Weekend Roundup: King v. Vilsack

Louisville paper to lose two who helped lead rural coverage • Bio lab still planned for Kansas • Telecoms try to wriggle out of landline requirement

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One of the hottest Congressional races in rural America can be found in Iowa. It’s between the incumbent, Republican Steve King, and challenger Christie Vilsack, wife of current Ag Secretary and former governor Tom Vilsack.

The contest takes place in what was the 42nd most rural Congressional district in the country.

The Washington Post reports this morning that Democrats think they might be able to beat King, who is conservative among conservatives in the Republican Party. (At one time, King called former senator Joseph McCarthy, of the 1950s red scare fame, “a great American hero.” He was the only member of Congress to vote against putting a plaque on the Capitol in honor of the slaves who helped build the structure.)

Democrats see this race as a priority, even though King has won re-election easily in the past. But district lines have changed after redistricting and the Republican advantage may have been diminished. (King’s old district had a large advantage  — 147,600 — in Republican voter registration.) This is a new district and there are a lot of voters who registered as “Independent.” 

(A note: Very few people are true independents, so this number may mean a lot less than it sounds.)

King is campaigning against “Obamacare.” Vilsack is talking about closing the rural digital divide and helping rural economies.

• Homeland Security still wants to build a $1.14 billion animal research lab in Kansas, despite tight funding and fears that biological research at the facility could endanger nearby herds. 

At a hearing in Topeka, Homeland Security officials said the cost of the lab is going up as features are added that would mitigate the possibility of a release of a deadly pathogen. The new facility would do research that is now taking place on Plum Island near New York.

The National Research Council is now reviewing plans for the lab, which would be build in Manhattan, Kansas, near Kansas State University.

• Cecilia Kang reports in the Washington Post on the effort to end the big telecom’s commitment to provide landline telephones to every house. 

Four states have passed laws that release the companies from providing this service. Other states are “facing vigorous lobbying by phone companies” to remove this requirement.

Kang reviews the arguments:

Industry executives and state lawmakers who support this effort want to expand the definition of the phone utility beyond the century-old icon of the American home to include Web-based devices or mobile phones.

They add that the companies are saddled with arcane rules that are on the wrong side of a clear consumer trend: One-third of homes have replaced their landlines with wireless phones.

The question, critics say, is whether the effort will leave behind rural residents, the elderly and others. They also worry whether the nation’s broadband networks could handle a massive emergency such as a terrorist attack.

“For many, landlines are their lifeline,” said Coralette Hannon, a senior legislative staffer at AARP, which has been fighting the legislative proposals. “In rural areas, wireless service can be spotty or expensive and not at all a real option.”

• Amish in Kentucky will no longer be required to mark their buggies with an orange triangle.

The Kentucky governor (Steve Beshear) signed a bill into law that will allow Amish to use simple reflective silver or white tape to mark their vehicles, not the triangles the Amish say represent the Trinity and thus should not be displayed. 

“It will be a burden from the shoulders of the Amish, but also will lift a burden from law enforcement people and others who are forced into doing some things that most of them would not want to do,” said Sen. Ken Winters, a Republican from Murray. “All of us will be relieved.”

• While we’re in Kentucky, at one time the Louisville Courier-Journal was a presence all across the state. Its reporters and editorialists wrote about the environment, the poor, coal mine safety and coal strip mining. What they did made the lives of many in rural Kentucky better. 

We note that two of those responsible for that kind of coverage are leaving the paper. Keith Runyon and Stephen Ford are leaving the paper after more than 40 years of service to the Courier-Journal and rural Kentucky. We’ll miss ’em, and so will Kentucky.

 

 

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