Roundup: Senate Spotlight on Rural Hawaii

Rural Hawaiian voters could decide Senate race • A call to end "Amish Mafia" TV show • Rural power producers push for renewable energy, depsite association's stance  • SNAP benefits up in rural U.S. • Mobile medical unit bringing care to rural veterans

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A handful of voters on Hawaii’s Big Island could decide the winner in the state’s U.S. Senate primary, calling special attention to the needs of rural communities that normally receive scant political notice, the New York Times reports.

A tropical storm blocked access to two polling places on Election Day earlier this week for residents around Puna, located on the east side of the island of Hawaii. The 7,000 voters affected by the closures will be allowed to vote in special polling today (Friday).

With just 1,600 votes separating incumbent Senator Brian Schatz from challenger Colleen Hanabus in the Democratic primary, it’s possible that these rural voters could determine the winner.

Both candidates descended on Puna earlier this week, helping with storm-relief efforts and making the Senate race look more like a county commissioner’s election.

It’s a big switch for residents in a “hard-to-reach paradise,” reports Ian Lovett.

“It’s awesome — our moment in the sun,” said Elizabeth Robertson, a 60-year-old retiree who had gone to a community center in search of ice after it had sold out in minutes at the local stores. “Maybe it will help bring attention to how hard it is here, and get us a few more bits and pieces of services. A lot of us feel like we’re living in a third-world country, we really do.”

But the sudden focus on Puna has also highlighted the divide in Hawaii between the high-rises of Honolulu and the poorer, rural districts like this one on the outer islands, where residents have long felt neglected by the state’s politicians.

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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett joined 18 other state politicians this week in calling for an end to the television show “Amish Mafia.”

Corbett signed a statement that called the show a “bigoted portrayal” of the religious sect and shows the Amish of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, as a “crime-ridden culture.”

The Discovery Channel program purports to be a reality show that follows Amish men who “enforce law and order within the community,” the AP reports. But “questions have persisted about its veracity.”

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The politically powerful National Rural Electric Cooperative Association opposes stricter limits on coal power-plant emissions proposed by the Obama administration. But some power producers who are members of the national association are bucking the trend and trying renewable energy instead, according to an article appearing in E&E Reporter, a publication that covers the power industry.

Farmers Electric Cooperative in Frytown, Iowa, for example, has just been part of installing a 2,900-panel array that will generate about 1 million kilowatt hours annually.

Other examples:

The Cloverland Electric co-op in Dafter, Michigan, can produce up to 36 megawatt-hours with its hydroelectric plant, and the Peninsula Light Co. in Gig Harbor, Washington, operates a 20-megawatt wind-powered system. And the chapter with perhaps the most audacious renewable energy goals — the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative in Lihu'e, Hawaii — plans to generate half of the power it distributes from renewable sources by 2023.

National leadership in the cooperative power association is worried that the proposed EPA limits on coal-fired plants would raise costs for rural customers.

The proposed rules “would increase electricity costs on all Americans,” said Jo Ann Emerson, head of the association. Emerson, a Republican, became CEO of the association in 2013, when she resigned her Missouri Eighth Congressional District seat.

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The numer of people recieving SNAP benefits, formerly called food stamps, rose in rural America over a five-year period between 2008 and 2012, according to a study by the Center for Rural Affairs. The study also found higher percentages of children and elderly in rural areas receiving benefits, said the study’s author, Jon Bailey.

 

“SNAP is providing a way for those people and those households to meet their food needs, which is important,” Bailey said, “because those two population groups are probably most at risk of hunger and food insecurity.”

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Veterans in some small New York towns will be driving shorter distances for basic medial care, thanks to an K.

"We assessed rural health care needs and asked, 'What are the barriers?'" said Angela Allen, a rural health social worker. "Some (veterans) are several hours from a central VA hospital. This opens the door up for them to be able to get the help they're eligible for."

The RV will provide services like taking blood work, counseling, and physical therapy. Clients will still have to travel long distances for more complicated procedures.

 

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