Fast Takes | Tenn. Senate Candidates Spar on Broadband

Southern states figure prominently in this week’s rural election news: Tennessee’s senate candidates differ on the public role in providing broadband | A Georgia lieutenant governor candidate expresses concern about rural hospital closures | A rural Georgia county rejects a proposal to close polls amid accusations of suppressing the black vote |  And outside the South in Idaho, small towns and rural areas lead the way in voter turnout.

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The Tennessee Valley Authority helped deliver electricity to large parts of the Southeast United States starting in the 1930s. Could it also be part of moving rural Tennessee into the internet age? 

Phil Bredesen, former governor of Tennessee and now Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, says TVA could do just that, according to the Nashville, Tennessean. 

TVA, which was one of FDR’s first New Deal programs, generates electricity and transmits the power wholesale to local utilities, which handle the last mile. The agency has a larger public purpose of encouraging rural development, Bredesen said, though that focus has waned over the years. Tapping that tradition could position TVA to deliver a new essential utility, broadband, Bredesen said. 

Bredesen’s Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, also puts broadband high on the list of campaign issues. She prefers private sector approaches and the use of utility cooperatives, which have increased flexibility to provide broadband under new state law. Blackburn said public broadband programs are anti-competitive. 

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The Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, Sarah Riggs Amico, has raised rural hospital closures as a campaign issue. 

“There are 60 counties in Georgia without a pediatrician, half of our counties don’t have an OB/GYN, & rural hospitals are closing,” she stated in an Aug. 20 tweet. She criticized state lawmakers for failing to expand the number of people covered by Medicaid, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act.  

“… [O]ur current state lawmakers sent back $33 [billion] in your federal tax dollars –money Georgia had already paid in — because they wanted to play politics.” 

Amico, a business owner, faces Republican Geoff Duncan, a former state representative, in the race for lieutenant governor. 

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Could the Trump administration’s trade tariffs soften Republican support from farmers in the 2018 midterm election? Bloomberg News agriculture reporter Alan Bjerga will discuss the topic Sept. 6 in a National Press Foundation live webinar. He will also address the political implications of the current farm bill. Register for the free webinar here 

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A rural Georgia county has rejected a consultant’s proposal to close seven polling sites that critics said would have a disproportionate effect on African American voters. The Randolph County election commission voted 2-0 to reject the proposal, which came from an independent consultant the county hired earlier this year.  

The consultant was one of “several” recommended to Randolph County by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, according to a state spokesperson. Georgia Secretary of State Jack Kemp, who heads the state’s Election Commission, is also the Republican nominee for governor. He is running against Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams, an African American woman.  

Abrams and others have accused Kemp of “supporting policies that adversely affect minority voters and contravene federal law,” according to the New York Times. Kemp said his office did not have a role in recommending the closure of polling places in Randolph County. In fact, he had written to the county to advise them to reject the proposal, the story reported. 

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Where do people vote the most in Idaho? “In remote rural counties,” reports Nicole Blanchard of the Idaho Statesman. 

Blanchard found that many Idaho counties lagged behind national averages in voting turnout, but that in recent elections “residents of small, sparsely populated counties consistently cast the most votes per capita, while mid-sized counties in southern Idaho often have the fewest.” 

There is an opinion out there that rural areas are civic wastelands, but we see (and live) evidence that the opposite is true. Blanchard notes that there are “perks to casting a ballot in a small town….” For example: 

“In rural Madison County, I’ve never waited more than a second to vote,” said political scientist Matt Miles. “And there’s a feeling of community. When your friends, family, all the people you know are (at the polling place), it’s a norm.” 

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