Politics & Elections: Candidates Unfamiliar with Rural West

Wondering how rural communities should respond to shifts in the energy economy? Don’t look to presidential candidates for answers.

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voting_button_final-01Montanan Kate French came to a presidential forum in Nevada recently with a simple question:

“How would your administration ensure that we build widespread prosperity in rural communities as our nation transitions to clean energy, especially those communities affected by the decline of coal?”

Only Democrats came to the forum, put on by the Center for Community Change. Senator Bernie Sanders was the only actual candidate; Hillary Clinton was represented by Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey.

French wasn’t much impressed with the answers:

Answers at the forum did not always delve into the complexities of rural communities in the West. It was clear to me that the presidential candidates are unfamiliar with our region.

French chairs the Northern Plains Resource Council, which is based in Billings.


As people increasingly pack into dense urban areas, legislative districts in rural regions will grow larger.

Kirk Ross of the Carolina Public Press examines this phenomenon in Western North Carolina. As the demography of North Carolina changes and the cities gain population, it appears that sitting legislators in rural parts of the state are likely to be pitted against one another in larger districts when new districts are drawn after 2020.

“Those districts are going to be so big, will people truly know their representatives?” asked Catawba College political scientist Michael Bitzer.

Moreover, there is a self-sorting process going on that is widening the political divide between rural and urban areas. “You can talk to someone in Asheville and someone from one of the rural areas and it’s as if you are talking to people from different countries within the same county,” Bitzer said.


The Los Angeles Times’ Kurtis Lee reports that Democrats are chasing rural votes in Nevada.

Hillary Clinton apparently learned a lesson from 2008, when she won Las Vegas big, but lost to Barack Obama in rural counties — and as a result, lost the delegate battle to the eventual winner. (See the Yonder story here.) This year, she’s organizing in rural counties. Over the summer, in fact, Clinton staffers took a 1,200 mile tour of rural counties. Last Monday, Clinton was in Elko.

“For us, it’s really important to have a presence all over the state,” said Emmy Ruiz, Clinton’s state director. “We have a campaign that is reflective of all Nevadans. Las Vegas is certainly really important to us … but in the caucus process it’s important to build a statewide operation.”

Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders has opened offices around the state, including an outpost in Pahrump.




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