Expanding Democrats' reach
by Tom Sullivan
Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows still wants to be Donald Trump's next chief of staff, the Washington Examiner reported on Friday. Meadows did not make the cut last December when he was in the running. Mick Mulvaney holds the job in an "acting" capacity for now, and Mulvaney is under a cloud.
It might be an opportune for Meadows to leave his R+14 sinecure in North Carolina's far west before it leaves him. A state court has ordered congressional districts redrawn for the 2020 cycle. Before the 2011 "surgical" gerrymandering that split Asheville between NC-10 and NC-11, Blue Dog Heath Shuler held the R+6 seat. Any map acceptable to the court today could make Meadows' reelection far more challenging. Good time for him to consider a job change.
Republicans in Raleigh are working on the new map this week in a process rumored to be public. As I noted Thursday, Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Elections expressed doubts:
This is the congressional map that North Carolina Republicans just saved ahead of wrapping up for the day. I can tell just from looking at it that the Sandhills gets completely cracked & it will likely mean an 8-5 GOP majority delegation instead of 7-6 R or 7-6 D #NCGA #NCpol pic.twitter.com/Hx2clWne2y— Stephen Wolf (@PoliticsWolf) November 6, 2019
This week, New York magazine examined how Democrats can take back rural places like that.
Stephen Smith helped organize West Virginia's Working Families Party affiliate. He is running in 2020 as a Democrat to challenge incumbent Republican Jim Justice for governor. He tells Sarah Jones, "In West Virginia and in most rural places in America, the fight is not left versus right at all. It’s the good old boys versus everyone else." That rings true here as well.
The Can’t Wait campaign isn’t necessarily about electing Democrats, but about fundamentally changing the makeup of the state’s political class ... But Can’t Wait has ambitions bigger than the governor’s mansion: It wants to build a movement. The group now has a presence in each of the state’s 55 counties, where county captains direct organizing at the local level. It also runs 39 teams committed to organizing specific demographics and communities, a tactic that builds on recent populist momentum in the state.West Virginia's teachers sparked national protests in 2018 after they staged a walkout. When Republican legislators tried to introduce charter schools to the state in 2019, teachers walked out again.
Jane Fleming Kleeb, the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, has criticized party leaders for what she characterizes as their neglect of rural constituencies. “I think one of the biggest problems that we are facing, and this may sound so simple to say, is that none of our national party leaders live in a rural community,” she said. “When you’re looking at a candidate in a rural community and you’re not from a rural community, you don’t see the path to victory.”But they could use some support. Nebraska once received $25,000 per month from the national party. A Sanders supporter in 2016, Kleeb says things have gotten somewhat better after getting much worse:
People who actually live in those communities, she added, “know what is possible and how to win.”
“I tell Chair Perez this, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi was just in Nebraska two days ago and I said this to her as well, we cannot continue to starve state parties and think that somehow we are magically going to come up with some unicorn of a candidate that is going to turn things around,” said Kleeb. She adds that things have improved recently: Her state party is now getting $10,000 a month from the Democratic National Committee, as opposed to $2,500 a month while President Obama was in office.Former senators Claire McCaskill, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana believe Democratic policies are out of step with rural America. They've formed their own One Country Project aligned with Partnership for America’s Health Care Future which, the Intercept reports, opposes Medicare for All.
The three former senators share a familiar logic. They conflate rural with a preference for centrist or even conservative policies and rhetoric. In this vision, rural America is still Trump country. Its residents will budge so far and no further, so the naïveté of the left threatens the party’s survival.Yet, hospitals are closing by the dozens in rural America, especially in states that rejected Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Farm country communities are becoming food deserts, the New York Times reported this week:
The loss of grocery stores can feel like a cruel joke when you live surrounded by farmland. About 5 million people in rural areas have to travel 10 miles or more to buy groceries, according to the Department of Agriculture.Smaller municipalities (map at top) and rural places want and need attention. They need local hospitals to remain open more than they need them to remain for-profit. They need broadband service being stymied by corporate lobbyists angling in state capitals for subsidies and a piece of the action, and by Republicans unwilling to support it at the federal level.
Dollar-store chains selling cheap food are entering hundreds of small towns, but their shelves are mostly stocked with frozen, refrigerated and packaged foods. Local health officials worry that the flight of fresh foods will only add to rural America’s health problems by exacerbating higher rates of heart disease and obesity.
Many of the places losing their grocery stores are conservative towns that value industrial agriculture and low taxes. About 75 percent of the people in the county containing Winchester [Illinois] voted for President Trump. But people in these communities have also approved public money to kick-start local markets, and they are supporting co-ops whose cloth-bag values and hand-stuffed packs of arugula can feel more Berkeley than Mayberry.
“Communities tell me: We don’t want to use the term co-op,” said Sean Park, a program manager for the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs. He has helped guide rural towns through setting up their own markets. “It’s ironic because it was farmers who pioneered co-ops. They’re O.K. with ‘community store.’ They’re the same thing, but you’ve got to speak the language.”