The Rural Blog

Rural issues, trends and events from Al Cross at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2004

Rural schools’ and hospitals’ Internet-connecting subsidies threatened

The so-called “digital divide” separating urban and rural areas in a disparity of access to high-speed Internet services may widen with Congress' adjournment for the holidays without addressing a funding crisis that attempts to even the playing field, reports National Public Radio.

NPR’s Howard Berkes reports the lack of a resolution threatens Internet access for rural schools, libraries and medical clinics because of a change in accounting standards at the Federal Communications Commission. “The subsidies for all telephone service in rural areas could be next,” says Berkes.”

Berkes’ story details the worries of a school in southwestern North Dakota where Principal Tony Duletski tells him, “We are in jeopardy of not getting funded at this point, which would put a financial crunch of about $40,000 on our schools' system.” That money, Berkes reports, pays for two super-fast T1 Internet lines bringing in interactive high school and college courses students and townspeople wouldn’t otherwise get. “What that (Internet service) does, virtually keeps them within this community where they don’t have to leave our community, so we don’t have a community brain drain,” principal Duletski tells Berkes.

Berkes reports on nearby West River Medical Center, “...where the Internet links (the center) to outlying clinics and a city hospital 150 miles away.” Coordinator Wade Blend tells Berkes, “Physicians can access information faster and provide better care at our remote clinic sites. So from a patient-care standpoint, it's very important that those networks are in place.” Berkes says the bill for that is close to $30,000 a year.

Last year, according to the NPR report, nearly $2 billion subsidized high-speed Internet access for schools, which came from surcharges on long-distance bills, which Berkes reports, “was flowing freely until the Federal Communications Commission changed the way it accounts for the funds.”

Frank Gumper, who chairs the private FCC-chartered group that distributes these Internet subsidies tells Berkes, "Under these new rules, we'll probably be able to make commitments on half of the dollar amounts of the applications that are ready to go. The other half are going to have to wait into next year until we can collect more money, "

For a related story by NPR’s Rick Karr on how some rural communities are installing their own high-speed Internet connections and about new research that indicates Internet use depends on the speed available, click here.

Watchdog agency reports farm subsidies go to major farms & agri-businesses

Much of the nation’s taxpayer provided farm subsidies, $16.4 million, has again gone to some of the country’s largest and most profitable farms and agri-business according to a watchdog organization reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Joy Powell writes, “In Minnesota, corn subsidies topped the list, totaling more than $260 million to 51,547 recipients last year. That's twice the amount of soybean subsidies paid in the state, according to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C.”

EWG says in the report that a total of 80,231 recipients, including absentee landowners, collected nearly $781.7 million in 2003 payments to Minnesota producers. The group released similar data in 2002, causing controversy while, some say, helping to shape the farm policy debate into one focusing on equity.

Powell writes, the new data show that once again the top 10 percent of producers received most of the subsidies. Ken Cook, president of the EWG tells Powell, “It's all tied to one simple thing -- how much qualifying land do you own, and how much is grown on that qualifying land. The more you've got, and the higher the yield on that land that's registered with the local USDA office, the more money you get."

Paul DeBriyn, president of AgStar Financial Services, tells Powell, “Numbers in the subsidy database can easily be twisted by critics of farm policy. It only makes sense that larger volumes of production draw more support. U.S. consumers should keep in mind that they continue to enjoy some of the lowest food costs (in the world).”

Community banks join for rural insurance business in bayou country

More than 60 community banks around Louisiana are joining together to sell insurance to rural area residents where coverage tends to be more limited and costs higher, according to an Associated Press report.

AP writes that Bankers Insurance Center in Monroe, Louisiana has agreed to buy one local insurance agency and has announced plans to buy others in “strategic areas throughout the state.” Clyde White, chief executive of Ouachita Independent Bank, one of the member banks, tells AP, "If we do this right, I don't see how it can't be successful," taking advantage of loosened restrictions on banks diversifying.

AP reports the organizer of the statewide insurance network purchase, Albert Christman of Guaranty Bank & Trust Co. in Delhi, says the group hopes to attract large insurance carriers, theoretically driving down costs while boosting choices for rural residents.

While banks have had mixed success in the insurance business since federal law let them enter it in the 1990s, White tells AP, "We think the reason this will work is because it will provide us with more purchasing power for more competitive rates."

Christine Berry, director of the insurance program at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, said, "It's attractive to insurance companies because they can deal with one corporation instead of 50 different agencies," AP reports.

Other truckers want coal weight limits; say exception unconstitutional

Coal trucks in Kentucky can carry up to 63 tons, while state law restricts haulers of sand and gravel to 40 tons, and now those truckers want the legislature to even the loads, the Associated Press reports.

Pike County Circuit Judge Eddy Coleman last week deferred ruling on the request, instead deciding to let the state legislature first address the issue of allowing other truckers to haul as much weight as coal trucks on Kentucky roads and highways, AP reports. A Pike County coal trucker filed the suit claiming the law unfairly favors the coal industry.

Coleman tells AP, “This court will avoid activism if possible. A pre-filed bill addresses this question and the General Assembly should be given an opportunity to address it without interference from the court.” The legislature convenes in January. The measure’s sponsor, State Rep. Howard Cornett, R-Whitesburg, says the current law is unfair. Cornett’s bill would balance the scales.

Deer hunter shootings resurrects “Deer Wars” fears, stereotype concerns

The recent Wisconsin shootout involving a Hmong-Vietnamese immigrant and a group of hunters that left six dead has rekindled concerns of similar violence and tragedy in Alabama forewarned by Birmingham News outdoor columnist Mike Bolton. Reports indicate the tragedy was sparked by a dispute involving apparent trespassing on private property.

Bolton believes national media coverage of the incident in Wisconsin has been softer than would have occurred south of the Mason-Dixon. He writes of the Wisconsin incident in a recent column, “If last Saturday's incident had occurred here, we would have by now suffered a week of wrath from the national media telling the world what a bunch of rednecks we are. Since it happened in the north, it was merely an inexplicable tragedy.”

Bolton tells of a column he wrote several years ago entitled “Deer Wars” detailing escalating tensions among Alabama deer hunters and the battle over private lands. He says that while his comments involved his state, he knew at the time such tensions existed elsewhere.

Bolton opines that increasing tension between deer hunters is a symptom of differences in rural vs. suburban mentality. “The face of hunting has changed greatly during the past several decades, and some hunters in rural areas greatly resent those changes. Rural forestland where a landowner might have previously allowed a neighbor to hunt for free or at low cost is worth big money as a hunting lease now. If the rural neighbor isn't willing to pay that fee, the landowner will find someone who will.”

Taco-wagon tally foretells economic growth for rural Minnesota

A taco-wagon entrepreneur’s business has increased to the point where he’s now working his circuit full time, indicating economic prosperity and population growth for rural northwestern Minnesota, reports the Associated Press.

AP’s Dave Kolpack writes of Greg Parenteau and his burgeoning mobile Mexican food business and how it and other indicators in the area point toward increases in people and commerce. Parenteau tells Kolpack, "I used to tend bar and do other odd jobs. The business has grown, so I don't have to do that anymore."

Leon Heath, director of an economic development group for seven northwestern counties, tells Kolpack that Parenteau’s taco wagon isn't the only business in the area that's thriving. “Many manufacturers are adding workers. Contractors have said they can't keep up with the demand for building houses." The 2003 population estimate for the region was 87,479. The projection for 2030 is 91,390.

Heath tells Kolpack, "That's the first time the state demographer has predicted a population increase (for that area). Many of those counties were left for dead after the 2000 census, when experts warned about the demise of family farms and the exodus of young people." Heath believes that slide has bottomed out, and a rebound may have begun.

Monday, Nov. 29, 2004

Louisiana luring Kentucky horses with gambling-generated incentives

Kentucky’s world-renowned equine business is pointing to Louisiana as the latest example of states, some using gambling-produced revenues, to draw off revenue and products from the Bluegrass State's top agricultural industry, reports the Associated Press and Louisville's Courier-Journal.

Louisiana has benefited by joining the ranks of states using new and increased incentives, to encourage breeders and owners to breed, board and race their horses in their states. AP’s Jim Hudleson writes, “When slot machines hit Louisiana racetracks in 2002, money poured into the horse industry. The state used fatter purses and extra money for breeders of Louisiana-bred horses to support the otherwise struggling horse breeding and racing industries.” The Courier Journal's Marcus Green writes Delta Downs, “...near tiny Vinton, La...offers the only $1 million race for 2-year-old horses outside the Breeders' Cup.”

Green reports, “The top four Bayou State studs have moved from the Bluegrass over the last three years.” Delta Downs was averaging purses of about $35,000 at the end of 2000 but now are as high as $190,000 since the addition of slots in 2002." Kentucky's lone incentive program, rewards owners and not breeders of horses bred in Kentucky. The program offered $9.4 million in 2003 — ranking below the major racing states of New York, California, Illinois and Florida in terms of overall incentives, according to the Kentucky Equine Education Project. KEEP is a grass-roots lobbying group of farm owners and breeders for all types of horses, writes Green.

Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association President Oran Trahan, tells Green, "Slots have really saved the industry because — I can say this without reservation — without the slots a couple of tracks would have gone belly up." State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, Ky. co-chairman of the horse farming subcommittee, wants to create a fund for Kentucky breeders. The proposal, he says, would shift an estimated $14 million in sales taxes to an account for breeders to encourage breeding in Kentucky. Horse sales and stud fees brought in $800 million last year, Green reports. For more on the CJ story, click here. For additional information from the AP story click here.

Property rights law opens land development, could reverse decades of preservation

Once one of the most restrictive states in the nation on land-development, Oregon has approved a measure allowing property owners to loosen three decades of what environmentalists called “smart growth,” reports Felicity Barringer in The New York Times.

“Under a ballot measure approved on Nov. 2, property owners who can prove that environmental or zoning rules have hurt their investments can force the government to compensate them for the losses - or get an exemption from the rules,” Barringer writes.

Supporters of Ballot Measure 37, which passed 60 percent to 40 percent, call it a landmark in a 30-year battle over property rights, she writes. Ross Day, a Portland lawyer for the conservative group Oregonians in Action, who co-wrote the law, tells Ballinger, "I've been getting calls from California, Idaho, Washington, Alaska and Wisconsin. They all want to find out what our secret recipe was to get it passed."

But, Georgetown University Law Center professor Richard J. Lazarus, who specializes in environmental law, calls the measure “a blunt instrument” that could undermine all zoning and environmental protections and undercut land values. "If you can build a little Houston anywhere, or a gravel pit or a shopping center next to your home, you don't have maximization of property values," Lazarus tells Ballinger. "If you fail to regulate now, you're reducing property values for future Oregonians," he continued.

"The new law, Professor Lazarus said, “is one of those very simple solutions, but, boy, did they open a can of worms,” she writes.

Retailer-driven jobs-boom brings welcome dilemma to Nebraska prairie lands

Nebraska community Sidney has more jobs than people, writes Washington Post reporter T. R. Reid, because of an employment boom brought on by the explosive national growth of local retailer Cabela and by “a general wave of prosperity here on the prairie.”

"Here's our problem," City Manager Gary Person tells Reid, in an economic plight most other cities would love to have. "We've got a town of 6,200 people, man, woman and child. And we've got 6,400 jobs to fill."

Reid writes Nebraska Republican Gov. Mike Johanns, “has launched a nationwide recruiting drive to persuade people to come to the Cornhusker State and fill some of those open jobs.” The state's director of economic development, Richard Baier, tells Reid, "A lot of states have too many workers and not enough jobs. They're offering all sorts of tax breaks and relocation funding to lure employers. We've got the opposite problem -- we are beating the bushes to fill the jobs we already have"

“Nebraska's recruiting drive has brought tens of thousands of new residents to the state in recent years, many of them heading to towns as small as Sidney. Demographers say the influx reflects a national wave of back-to-the-country relocation, as city and suburban dwellers fed up with crowded schools and gridlocked highways move their families to the open spaces of the rural Midwest,” writes Reid.

Country stores co-op to compete against chain giants and myriad mini-marts

Country stores in Vermont, including one that dates from 1839, have banded together to battle the big-guys, according to a report in The New York Times, where the newspaper reports they are using modern day marketing and vintage Vermont atmosphere to compete against size and discounts.

Katie Zezima writes, “Of the 100 independent country stores in the state, 55 have become members of the Vermont Alliance of Independent Country Stores. The organization, founded about two years ago, serves primarily as a support network, a sounding board and a marketing tool for owners. Threatened by the mini-marts and large grocery chains that have driven some of them out of business in recent years, they are banding together to help protect themselves.”

Independent markets like the Bridgewater Corners Country Store, which opened its doors in 1839, are now able to compete in specialty areas such as gourmet foods, and at the same time encourage customers to, “sit outside at wooden tables and have a cup of coffee from a bottomless urn where regulars run tabs,” capitalizing on what Zezima describes as a long-time Vermont way of life.

Charlie Wilson, owner of the Taftsville Country Store, which opened in 1840, tells Zezima, "It's strength in numbers." Dennis Bathory-Kitsz, executive director of the alliance, said of the stores, “They represent, both in terms of the present and past, Vermont's communities. They contain things that people want to buy, and they are a place that people want to go talk and meet friends.”

Native Australians burn police station protesting brutal death of fellow Aborigine

Australian Aborigines, angered over the death of a fellow indigenous man, burned a police station and court house on a remote island rocked by unrest since the native countryman died while in police custody, reports the Associated Press.

Queensland police spokeswoman Sergeant Kim McCoomb confirmed to AP, “that police accommodations… and a court house have been destroyed by fire.” AP reports an autopsy on the victim, 36-year-old Cameron Doomadgee, showed he had four broken ribs and died of a punctured lung. Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said his injuries were a result of a scuffle with police when Doomadgee was taken from a prison van.

Island resident Nicky Bull told the Australian Broadcasting Corp “The atmosphere is just anger amongst the residents here,” While Queensland state's political leader, Premier Peter Beattie, appealed for calm. “We are prepared to work with the community but the leaders of Palm Island have got to take charge and act responsibly to restore some order,” he told reporters in the state capital,” Brisbane, AP reports.

Friday, Nov. 26, 2004

Stories from our heartland; The Tribes of America

As a holiday special, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues directs your attention to the “Second Read” column in the November-December issue of Columbia Journalism Review. In the inaugural installment of this new feature in CJR, author, freelance journalist, and frequent Village Voice contributor Rick Perlstein gives a “second read” to Paul Cowan’s 1979 book The Tribes of America.

It’s not an easy book to read, because it’s not easy to find. The closest your correspondent came after scouring used-book stores and the Internet was one copy in an Oklahoma store that had remained unclaimed -- perhaps because the proprietor had listed it as The Ribes of America.

So why all the fuss about a little-known journalist’s mostly overlooked book, one that seems to have made virtually no impact in the quarter century since its publication? Because Perlstein’s review reveals Cowan to be an exemplar of journalism’s most honorable principles, some that we all need reminders of, perhaps even more so lately.

An activist and former Peace Corps volunteer who had grown disillusioned with what he perceived as the dogmatism of the “New Left” in the early 1970s, Cowan challenged himself by venturing repeatedly into the heartland of America. He wrote a series of articles based on this decision “to cross the sound barrier of dogma and test [his] beliefs against the realities of American life.” As Perlstein shows, Paul Cowan’s self-appointed mission as a journalist — to discover new truths and relay them, fairly and with keen insight, to his readers — is even more inspiring in this era of widespread distrust of media and bitter “red-blue” cultural divisions than it was in Cowan’s day.

Cowan’s quest led him to at least a couple of places that have produced items for The Rural Blog: Kanawha County, West Virginia, and Harlan, Kentucky. In the former, Cowan covered an uprising against the local school board’s decision to implement textbooks and lesson plans that ran afoul of the Appalachian community’s traditional, conservative, Christian values. As Perlstein writes, local residents particularly objected to one book’s intimation that “Christian revelation was on a par with Greek myth.”

Those opposed to this removal of Christian morality from their children’s classrooms responded with a dangerous and counterproductive gesture: blasting the school board building with dynamite. Perhaps even before the dust settled, a gaggle of reporters descended from their lofty East Coast perches and filed stories detailing “the futile last stand of yokels against the inevitable march of progress,” as Perlstein puts it. In short, most of them framed their stories before getting on the plane, and then came to Kanawha County only to make sure the hicks’ names were spelled correctly.

Not Paul Cowan, whom Perlstein describes as a “shaggy-haired, bespectacled, left-wing New York Jew.” He says “Cowan took the riskier step: wondering whether these criminals didn’t also have a point.” Cowan portrayed a citizenry and a culture that “had inherent dignity and value” instead of writing with a closed mind and a dismissive sneer. In concluding his review of Cowan’s chapter on West Virginia, Perlstein quotes the author and praises him:

“Cowan understood how ‘often, people I might once have written off as reactionaries were fighting to preserve their culture and their psychological and physical turf,’ and that this new argument over the meaning of democracy was defining the next frontier of political conflict itself. That America had tribes and that sometimes — often — they would come to blows. We call those fights the ‘culture wars’ now. . . . Writing in the 1970s, however, Cowan had no such clichés to lean on. He had to figure it out for himself. He did so brilliantly — eyes open, with a courage I can scarcely believe.”

Perlstein obviously sees The Tribes of America as the product of a brave man who habitually threw both caution and lazy convention to the winds, and “threw himself into situations that might just change his mind,” all while “relegating his own voice to the background.” Cowan also deserves credit, according to Perlstein, for his fearless willingness to reflect upon his own work and indict this or that article for not living up to the standards he had set for himself.

In The Tribes of America, Cowan titled one chapter “Harlan County: The Power and the Shame.” Perlstein writes, “Part of that shame, [Cowan] suggested, was his own.” Cowan had befriended a Kentucky miner named Jerry Johnson after coming to Harlan County to cover a large-scale strike in 1974. After reading the article Cowan wrote about the strike, Johnson came to hate both the story and its author for rendering “Harlan’s traditionalism in the [Village] Voice as titillating local color incidental to the political struggle, when to many in Harlan, their traditions as they understood them were the point of the political struggle.” Cowan owns up to his failures, mourns them, and “vow[s] to do better.”

Rick Perlstein’s review left us eager to read The Tribes of America. We also are full of hope that what we ordered will prove to be Paul Cowan’s book, and not a study of American “Ribes,” as the online listing had it. If what arrives is a tome by another Paul Cowan about “ribes,” then we will quickly provide an answer to that age-old question, “What the heck is a ribe?”

All joking aside, Perlstein’s writing struck those of us at the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues as a valuable meditation on some central tenets of our profession -- and a stirring reverberation of our organization’s mission, to help journalists of all stripes tell the true stories of rural America and help define its public agenda.

--Alan Lowhorn, IRJCI graduate assistant

Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2004

Pharmacists' increasing reluctance to dispense birth control limits rural access

An increasing number of pharmacists are refusing to fill prescriptions for religious reasons, making birth-control pills less available in rural areas. South Dakota, Arkansas and Mississippi have laws allowing pharmacists to refuse to dispense certain drugs on moral grounds, "and 13 other states are considering mixing medicine with morality," CBS News reports:

"At Lloyd's Pharmacy in Gray, La., Lloyd Duplantis . . . believes birth control is tantamount to abortion. So, he stocks his shelves accordingly." He tells CBS correspondent Byron Pitts, "I don’t sell condoms. I don't sell foams. I don't sell creams. I don't sell anything to do with contraception" -- even if a woman who was the victim of incestuous rape walked in his door wanting a morning-after pill.

"Four out of five Americans disagree with Duplantis. In a CBS News/New York Times poll, 80 percent of respondents said even if pharmacists have religious objections to contraceptives, they should not let it interfere with their job," Pitts reported. "Just 16 percent think pharmacists should refuse to dispense birth control pills on religious grounds if they choose."

Latest mad-cow threat subsides, but long-term fear likely to continue

Yesterday’s announcement that an American cow suspected of having mad-cow disease didn't have the ailment after all is unlikely to quell concerns among consumer groups and some in the cattle business that the disease poses a real threat to the U.S. beef industry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture did not did not disclose the cow’s location or other information, but said the meat had never entered the food supply. “One regular critic of the department, Dr. Michael K. Hansen, a senior research associate at Consumers Union, expressed skepticism at the latest results and suggested that further tests be conducted by sending samples to Britain, which has far more experience with the disease,” The New York Times said today.

“For unexplained reasons, the department has refused to disclose most details of its testing in this case,” reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. wrote. “A spokeswoman said last week that the . . . test had been run three times and been positive each time, but yesterday the department suggested that it had been run only twice. Dr. Hansen said he would like to hear the details of the follow-up test, in particular which regions of the brain were examined.” But other critics of the department accepted its findings, and one, Dr. Peter Lurie of Public Citizen, said the test is so sensitive that it tends to “err toward over-diagnosis.”

Last week’s initial test “sent a shock through the cattle business,” causing the biggest dip in cattle futures since last June, when there were two initial findings that didn’t pan out, the Houston Chronicle reported last week. The industry had only recently recovered from loss of export markets stemming from news last winter that a Canadian cow on a feedlot in Washington state tested positive for the disease.

FDA to issue guidelines on biotech crops today; skeptics want tougher rules

The Food and Drug Administration will publish draft guidelines today that would encourage companies to submit voluntary safety evaluations of bioengineered food crops that sometimes drift and cross-pollinate with plants in nearby fields,” The Washington Post reports this morning.

“The biotech industry welcomed the new approach, but environmental and food-safety advocates called it a poor substitute for the rigorous testing they have sought before the planting of scientifically engineered crops that could enter the nation's food supply.”

Reporter Michael Rosenwald writes, “The current system encourages companies developing a bioengineered food crop to consult with the FDA early in its development on possible scientific and regulatory issues. Under the new FDA guidelines, which are to be published today in the Federal Register, companies also would be asked to conduct a voluntary safety evaluation and submit it to the agency.”

Critics of biotechnology would rather have “full-scale, mandatory safety testing and prohibiting the introduction of new biotech foods without detailed FDA certification that they are safe,” Ronsenwald reports. “The prospect of bioengineered food crops has caused controversy in the United States, and the idea has met strong consumer resistance in Europe. That has made the American food industry concerned about its export markets.”

Rosenwald cites a cause for concern: “In 2000, a genetically modified corn seed called Starlink mixed with other varieties of corn and forced several food companies to recall products. A worldwide drop in corn prices followed. Farmers and consumers sued Starlink creator Aventis SA and other companies involved with its development and distribution. The consumers said Starlink caused allergic reactions.”

Journalists beware: CDC foul-up on obesity study shows pitfalls when using data

Mark Schaver, computer-assisted reporting director at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, tells his correspondents this morning that there are cautionary notes in how the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came up with the fallacious finding that obesity is about to overtake tobacco as the leading cause of death in America. (For an Associated Press story on this controversy click here.)

“Among the simple mathematical errors they made: Using numbers from the wrong year to calculate obesity deaths,” Schaver writes. “The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story, also reported that the study used different methods for computing death rates from tobacco and obesity. That meant the rates couldn't be compared, but they were compared anyway. And other CDC scientists raised doubts about the study before it was published, but those doubts weren't included.”

Schaver continues: “Worse still, it was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a peer-reviewed journal. That shows you just how rigorous peer review really is. It's a good reminder not to have an exaggerated respect for academic studies, regardless of how impressive the authors' credentials are. And a reminder not to make the same stupid mistakes when you do computer-assisted reporting.”

Prosecutor drops harassment charge against Raleigh reporter

A crime vctim's complaint that a Raleigh News & Observer harassed her with telephone calls will not be prosecuted, for lack of evidence, District Attorney Jim Hardin of Durham said yesterday. Hardin also said the charge had significant First Amendment implications, the newspaper reported today.

"Hardin called for Durham's judicial leaders to begin requiring that police investigate allegations brought against the media before charges are filed," as they do in cases involving police, emergency workers and public-school teachers, the N&O reported. The newspaper agreed, but Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson did not, even though he agreed that the reporter's arrest could have "a chilling effect."

Ruth Brown, a property-room technician for the Durham police, filed the charge of making harassing phone calls against reporter Demorris Lee, who was arrested at his home Nov. 14. The two had crossed paths two to three years ago, when Brown's testimony convicted a teenager of robbing her. Hardin said Brown last spoke to Lee after the trial, and Brown told Lee nor to call her again. He did after Durham police reopened the case, leaving three phone messages for Brown seeking her comment.

Hardin said it was understandable that Brown viewed the calls as harassment, but he said the calls were an attempt to get a comment to make any story "fair and balanced," and their tenor was professional.

Byrd gets money to keep Amtrak going, especially in rural areas

"Unlike the doomed turkeys of Thanksgiving, the government-financed train system -- Amtrak -- will be spared the chopping block in money stashed in the $388 billion new federal spending bill," thanks to U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), reports The Register-Herald of Beckley, W. Va.

"Without Amtrak, many regions of rural America would return to isolation," Byrd said. "Modern transportation should not only be available to those Americans living in our big cities."

"Amtrak makes a number of stops in West Virginia, including White Sulphur Springs, Hinton, Prince, Montgomery, Charleston and Huntington," reporter Mannix Porterfield writes. "This year, President Bush called for a $300 million reduction in federal funding for Amtrak, or a decrease of 27 percent." Amtrak said that would fore it to stop coast-to-coast service.

Democrats to go south for salvation? Tennessee Gov. Bredesen’s star on rise

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bresden is being cited by The New Republic as a major contender among Democrats who are desperately seeking party salvation following the Nov, 2 epiphany that rural Americans carry considerable weight and want something less urbane and more country-real.

An Associated Press story quotes a TNR Online report saying Bredesen "is a star." TNR puts Bresden in the running behind Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. "Let's start with the obvious: He is the Democratic governor of Tennessee," writes Reihan Salam. “What's more he was elected in 2002, a year during which the Republican tide was tsunami-like. What better way to widen the electoral battlefield than to nominate a proven vote-getter from deep in the heart of Red America?"

Bredesen, a moderate-conservative and former heath-care executive, has not acknowledged any presidential ambitions. "In the past when asked about that the governor has jokingly remarked that no one would be more proud to hear that than his mother," spokeswoman Lydia Lenker says in the AP report.

Congress orders stricter scrutiny of power giant TVA; SEC to have purview

In a move partly engineered by U. S. Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, the Tennessee Valley Authority is coming under stricter government scrutiny, according to an Associated Press story.

A measure that will require TVA to meet the financial disclosure requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission is included in legislation just approved by Congress. The rules include filing annual and quarterly financial reports to the SEC. TVA bonds are publicly traded. The legislation also subjects the TVA to possible SEC enforcement actions.

Congress reviews the TVA, as does an agency inspector general, but Bunning said a federal regulator who focuses on accounting should be keeping an eye on TVA's books. "As a public corporation, it is important that TVA be held accountable for its financial mismanagement, and my provision will help ensure that the bond holders who invest in this government-owned corporation are protected," Bunning said.

Community-college program making farm folks computer-savvy

A special “Computers for Farm Use” program at Hopkinsville Community and Technical College is helping farmers in southwestern Kentucky learn the intricacies of the computer world and cyberspace through 12 hours of course study and free refurbished computers.

A story in the Kentucky New Era by Karen Bigham says the “Computer instruction covered the fundamentals of using a computer, including introductions to the Windows operating system, the Internet and e-mail. They also learned about bookkeeping systems and received textbooks for the class.”

Bigham’s report featured “72-year-old Lois Brown, who until recently, had never turned on a computer.” After completing the course, the story says, Brown was “surfing the net.” Carol Kirves, continuing education and community services coordinator for HCC, tells Bigham, "This whole project started when a big need was seen to educate farmers in this area. Things are changing. farmers recognize the need to know computer technology."

Brown says she plans to use her new-found knowledge to check prices and information online, and to e-mail relatives who live outside Kentucky. Jeff Kincaid, a self-described "hobby farmer" with about 100 acres near Hopkinsville, tells Bigham he will use the computer for finances.

Hindu family life in the Bible Belt is a matter of more than one faith

A Hindu family details its efforts at keeping the faith in southwestern Kentucky, where life for them gradually is becoming a blend of theologies, curiosity, some acceptance and tolerance, according to a recent report by Tonya S. Grace in the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville.

It has not been easy. Grace's story focuses on Ketki Shah, who "recalls the day that classmates at her daughter's school told the young girl she and her family were going to hell. 'That's when we started meeting every week,' observed Shah as she spoke … to students and staff" at the local community college.. The meeting was held by the college's Religion and Philosophy Club to help locals understand the Hindu faith.

Preserving picture-perfect scenes is aim of Martha’s Vineyard preservationists

Scenic Martha’s Vineyard is contending with encroaching development threatening picturesque scenes that draw the likes of tourists, artists, poets and politicians according to a recent, well-written report in the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette by Mandy Locke:

“Sun sprinkling through the tree canopy along Middle Road. White picket fences lining a narrow lane in Edgartown's village. A wooden bridge crossing the waters where Sengekontacket Pond meets Nantucket Sound,” Locke writes, deftly painting with words the views many locals are trying to preserve.

“These are the treasured snapshots of rural roads on Martha's Vineyard. But as development continues to press upon the Island, spots like these are in danger of disappearing, a panel of planning and road experts said (recently),” she continues. Landscape architect and seasonal resident Michael Van Valkenburgh tells Locke, "The rate of change [on the Vineyard] is phenomenal. Our window of opportunity is really the next 10 years or it will be gone forever."

Locke writes of a recent meeting to discuss the problem which “drew experts and more than 75 (local) residents to a barn at a local arboretum for a slide presentation and discussion on the issue of preserving the scenic beauty of the area. “It was truly a Vineyard setting. Birds had taken up residence in the rafters, and the audience left them plenty of room beneath the nests. An hour-long slide show …offered the audience the best and the worst of Island roadscapes."

Your blogger would like to note that as long as there are journalists whose pens can paint as well as Mandy Locke’s, these scenes will at least be preserved in prose. --Bill Griffin, IRJCI staff assistant

Sorry, Rural Blogs for Nov. 15-23 are not available on line. Contact for information on items during that period, which include:

Wal-Mart comes under scrutiny in broadcast documentaries

Rural areas' historic mainstays, Sears and Kmart, merge to fight Wal-Mart

Deer season arrives, and so does the debate about closing school for it

Hunting by mouse -- computer mouse, that is, in technological Texas

Proposal to remedy Kentucky tax inequities may widen state's urban-rural divide

Knight Foundation offers $1 million for interactive community news projects

Farmers fear burley leaf price tumble after final government-supported sales

West Virginia going the GOP way of Kentucky and Tennessee, election indicates

North Carolina attorney general threatens to sue TVA over air pollution

Supreme Court refuses cockfighting-ban review; proponents brace for lawsuits

South Carolina newspaper wins FOI fight with sheriff, and court costs

Friday, Nov. 12, 2004

USDA predicts record farm earnings; Nebraska farm official skeptical

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting that 2004 earnings for farmers will exceed the record earnings of 2003 but a Nebraska farm officials doubts the money is trickling down to the root of the farm economy, says a story in today’s Grand Island Independent.

The newspaper report quotes the USDA as saying, “The combination of a large harvest, average prices for crops, and high prices for livestock and products has raised farm income to record levels.”

But John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, tells the newspaper the net farm income figures don't accurately reflect what producers are experiencing in expenses for energy, fertilizer and other increasing input costs. Hansen questions, "Who is actually netting that supposed record farm income," Robert Pore writes. Hansen also fears the report could be used by Congress to cut agricultural programs to help reduce the growing deficit.

Hansen tells Pore, “Farmers in much of Nebraska are having a very good production year, but prices for corn and soybeans, as well as other crops, are about half as much as they were in the spring. We produce more crops, but we have half the value in the marketplace for it."

USDA reported this week farms contributed a record $101.4 billion in added value to the U.S. economy, and net farm income was a record $59.2 billion. USDA also said near-record livestock receipts combined with the highest level of crop receipts in six years to generate a record $211.6 billion in total receipts.

Tobacco companies go to court seeking return of Phase 2 money

The tobacco buyout proposal recently passed by Congress calls for an end to "Phase 2" payments, but doesn’t specify exactly when those payments would terminate. Because of the lack of specificity, tobacco companies are seeking a return of some of that money and now the matter has to be decided in North Carolina federal court, according to a report in today’s Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer.

Reporter James Mayse writes, “Companies say they should not have to make any further Phase 2 payments to farmers, and should be reimbursed for payments they have already made to states' Phase 2 trust funds this year.” The money was already paid to farmers to compensate them for years of declining tobacco quotas.

The story says, “Officials in Kentucky and other states contend tobacco companies should continue making Phase 2 payments until the buyout actually goes into effect.” Will Snell, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Kentucky tells Mayse, "We're waiting for that court decision in a couple weeks."

Republican Sen. Ernie Harris, chairman of the Kentucky Senate's agriculture committee, said the buyout plan should have specified when Phase 2 payments were to end. "I'm a little surprised it wasn't spelled out, but I guess that's behind us now. Since it's in the court system, we'll have to wait for them to make their decision," he says in the report.

Harris says if the court rules in favor of tobacco companies Kentucky cannot afford to pay farmers what they were expecting under Phase 2.

Miners give coal industry cold shoulder over bankruptcy, layoffs

Coalfield families with generations of miners in their ranks are beginning to discourage their children from working in the business, after the recent federal court ruling bankrupting Horizon Natural Resources, says a Gannett News Service report in today’s Huntington Herald-Dispatch.

The report, by Raju Chebium, says the loss of health care and retirement benefits allowed in the ruling, and hundreds of layoffs following Horizon's sale, have made coal miners reluctant to recommend the industry as a reliable livelihood for their offspring. The story features 56-year-old Dunlow, W.Va., minining veteran Roy Beckett, a mechanic who fixed coal company trucks and bulldozers for 25 years until he injured his back a year ago.

Beckett, the story says, continued working, hoping he would get full medical care as promised when he retired. But the company was sold in September, ending the benefits and throwing hundreds of mine employees out of work.

Beckett says, he doesn’t want his 15-year-old daughter to work for the industry. "I tell her no because of the way I’ve been treated," Chebium writes. The report also says "many coal employees, miners and non-miners alike, are telling their children: Stay away from the industry."

The report also cites statistics showing an overall long-term decline in the ranks of coal miners. Coal companies had 155,695 miners in 1985. Today, they employ 62,148, according to the National Mining Association, a Washington-based lobbying group.

First-ever Great Plains poet laureate prefers precise prose over politics

America’s new poet laureate, Ted Kooser of Nebraska, has taken up residency at the Library of Congress in Washington for his tenure as the country’s foremost lyricist, but is cautiously avoiding any weighty political observations, according to a column by Francis X. Clines in today’s New York Times editorial notebook.

"This is really an apolitical position, and I think it ought to stay that way," Mr. Kooser laconically told Clines, "disappointing anyone who thought that as the nation's first Great Plains poet laureate, he would perch here and make lyrical sense of the latest divide to obsess the capital city.” Clines describes Kooser’s journey traveling cross-country in his car across the Appalachian Mountains to Washington "listening to Bach instead of Limbaugh."

But, Clines writes , Kooser’s “worldview is hardly that parochial. He writes long-term of mankind, political and not, as one of many skeletons down at your local bone museum: ‘This is the only one in which once throbbed a heart/ made sad by brooding on its shadow.’ That covers far more than electoral disappointment, and Mr. Kooser arrives with a far more exotic work ethic than the typical talking head."

Clines says that as poet laureate Kooser “works as a kind of bardic lobbyist (valued at $35,000 a year) for more Americans to try a poem.”

For more on Kooser, see the Aug. 13 edition of The Rural Blog.

Thursday, Nov. 11, 2004

USDA sweetens funding pot for rural electric and telecommunication loans

The U. S. Department of Agriculture has enhanced its rural development funding program, making available up to $3 billion for economic development loans and grants. A news release on the funding was posted yesterday on FarmWeek, the web site for the Illinois Farm Bureau. For details, click here.

New regulations allow the USDA to guarantee, for as much as 20 years, up to $3 billion in bonds or notes issued by not-for-profit lenders, if the money is used for electric and telecommunication loans. The Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant (REDLG) program manages the projects.

Eligible electric and phone cooperatives would apply for the money through the state’s USDA Rural Development office. The cooperatives, in turn, would use those funds to make loans or grants for economic development projects in their local communities.

"This will give rural electric cooperatives a lot more opportunity," the release quotes Illinois Rural Development Executive Director Doug Wilson as saying.

Proposal would give Bill Monroe a tribute center, boost Kentucky tourism

Kentucky officials say they will ask the state legislature to fund a Bill Monroe Center, the Messenger-Inquirer of Owensboro reports today. The paper says the project has the backing of Commerce Secretary Jim Host, who is, according to cabinet spokesman Bill Reed, "a big Bill Monroe fan and thinks it's time for something like this," to pay tribute to the man largely credited with creating bluegrass music. He was born and raised near Rosine in Ohio County.

Commerce Cabinet officials also believe the tribute to Monroe would be a major draw for bluegrass fans from around the world. The center would have museum and a performance theater, but the exact site, time frame or project costs have not been determined. Talks with Ohio County Judge-Executive Wayne Hunsaker have focused on an area near the William Natcher Parkway and Wendell Ford Parkway, near Beaver Dam. Hunsaker tells M-I reporter David Blackburn the county will try to put a project that size, “anywhere Host wants it.”

KET’s “Comment on Kentucky” gets kudos as it approaches 30th anniversary

The long-running public-affairs show on Kentucky Educational Television, “Comment on Kentucky,” got a double tribute from The Kentucky Post this week on the eve of the show's 30th anniversary.

The Kentucky edition of the Cincinnati Post pays homage to the program with an article by Editorial Page Editor Dan Hassert and commentary by Mark Neikirk, the paper’s managing editor, who is a f\requent member of the show's panel of journalists. The articles note the program’s diverse, statewide audience and its tell-it-like-it-is format, which largely focuses on politics and government in Kentucky.

The show's creator-host is Al Smith, who was a publisher of rural newspapers, president of the Kentucky Press Association and federal co-chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission, and now the chief promoter of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. He told Hassert, “People used to tease me and say you guys don't think it's a good show unless one of your reporters calls the governor a liar at least once, no matter who the governor is and what he's talking about.”

Neikirk wrote that the program, live on Fridays at 8 Eastern time and replayed at 12:30 p.m. Sundays, serves a need in a diverse state served by many media markets and no statewide newspaper. "To watch the show is to sit on the courthouse stoop talking politics," he wrote, "if the courthouse stoop were large enough for the whole state to take a seat."

This week's show will feature two nationally known Kentucky writers, radio host Bob Edwards and novelist-historian Bobbie Ann Mason, who will be among the many authors with new books at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort on Saturday.

Hillary Clinton, Methodist, says Democrats should cite Bible to help the poor  

Democrats should use the Bible should to win debates over poverty the way Republicans use Scripture in debates over gay marriage, an issue that had great resonance in rural areas in last week's election, Sen. Hillary Clinton told an audience in Boston yesterday, reports David Guarino in today’s Boston Herald.

 ``No one can read the New Testament of our Bible without recognizing that Jesus had a lot more to say about how we treat the poor than most of the issues that were talked about in this election,'' Clinton said.

She said Democrats must engage evangelical Christians “on their own turf,” as Guarino put it. The senator said, ``I don't think you can win an election or even run a successful campaign if you don't acknowledge what is important to people,'' she said at Tufts University. ``We don't have to agree with them. But being ignored is a sign of such disrespect. And therefore I think we should talk about these issues.''

Guarino said Clinton hinted at the possibility that she will run for president in 2008 by “noting that oppressed Afghans were able to get a woman on the ballot for president in recent elections. She called it "a feat that puts Afghanistan women ahead of American women.'' Guarino reported, “The crowd laughed knowingly, then went wild with apparent encouragement of the Draft Hillary movement.”

On Veterans Day, TV stations will pre-empt powerful, graphic war classic
Commentary by IRJCI Staff Assistant (and Vietnam veteran) Bill Griffin

ABC-TV affiliates in at least 10 states, including Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia, say they are boycotting tonight’s showing of the classic war movie, Steven Spielberg’s "Saving Private Ryan," because they fear FCC sanctions over the film’s graphic violence and inclusion of a four-letter word.

The movie’s glaringly realistic D-Day invasion scenes burn into moviegoers’ minds not unlike the searing scenes of reality many combat vets well recall, and seldom detail.

The stations are shying away from the acclaimed fiilm at a time of escalating U. S. military fighting in Iraq and signs of decreasing tolerance for the reality of war. A front-page photo in yesterday's Courier-Journal of a severely wounded, bleeding soldier in Fallujah with a medic desperately trying to save the man, who died shortly after the photo was taken, drew cries of insensitivity from Louisville readers.

ABC’s inclusion of an utterance of the "f-word" does seem out of place in regular commercial broadcasting. Other R-rated films are neatly edited, and the word probably should be bleeped out. But Spielberg’s in-your-face war reality is a vivid portrait of the costs. People die, and they don’t die pretty. That’s something we should never shy away from and should be allowed to see. Some fear it weakens the resolve, while others, like this veteran, believe it steels this nation’s spine.

Station executives are gun-shy. "It would clearly have been our preference to run the movie. We think it's a patriotic, artistic tribute to our fighting forces," Ray Cole, president of Citadel Communications, told AP Radio. The company owns WOI-TV in Des Moines, Iowa, KCAU-TV in Sioux City, Iowa, and KLKN-TV in Lincoln, Neb. Other TV stations choosing to replace the movie with other programming include WSB, Atlanta; WFAA, Dallas; WGNO, New Orleans; WCPO, Cincinnati; WSYX, Columbus; WISN-TV, Milwaukee; WSOC-TV, Charlotte; WMUR, Manchester, N.H.; KVUE, Austin; WHASk Louisville; and WTVQ, Lexington. For additional details on the boycotting stations click here and here.

This Vietnam veteran has always believed the adage, “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it,” and World War I veteran and President Harry Truman’s updated version of that saying: “The only thing new is the history we have not learned.”

Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2004

U. S. foreign-food tastes creating farm trade deficits, exacerbating trade imbalance

Increasing American taste for imported food may be fertile ground for foreign farmers, but it’s creating a economic blight for U. S. producers, the farm economy and the overall trade deficit, says an article in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The story by Scott Kilman says agriculture, previously one of the few big sectors of the U.S. economy that could be counted on to produce trade surpluses has, in recent months, joined the deficits column. The report cites USDA data showing America imported more agricultural goods than it exported in June and August, producing the first monthly deficits in 18 years.

Sung Won Sohn, chief economist for banking giant Wells Fargo & Co., tells Kilman, “"It's very worrisome. We need agricultural trade surpluses more than ever because the nonagricultural deficit is ballooning."

The story says “the free-trade agreements signed by Washington” are partly to blame. “While those pacts, such as the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, lowered barriers to U.S. farm exports, they also eased the entry of imported foods,” says Kilman.

Agri-tourism, farmers’ market get Kentucky Ag Development Board support

The Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, which spends money from the state's share of the national tobacco settlement, has approved separate awards programs for agri-tourism and farmers’ markets for 2005. The grants programs are to provide funding in these two areas which have shown significant economic growth in the state’s agricultural economy.

The Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy says the two incentive programs together will provide about $2,500,000 to help cultivate these growing industries. Applications for the competitive awards in the agri-tourism business and regional agri-tourism marketing efforts will be accepted in two rounds in 2005, with deadlines of Feb. 1 and Aug. 1. Applications for grants in the farmers’ markets category will be accepted, also in two rounds: January 1 and July 1. Farmers’ markets money will be divided among grants for regional markets, community markets and market feasibility studies. Markets over $100,000 are required to have a completed feasibility study with their funding request.

For information on the 2005 agri-tourism competitive awards click here. For information on the 2005 Farmers’ Markets competitive grants program click here. For the Governor's Office of Agricultural Policy call 502-564-4627.

Dee Davis on NPR: Cultural debate in election obscured rural issues

Based partly on analysis from pollster Anna Greenberg, National Public Radio says “Rural voters provided President Bush his margin of victory in Ohio, where John Kerry won in the suburbs and cities. That formula was repeated in other states, prompting renewed anxiety about a cultural and political divide between city and country.”

Greenberg, who polled rural voters in battleground states, told NPR Rural Correspondent Howard Berkes that rural voters are cross-pressured, by economic struggles, by security, and by strong positions on abortion, gay marriage or gun control. “Democrats obviously have to think about cultural values and how those issues play out in rural areas,” she said.

"Greenberg isn’t sure how Democrats can do that and remain distinct from Republicans,” Berkes said, “but Republican Bill Greener thinks there’s a more fundamental challenge for Democrats.” Greener, who helped analyze Greenberg’s polling, said, “John Kerry and Democrats tend to gain their strength from urban areas where there’s a certain level of patronizing and condescension towards those who do not live in these urban areas, and the people living in rural America, in aggregate, conclude, hey, that’s not what I want.”

Berkes said, “That impression might come from reality TV shows mocking country life, or the e-mail now circulating widely, which includes a map of red states, dismissively labeled “Jesusland.” A series of national surveys two years ago confirms a mixed view of rural America, as home to traditional values, and intolerance. As rich in community life, but behind the times. As serene and picturesque, but lacking opportunity and culture.”

Urbanites’ view that “those of us who are concerned with things more worldly are more relevant, more important and better for the universe, and these other people are rubes … won’t work,” Greener said. The result is political and cultural division, according to Dee Davis of the Whitesburg, Ky.-based Center for Rural Strategies, which commissioned the rural polling. He told Berkes, “The walls may not be as obvious as in the West Bank or Gaza, but there’s a real visceral feeling that what’s happening in the heartland and what’s happening in the major cities and on the coasts is part of two really distinct communities, cultures, countries.”

Davis said both parties resorted to cultural debate and did not focus on rural issues. He acknowledged that they had positions on those issues, but “What we saw was … President Bush speaking in front of bales of hay each time out. And we saw John Kerry with a shotgun cradled in his arm. We certainly saw plenty of rural iconography. Whether or not we got a commitment to make real substantive changes in rural America is yet to be seen.” For a transcript of Berkes' report, go to

Light state regulation of Internet phone service could pick pockets of rural services

A chorus of telecommunications entities is singing the praises of a Federal Communications Commission to go lightly on regulating so-called Voice-over-Internet Protocol telephone services, while consumers groups say, “The decision fails to address a comprehensive framework for public safety, consumer protection and universal service.”

The move could reduce funding of subsidies for rural service, John Woolfolk of the Wichita Times reports. “Providers are calling the move critical to the fast-growing industry's development, consumer advocates fear it will unfairly burden those who place calls the old-fashioned way,” Woolfolk writes.

Consumer advocates say exempting Internet phone service from state regulation and treating it as an information service more like e-mail lets providers avoid paying for the traditional public phone network -- even though they still use it to complete calls. “Universal service fees on traditional phone networks subsidize service to high-cost rural areas, to schools and libraries, and to the poor, deaf and disabled,” reports Woolfolk. He says these services could lose funding as customers switch to Internet calling, which could force higher fees on local phone users to make up for the loss.

Consumer Federation of America research director Mark Cooper tells Woolfolk, "If you let these people avoid their public responsibilities and not pay their fair share for using the network, the people left behind are going to be harmed by rising prices and declining quality.'' CFA and Consumers Union lead the chorus of those concerned about the FCC ruling. They’ve expressed their views in a news released posted on this Consumers Union Web page. The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association joins in.

On the other side, the Association for Local Telecommunications Services has a release praising the decision.

CompTel Ascent Praises FCC ruling on VoIP jurisdiction.

The Consumer Electronics Assocation Applauds FCC action to pre-empt state regulation of VoIP services.

CTIA – The Wireless Association also Applauds FCC order on Voice over Internet services.

As does the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, in a news release.

Arkansas Supreme Court says city can't circumvent meetings law with private talks

The Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously ruled last Thursday that the city of Fort Smith violated the state's Freedom of Information Act in 2002 when its city administrator and board of directors agreed in private that the city would try to purchase property. A story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette says the court ruled that a series of meetings between the city administrator and individual city directors to discuss buying the property should have been open to the public. "This decision will affect not just Fort Smith but every public body in Arkansas ," said Mike Hodson of Fayetteville, an attorney who filed the lawsuit against the city.  "It's one of the most important [Freedom of Information Act] decisions in the last 20 years. It basically says 'If you're doing the government's business, do it in the open.'"

If you're not sure how your state measures up with others on this key open-meetings issue, go to That's the Marion Brechner Center of the University of Florida, which tracks government-access laws. "The judicial interpretation of statutory language is key," says Charles Davis, director of the Freedom of Information Center at the University of Missouri and FOI chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Kentucky public defenders decry caseload, want more public funding

Public defenders throughout Kentucky have launched an awareness campaign to push what they see as a need for an increase in the state's public advocacy program, saying burgeoning caseloads overtax manpower and money resources.

An article in the Kentucky New Era by staff writer Melony Leazer says, “The state Department of Public Advocacy (DPA) in Frankfort is stressing the need for fewer cases because many of its offices have unreasonably high caseloads.” The DPA is calling for more funding by the end of the 2005-06 fiscal year to remedy the situation, says Leazer's report. The story quotes the director of the Hopkinsville DPA office, Ginger Massamore, saying her office, “"will be fully staffed for the first time in recent memory by April thanks to additional funding,"” but at the time, Leazer reports, “"most likely caseloads (will increase) above recommended national standards.”

Massamore tells Leazer, “"While it looks like we’are making progress, the number of cases keeps going up.” The story says high caseloads can create a disconnect between lawyers and clients, and jeopardize the quality of representation."

Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2004

Kentucky towns choose money over social concerns in approving alcohol sales

Needs for economic development and tax revenues trumped moral concerns in four Kentucky communities last Tuesday, as they approved local option referenda allowing the sale of liquor in large local restaurants.

Lexington Herald-Leader writer Bill Estep reports that voters approved alcohol sales by the drink at larger restaurants in four of five places where the issue was on the ballot: London, Franklin, Williamstown and Calvert City. With those votes, the story says, a total of 17 cities and two counties have approved such sales since 2000, when the legislature allowed such limited sales, according to the State Board of Elections.

Estep’s story cites one local leader in particular, who sees shifting times in the crunch between religious concerns and the need to bolster city coffers. “I think it's getting to be more an economic issue with people than a religious or moral one,” said Mayor Jim Rasnick of the Lake Cumberland town of Burnside, where voters narrowly rejected restaurant alcohol sales in 2001 but approved them last May.

Results and reporting tell more about President Bush’s rural advantage

John Kerry’s loss began with white rural voters, Kerry pollster Stanley Greenberg told reporters at a breakfast yesterday. He said the candidate’s standing with those voters began to deteriorate 10 days before the election and erosion then started “cascading from group to group.” For The New York Times’ story, click here.

Cory Reiss of The New York Times Regional Media Group’s Washington Bureau took a close look at the rural vote in Tuesday’s election, examining key statistics nationwide and real people in Florida.

“Kerry beat Bush in cities of more than 50,000 people by 9 percentage points, a victory among 30 percent of the electorate. In suburbs, worth almost 46 percent of the vote, Bush won by 5 points,” Reiss wrote. “In small towns and rural areas accounting for about 25 percent of the turnout, Bush won by 15 percentage points. Of rural voters, 27 percent said in surveys that ‘moral values’ was their top issue, compared with 22 percent in suburbs and 17 percent in cities.”

Democrats “believed the economy would trump cultural conservatism in rural communities hit hard by the economic downturn and jobs lost to global trade,” Reiss continued. “ Rural voters, however, stunned Democrats by placing moral values over their own economic interests and even Iraq and terrorism. That suggests the party faces years in the political desert if it doesn't address the basics of rural culture. The South poses particular challenges. . . . Many analysts say this election proves that a presidential candidate must be competitive in the South to win, and that means a rural strategy. Kerry virtually ceded every Southern state but Florida.”

Moving from macro to micro, Reiss reports that Belleview First Baptist Church of rural Marion County, Fla., distributed voter guides from the Christian Coalition and to its congregation of 1,300, and on the Sunday before the election, pastor Ronald Walker told them, “Don't vote Republican. Don't vote Democrat. Vote Christian.” Walker told Reiss that some “were beginning to think with their pocketbooks, so the emphasis on the moral issues sort of helped people get beyond their pocketbooks.”

Meanwhile, Reiss reported, “Experts on rural voters said Kerry's appeal to them lacked credibility. For example, Kerry took pains to be seen as a hunter to bolster his credentials on gun ownership and rural culture. But two rural election strategists noted that when Kerry returned from a well-photographed goose-hunting excursion in Ohio on Oct. 21 with three other hunters, he was the only one not carrying carcasses after he shot a bird. Avid hunters, they said, would carry their trophy instead of worrying how that might play in suburbia.”

Speaking of Ohio, ABC News' Jake Tapper and Jody Hassett report that the network’s polling unit found an increase of 5 percentage points in turnout among conservatives between 2000 and 2004 in the Buckeye State. “They sure were highly motivated to turn out the vote against gay marriage," Ohio Democratic strategist Greg Haas told Tapper and Hassett. “That obviously impacted the outcome of the race by at least a couple hundred thousand votes,” in a state Bush won by 136,000.

The Massachusetts judges who legalized gay marriage there "deserve the lion’s share of the credit for this truly stunning election triumph," the American Conservative Union said in a press release.

Sinclair says Kerry Vietnam film boosted ratings for its stations

Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of more television stations than any other chain, said last week that it benefited from the “media buzz” created by the controversy surrounding its decision to air parts of a documentary critical of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s anti-Vietnam War activities, Andrea Walker of the Baltimore Sun reports.

During a conference call to discuss third-quarter earnings that fell 46 percent, Sinclair executives told analysts that although they thought the media mischaracterized the news program, the barrage of publicity generated a boost in ratings for some of its newscasts and introduced new viewers to its stations that reach one-quarter of the country. Almost all are in small to medium-sized cities and have relatively large rural audiences.

Defamation ruling puts lawyers at risk, says Pennsylvania court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that lawyers who offer to help reporters by sending them copies of court documents by fax or e-mail do so at the peril of losing their immunity to defamation suits.

An Associated Press story says under the long-recognized doctrine of “judicial privilege,” attorneys who file lawsuits -- even frivolous or malicious ones -- are protected from being sued for slander or libel over the accusations they make in court. “The idea is that lawyers need to be free to litigate vigorously, without fear they will themselves be sued for defamation if their case ultimately is rejected,” AP says of the Oct. 20 decision, which said those protections largely evaporate once an attorney steps outside a courthouse.

Monday, Nov. 8, 2004

Analysis and commentary continue on rural voters’ role in the election

Did we say Friday’s blog had the final word on the election? We should have known better, because the analysis and commentary continued over the weekend, and some is worth repeating if you’re interested in the role of rural voters.

First, from the analyst whose work probably appears in more newspapers than any other, and one who cut his political-writing teeth in largely rural Arkansas, Ron Fournier of The Associated Press: “The rural vote, once reliably Democratic, swelled in size and supported Bush over Kerry. In Ohio, exit polls suggest the rural vote increased from 15 percent of the electorate in 2000 to 25 percent Tuesday. Rural voters backed Bush ... 60 percent to 40 percent.”

Fournier’s AP colleague, John Seewer, reports form the Buckeye State, “Conservatives in Ohio's small towns and farm communities came out for Bush in much greater numbers on Tuesday compared with four years ago - so much that they are a big reason why the president won a second term. Kerry drew more votes out of Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus than Al Gore did four years ago. But the vote in rural Ohio helped negate the Democrat's advantage in the state's big cities, an analysis of vote totals and an Associated Press exit poll found. . . . Bob Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said that this year Bush picked up 144 percent more votes in the 57 smallest counties.”

Seewer’s story focuses on the town of Ottawa in nothwestern Ohio, where “ Glen Beutler lost his job making patio doors when his employer shut down three years ago. He was exactly the kind of voter John Kerry was counting on to help him defeat President Bush. Instead, Beutler and many of his neighbors across rural Ohio worried about the economy voted for Bush because they felt he shared their values on issues such as abortion, gay marriage and gun owner rights.” Beutler tells the AP: “Around here, family and values still comes first.”

The Ohio narrative also figured in a story about Bush increasing his rural vote in Pennsylvania, by Suzette Parmley of The Philadelphia Inquirer: “Nowhere did Bush's efforts to energize his rural base pay off more than in Ohio, whose 20 electoral votes ultimately won him a second term.” Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia told Parmley, “Rural Americana rules in the Bush camp. Whatever they want, they get. The problem for the Democrats is that they are perceived as liberal on all social and cultural issues that matter to rural America - abortion, gay rights, gun control, the environment, and the death penalty.”

Thomas Frank, author of “What’s the Matter with Kansas?,” writes in a Times op-ed that Democrats must confront the cultural populism of the wedge issues with genuine economic populism: In his first comments since the election, former President Bill Clinton said Democrats must fight the caricature that Republicans have painted of them in rural America, Bloomberg News reports. “We have to be present with a compelling message in small towns and rural areas,” Clinton said at a meeting of the Urban Land Institute

Bush also secured victory in an even larger battleground state, Florida, with the help of rural and suburban voters, The New York Times reports:

The big difference in Florida and Ohio is that the latter state’s ballot included a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. David Brooks, a conservative columnist for the Times, takes issue with the theory that the amendment made the difference for Bush: “This year, the official story is that throngs of homophobic, Red America values-voters surged to the polls to put George Bush over the top. This theory certainly flatters liberals, and it is certainly wrong. . . . Social issues are important, but they don't come close to telling the whole story..”

In a similar vein, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker of South Carolina writes, “Traditional values and sophistication are not mutually exclusive. Nor does sophistication equate to intelligence . . . In small towns across the nation, especially in the Deep South, one can find plenty of well-traveled, multilingual, latte-loving, Ivy-educated Ph.D.s, if that’s your measure of sophistication. But they’re not snobs, nor do they sneer at people who do more than pay lip service to traditional values. In fact, they often share those values in quiet, thoughtful, deliberative ways.”

Gay-marriage issue obscures larger reasons for evangelicals’ love of Bush

We think Steven Waldman, editor in chief of, rightly divides the word of truth in a New York Times op-ed: “Opposition to gay marriage probably paid a significant role in Mr. Bush's victory, especially in drawing voters to the polls in Ohio, where a referendum against gay marriage passed easily.” But it’s more than that, Waldman writes:

“So why did evangelical voters support him in such large numbers? First, many believe that God put him in office for a reason, a sense that will undoubtedly grow with his clear re-election. . . . Even more important, Christians feel misunderstood and persecuted and believe Mr. Bush's victory and presence in the White House is their vindication. The materials circulated in churches repeatedly made the point that Mr. Bush's open discussion of his faith had been mocked by elites, yet he persevered in defending his faith and, by extension, theirs.

“The books and videos also emphasize his journey of faith from party boy to good husband and president. His story illustrates the transformative power of faith; in a sense, if Mr. Bush hadn't had a drinking problem, he wouldn't be president today. He needed to be lost before he could be found. It was that journey that enabled him to connect to many people who struggle with their own sins or foibles. They believe in Mr. Bush because he rejects moral relativism. His willingness to call terrorists evil resonated with them because they believe that mainstream media and culture have lost the ability to distinguish right from wrong.

“Finally, the ‘values voters’ who helped keep him in Washington believe that God needs to be more present in public life. The Ten Commandments in the courtroom, prayer in school, "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance -- these are all critical issues to many religious conservatives. They believe that we've kicked out God from our lives. In other words, many religious voters also love Mr. Bush for reasons broader, more vague - and in some ways far more powerful - than merely his positions on specific issues like gay marriages.”

Waldman told Carol Eisenberg of Newsday, “It's about everything that's gone wrong. It's about gay marriage. It's about sex on TV. It's about abortion. It's about how once we took God out of our lives in a broader sense, all hell broke loose, literally and figuratively. There's this sense that we're in a culture war and society is being eroded by all sorts of cultural pollution, and George Bush is on my side."

Eisenberg says Waldman “doubted that the election results foretold a sea change in American religious or cultural life. On a national level, he said, Bush built incrementally on the strong base of religious conservatives who supported him four years ago - garnering the votes of 64 percent of voters who said they attended church more than once a week, compared with 62 percent in 2000, according to exit polls.” But Waldman added: "If you look at particular battleground states, Bush got many more religious people to the polls.”

Others noted “the size of the turnout as well as the significant inroads made among other religious groups as signs of a significant shift,” such as Bush’s winning of the Catholic vote by 52 to 47 percent. "This is not the same [Religious Right] movement that we saw in the 1980s," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative public-interest law firm. "This is a religious resurgence, and also a retooling. This is a much more diverse group of people, united across a broad range of issues."

Liability issues push West Virginia medical industry into crisis, report says

Figures from the West Virginia Board of Medicine show doctors are still leaving the state despite efforts by the legislature to mitigate its medical liability crisis, according to report in the Beckley newspaper, The Register-Herald.

A column by business editor Fred Pace says the number of licensed physicians in the Mountain State recorded a major drop of more than 350 over the past year. As of Dec. 31, 2003, the number of doctors in West Virginia stood at 5,182; now it is 4,821, Pace quotes state Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts as saying.

“According to the American Medical Association's Web site, a recent survey found that 94 percent of West Virginia doctors have changed the way they practice medicine because of litigation concerns,” Roberts said, adding that these concerns and the loss of doctors are having an effect on attracting businesses to the state.

Roberts said West Virginia's medical and health care situation is still in crisis, based on a number of factors, including a state population with the worst health conditions in the nation, high percentages of people who smoke and who have heart disease, diabetes and obesity, one of the highest percentages of elderly in the nation, one of the highest percentages of people on public health care assistance, and one of the largest numbers of medically underserved areas.

Daschle’s loss raises questions about former aide’s FCC post, broadband

The National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, a coalition of rural telephone companies, is urging President Bush to send to the Senate the re-nomination to the Federal Communications Commission of Jonathan Adelstein. Adelstein is a former aide to ousted U. S. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and must leave the commission unless he is re-nominated before the 108th Congress adjourns.

Adelstein, who was sworn in as a member of the FCC nearly two years ago, has been viewed as an advocate for rural America. He and Michael Copps are the two Democrats on the five-member commission.

According to the Web site Xchange, NTCA CEO Michael E. Brunner told Bush in a letter, “To achieve your vision of universal affordable broadband access by 2007, it is absolutely vital that our regulatory policies be flexible and take into account the important, yet unique nature of rural America. Adelstein (has) regularly displayed such an indispensable perspective, which has enhanced the balance of views at the commission.”

The NTCA also sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., urging him to contact the president about Adelstein’s re-nomination.

Friday, Nov. 5, 2004

Kentucky, Tennessee universities and colleges form anti-terrorism consortium

Universities and colleges in Kentucky and Tennessee are forming a consortium fueled by $4 million in homeland security grants to develop ways of countering and preventing acts of terrorism on American soil.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge announced the grants at a Center for Rural Development “Homeland Security Summit” in Somerset yesterday. Ridge made the visit to Kentucky at the invitation of Fifth District Republican Congressman Hal Rogers of Somerset, who funded the center and chairs the committee that funds homeland security efforts.

University presidents from throughout Kentucky and Tennessee were in attendance as the roll-call of grants was announced. The University of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, Western Kentucky University, Murray State University, Morehead State University and the University of Louisville received 11 grants between them ranging from nearly $895,000 to $95,000 for a host of counter-terrorism projects, systems and initiatives.

The largest project joins UK, Eastern and Murray to develop a testing and tracking system to help prevent acts of terrorism on the nation’s food supply. The three universities are working on an early warning system that would detect disease contamination in beef cattle. Another project teams UK and Western in a $655,000 project to develop a high-tech surveillance and face recognition system.

U of L, in partnership with Murray and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Hazard Community College, will get $380,200 to create and test the effectiveness of portable detection devices to be used in response to an attack with weapons of mass destruction. Rural areas of the country may not be considered ground zero in the war on terrorism, but Ridge told the gathering, “"A target anywhere could be subject to an attack."

Keith Ashdown, spokesman for Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog organization in Washington, said he was skeptical of the new initiatives. Ashdown told Courier-Journal Eastern Kentucky reporter Alan Maimon, "It is ludicrous to make the assumption that small towns across the country are at risk like New York was. We don't need to make this into the latest money pit for special interests."

Ridge conceded most threat information is geared toward urban areas. "But we still want to build up the basic capacity to respond to an event" in rural America, he added.

Both The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader have extensive reports on the summit. Each newspaper has an item by item accounting and details of each grant. To read the C-J report click here. To read the Herald-Leader story click here.

More rural ruminations on Tuesday's election

A commentary by Rural Policy Institute Fellow Tom Rowley asks if rural areas that played a major role in re-electing President Bush stand to benefit from his second term. Rowley asks, "What’s in it for rural America? And it certainly is not to widen the chasms in an already far-too-divided country by fomenting a rural versus urban grab for political patronage."

Focusing on moral issues proved to be the winning factor for President Bush and a host of other successful social conservatives on ballots across the nation in Tuesday's election, and a Chicago Tribune story says the election also officially validated moralists in the nation as a majority. Mike Tackett writes,“The combination was muscular enough that it overwhelmed deep dismay over the war in Iraq and the direction of the economy. Indeed, some voters most adversely affected by job losses actually helped pave Bush’s road to another four years."

A final note on the election, reflecting Rather's rural roots

We meant to do this yesterday, but it may be better as a smiling wrapup to our election coverage. Dan Rather loves to display his Texas roots on election nights, with rural sayings to describe races, and National Journal’s The Hotline (subscription required) says he outdid himself this year. Here are the Rural Blog’s Top Ten:

10. "This race is hotter than the Devil's anvil."

9. "We don't know what to do. We don't know whether to wind a watch or bark at the moon."

8. "Is it like a swan, with every feather above the water settled, but under the water paddling like crazy?"

7. Sen. John McCain, on being congratulated on victory by Rather: "Thanks, Dan. I always believe you." Rather’s reply: "Now, ladies and gentlemen, if you believe that, you'll believe rocks can grow."

6. "George Bush is sweeping through the South like a great big cotton mill."

5. "You can almost hear the GOP (deep breathing sound). We're getting within maybe smelling distance."

4. On Bush: "If you had to bet the doublewide, right now you'd bet he wins."

3. On Kerry's chances: "To use a metaphor, he's gotta draw to an inside straight. But hey, sometimes you get lucky and hit that straight."

2. On Kerry's initial edge in undecided Iowa, now evaporated: "His lead is as thin as turnip soup."

1. On colleague Bob Schieffer (another Texan) saying Ohio could be called soon: "We used to say if a frog had side pockets, he'd carry a handgun."

Thursday, Nov. 4, 2004

Major papers see rural, religious influences driving Bush's victory

Today’s New York Times picks up where we left off yesterday, saying “Proposed state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage increased the turnout of socially conservative voters in many of the 11 states where the measures appeared on the ballot on Tuesday, political analysts say, providing crucial assistance to Republican candidates including President Bush in Ohio and Senator Jim Bunning in Kentucky.”

Reporter James Dao writes in a story , “Political analysts credit the ballot measure with increasing turnout in Republican bastions in the south and west, while also pushing swing voters in the Appalachian region of the southeast toward Mr. Bush.”

Dao quotes University of Akron political scientist John Green as saying that fervent support for the amendment in conservative areas might have caused turnout to rise by as much as 3 or 4 percent, perhaps tipping to Bush in the state that won the election for him. “If you look around rural, Appalachian Ohio, you'll see there were many counties that Bush won by better than 60 percent of the vote,” said Green, who has studied the role of religion in politics. “Those are the areas where you'd see increased turnout because of this issue. And I think that increase was large.”

Green told The Washington Post that much of the Bush campaign effort among rural and socially conservative voters took place under the big-media radar . “While the two campaigns slugged it out on big-city TV stations with commercials about the war and the economy, Bush's Ohio campaign used targeted mailings, phone calls and doorstep visits to talk about values,” reporters Paul Farhi and James Grimaldi wrote in a story headlined “GOP Won on Rural and Traditional.”

“Green described one piece of mail from the Bush campaign that featured a beautiful church and a traditional nuclear family. It was headlined, ‘George W. Bush shares your values. Marriage. Life. Faith.’ ‘It could not have been clearer if it had quoted from the Bible,’ Green said.”

In Kentucky, the marriage amendment “brought out conservative rural voters who helped Mr. Bunning, whose campaign had been foundering amid concerns about his mental health, pull out a narrow victory over Dr. Daniel Mongiardo, a Democrat,” Dao wrote. Mongiardo co-sponsored the amendment in the legislature, but said early in his campaign that he opposed a federal version of it, allowing Bunning to air commercials attacking him on the issue. Dao quotes your blogger:

"I give this amendment more credit for re-electing Jim Bunning than George Bush's coattails," said Al Cross, a longtime political reporter in Kentucky who is now interim director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky.

Steven Waldman and John Green reported on, “Bush’s strength among conservative Christians put huge swaths of the country simply out of reach for Kerry, requiring him to carry a high percentage of northeastern and midwestern states. Of the 15 states with the highest evangelical population, all went for Bush – compiling a total of 121 electoral votes.”

Democrats agree they must mend fences in rural areas

"As the Democrats began picking up the pieces yesterday after their latest defeat, many leaders focused on the need to re-engage their party with church-going and rural constituencies they acknowledge ignoring in the past, David S. Broder writes in today's Washington Post.

The dean of American political journalists finds "a quickly emerging consensus yesterday across the Democrats' ideological spectrum that they 'have to take the time to understand the concerns of rural families and Christian families,' as Clinton White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta put it."

Others said likewise elsewhere. Bobby Kahn, chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party, told Moni Basu of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I think the national party needs to figure out how to communicate with rural voters and moderate voters a little better. Clearly that didn't happen in this election."

"We simply can't write off small towns and rural areas and the people who live there," Democratic consultant David Axelrod of Chicago told Paul West of The Baltimore Sun. "Bill Clinton was successful not simply because he was a Southern Baptist but because he looked at every person with respect, whether they wore overalls or a pinstriped suit." More Axelrod: "It's not simply a matter of issues of gay marriage or abortion. It's really something more basic than that: Do we 'get' their lives?"

Farm advocate's ouster frightens preservationists in rural Bluegrass

The Tuesday election loss of a long-time Lexington. Ky., council member, who is a farmer by trade and a staunch ally of anti-development efforts in the area, to a commercial real estate consultant, has stunned the preservationist community in Central Kentucky's Bluegrass region.

A story in today’s Lexington Herald-Leader by John Stamper quotes former Lexington-Fayette Urban County Planning Commission Chairman Don Robinson, a horse farmer, saying, "I'm horrified. It's the worst thing that could happen.”

The article says home builders were “gleeful about businessman Ed Lane's defeat of five-time incumbent Gloria Martin by 539 votes, thanks largely to a strong showing in new suburban subdivisions that have popped up on former farmland.”

Todd Johnson, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Lexington, tells the newspaper, "I think a lot of things are going to change with this new council across the board." The homebuilders association has a political action committee that donated $1,000 each to five victorious council candidates. "We're going to see people there making decisions who have a mind for business and a vision for the community," he said.

Lane said "no fears are necessary," Stamper reports, quoting him: "I have worked in over 40 states in the U.S. in real estate matters," he said. "That gives me a good perspective to draw on."

Preservationist issues on rural Michigan ballots framed townships' races

Growing support from rural Michigan residents and farmers boosted land preservation issues in Tuesday's election, especially in the Grand Traverse Bay area. The issue propelled challengers into Boards of Trustees positions in two townships in Washtenaw County.

The ground swell was evident in Tuesday’s balloting even though some opponents also claimed to be for open space and controlled growth. One land-preservation ballot issue also won voter approval, while another failed. In two other townships where development was a factor, incumbents did better, in one case possibly because they were already identified with slowing development.

Today’s Ann Arbor News has an extensive story on the rural races pitting preservationists and pro-development forces against each other on the Tuesday ballot. Reporter John Mulcahy writes, “Probably the most startling result was in Scio Township, where the Democratic challengers won by championing open space, parks, bike and pedestrian trails and a more rigorous approval process for developers."

Newly elected trustee and Scio Democrats President David Nacht tells Mulcahy, "The community was ready for the government to play a role of a more activist nature in addressing sprawl and creating community.”

For a background feature in a recent Associated Press story published in The Detroit Free Press, click here. For a link to the preservationist's organization mentioned in our Tuesday blog, click here. The Detroit Free Press story cited in our Tuesday Blog centered on Acme Township in the Grand Traverse Bay area.

The Rural Calendar

Nov. 5: Deadline to pre-register for Food Security from Farm to Plate, to be held the afternoon and evening of Nov. 9 at the University of Kentucky. Pre-registration cost is $20, students $10; later, $30. Pay at conference; to register or get more information, call 859-257-5318 or e-mail

Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2004

Rural voters, marriage amendments are key elements of Bush's victory

Voters in rural areas were an essential part of President Bush’s re-election, particularly in Ohio, the state that decided the race in his favor.

“In Ohio, where Kerry and independent liberal groups waged an unprecedented campaign to register and turn out new Democratic voters, Bush responded with an unprecedented effort of his own that seems to have produced roughly as many Republican voters in rural and 'collar county' suburban areas, John Harris reported in this morning’s Washington Post.

“It would appear the Bush people went into those rural communities and really fired them up,” Tim Russert said on NBC as the network prepared to call Ohio for Bush after midnight. “The referendum on gay marriage in Ohio was really an enticement for rural voters.” This morning on the Today show, Russert spoke of Ohio Democrats’ efforts among new registrants and said, “They were outgunned by the rural voters and evangelical Christians and these ‘security moms’ or moral moms.”

Kerry did well in Ohio’s urban areas, including the large swing counties of Franklin (Columbus), Stark (Canton) and Montgomery (Dayton). But the Democrats' improved performance in places like Cleveland and Columbus “was not enough to close the gap with Mr. Bush, in large part because the Republicans squeezed additional votes out of their traditional political base in the northwest part of the state, the rural western border with Indiana and the conservative suburbs around Cincinnati, Republican strategists said,” James Dao reported in The New York Times.

“Many tiny rural counties, where Mr. Bush had won 65 percent or more of the vote in 2000, gave him even larger margins this year. Analysts attributed that improved turnout among conservatives in part to a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that was on the ballot.”

“The president attracted even higher percentages of the vote in Ohio’s rural counties than he enjoyed during the 2000 election, when he carried those areas handily,” while Kerry may have done better than Al Gore did in the state’s suburban areas, the Dayton Daily News reported.

Eric Rademacher, the director of the Ohio Poll at the University of Cincinnati, told Dao, “The Republicans really galvanized their base with their get-out-the-vote operation, and they did so in large part by taking advantage of cultural issues that were important to Republicans voters. Clearly one of those issues was the constitutional amendment.”

The Mother of All Social Issues

The issue also may have been key for U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, a state with a similar amendment on the ballot. As Bunning claimed his 2-percentage-point victory last night, he said, "Thanks to the rural voters of Kentucky." He trailed badly in the Louisville and Lexington areas.

The presence of the marriage amendment on ballot in 11 states, all of which passed the proposals, struck a strong cultural nerve. In a Courier-Journal column on Aug. 3, 2003, after the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in that state, your blogger called it the Mother of All Social Issues. Last week, in an online discussion, David Broder of the Post, dean of American political journalists, was asked to name the sources of political polarization in the country. He replied, "Beyond the racial and economic lines we have known for decades, there appear to be deeper cultural divides. Many Americans find the changes in society -- such as the emergence of a gay lifestyle -- deeply threatening. Others accept or even welcome such change. Differences show up in the sharp break between urban and rural areas and in many other patterns."

National exit polls yesterday said that moral values, not Iraq or terrorism, was the “one issue that mattered most” to voters as they selected candidates. Among moral-values voters, Bush got 79 percent of the vote. He got 77 percent among white evangelical Christians, 66 percent among white Protestants, and 63 percent among those who attend church weekly.

Missouri newspaper editor loses second bid to unseat incumbent farmer-legislator

In a Missouri legislative race pitting a newspaper editor against an incumbent state representative, who farms for a living, Democratic Rep. Wes Shoemyer held his ninth district seat against Republican challenger Jeff Hedberg. Hedberg is the managing editor of The Centralia Fireside Guard.

The Columbia newspaper, The Missourian, reports Shoemyer collected 61 percent of the vote with 37 of 43 precincts reporting. Shoemyer told the newspaper, “I’m going to fight for my district. Two years ago, I had 80 percent of a new (redistricted) district. After I had the ability to serve the folks, to work for people in those areas, they got to know me better.”

Beginning his second term in the office, Shoemyer has gained recognition in the General Assembly by proposing an act allowing farmers to retain their seeds. Hedberg lost a previous challenge in 2000 to unseat Shoemyer by 20 percent. An earlier report in The Missourian earlier carried an extensive profile of the race.

Mad-cow disease species jump alarms European food safety officials and farmers

Mad-cow disease has been diagnosed for the first time ever in a goat in France. Confirmation of the case of the fatal brain disease, formally know as BSE, has alarmed the food safety and farming industries throughout Europe. A story in The London Times by Valerie Elliott says scientists have long known it was possible the disease could affect goats and sheep but there has never been proof.

According to the Times report, should the disease take hold in sheep or goats, British agricultural officials have agreed to a mass quarantine and sorting out of those animals suspected of being infected. But, scientists have played down fears of an epidemic.

Veterinary experts first learned of the infected goat two years ago and laboratory tests were conducted. The tests conducted by French scientists on mice confirmed the presence of mad-cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

NPR story highlights increase in female farmers nationwide

An Oct. 30 National Public Radio story on female farmers shows a nationwide increase over the past five years in women managing farms, up 13 percent. The story credits the boost in ranks of female farmers to a variety of reasons, including inheriting the farm, substituting for husbands who have to take an off-farm job for extra income and daughters moving back to the farm to take the reigns when their parents retire.

The story profiles women farming in Pennsylvania, including Patty McMurray, a dairy farmer, who says many farms probably wouldn’t make it if the wives weren’t keeping the books. Reacting to the increase in women now actually running the farm, McMurray says, “(It’s) all the better,” according to the NPR account.

McMurray feels women are actually better-suited than men for farming, because of what she describes as, “Our maternal nature, which is just what God made us.” The report says McMurray grossed just $32,000 on 21 acres last year, but, she tells NPR, she’s happy to help keep the rural economy alive. According to the report, Penn State agricultural educators are seeing more farm daughters and nieces in their classes as well as more women new to the field.

Bluegrass legend’s son defends dad’s name in lawsuit

Bluegrass music legend Bill Monroe’s son, James Monroe, is suing a foundation that bears his father’s name, because he says, it should not be allowed to use the name to promote and profit from a festival, fund-raisers and other efforts.

In an Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer story, James Monroe claims the Bill Monroe Foundation never received the rights to use the name or likeness of the founder of bluegrass music -- a claim that the foundation denies. J. Gerard Stranch IV of Nashville, James Monroe’s attorney, tells Messenger-Inquirer reporter David Blackburn, "We tried everything short of litigation to stop it (the use of Bill Monroe's name).”

The Ohio County, Ky. Industrial Foundation has supported the claim with a Sept. 22 resolution to that effect, which was filed with the lawsuit. The lawsuit has been transferred to U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville. James Monroe sued Oct. 18 in Sumner County (Tenn.) Chancery Court asking that shirts, bumper stickers, video and audio recordings and other items be impounded.

The Rural Calendar

Nov. 4-6: Citizen Environmental Monitoring in Appalachia, Holiday Inn Conference Center, Bristol, Va. Such monitoring can produce important data and spread environmental awareness in communities.  This conference will emphasize water quality, invasive species and forest health and sustainability.  Speakers will represent some of the best monitoring programs in the U.S. and Canada, as well as land managers who have worked with monitoring programs.  Finally, there will be a special session with funding organizations and three field trips to demonstrate actual monitoring activities. Click here for agenda and registration information.

Nov. 5: Deadline to pre-register for Food Security from Farm to Plate, to be held the afternoon and evening of Nov. 9 at the University of Kentucky. Pre-registration cost is $20, students $10; later, $30. Pay at conference; to register or get more information, call 859-257-5318 or e-mail

Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2004

Journalists may face access problems covering today's voting

Amid reports of election and law-enforcement officials restricting news-media access to voters in line to vote, Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies rings the alarm bell this morning.

“I am hearing from more journalists all over the country that this year, more than ever, they are being kept away from the polls,” writes Tompkins, a veteran broadcaster. “I have received calls from Texas, Florida, and Ohio. I read about a new law restricting press from the polls in Minnesota. Texas journalists are telling me they have never seen so much difficulty getting a camera into a polling place.”

Tompkins quotes Steve Minium, vice President for news at Clear Channel Television in Cincinnati: “Ohio's secretary of state is enforcing an old statute on the books which prevents anyone but "witnesses, poll workers, voters, and police" from being inside the polling places. We're exploring this with our First Amendment attorneys. We believe we fall into the witness category.”

Tompkins asks journalists to let him know if they are barred form covering news at a precinct today, at or this link.

The Society of Professional Journalists today urged election officials to allow news media "to provide the coverage that will help legitimize an important election." SPJ objected to "rules, such as those imposed by Election Supervisor Theresa LePore in Palm Beach County, Fla. LePore banned any interviewing or photographing of voters lined up on a public street outside her election office." SPJ's South Florida Chapter said, "A free press operating freely is one of the best protections the nation has against flawed or fraudulent elections. Excluding the press from serving as independent observers will only serve to cast a cloud of illegitimacy over elections in case of disputes and false rumors. In an election that could be as close as that of four years ago, transparency about the election process will be crucial." National SPJ President Irwin Gratz concludes, "What would we say if journalists in a foreign country were unable to document complaints about long lines of voters?"

The Akron Beacon Journal and the Radio-Television News Directors Association and its Ohio members are fighting to gain access to precincts, the day after a federal judge upheld an order from the Ohio secretary of state banning journalists from interviewing and reporting at polling places. The Beacon Journal sought a temporary restraining order, and RTNDA wrote to the judge in support of it. The newspaper is filing an appeal today with the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, an RTNDA release said..

Pennsylvania and Virginia may be tied; Kerry calls for probe of MSHA contracts

The Washington Post reported Sunday that the campaigns of President Bush and John Kerry privately expected Kerry to win Pennsylvania, but this morning the paper reports that the state “may have tightened up over the weekend. A victory by Bush in Pennsylvania, which Democrat Al Gore won four years ago, would create a huge hurdle to Kerry's hopes of winning the White House. Democratic strategists said they expect to win the state, albeit more narrowly than they once believed.”

Pollster John Zogby rates the race tied at 252 elctoral votes each, with Pennsylvania and -- surprise! -- Virginia tied between the two candidates. Maybe that Democratic money in Virginia that we wrote about last week wasn't about Gov. Mark Warner and southwest Virginia Rep. Rick Boucher after all!

The Post story by Dan Balz and David Broder says upper Midwest states with large rural populations “remain close. Minnesota continues to tilt toward Kerry, with Bush still hoping for an upset. In Wisconsin, both sides said the outcome is likely to be determined on the ground today. Bush strategists believe Iowa is the most likely state to take from the Democrats, but one adviser to Kerry said yesterday the state has begun to move his way.”

Balz and Broder say Florida’s size and complexity “make it perhaps the most difficult battleground state to read,” and Ohio “appeared to be a tossup.” John Harris and Paul Farhi of the Post say a big target for Democrats in the Buckeye State “was the largely rural counties of southeast Ohio, where the economy and cultural values blend almost seamlessly into neighboring West Virginia. While votes here were not large in absolute numbers, the percentages were so overwhelming for Bush that they greatly contributed to his margin of victory.” Bush Ohio manager Bob Paduchik told Harris and Farhi that Kerry “stood no chance of winning these former swing voters,” in their words. “They join Cincinnati and suburban Cleveland as a core part of the GOP coalition.”

Kerry got in a final shot in Appalachia, calling for the Justice Department to investigate sole-source contracts awarded by the Mine Safety and Health Administration to firms with ties to top MSHA officials, and to probe MSHA's investigation of the 2000 slurry spill in Martin County, Ky. “The lives and quality of life in our coal mines and mining communities are far too precious to be left to the devices of public officials who may value their relations with the industries they have served more than their sworn duty to protect the public’s health and safety,” Kerry said in a statement reported by The Charleston Gazette.

Reporter Ken Ward Jr. wrote that the Labor Department inspector general said Friday "that MSHA should not have given sole-source awards for contracts totaling more than $500,000" to two companies closely tied to MSHA chief Dave Lauriski, though the inspector general could “not substantiate” allegations by former inspector Jack Spadaro that MSHA officials directed the contracts to the firms.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports on Sunday's sermons about the election

At least one newspaper went to church Sunday to see what ministers were saying about an election in which religion is playing a big role. Six reporters from the Atlanta Journal-Constititution fanned out across Georgia, one of 11 states where a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage is on today’s ballot.

“This election season, politics has mingled with religion in houses of worship across Georgia as spiritual leaders and their flocks have discussed the issues, drafted resolutions and participated in voter registration drives and rallies. Pastors included politics in their messages the last weekend before Election Day, and many worshipers said Tuesday's vote is very much on their minds,” reporter Sonji Jacobs wrote in Monday’s paper.

At one Baptist church, the sermon was titled "Biblical Issues in This Year's Election," and the minister “did not explicitly endorse any candidate or party or instruct his congregation how to vote, but he said the choices for Christians are clear. [Bryant] Wright talked about the Bush administration's decisions to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Without make a judgment about the war, Wright said a government has the authority to protect its citizens from harm, punish evil and administer justice,” Jacobs wrote. “Wright also wondered how Tuesday's decision on the same-sex marriage ban would be remembered in history. Would it be like the Alamo: "courageous but soon overwhelmed by the forces of evil?" Or, Wright's voice rising, would it be "a historic turning point ... the church leading the way saying 'enough is enough?' " The massive congregation applauded.”

At a Presbyterian church, the minister didn’t mention the issue Sunday, but Jacobs got a copy of his Sept. 26 sermon “that touched on the war in Iraq as well as the marriage amendment” and quoted from it: “Many believers today still suffer when they decline to buy the 'happily ever after' swampland being sold by preachers, pundits and politicians and instead buy a field of God's dreams.”

Jacobs continued, “In several megasized African-American churches, a portion of the Sunday program was dedicated to get-out-the-vote efforts. Atlanta civil rights leader the Rev. Joseph Lowery visited several churches to urge people to go to the polls.” She reported that one “offered a short overview of the gay marriage constitutional amendment, with the text projected on giant screens. The sample text showed the ‘yes,’ checked to indicate support for the ban.”

Rock-solid rural voter bloc faithful and fateful for Bush White House return?

A recent Rural Policy Institute editorial by RUPRI Fellow Thomas D. Rowley questions the epicenter of today’s election, asking whether it is Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin; Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania; or just Pennsylvania that will decide the outcome.

His editorial cites a Los Angeles Times poll showing a statistical dead heat in the race for president but, as with numerous other pundits, he accounts the rural voter advantage that has more or less consistently followed Bush in the 17 battleground states polled by the Whitesburg, Ky.-based Center for Rural Strategies.

He cites an observation by Austin American-Statesman writer Bill Bishop: “After a disputed election, a recession, terrorist attacks, a war, three presidential debates and a presidential campaign that has blared for more than a year, rural voters haven't changed their allegiance or their vote from November 2000.”

Rowley makes the guardedly skeptical observation, “Those devoted rural voters may well be the difference between a return to the Rose Garden for Mr. Bush, or one to the ranch in Crawford.” He continues, “Without veering into partisan proselytizing and causing trouble for myself and the non-partisan institute under whose aegis I write, I admit to being puzzled by such unified opinion among a group of people who’s only identified commonality is their rural location.”

E&P potpourri: Web coverage, Florida fraud watchers, pundits, cartoonists polled

Editor & Publisher is offering web-watching political junkies an eclectic Election Day lineup, running from a report on top Web sites gearing up for tonight’s tallying of the results, details of Florida newspapers gearing up and sharpening their laptops to cover expected voter problems at precincts statewide, and a poll of top political cartoonists and columnists and their prognostications on the election outcome.

One E & P story says leading news sites, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, will be offering plenty of text, audio, and video election features online all day today and into tomorrow in what’s expected to be late coverage of the narrow contest.

Another account says for Florida's newspapers, the big Election Day story may not be who wins the presidential vote but who in Florida is allowed to vote and how the press is allowed to cover it.

And another story contains the results of a poll containing a veritable cornucopia of cartoonists conjuring up forecasts of winners and losers in the national contest to run the country. The report says E&P e-mailed several dozen newspaper political cartoonists and columnists to get their predictions, and early returns show 14 creators picking John Kerry and 12 George W. Bush. View the extensive results by clicking here.

Fall foliage underscores preservationist tax incentive on ballot in northwest Michigan

For decades busloads of tourists anxious to catch a glimpse of the crimson, gold and bronze hues of fall foliage have been flocking to rural northwest hillsides that ring the blue sliver of Lake Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay, but The Associated Press reports fears the fall tapestry will be painted over by parking lots and strip malls has prompted a preservationist tax incentive measure on today’s ballot.

Rick Sayler, a fifth-generation agriculturalist in Acme Township is one of those concerned about losing the area’s natural beauty. "If we can keep the developers out, we can keep this place in farming and beautiful, and these days that’s a big if." he tells the paper. Sayler says his ancestral roots in the area reach back nearly 150 years.

The AP report says many orchards in the area already have been plowed under for urban development. Soaring real estate values and slim farm profits have persuaded a number of landowners to sell out.

Voters in five adjacent townships in the area are deciding today whether to raise property taxes to fund a program to stem farmland loss. The program would purchase development rights from willing farmers paying them to keep their property agricultural. Critics say preserving farmland is a laudable goal, but the program would be a giveaway to wealthy farmers.

Boldly biologically spelunking where no one has spelunked before

An Indiana-based cave explorer and conservationist is undertaking an ambitious new effort to inventory the living contents of some of the thousands of caves that underlie vast areas of Tennessee's landscape.

Julian Lewis likens himself to Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame, telling reporter Juliet Eilperin in a recent Washington Post article, "This is a little bit like … going where nobody's ever been before, from a biological standpoint. I'm going to unknown biological turf, and I love that, I live for that." David Withers, the state zoologist, tells Eilperin, “The caves are remarkably bio-diverse. Very few people know about it. It's not sexy; it doesn't make the papers."

Eilperin’s story notes there are more than 8,600 known caves in Tennessee, more than any other state, home for countless ancient and rare creatures that dwell underground and out of sight. The report notes Tennessee's caverns are part of the nation's most elaborate cave network extending under Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky, and beyond into Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia.

Monday, Nov, 1, 2004

Final battlegrounds: Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, major media say

Tomorrow’s presidential election could turn on states with large rural populations, experts continued to predict over the weekend. For our money, The Washington Post has the nation’s most reliable political coverage, and it put part of its reputation on the line yesterday, narrowing the list of battleground states and leaving only six tossups: Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, New Mexico.

The paper’s other battlegrounds are Hawaii, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, but it says all but Nevada lean to Kerry. “If Michigan stays Democratic and Bush and Kerry split Florida and Ohio, then the other tossup states become decisive, particularly three in the upper Midwest: Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. The winner of two of those three probably will win the White House,” says the story by David Broder, Dan Balz and Charles Babington.

Bush guru Karl Rove voiced confidence in speaking to the Post: “If you look at the upper Midwest — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota — in order for them to win, they need to take every one of them. For us to win, all we need is one. And we're going to take more than one. We are going to take at least two, maybe more.”

The New York Times lists Michigan among its tossup states, and leans Minnesota to Kerry, but agrees with the Post on the others -- Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico. All have large rural populations. Wisconsin is key to Electoral College mathematics, reports Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Ditto, says Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, this afternoon on CNN's "Inside Politics": "I have a hard time seeing how John Kerry gets to 270 [electoral votes] without winning Wisconsin in the end."

Pollster Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling and Research tells Steve Thomma of the Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau that a strong farm economy in the Upper Midwest helped Bush in traditionally Democratic territory. Thomma wrote, "Also, Bush's stands on cultural issues appealed to rural and small-town voters who have been Democrats based more on family history than current ideology." Coker said, " The Republicans have painted him as a northeastern liberal. Could John Kerry get elected governor or senator in a state like Iowa? Probably not.''

In Appalachian states, the Post says West Virginia leans strongly to Bush, and no longer classifies it as a battleground. It says a Bush loss in Virginia “would be shocking,” and with the exception of Florida calls all other states of the old Confederacy, plus Kentucky and Oklahoma, for Bush – putting Arkansas in the president’s column, despite late Democratic hopes and former President Clinton’s campaigning there.

Missouri, which like Kentucky never seceded but had a star in the Confederate flag, leans to Bush and is not a battleground, the Post says. It gives Kerry Pennsylvania, which a Los Angeles Times poll had even last week. The Post says, “Privately both sides expect the hoard of electoral votes to be in the Democratic column one more time.” A Mason-Dixon poll for The Philadelphia Inquirer, taken Oct. 26-29, showed Kerry leading 48 to 46 percent, plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Issues of marriage and guns, big in rural areas, are key in get-out-the-vote efforts

In Pennsylvania’s most Republican county, The Lancaster News reports that Republicans are whipping up turnout from “conservative churchgoers, homeschoolers, pro-life activists . . . hoping the groups that helped to make Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” a surprise box-office bonanza can bring the same kind of numbers to the polls on Tuesday. In rural parts of the county, the strategy seems to be working.”

Here’s the Post’s on-line analysis of Ohio, the state that all four national candidates visited yesterday: “In the intervening four years, Ohio's job losses (230,000) have exceeded Bush's 2000 victory margin (167,000 votes). . . . Voter registration is up almost 1 million voters in the state, and with it has come a series of pre-election disputes. Republicans are warning of fraud by Democratic registration groups, while Democrats are accusing the GOP of trying to suppress turnout in Cleveland and in minority communities. The state's provisional ballot law could tie up counting well beyond Tuesday, if the outcome from the day's tally is close or in dispute.”

In a story today, Balz and Tom Edsall write about “the biggest and most aggressive voter-mobilization drives in the history of presidential politics.” Based on reporting from colleague Vanessa Williams, they quote Bush’s New Mexico director, Kentuckian Scott Jennings, as saying the campaign recruited 15,000 volunteers, more than twice the number it had hoped for, enabling each volunteer to be responsible for only 25 voters instead of 50.

Clinton warned a crowd in Little Rock yesterday that Republicans “were trying to use socially divisive issues such as guns and same-sex marriage to scare voters and turn them against Kerry,” the Post reported. “I'm going to talk about something no other Democrat can talk about but, heck, I'm not running for anything," he said. “Let's be frank about it. Out in the country, they are wearing us out with guns and gay marriage.”

Moreno wrote, “He said Republicans and the National Rifle Association are trying to mislead the public about Kerry's positions on these issues. He said Kerry supports prohibiting sales of ‘cop killer’ bullets to the public and favors the Brady Law, which requires background checks and a waiting period for handgun purchases. But he also described Kerry as an outdoorsman and hunter who supported the assault-weapons ban, which expired earlier this year.” Reporter Sylvia Moreno eneded her story with thse lines from Clinton: “This election is not about guns and gay marriage. It's about the economy, health care and the future of our children.”

In a story about getting out the vote in Ohio, James Dao of the Times writes, “A major wildcard in this year's Ohio campaign is a proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages and restrict civil unions. John Green, a political scientist at Akron University, predicts the measure will increase turnout among evangelical Christians, a group that tends to vote Republican, by three to four percent over 2000.”

Dao reports that the Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage mailed 2 million Sunday bulletin inserts to 17,000 churches, and hired a firm to call nearly 1 million homes with a recorded endorsement of the amendment from Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell. Phil Burress, chairman of the campaign, told Dao that the state’s first-time registrants include thousands of Muslim and Amish who signed up so they can vote for the amendment. “On Nov. 2, I can tell you, the church will turn out,” Burress said.

The presence of similar amendments on the ballots of 10 other states has also mobilized gays and lesbians, Evelyn Nieves of the Post reports.

In yesterday's edition of The Note, ABC News' Adi Raval described a key to get-out-the-vote operations at the local level: “One key question to ask is at what time will Republicans and Democrats know how they are doing in each of Ohio's counties on Election Day. A partial answer is at around 11 a.m. and again at 4 p.m. According to directors of elections for two different counties, both parties can send representatives to each of the state's numerous precincts to check who has voted at these times and only these times. The lists of people who will have voted at these times will appear inside the precincts. According to the directors, it is only at these times, according to Ohio law, that anybody outside of voters, precinct judges (two Republicans and two Democrats with one of these four being the precinct judge), law enforcement officials, and possible challengers, will be allowed inside the actual precinct station. Everybody else has to stay at least 100 feet away.”

With some projections predicting a tie, one rural district could make the difference. “ Maine divides its electoral votes in part by congressional district, and Bush is fighting to win one vote from the northern, mostly rural 2nd District.” Kerry running mate John Edwards campaigned in the district Saturday, reports Glen Johnson of The Boston Globe.

The Times' David Kirkpatrick covers the "thinly veiled" support of Bush by religious leaders, “the strongest manifestation yet of a two-decade-old shift away from the allegiance of different religious groups to each party toward an overriding gap between ardent traditionalists and the more secular. . . . Although Mr. Bush often emphasizes tolerance and inclusiveness, the grass-roots campaign has in some ways fulfilled the conservative Pat Buchanan's widely panned description at the 1992 Republican convention of a "religious war going on in our country for the soul of America.”

West Virginia lawsuit may end sale of Oxycontin in Mountain State, maker says

Jury selection began today in a lawsuit over the marketing of the drug Oxycontin in West Virginia. The suit alleges Purdue Pharma, maker of the painkiller, owes the state for dishonestly marketing the pill, drawing many residents into a drug-dependent and destructive lifestyle.

The state’s lawyers say they plan to tell jurors the company did not divulge to doctors, pharmacists and patients the drug’s morphine-like, addictive qualities because it wanted to sell more pills. The company will claim many chronic pain sufferers have found relief using the pill.

A story on the trial in today’s Charleston Gazette says lawyer Timbera Wilcox told McDowell Circuit Judge Booker Stephens in a memorandum filed last month that if the jury sides with the state, the company may have to stop selling the drug in West Virginia. “This case is really about West Virginians continuing to get state-of-the-art” pain medication, Wilcox told Reporter Toby Coleman in a recent telephone interview.

OxyContin is the world’s best-selling painkiller. Purdue Pharma sold $1.9 billion worth of the drug last year. The trial is taking place in the McDowell County community of Welch.

Child-crushing boulder from strip mine prompts $26 million wrongful-death suit

A $26 million lawsuit has been filed against two coal companies, a mineral-rights owner and company workers by the parents of a three-year-old boy crushed to death in his sleep by a boulder from a Virginia strip mine.

A story on the incident, appearing in today’s Bristol Herald-Courier, reports the lawsuit was filed in Wise County Circuit Court on behalf of Dennis and Cindy Davidson, the parents of Jeremy Kyle Davidson, and his older brother, Zachary.

The youngster was killed Aug. 20 when the half-ton boulder rolled down a slope from a 2,000-acre strip mine and crashed into the Davidson home near Wise, Va. The boulder bounced into Zachary’s bedroom, stopping at the edge of his older brother’s bed.

Terry Kilgore, a state delegate and attorney with the Norton law firm of Wolfe, Williams and Rutherford, told reporter Kathy Still, "It’s a tragedy. What we hope is ultimately we will get to present our case and be able to show they shouldn’t have really been there in the first place. No one should be pushing anything downhill toward houses at that time in the morning."

A report filed by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy ruled that the boy’s death was the result of "gross negligence" on behalf of the coal company. The mine was operated by A&G Coal Corp. for Matt Mining Co., which was fined $15,000, the maximum allowed by law, for three violations related to the incident.

Stalking the wild clay pigeon raises constitutional questions in Virginia

A dispute between government officials a sporting group, with a planned 450-acre hunting preserve and sport shooting estate in rural Virginia, over whether skeet-shooting constitutes hunting, is headed to court.

The skeet-shooting proponents allege that Nelson County officials are infringing on the group's state-guaranteed hunting rights. The dispute apparently hinges on Orion Sporting Group's desire to use its property as part of an overall hunting and sport-shooting program and the local government's efforts to regulate hunting.

Orion Sporting Group LCC and Orion Estates says a zoning appeal by the group was dismissed recently by a Virginia circuit court, but the court ruled the complaint sufficiently alleged violation of Virginia's constitutional right to hunt, clearing the way for the case to go to trial, acording to a report in The (Louisville) Courier-Journal.

The Virginia constitution specifies "a right to hunt, fish and harvest game," subject to regulation by the state legislature. Numerous states have similar guarantees, but few courts have decided the meaning of that right. County officials argued that corporations have no right to hunt and that trapshooting is not hunting.

Orion applied for a permit to relocate an established shotgun sports business to the new rural tract of land that already houses a licensed hunting preserve. County officials refused, and Orion’s attorneys filed suit, claiming the denial violates the constitutional right to hunt.

Tiny county in Kentucky breeds international dreams

Robertson County, Ky., is the smallest county in a state of small counies. It has an annual budget that totals $100,000 less than the salary of head University of Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith, and a school system that has to capitalize on its concentrated and consolidated curriculum and classes.

It also seems, according a column by Mark Story in the Lexington Herald-Leader, that big dreams can come from small schools. Robertson County has kindergarten through 12th grades in one school with 110 students and a boys basketball team of 16 to 17 players, with varsity, JV and freshmen combined.

The column also tells of the school's “swim team,” with this account: “When they introduce the swim team at Deming High, they do it with two words: Amanda Miller.” The eighth-grader has been swimming now for only three years, but has set a goal to swim in the Olympic Games. And, the column says, “She's shown enough promise that no one is laughing. She's shooting for 2008,” says her mom, Kelly.

Kentucky has 120 counties, the nation's third-largest, behind Texas and Georgia. But with only 2,320 residents, Robertson Judge-Executive Bradley Gifford dismisses any talk of dissolving his county: "If you ask 90 percent of the people in this county, they like living here. There's nothing wrong with being small."





Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

University of Kentucky
College of Communications and Information Studies

122 Grehan Building, Lexington, KY 40506-0042

Phone: (859) 257-3744, Fax: (859) 323-9879

Questions about the web site: Contact Al Cross, interim director,

Last Updated: Nov. 11, 2004