Bill Clinton in eastern Kentucky • Dems have stopped courting rural people • Creating new sets of rural poor • Till the cows come home
America needs to stop focusing its development policies on programs that exclude rural areas, former President Bill Clinton told a crowd in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields on Wednesday.
“I know cities are the most prosperous places, … but it’s wrong to try to build a future for America that leaves rural and small-town America out,” Clinton said.
The former president spoke in Hazard, a town of about 5,500, as part of a campaign event for Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. Grimes and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a 30-year Senate veteran, are locked in a close race that has garnered national attention.
Hazard was also the site of a 1999 Clinton speech in support of the then-president’s “new markets” tax-credit initiative – a plan to lure capital investment to rural and hard-hit urban areas. The legislation expired this summer, Clinton said.
Clinton said the 1999 new market initiative was the last time the federal government has done anything of significance to help spur economic development in rural communities. (The Obama administration might disagree with that assessment. Last month, for example, the Obama administration announced a $10 billion private investment fund for rural infrastructure development.)
Current federal policy doesn’t do enough to create opportunity and hope for rural areas, Clinton said. With new communications technology, geography doesn’t have to be an impediment to economic activity, he said.
“New technologies and infrastructure opportunities can create jobs and wealth in any place in the United States,” he said.
He said rural people were ready to take advantage of those new opportunities. “Intelligence is evenly distributed, and the willingness to work is evenly distributed,” he said. “It is wrong to leave any place out and any place behind.”
Clinton shared the stage with families that are part of the United Mine Workers, which has endorsed Grimes.
Clinton cited experience early in his career representing about 100 miners who were trying to get benefits under federal black-lung program. “It was one of the things in my long life that I was most proud of,” he said.
Clinton won Kentucky in both the 1992 and 1996 elections and remains popular there. Current President Barack Obama is a less popular figure in the Bluegrass State, and the McConnell campaign has attempted to link Grimes and Obama.
One thing Bill Clinton didn’t talk about directly in his Kentucky speeches this week was philanthropy. That’s an oversight, says Rick Cohen of Nonprofit Quarterly.
Cohen, a frequent contributor to the Daily Yonder, said Clinton should have reminded philanthropists that they haven’t focused enough attention on rural America. In 2009 Clinton, addressing a Council on Foundations conference on rural philanthropy, said “the foundation activity in rural America has been woefully inadequate.”
Democrats have taken a step (or five) back since 2008 when it comes to recruiting rural folks, writes Matt Barron in The Hill. Barron argues that voters in rural areas were a big part of why Dems were able to recapture the House and Senate eight years ago, and those voters have since been largely ignored by the party. Despite having an outreach effort for Native American, labor, immigrants, and LGBT, there’s no plan for impressing people from small towns. Barron explains:
Over at the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Rural Council is unstaffed and still stuck in second-class status, unable to become a full-fledged caucus. Why? Because under party rules, the group must represent at least 2 percent of the DNC membership and its members must share an "immutable characteristic." As a result, the roadblock is that being rural is not a permanent trait. I swear, you can't make this stuff up.
Recent structural changes in rural economies are creating new sets of rural poor, according to a piece by Lydia DePillis in the Washington Post.
The article looks at Las Animas, Colorado, a town of about 2,400 in the southeast part of the state. In recent decades the area lost jobs due to agricultural automation, the closure of a beet processing plant and other ag-related facilities, and the loss of a Veterans Administration hospital and a prison.
The poverty of Las Animas isn’t the poverty of Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta or an Indian reservation, entrenched and intergenerational, enforced by age-old hierarchies of race and class. It’s the kind of poverty that can affect anyone who finds themselves in a place when the native industries disappear, as they have in Southeast Colorado and other rural areas across America. …
“I think it’s more of a place-based poverty than it is demographic,” says Tracey Farrigan, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who is studying how rural poverty has spread. “People are moving to areas where they can afford to live, which are areas with less support for them. It’s kind of a cycle. So the places are poor, and the people are poor.”
DePillis’ article looks at individuals in Las Animas who have remained and why. It’s not an optimistic picture. And the only thing that seems to stand between the emerging poverty of places like Las Animas and the entrenched poverty of the Delta or Indian Country is time.
The loudest commentary in DePillis’ story is the one that is missing. There’s no discussion of what the community, the state and the nation might do differently to create more economic opportunity for rural places that have experienced drastic economic upheaval from mechanization, global markets and changes in settlement patterns.
— Tim Marema
We, the nice people of the Daily Yonder, are not experts on bovine musical preferences. Advanced amateurs, maybe, but not experts. Farmer Derek Klingenberg may have cracked the code, though. In the delightful video below you can watch him sit in a chair and call the cows by playing Lorde’s song “Royals” on the trombone.
I would have guessed the cows to prefer “Beast of Burden” by the Stones, but that’s why we’re still amateurs.
— Shawn Poynter
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