Tractor Supply Hardware abandoned its diversity efforts after former Hollywood director turned conservative activist" Robby Starbuck posted on X, "It’s time to expose Tractor Supply."  Starbuck then "laid out a string of complaints about stances taken by the company and its leaders, from a warehouse displaying pride flags to the CEO promoting the Covid-19 vaccine."  Starbuck encouraged the company's shoppers, who he assumed to be conservative based in part on the rural locales of many Tractor Supply stores, to take their business to other retailers.  

According to the WSJ, the Tennesse-based retailer quickly began to talk about "how to  quash criticism before the controversy was seized on by conservative media."  

The story continues: 

Three weeks later, Tractor Supply delivered its decision: Diversity, equity and inclusion at the rural chain were over, including related job roles, and so were some of its environmental initiatives and other causes frequently championed by social progressives.

* * *

The effectiveness of Starbuck’s campaign—and Tractor Supply’s swift and decisive reversal—show how the tide has turned against efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in American corporations. Four years ago many companies saw it as a necessity to support these policies. Today some see it as too much of a risk.

* * * 

The retailer was particularly vulnerable to the attacks. The chain, known for selling animal feed and workwear, boasts a customer base that executives say skews more male and rural than other major retailers. Its shoppers tend to support conservative political candidates, they say.

Postscript:  Interestingly, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette features this headline in today's paper, "Walmart says it has no plans to change diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives."  Serenah McKay reports:

Conservative groups continue pressuring [Walmart] to modify or drop such efforts altogether, placing businesses in a position in which they risk drawing the ire of customers on both sides of the political spectrum.

"We want everyone to feel they belong whether shopping in or working in our stores, clubs and offices," Walmart said in a statement.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

"How 'Rural Studies' is Thinking about the Heartland" in the NYT

That's the headline for a feature story by Emma Goldberg in the New York Times.  The subhead is "What’s the matter with America’s rural voters? Many scholars believe that the question itself is the problem."

Goldberg's story leads with a mini profile of Kristin Lunz Trujillo, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina.  Goldberg tells of how Lunz Trujillo, who grew up on a farm in Minnesota, felt alienated culturally when she headed off to Carleton College as a college freshman.  (And a lot of scholars who grew up in rural America have probably had similar experiences; I'm reminded of this 2006 essay, "Farming Made Her Stupid.").

Some excerpts from Goldberg's feature story follow: 

A Rural Renaissance

There is an obvious reason for academics’ neglect of the political urban-rural divide until recently: It barely existed.

From the 1970s to the early 1990s, rural counties resembled urban ones in their presidential choices, including supporting the Republicans Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan and the Democrat Bill Clinton. It’s only since the late 1990s that there has been a marked gap between rural and urban voting patterns in presidential elections, and it has widened ever since. In 2016, Mr. Trump won 59 percent of rural voters. Four years later, that climbed to 65 percent, according to Pew. And in the 2022 midterms, Republicans won 69 percent of the rural vote.
* * *
[R]ural communities can be wildly different socially. “When you aggregate to the national level, you lose so much,” said Zoe Nemerever, a political scientist at Utah Valley University. “I get frustrated especially when people talk about rural America as white America. In some states, it’s Latino America. In the Deep South, it’s Black America.”

Traditionally, political scientists argued that measuring the effects of place was just a proxy for looking at other parts of identity, like race or education. And because many did not come from rural areas, growing up rural didn’t tend to strike academics as a salient part of political identity.

Maybe because so few people fashioned themselves as “rural political experts” until recently, the few high-profile explanations for the rise of rural Republicanism were widely embraced by the chattering classes.

Goldberg discusses how Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas (2004) fueled some of the current generation of political scientists who are creating more nuanced narratives about rural voters based on carefully designed empirical research.  

Michael Shepherd read the book in high school, college and again in graduate school, and never changed his opinion. “I felt like it was pretty snooty,” said Mr. Shepherd, now a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, who grew up in Bardstown, Ky., the heart of bourbon making. “It really missed a lot of what was going on in communities like mine.”

And here's a great quote from Nick Jacobs, co-author of The Rural Voter (Columbia University Press 2023), a book that has attracted considerable attention.  

We contribute to the further denigration of expertise when we say, ‘This is what the experts say about these rubes and bumpkins.'  Who’s going to trust the experts when that’s what the experts have to say about you?

Importantly, Goldberg picks up on one of the key points Jacobs made following publication of Tom Schaller and Paul Waldman's White Rural Rage (and Paul Krugman's columns also using the word "rage" to describe rural white folks):  the distinction between resentment and rage. 

My beef with this Goldberg article:  she conflates "rural studies" with political science scholars who focus on rural voters.  That completely ignores the very robust discipline of rural sociology.  

You'll find lots of commentary on The Rural Voter and White Rural Rage (2024) here and here, among other posts on this blog. 

Friday, June 28, 2024

Aging and population loss in small-town Pennsylvania

That's the topic of Tim Crane's story in the Washington Post last weekend, "'Too many old people’: A rural Pa. town reckons with population loss."  Here's an excerpt from the report, dateline Sheffield, Pennsylvania, a census-designated place with a population of 1,123

Across rural Pennsylvania, there is a deepening sense of fear about the future as population loss accelerates. The sharp decline has put the state at the forefront of a national discussion on the viability of the small towns that have long been a pillar of American culture.

America’s rural population began contracting about a decade ago, according to statistics drawn from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A whopping 81 percent of rural counties had more deaths than births between 2019 and 2023, according to an analysis by a University of New Hampshire demographer. Experts who study the phenomena say the shrinking baby boomer population and younger residents having smaller families and moving elsewhere for jobs are fueling the trend.

According to a recent Agriculture Department estimate, the rural population did rebound by 0.25 percent from 2020 to 2022 as some families decamped from urban areas during the pandemic. But demographers say they are still evaluating whether that trend will continue, and if so, where.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Do progressives care about rural voters?

That's the provocative question animating Jeffrey Bloodworth's essay in today's Washington Post (picked up from UnHerd).  Here's the lede: 

“The Democratic Party doesn’t give a sh-- about what voters have to say.” Eva Posner, a Virginia-based Democratic political consultant, is furious. She fears that the progressive establishment will pay in 2024 for snubbing rural voters.

And here are some key excerpts: 

The trouble is that rural voters are difficult to reach. In the 1990s, liberals all but ceded talk radio to conservatives, an act of foolishness, given the platform is crucial to connecting with a car-loving population. Soon after, the internet transformed the economics of newspapers: Nearly 3,000 American newspapers have folded since 2005. Rural newspapers were hit especially hard. Today, more than half of all U.S. counties have very limited, if any, access to local news. On top of this, nearly a quarter of rural Americans lack broadband internet. How can they keep up with Washington politics while living in a media vacuum?

Despite these obstacles, Democrats can move the electoral needle in rural America. They don’t even need to win a majority of the rural vote — just reduce the margin of defeat. Barron points to Arizona’s 2020 U.S. Senate election: In a race in which Democrat Mark Kelly spent nearly $100 million, compared with Republican Martha McSally’s $72 million, Barron says it was a $20,000 rural radio advertisement that turned the tide. Unlike many Democratic candidates in the past, Kelly took more than 30 percent of the vote in every rural Arizona county, bar one. This turned out to be vital in a race decided by about 78,000 votes.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Boebert wins Republican primary in Colorado's eastern plains district


Congressperson Lauren Boebert famously abandoned her (mostly) western slope 3d district of Colorado  several months ago to vie for the Republican nomination in the differently rural--and arguably more conservative--4th district.  She did so after Ken Buck retired from that district.

Today, Boebert won the 4th district Republican primary.  Here's an excerpt from the Washington Post's story:  
The seat in the 4th District, which covers much of Colorado’s eastern half, was vacant after Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) resigned in March. There was also a special election Tuesday to finish Buck’s term, but Boebert chose not to run in it, and the Republican nominee, Greg Lopez, did not run against Boebert for a full term.


Despite the new district — her old district covered the other side of the state — Boebert brought some notable advantages to the primary. She had Trump’s endorsement and led the field in fundraising since April 1, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Boebert’s primary opponents included Republicans with stronger ties to the district. One was Jerry Sonnenberg, a Logan County commissioner who narrowly lost the GOP nomination for the special election.
Boebert celebrated the win in a social media post, saying, “This victory belongs to the faithful voters of Colorado’s 4th district.”
Elsewhere, in Boebert's current 3d district:
Democrat Adam Frisch, a former Aspen City Council member, came within 600 votes of unseating Boebert two years ago and is running again in the 3rd District.

Frisch ran unopposed in his primary Tuesday, but he waged a serious effort to influence the Republican primary with Boebert no longer running. Frisch and an outside group ran ads that appeared designed to elevate one of the GOP candidates, Ron Hanks, with his primary voters.

Hanks is a former state representative who has echoed Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and attended the rally that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Despite the interference, Hanks finished a distant second, losing to attorney Jeff Hurd. 

Postscript:  Here is coverage of the race from The Colorado Sun.  The headline and subhead follow: 

Lauren Boebert wins six-way primary in Colorado’s 4th Congressional District, making her reelection highly probable

Because of how favorable the 4th District is to Republicans, Boebert is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, too

And here's a key quote: 

“Boebert won because there was such a crowded primary and she has universal name ID,” said former state Sen. Greg Brophy, a Republican who was supporting Sonnenberg [another Republican candidate in the primary]. “Had Boebert had a head to head with almost any of the other five, she would have lost.”

Further postscript: Here's more Colorado Sun analysis from Thursday, June 27:  

Boebert’s share of the vote in the 4th District Republican primary was holding steady Wednesday afternoon at 43% as the final ballots were being counted. She won in all but six of the district’s 21 counties. One of her county-level wins was in Douglas County, the district’s population center.
* * *
The 4th District is a Republican stronghold.

Former U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Republican, won his last two elections in the district by 23 percentage points each. The district’s voters backed Republican Cory Gardner by 23 percentage points in Colorado’s 2020 U.S. Senate race, Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton by a 24-point margin in 2018 and Donald Trump by a 30-point margin in 2016.

A nonpartisan analysis of election results in the district dating back to 2016 conducted by state redistricting staffers estimated the district leans 27 percentage points in the GOP’s favor.

By comparison, the 3rd District, which Boebert currently represents, was estimated to have a 9 percentage point lean in the GOP’s favor. Trump’s margin of victory there in 2016 was 8 points.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Guardian publishes two-part series on Los Angeles' continuing control over California's Owens Valley

Don't miss Katie Licari's excellent, in-depth reporting here and here.  She is writing about the long-term consequences of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP)'s secretly buying up Owens Valley water rights decades ago.  In short, LA DWP still owns so much land in the Owen's Valley, part of the Eastern Sierra, that both public and private entities there remain beholden to this Los Angeles entity.

The first story focuses on how LADWP is hurting private enterprise in the Owens Valley, where it is the landlord for so many businesses.  A short excerpt follows: 

The land under [Mike] Allen’s [feed and outdoor supply] store belongs to an owner 300 miles away: the city of Los Angeles, specifically its department of water and power (DWP).

LA has owned large swathes of the Owens valley, where Bishop is located, for more than a century. The city first swooped in in the early 1900s, at the dawn of California’s water wars. As the metropolis grew at breakneck speed, its leaders searched for ways to sustain that population, and when they entered the Owens valley, they found what LA lacked: plenty of water.
* * *
Today, DWP owns 90% of privately available land in Inyo county, which encompasses the Owens valley, and 30% of all the land in neighboring Mono county. Aqueducts transporting water from both counties provided 395,000 acre-feet of water to LA last year – about 73% of the city’s water supply.

Stories of LA’s brazen land grab in the Owens valley have been told for decades – it was loosely depicted in the 1974 film Chinatown. And the fierce legal battles that have ensued, including over the environmental impact, have made regional headlines for years.

But residents, business owners, and some municipal leaders in this rural region say LA’s landownership in the valley has taken on a new, and crippling, dimension in recent years.

DWP has taken steps to exert even greater control over its land holdings in the valley. An AfroLA review of hundreds of documents obtained through records requests, as well as interviews with municipal officials, residents, legal experts and business owners, reveals DWP started changing the terms of leases in 2015, and formally added restrictions on the transfer of leases from one owner to the next in 2016.

DWP’s moves have meant that hundreds of families who have built lives in the Eastern Sierra region have seen their plans upended, often being left with the stark choice of abandoning their livelihoods or fighting DWP.

The second story is about how LADWP is hurting public infrastructure, like airports, by ham stringing the ability of local government agencies to make necessary repairs and improvements.  Here's more:  

Two rural California airports that are crucial to local air ambulance services, firefighting efforts and search and rescue operations are unable to perform critical repairs, blocked by an agency 300 miles away: the city of Los Angeles.

The airports are two of several major pieces of infrastructure in California’s Owens valley left in disrepair because of LA policies, an investigation by AfroLA, the Sheet and the Guardian reveals.

Los Angeles has owned large swaths of Inyo county, where the Owens valley is located, for more than a century. With ownership of the land comes rights to its water – water that is key to servicing the thirsty metropolis of 3.8 million people. Aqueducts carrying water from Inyo and neighbouring Mono county to LA provided 73% of the city’s water supply last year.

Today the Los Angeles department of water and power (DWP) owns 90% of privately available land in Inyo county, the majority of which it leases back to the county, its residents, business owners and ranchers.

But in recent years, county officials say, DWP has refused their applications to renew long-term leases, including those for the land that includes county airports, landfills and campgrounds.

An analysis of tax records shows nearly every DWP lease held by Inyo county is expired. More than 60% of leases between the county and DWP have been expired for more than a decade, and half of those have been expired since the aughts.

Without these long-term leases, the officials say, the county cannot apply for state and federal funding that supports critical infrastructure work. With fewer than 20,000 residents and a limited tax base, the county does not have the funds to bankroll those projects itself.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Australian state proposes student debt relief for lawyers willing to practice in rural places

"Bold new plan to get more lawyers to go to the bush," is the headline for this radio story by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last week.  That "bold" plan involves helping lawyers pay their student loans if they're practicing in a rural, remote or regional area of Australia.  

Here's the promotional blurb: 

There's a dire shortage of lawyers in regional Australia and it's having devastating impacts on people’s everyday lives. One group is proposing a bold plan to try and entice lawyers to ditch the city and go bush. Brett McGrath is President of the Law Society of New South Wales and he tells ABC Newsradio’s Tom Oriti about how waiving student debt could make a big difference.
Here's a compelling excerpt from the interview, after the interviewee, Brett McGrath, notes the disparity between what solicitors can earn in the city and in the country: 
We have some solicitors in rural and regional New South Wales who are paying admin assistants more than they're paying themselves because they're trying to meet overheads week to week, and we are the most heavily regulated profession in the country.  We have ethical obligations.  We have reporting requirements.  And most [solicitors] are employing people.  They're employers so they have to go through workplace employment legislation.  They have all these obligations so they're really struggling to make  ends meet. ... 

I'm the President of the Law Society.  It took me seven years working full time in southwest Sydney and working as a lecturer at a university--so working a second job--it took me seven years to pay off A$40,000 in Hecs.  So you can imagine... A$70,000 is the average now... so with cost of living pressures and rental and all those sort of things... it's a big problem and that's why we think this is a solution that can address that need, particularly for rural and regional areas and make it really attractive for solicitors to come and set their practices up.  
Interviewer:  
If you're a lawyer who will go to the regions to help ease that shortage you'll get your HECS-help fees waived, and if you've already made contributions, they're refunded.  Is that right? 
McGrath:
So, it has its anchor point from the Commonwealth's own review into legal assistance which called for having solicitors who moved to rural, regional and remote areas as a baseline having 45% of their work legal aid work or they work for a Community Legal Centre ... We say that should be a baseline.  We think at the Law Society of New South Wales that should be taken to the next level because of what we're seeing on the ground in rural and regional areas of New South Wales but also across the country that it should be extended to anyone who wants to move to set their practice up and start their careers in regional areas should have their hex waived.  
There are similar schemes to attract teachers, to attract doctors and nurses to regional areas.... We see law and access to justice as a critical part of our infrastructure and services we provide.  
Lismore (New South Wales) is a great example where in disaster zones people are in trouble ... they reach out.  Who do they turn to?  They turn to their solicitor when they're in need. 
Interviewer: 
Have you put that [expensive proposal for debt relief] to the government?  Have you had any response? 
McGrath:  
We've suggested that it'll cost about A$6 million in the first year, and that's ... for the base program.  The first port of call is to have those with 45% of their work in legal aid and in Community Legal Centres so that's about A$6 million and we've put that to the federal government and the Law Council of Australia has ... put that forward as a proposal to the commonwealth.  
Interviewer:  
Any Response?  
McGrath:  
We're waiting on a response.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

A novel approach to (literally) meeting criminal justice system-involved individuals where they are

NPR reported last week from Aneth, Utah, in the state's southeast corner.  That's part of the Dine (Navajo) nation, and the story features a novel program for easing the burden of criminal justice-system involved individuals' engagement with the federal court based hours away in Salt Lake City.  The headline is "Utah, hoping for tangible results on recidivism, is looking for possible solutions."  

Tilda Wilson reports on the work of U.S Magistrate Judge, Dustin Pead and federal parole officer who are going to where the system-involved individuals are, rather than expecting the individuals to come to them, hours away in other corners of the state:  
Aneth, Utah, is a tiny town on the Navajo Nation, surrounded by a beautiful landscape of red rocks and desert. On a chilly winter morning, it was just starting to rain at the Aneth Chapter House, a sort of reservation town hall. Today, U.S. magistrate Judge Dustin Pead is holding court here.

DUSTIN PEAD: The district is quite large. We don't have a probation officer located in the area.

WILSON: Pead drove six hours to be here, about 350 miles from the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. He comes down once a month to check in on people under court supervision. In Salt Lake, there's a lot more drug and mental health treatment available to help people when they get out of prison. Out here, those things are hard to come by. Pead says it makes sense that it's so much more difficult to get out of bad patterns of crime. So nine years ago, Pead started bringing court to the reservation, traveling with probation officers, a prosecutor and a public defender. It's called Tribal Community Reentry Court.

PEAD: It would be the first reentry court that we had heard of that would actually travel to people instead of having people travel to the court.

WILSON: Pead, the lawyers and probation officers are able to spend face-to-face time building rapport with each supervisee and their loved ones.

PEAD: I want them to have trust that we want them to grow. I'm not waiting to catch them in a violation. So for me, that's frequently calling them by their first name, giving accolades, knowing them, knowing their family, communicating with their family during court.

WILSON: It's working. The federal court says the recidivism rate has dropped to just 6% for people who participate in the Tribal Reentry Court. Cordell Wilson is a parole officer who has been working on the Navajo Nation since 2002. He's based 5 1/2 hours away in St. George. He used to only be able to visit people on the Navajo Nation every three months or so when something went wrong. Now visiting monthly, Wilson says he's able to build trust with the people he works with. He says it works a lot better.

Friday, June 14, 2024

In Wisconsin, Democrats aren't neglecting rural voters. It may be making a difference

The Washington Post reported a few days ago under the headline, "In Wisconsin, Biden tries to hold on to White voters without degrees." As if often the case in reporting and in our national imaginary, the white working class (here, those without college degrees) gets conflated with rurality.  This article discusses both.  Bottom line:  the Wisconsin Democratic Party is not neglecting rural America--and has set up offices in many nonmetropolitan counties, but Joe Biden is still focusing his attention on urban areas.  

Here are the excerpts with the word "rural" in them: 
Wisconsin Democrats attribute part of Biden’s relative strength with White voters without degrees to a rural progressive tradition that has faded but not disappeared — and part of it to tenacious organizing, including in rural areas where many of those voters live.
* * * *
Biden’s campaign is relying on an existing base of volunteers who know how to reach voters who might be willing to back him. Local Democrats send out 1,000 to 1,400 handwritten postcards each election to reach voters in rural areas whose doors are hard to knock on, Sandy Rindy said.
* * * *
Biden’s strategy: Out-organize Trump

Biden’s strategy for winning Wisconsin is built around state Democrats’ year-round, volunteer-run door-knocking operation. Most of Biden’s campaign offices are in counties Trump won in 2020 but where Biden outperformed given the underlying demographics.

Biden lost rural Lafayette County, where he has an office in tiny Darlington, by 14 points in 2020. But he ran 19 percent stronger there than one would expect based on the share of its population that is White and does not have a bachelor’s degree, according to a Post analysis.

“When you’ve got a Democratic Party office in a small town, it’s much easier to get people engaged,” said Tanya Bjork, a senior adviser to Biden’s campaign in Wisconsin who has worked on the past four presidential campaigns there. “And getting more people engaged means more doors and more phone calls and more conversations.”

Biden has campaigned in only one county Trump won in Wisconsin, and some Democrats grouse that they would like to see more of him in rural areas.

Tammy Baldwin wins, but she works the state,” said John Waelti, a retired economist who writes a column for the Monroe Times. “She always has hard hats and farmers in her photos. When Biden and [Vice President] Harris come, it’s Milwaukee and Madison.”

Most of Biden’s 11 trips to Wisconsin since taking office have been to Milwaukee or Madison, although he’s traveled twice to Superior, a city of about 26,000 in northern Wisconsin where the infrastructure law he signed is funding the rebuilding of the John A. Blatnik Bridge. 

“It’ll be up to their campaign to bring [accomplishments like the infrastructure law] from the macro level of visionary policy to benefit generations to come to the micro level,” she said. “What did it do in Green County?”
Baldwin said she has encouraged Biden to campaign across the state.

Rural resentment over neglect (perceived or real) was a theme first associated with Wisconsin after the 2016 election.  It was described in Kathy Cramer's book, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker


You'll find lots of related content here on the blog under the labels rural politics (446 posts) and rural vote (571 posts).  


Thursday, June 13, 2024

Adam Schiff, candidate for U.S. Senator from California, campaigns in the rural reaches of the Golden State?

I received this email from Adam Schiff on June 2.  He's touting the rural outreach of "No Dem Left Behind"--as well as his own rural outreach.  I was surprised by the latter.  Here's the text of the email:  

Lisa, this is Rep. Adam Schiff. My friends at No Dem Left Behind asked me to reach out to you.

Democrats have historically lost ground in rural America since the 90's. We've got to reach those folks and show them that Democrats are just as committed to fighting for jobs, healthcare, and other priorities in rural America as we are in every other part of the country. I’m campaigning in all the rural areas of California, and we need to do the same outreach everywhere in the nation.
Lisa - watch the video below, then split a donation between my campaign and No Dem Left Behind to help us win across rural America!

We can win in rural America, but only with your support. Split a donation today between my campaign and No Dem Left Behind's efforts to win the rural vote for Democrats across the country.

I'm now on the look out for Schiff's campaign appearances in rural places.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

How summer brings rural and urban together, and the opportunity that presents

Karen Tolkkinen, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, wrote a few days ago about an aspect of rural-urban difference.  Specifically, she writes about how summer, when tourists from cities flock to "greater Minnesota" (meaning everything that's not the Twin Cities, but especially rural places), provides an opportunity for bridging the rural-urban divide. 

They talk about an urban-rural divide — economic, political — and maybe patience is another. We here in rural America are accustomed to waiting for plants to grow, for livestock to mature, for the fish to bite. A place steeped in farming culture places less importance on instant gratification, on rushing and rushing, unless the corn is ready to combine and there's snow in the forecast. Waiting provides a chance to think about things, to observe the world around you, to breathe.

* * *  

Now that summer is well underway in greater Minnesota, tourists are flooding into all regions of the state. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, they will fill the restaurants and hotels, line the streets of small towns for parades and swell the audiences of community theater. The dollars they bring help pay for rent or tuition or groceries. These dollars are meaningful, and this column is not intended to diminish the importance of tourism or tourists in greater Minnesota. For every sourpuss, there are a dozen happy campers.

I just ask that kindness prevail.

Summer tourism brings urban and rural together like no other time of the year. It's a chance to get to know each other, to listen to each other's perspective, to absorb new ideas and build respect for the places we are from. It can be used to heal our divides, to realize that we're all Minnesotans and we're all in this together.

Greater Minnesota is more than spectacular waterfalls or wake surfing or tubing. Greater Minnesota is also the people who live here year-round and who are often scraping by financially or are working toward big dreams of our own or are worried about a loved one who has been depressed and has to wait a month to see a therapist.

* * *  

[N]obody is a social underling. You realize that when you live in a rural area.

Are rural folks more patient?  I don't know, but a 2022 Washington Post essay on rural reticence, which may be related, stuck with me.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

On seeing rural difference--and rural need--in relation to higher education

The Chronicle of Higher Education has recently been turning out quite a bit of content about rural institutions and rural students.  In short, it's been paying attention to rural difference in relation to a range of issues related to higher education.  

First, here's a feature on Building the Rural Workforce.  An excerpt follows: 

Rural workforces are typically specialized, focusing on engineering, manufacturing, or healthcare, to name a few. This makes education all the more important.

In this Multimedia Case Study, learn how colleges, like Zane State College in rural Ohio, are working to prepare rural work forces for success. Explore the virtual forum, audio takeaways, and written case study to gain insight into building programs that support rural work forces.

* * * 

How rural colleges meet the needs of nontraditional students

At Zane State College, a rural school in Ohio, 67 percent of students work while enrolled in classes.

At Patrick & Henry Community College in Virginia, students seek strategies to build and sustain their own businesses.

From workforce development initiatives to entrepreneurship boot camps, these two institutions have found creative ways to support their students and benefit the local economy.
Here's another bit of coverage featuring a video titled, "What counts as a rural college?" An excerpt from the description follows:

Weak educational achievement runs like a fault line through rural American economies. Eighty-five percent of American counties with low educational attainment are rural, and far fewer young adults in rural areas are enrolled in higher education than those in urban or suburban areas.

This educational disparity has far-reaching consequences, as the rural counties with the lowest levels of educational achievement have the highest levels of poverty, unemployment, and population loss.


Clearly, rural colleges — which include community colleges, religious and other private liberal-arts colleges, branch campuses of public universities, and tribally controlled colleges — are vital. And yet many grapple with shrinking funding and enrollments.

This piece is also being promoted under the heading, "The Changing Landscape of Rural America," per a recent promotional email.   

And here's a feature advertising a virtual forum that will take place later today, "College Partnerships to Fuel Rural Development."  Here's the description: 

Rural colleges are often hundreds of miles from other higher-education institutions, so they must form partnerships outside the sector to achieve their goals.

In this virtual forum, Liz McMillen, The Chronicle’s executive editor, will moderate a discussion on how to navigate rural challenges and effectively train the future work force, including:
  • Employee partnerships.
  • Nonprofit partnerships.
  • Rural-development efforts.

These first three items are very pragmatic, but the Chronicle also recently published a feature story out of exurban Kansas City, Missouri (Weston, population 1,756) under the headline, "A Small Town, Two Students, and Different College Dreams."  It's about two men from the high school Class of 2024, both pursuing higher education but heading in distinctly different directions.  One is Nolan Cook, who will head to a community college in Nebraska to train to become a John Deere mechanic.   The other is Luke Shafter, who will head to the University of Oklahoma's aviation school, where he will train to become a pilot.  

Cook comments on his decision:  

If it weren’t for the job training, he says, he wouldn’t have wanted to spend any more time in school: “We don’t have that much time here on Earth. Sitting in a classroom for another four years or six years wasn’t a happy thought for me.”

Cook is already working on fixing up the old house he plans to live in when he returns to Weston.  He has been deeply influenced by one of his teachers, who helped connect him to job training and part-time employment at a nearby John Deere dealer.   

Shafer had a different attitude, commenting, “it was always an expectation for me to go to college — always."  Later he is quoted, "I’d like to see the whole world, if possible. I’d like to climb Kilimanjaro.'”

I found interesting the roles of the families of these two young men in their decision making.  Cook's family appears to be more religious, as a photograph shows them praying over dinner.  Shafer's parents have more formal education.  Cook's father was a mechanic until he was injured.  Shafer's father is a judge; his mother also has a college degree. 

On the role of rurality and attachment to place, Shafer says he "understands why Weston 'has a way of holding people in and bringing people back,' but he has no plans to return home to settle down — at least not anytime soon."

This is a rich portrait of two young rural men and the forces compelling them to move in different--which is not to say opposite--directions.  After all, both are pursuing tertiary education, and that's more unusual in rural America than in urban locales.  

Postscript:  The Chronicle was promoting this video on "Reaching Rural Students" by email on June 12, 2024.  Here's a description of the item: 

A group of college recruiters from the Small Town and Rural Students [STARS] College Network traveled throughout rural southeastern America, making extra efforts to build and expand opportunities.

Here's an excerpt from it: 

The Small Town and Rural Students (STARS) College Network, a partnership of 16 colleges across the country, is dedicated to finding, reaching out to, and supporting [rural] students.... Founded two years ago, the network includes the California Institute of Technology and colleges including Columbia, Yale, Ohio State, and Vanderbilt Universities.

We want to help “small-town and rural students to get them to our colleges, but also through our colleges,” says John Palmer Rea, an admissions officer at Vanderbilt University and the STARS program director.

I like this quote from STARS recruiter Palmer Rea:  

There’s something to be said for all of those kinds of things you just learn by being in a small-town community, because a college is kind of a small town.