Speak Your Piece: Running for Sheriff

The White House chose 25 people to serve on its Council for Community Solutions. Most of the members came from Washington, D.C., and New York. Not one lived in rural America — a loss for the Council and for President Obama.

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Last week President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating something called the “White House Council for Community Solutions.”

 The Council is supposed to “provide advice to the President on the best ways to mobilize citizens, nonprofits, businesses and government to work more effectively together to solve specific community needs,” according to the White House

It’s not a big deal, really, a meaningless group with no powers, no budget — no nothing except an invitation to give “advice” to the president. Few people would have even noticed the thing was created except that Jon Bon Jovi, the rock guy, was named to the group. Bon Jovi got the Council in USA Today and Politico

Otherwise, it’s all a big bunch of nothing…except that, once again, the Obama Administration has forgotten all about rural America.

There are 25 people on the White House council. Not one comes from a rural community.

Twenty percent of Americans live in rural communities. But when it comes time for the Obama Administration to name a council on “community solutions,” not one lives anywhere outside the nation’s major cities. 

Actually, I don’t see that any of the group comes from even a medium size city. They are all from New York, Washington, D.C., Oakland. Oh, and did I mention New York and D.C.? 

Yes, there is somebody on the council from Pittsburgh and a professor from New Orleans, cities that must count as “out there” in the Obama White House. But there should be five people on this panel from rural America and there isn’t one.

Yes, Jon Bon Jovi.
The Obama White House has never been short of experts, and this panel on community is filled with credentials — authors, professors, the chair of the Smithsonian Institution, the general counsel for Starbucks, a partner at McKinsey (the massive business consultancy firm), presidents of several foundations and, of course, Bon Jovi. President Obama praised the group as “impressive men and women (who) have dedicated their lives and careers to civic engagement and social innovation.”

We’re not the first to notice President Obama’s attraction to thick resumes, coastal connections and Ivy League diplomas. This White House would sniff at a degree from a land grant school.

So when it came time to pick a Supreme Court justice, nobody from rural America was considered.  And the Obama Administration’s education policy is utterly urban centric

I was talking with a friend, an educator, about the Obama Administration’s single-minded allegiance to urban, credentialed experts. He recalled a story about Sam Rayburn. 

Rayburn was born in Tennessee but ended up in Bonham in East Texas. He became Speaker of the Texas House at age 29 and he was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1913. He served for 48 years, 17 of them as Speaker.

Lyndon Johnson was expounding to Rayburn one day about the brilliance of the men who filled John Kennedy’s New Frontier White House. Johnson seemed awed by the credentials of the Kennedy men, the best and the brightest.

In front of the Sam Rayburn Library in Bonham, Texas.
Rayburn listened and when Johnson subsided, he said, “I’d feel a lot better if some of them had run for sheriff just once.”

Former University of Oregon president David Frohnmayer gave a speech where he explained what Rayburn meant by this. Frohnmayer served as a state rep in Oregon. He knew what it meant to run for sheriff. 

Running for sheriff puts a person “in the world,” Frohnmayer said, in our communities and neighborhoods. He said running for sheriff teaches you things you can’t learn in school or in a Washington, D.C., think tank. You find out that there are a lot of people sitting around democracy’s table and that they all have a voice. You have to make promises and you have to keep them. And sometimes, you have to shoot straight.

The problem with the White House Council for Community Solutions is that it has such a narrow view of community. It leaves out what can be learned from the one out of five Americans who live in rural places and who have been building community and creating solutions for decades.

Most troubling is that the Council has such a constricted notion of where the nation ought to look for “solutions.” Yes, sometimes solutions come from people with nice resumes. But often — far more often than this White House seems to realize — people who have run for sheriff have solutions, too.

Karl Stauber, president of the Danville Regional Foundation in Virginia, says that all Presidents have their blind spots and this one is no different.

“President Obama seems to be blind to opportunities and challenges in rural America,” Stauber writes. “In the November election, rural Democrats were nailed, in part because many of us in rural America perceive we are off of the priority list of the Obama White House.  And this week they appointed the White House Council for Community Solutions, without a single rural person. 

“Maybe these councils are mostly sizzle and little steak, but once again, it appears that this White House does not get it.   Rural communities would like to be part of the solution, or at very least, at the table.”

 

 

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