- Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota approved efforts to legalize recreational marijuana, while voters in South Dakota and Mississippi approved medical marijuana programs.
- Oregonians decriminalized small amounts of certain controlled substances, such as heroin and cocaine, and the Beaver State also legalized psilocybin—become the first state ever to do so. The drug comes from mushrooms and is used in rituals by some Native American tribes.
- Ranked-choice voting, which was adopted in Maine recently, failed in Massachusetts and looks likely to fail in Alaska.
- Virginia voters adopted a redistricting commission, and that change means most states will now have a commission of some kind, though some are merely advisory, or only come into being if the legislature fails to pass maps.
- Voters approved taxes on tobacco and electronic-cigarette products in Colorado and Oregon. Washington will require public schools to provide comprehensive sex education beginning in 2022.
- California voters rejected stricter parole and sentencing policies and stopped the legislature’s efforts to replace cash bail with pretrial risk assessments.
- Kentucky passed Marsy’s law, the crime victims’ bill of rights.
- Florida voters raised the minimum wage.
- An effort to overturn California’s affirmative action ban failed.
- Two “Stand Your Ground” Rights measures pass in Alabama.
- Mississippians approved the state’s new magnolia flag design, which was put before voters after the legislature decided to replace the previous flag feature the confederate battle emblem.
A digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky. Links may expire, require subscription or go behind pay walls. Please send news and knowledge you think would be useful to email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter @RuralJournalism
Friday, November 06, 2020
Ballot measure roundup: Coloradans approve restoration of gray wolves, paid family and medical leave
Election misinformation is widespread; local news media could help with fact-checking
- The Washington Post's Fact Checker
- Snopes (conservatives often claim it's liberal, but Snopes backs up its pronouncements with links to sources)
- Media Bias Fact Check (an excellent site for determining the trustworthiness of a source)
Drug distributors, J&J agree on $26 billion opioid settlement, but lawyer for W.Va. local governments says it's not enough
Rural Democratic officeholders are effectively extinct in Oklahoma, probably in many other rural areas too
|Shift in presidential margins, 2016-20; blue arrows show Democratic shift and red arrows Republican. Arrow length is strength of shift. New York Times map; click image to enlarge it or click here for interactive version with county-level data.|
One thing the 2020 election has made clear: rural areas are becoming increasingly Republican.
In Oklahoma, for example, Democrats controlled the state legislature for nearly a century, mostly with lawmakers from rural areas (though it should be noted that "Democrat" has not always meant "liberal"). But "on Tuesday the party transition in Oklahoma became complete when the last Democrat from a rural district lost his reelection bid while the GOP picked up five more House seats to extend its advantage over Democrats to 82-19," Sean Murphy reports for The Associated Press.
Matt Meredith, a two-term state representative who lost his seat to a Republican challenger by more than 10 points, said he was swept up in the tide of Oklahomans voting for national politics. "There were mailers sent out with me and (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and me and (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer," Meredith told the AP. "I've never even met Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer."
Trump solidified Republicans' hold on rural Iowa, possibly helped by messaging about the economy. "The president dominated in rural counties that he took from the Democrats four years ago," Chris McGreal reports for The Guardian. "Opinion polls said that in recent weeks voters’ primary concern shifted from coronavirus to the economy which helped swing independent voters the president’s way to supplement his core support."
Though Iowa was not a critical state for Biden, "his failure to significantly reduce the size of Trump’s 2016 victory there is evidence that the Democrats failed to persuade swaths of rural America that the party had much to offer them or was even paying attention to their communities and concerns," McGreal reports.
Trump saw only weak rural gains from 2016 in crucial battlegrounds Michigan and Wisconsin, which helped flip those states blue, Tim Marema, Tim Murphy and Bill Bishop report for The Daily Yonder.
Quick hits: Rural coroners often have little training; fears about food are driving shortages of canning supplies
A rural woman's volunteer efforts to make masks have won her the Kansas Department of Agriculture's Ag Hero Award. Read more here.
In Washington state and others, many rural coroners have little to no training in forensic pathology, leading to questionable or shoddy work. Read more here.
Appalachians working to save wild ginseng from being overharvested. Read more here.
Urban and suburban fears about food-chain shortages are driving shortages of canning supplies, long a rural norm. Read more here.
A partnership between the Okeechobee County Public Library and the University of Florida Health Science Center Libraries aims to improve access to quality health information in rural areas through expanding the Little Free Library system. Read more here.
Mountain Valley Pipeline developers have once again pushed the project's completion date back and the estimated cost up. Read more here.
The Trump administration demoted Neil Chatterjee, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, after he suggested taking action on climate change. Read more here.
New research suggests treating all aspects of opioid abusers' lives to help them beat addiction
University of Kentucky researchers are working on an innovative plan to treat opioid use disorder that, they say, could help greatly in rural areas. "The researchers hope to be able to curb opioid use disorder by providing patients at infectious disease clinics with access to mental health therapists, relapse prevention services, and medications," Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder. "The new opioid treatment is based on approaches spelled out in the groundbreaking HIV-treatment legislation called the Ryan White Care Act. That HIV treatment model provides not only medical care but mental health care, case management, social workers, and others."
Thursday, November 05, 2020
Investigative journalists uncover public officials' racist or racially unbalanced actions in Alabama and Virginia
Two stories from the South illustrate the power of investigative local journalism to uncover questionable actions by public officials.
In Alabama, a Talladega police dog sent at least nine people to the hospital in a year spanning the summer of 2014 to 2015. A veteran police sergeant testified under oath that the police specifically wanted a dog that would attack Black residents, Challen Stephens reports for AL.com, in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system.
Brad Zinn of the Staunton News Leader in Virginia contrasted how two magistrates treated two defendants: a young Black man reportedly armed with a skateboard, and a middle-aged white man allegedly armed with two rifles and a handgun. Neither had a prior criminal record,
Devin Turner, 22, was arrested after throwing his skateboard at a passing car. At his arraignment, one of the Augusta County magistrates ordered him held without bond at a nearby jail. He was eventually granted a $5,000 bond and released after spending the weekend in jail, Zinn reports.
Douglas Truslow, 57, aimed laser-sighted firearms at neighbors, including an elderly woman and a 5-year-old, and threatened to start shooting them. The sheriff's office and Charlottesville police responded. During the eight-hour standoff that followed, Truslow allegedly threatened to kill several officers. A different local magistrate gave him a $1,000 unsecured bond and he was immediately released. Truslow is the lone caregiver for his spouse, according to court records, Zinn reports.
When the News Leader asked the magistrate's office why the two suspects were treated so differently, Chief Magistrate Robyn Wilhelm said the magistrates stick to a rigid script when making bond decisions, and said neither the police nor the commonwealth attorney's office spoke up with concerns about either Truslow or Turner's bonds. Zinn reports.
Wilhelm said she couldn't comment on ongoing cases but told Zinn: "We're dealing with humans, so oftentimes there could be imperfections ... Certain judges will find people guilty of one thing but another judge ... could find someone innocent."
As covid-19 patients fill larger hospitals, small hospitals must care for critically ill patients, and that's not for the best
|Hemphill County, Texas|
Food insecurity worse in rural America during pandemic
|Projected rates of food insecurity in 2020 (Feeding America map; click the image to enlarge it.)|
"Rural areas make up a disproportionate share of the counties where residents have high levels of food insecurity, according to a national hunger-relief organization," Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder. "Research from Feeding America shows that while 63% of the counties in the U.S. are rural, 87% of those counties had the highest rates of overall food insecurity."
The trend was improving in 2019, but it's getting worse again during the pandemic because of unique challenges rural areas face. "These challenges include an increased likelihood of food deserts with the nearest food pantry or food bank potentially hours away, job opportunities that are more concentrated in low-wage industries, and higher rates of unemployment and underemployment," said the report.
Rural voters appear to have stopped the 'blue wave' in 2020 election, though the final numbers are unclear
"The 2018 mid-term election saw a blue wave that strengthened Democratic control of the House. Despite pollster speculation that the wave would continue into 2020, the scenario did not play out, with the GOP holding some key, targeted Senate races and making gains in the House," John Herath reports for AgWeb.
It's unclear how much rural voters helped President Trump and down-ticket Republicans, but "an exit poll by Edison Research for the National Election Pool reported that 54 percent of small-city or rural residents voted for Trump while urban and suburban voters favored Democrat Joe Biden," Chuck Abbott reports for Successful Farming. But Trump appeared to have coattails in other races.
"Democrats were not able to hold on," Karla Thieman of The Russell Group, a bipartisan lobbying and consulting firm focused on food and agriculture, told Herath. "The 2018 wave that they were brought in on did not last this time. And the reason they weren't able to get re-elected is in large part, at least based on the data that I've seen, the number of rural voters who turned out for Donald Trump this time."
Thieman served as chief of staff to Deputy Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden under President Obama, and served as senior staff in the Senate Agriculture Committee for more than five years.
Though the final vote tallies aren't in yet in several states, rural and small-town voters proved decisive for President Trump in Ohio and led to House Agriculture chair Collin Peterson's defeat in Minnesota.
Tune in on Nov. 18 for rural health chat on Twitter, just ahead of National Rural Health Day
Wednesday, November 04, 2020
Strong rural support for Trump helped carry Ohio, led to defeat of House Agriculture chair Collin Peterson in Minn.
Most rural counties lost jobs from Sept. 2019 to Sept. 2020, but metro counties did worse; see county-level data
|Map shows percentage change of employment rate from September 2019 to September 2020, compared to the national average of 6.47% loss during the 12-month period. Daily Yonder map; click here for the interactive version.|
Most U.S. counties had fewer people working in September 2020 than in September 2019, but rural counties lost a smaller percentage of jobs than the largest metropolitan counties, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics employment figures. That's likely because jobs in many rural areas, especially those that rely on agriculture instead of tourism, are somewhat insulated from nationwide employment trends. "In fact, rural counties are slowly adding jobs as the country’s major metro areas continue to struggle," Bill Bishop reports for The Daily Yonder. "Rural counties lost a little over 4% of the jobs they had in September 2019. In contrast, the metropolitan counties that contain the urban centers of cities of a million or more people have lost nearly 8% of the jobs they had a year ago. The nation as a whole lost 6.5% jobs over these 12 months."
Difference in rural and urban mortality rates will be topic of Nov. 16 webinar
Upcoming reapportionment and redistricting make statehouse races even more important this year
The nation's attention is focused largely on the presidential and Senate races, but more than 5,000 state legislative races are arguably as important, collectively, Sabrina Tavernise writes for The New York Times. For one thing, this is a census year. In most states, that means that whoever wins control of a state's legislature in this election will be in charge of "redrawing state and national electoral maps next year, an exercise that can give one political party a deep and enduring advantage in lawmaking for years."
After their electoral gains in 2010, Republicans used their power in statehouses to disproportionately empower rural voters in redistricting. Before legislatures redistrict, the census will determine how many seats in the U.S. House each state will get.
Tavernise notes that state legislatures will also decide critical issues relating to abortion, guns, police funding and accountability, schools, health care, and the pandemic.
Pandemic highlights need for better rural broadband
"Talk about pouring salt into an open wound. Even prior to covid-19, everyone knew the state of rural broadband was not good. What this pandemic did was not only expose how deep the digital divide truly is between rural residents and their city cousins but also widened it by a country mile," Steve Cubbage writes for AgWeb. Cubbage is a consultant who helps farmers implement tech solutions. "As business, school and nearly all aspects of daily life for most Americans went virtual and online, this shift put an unbelievable amount of strain on the communication infrastructure that we depend on to function as a modern society. Rural areas were much less prepared for this accelerated warp-speed digital transformation."
Cubbage shares some blunt illustrating numbers:
- Americans relied way more on broadband in 2020: Digital conference software Zoom's parent company saw a nearly 600% increase in its stock in 2020, online gaming activity increased nearly 115%, and Netflix usage jumped 40% during the pandemic, all of which require broadband.
- 60% of farmers say they don't have enough internet connectivity to run their business, and more than 50% said their farms can't implement the latest agricultural technology without better broadband.
- According to the most conservative estimates, at least 21.3 million Americans, or 6.5% of the population, lacks broadband access. However, that's according to the Federal Communications Commission's maps, which are widely acknowledged to be faulty. Third-party research indicates the real numbers are at least twice as high.
- The new 5G network is supposed to operate 20 times faster than the current 4G LTE network, but 5G requires more relay stations and is much more expensive to implement. That could be a problem in cash-strapped rural areas.
- The federal government spent $47.3 billion on rural broadband improvement programs between 2009 and 2017, but rural areas still lag substantially in connectivity.
Tuesday, November 03, 2020
Emboldened right-wing militias, with many rural adherents, are an increasing threat, Dept. of Homeland Security says
Emboldened far-right militias, many dominated by rural residents and some affiliated with white supremacy groups, are increasingly threatening racial-justice protests, intimidating voters and more."Throughout the West and beyond, in a summer marked by protests seeking racial justice, armed vigilantes also have shown up at Black Lives Matter events in small towns and big cities alike. Their presence in some places has the tacit support of law enforcement or even local elected officials," Erika Bolstad reports for Stateline. "Now, experts who monitor right-wing vigilantes and white nationalist organizations are on even higher alert for the possibility of violence at political rallies. They also fear vigilantes or armed groups might show up at ballot drop-off locations and outside of Nov. 3 polling places to intimidate voters and increase paramilitary activity afterward if election results are disputed or seen as illegitimate."
However, sometimes militias have tacit or explicit support from local officials. In Virginia, a few rural counties have officially recognized local militias as organizations that enhance public safety and security, Gregory Schneider reports for The Washington Post.
Mask-mandate decision, punted to local Iowa officials by governor, causes political upheaval in at least one county
|Dubuque County, Iowa (Wikipedia map)|
Rural counties break virus-case record for 6th straight week
|New coronavirus infections by county, Oct. 25-31|
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.
The coronavirus pandemic "continued its rapid spread in rural America last week, setting a record for new infections for the sixth consecutive week and placing three out of every four rural counties on the red-zone list," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. New infections reached 110,130 for the week of Sunday to Saturday, October 25-31, an increase of 16% from the previous week. An additional 154 rural counties were added to the red-zone list last week, bringing the total to record high of 1,502."
Amazon reportedly planning new service for rural deliveries, cutting out U.S. Postal Service, which needs its money
Drug overdoses on the rise in rural America
Drug-overdose deaths increased during the first months of the pandemic, especially in rural areas, according to preliminary numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase may not be correlated with the pandemic, since overdose deaths have been on the rise since before the pandemic.
"The U.S. had record-high drug overdose deaths in 2019, according to CDC data, with opioids involved in 2 out of every 3 drug-related deaths," Noah Fish reports for the Duluth News Tribune. "If the trend shown in the most recent CDC study continues, the country will set a new record for drug overdose deaths again this year.The biggest increase in fatal overdoses happened in rural South Dakota, where drug-related fatalities increased by nearly 50 percent," Fish reports. "There were over 19,000 fatal overdoses in the U.S. from January through March of this year, according to CDC data, which is close to 3,000 more deaths than the same time frame last year."
Monday, November 02, 2020
Rural New Mexico county has picked every president since 1952; reporter spoke to locals to find out how they're leaning
|Valencia County, N.M.|
Counties that supported Trump most in 2016 are seeing higher coronavirus infection rates recently
Wildfires threaten rural areas with expensive, lingering damage to water utilities
"When wildfires spread across California, they leave a cascade of water problems in their wake: Some communities have their drinking water poisoned by toxic substances. Others wrestle with ash and debris washed into reservoirs and lakes. And many living in remote stretches of the state struggle with accessing enough water to fight fires," Rachel Becker reports for Cal Matters. "Drinking water has been contaminated with hazardous chemicals after at least three California wildfires in recent years: in Santa Rosa after the Tubbs Fire in 2017, in Paradise after the Camp Fire in 2018 and now in parts of the San Lorenzo Valley burned by the CZU Lightning Complex Fires that began in August."
Fixing the damaged water systems can cost up to $150 million for a single small town, Becker reports.
Rural voters in four key swing states could help fuel key Biden victories, policy analyst writes
|Net Democratic minus Republican votes by urban status; |
Brookings Institution charts; click the image to enlarge it
"The key to Donald Trump’s surprising 2016 victory was his outsized performance in nonurban parts of the electorate, especially whiter rural counties in the critical states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. In 2020’s race, Trump is again focusing his attention on this base—but voting patterns from the 2018 midterms and recent surveys indicate support for him in these places could be weaker than four years ago," writes William H. Frey, a senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. "The 2018 midterms led to a 'blue wave,' sending 40 additional Democrats to the House of Representatives. It also cut Republican voting margins in the vast majority of small metropolitan and rural counties, including those in northern battleground states."
Recent polls nationwide and in that trio of battleground states, plus Iowa, show a sharp shift among white voters towards Joe Biden and away from Trump. "Especially important for the 2020 election is the trend toward weaker Republican support in the vast majority of suburban, small metropolitan and rural counties. Among the 3,013 such counties, 2,436 showed rises in the D-R margins between 2016 and 2018. Many of these voted Republican in both the 2016 and 2018 elections, but with weaker—sometimes much weaker—Republican support in 2018," Frey reports.
"The trends revealed here point toward an electoral pivot in rural and small towns since 2016—if not to full-throated Biden support, then certainly to weaker Trump support," Frey reports. "While the 2018 midterm elections may not be a completely accurate predicator of county-level support for the president on Election Day 2020, it does indicate weaker Republican support among many small metropolitan and nonmetropolitan counties than what existed in 2016. Declining support for Trump among non-college whites in recent polls would seem to reinforce this trend."