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:

Like many swing and red states, much of North Carolina is rural. “West of the Balsams” (as Shuler referred to a ridge 40 minutes west of Asheville), NC-11 is densely forested and sparsely populated. That doesn’t mean there are no Democratic voters out there. NC-11 went narrowly for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary.

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.

Jones writes:

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.”

People who actually live in those communities, she added, “know what is possible and how to win.”

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:

“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.

Jones continues:

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.

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.”

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.

Howard Dean once countered (as Kleeb does now): “If you don’t show up in 60 percent of the country, you don’t win.”

Democrats who promote every damned presidential election as the most important election of our lifetimes never find time or dollars for building presence and influence in places that determine the composition of state legislatures which 1) influence the composition of the U.S. House through redistricting, as well as 2) the partisan balance in the U.S. Senate, and ultimately 3) the composition and tenor of the U.S. Supreme Court. The suburbs this week may have handed Kentucky’s governorship to Democrats, but very narrowly. Republicans won the rest of the statewide races.

Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.

One thought on “Expanding Democrats’ reach

  1. Trumps approval rating among women stands at 37%.
    So 63% of women hate Trumps corrupt guts.
    That’s a good place for Democrats to start because many of those women representing the 63% who will not vote for Trump in 2020 live in rural areas.

    Neo-liberal, corporatists like McCaskill, Heitkamp and Donnelly, all of whom were thrown out of office by Democrats, have never and will never support a universal, single-payer health care system (Medicare For All) as long as it doesn’t doesn’t include the for-profit insurance industry as part of the mix.

    The Democrats biggest problem in the 2020 election is the Electoral College vote.

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