Unrepresented by Either Party

[imgbelt img=Cramer_Walsh_K_talk08_948.jpeg] The rural voters I talked with in Wisconsin think they are left out by both political parties. They think those in charge make decisions with little regard for how they affect rural people or communities.

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Bush-Obama land, the counties that voted for both George Bush and Barack Obama. In fact, as Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post pointed me to the other day, the “Bush-Obama” website shows that Wisconsin has more counties than any other state that flipped from Bush in 2004 to Obama in 2008. 

And now it is possible that some of these counties will swing back to Romney in 2012. Many people in these places voted for Republican Governor Scott Walker in our state’s recent recall election. 

What’s going on?

I have had the good fortune of spending the last five years listening to conversations of people in rural areas of Wisconsin as they try to make sense of politics. What I learned from the people that shared their thoughts with me sheds some light on the kinds of politicians who gain their support.

Just for background, here’s what I did. I sampled 27 communities from across the state to give me a wide range of places, varying by partisanship, urbanicity, type of agriculture, type of local industry, region of the state, and racial and ethnic diversity. 

Then in each of those communities I sought out a group of regulars — a group of people who met regularly for the sake of spending time with one another. The places I went to were mainly early morning coffee klatches. These were folks on their way to work and retirees. They were predominantly men, but often a mix of men and women, and I sought out women-only groups as well. 

In the end, I visited with 39 groups an average of 2 times each.

I grew up in Wisconsin, but in a town that was then just north of the Milwaukee metro area. So what I heard in rural areas surprised me. I learned that many folks in rural areas have an acute sense that rural areas are on the short end of the stick — economically, politically, and culturally. 

They talked about how all of their resources are sucked away by Madison and Milwaukee (the two metro areas in Wisconsin, with Madison as the capital and Milwaukee as the main industrial center), resources that are never seen again. 

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A message from the Rural Assembly

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