The Rural Blog Archive: October 2004

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

Friday, Oct. 29, 2004

Tobacco buyout leaves young farmers in the lurch, North Carolina paper reports

The tobacco buyout, which ends the federal price-support and quota program and pays farmers for their allotments over 10 years, is getting a skeptical if not negative review from farmers in Haywood County, N.C.

Vicki Hyatt, editor of The Mountaineer in Waynesville, started her story with the viewpoint of tobacco farmer John Leatherwood: “The older guys ready to retire will do well with it, but I’m 43 and I don’t think this is good for the young farmer. They’re not looking out for the next generation.”

Hyatt writes, “Once the quota system is gone and the price of tobacco depends on supply and demand, Leatherwood fears the market price of tobacco will go so low it won’t be worth growing. He is also concerned that there will be no minimum price guarantee for the crop as there is now.”

Hyatt quotes Don Smart, “a long-time farmer who’s been active in burley tobacco circles with the WNC Tobacco Growers Association and the Farm Bureau,” as predicting the new contract price from companies will be $1 to $1.25 a pound, well below the recent market price of $1.95.

“Without the tobacco program, farmers will contract directly with tobacco companies, Smart said, but there is no guarantee the crop delivered will be accepted by the company. Some growers fear their crop will be rejected as not meeting minimum specifications -- a judgment call that puts them at the mercy of the company,” the Mountaineer reports.

Smart said the buyout will leave many farmers unemployed, and “Others agree the tobacco buyout program isn’t the answer for all those currently growing the crop,” Hyatt writes. “The program might be a boon for the larger farmers and quota holders, but many growers in Haywood County are small growers, said Terry Rogers, president of the local Farm Bureau.”

Republicans target rural Ohio counties to boost battleground state turnout

The Washington Times says “under the radar” Republican operatives have fanned out to 57 rural counties in the battleground state of Ohio using direct mail and phone banks to boost voter turnout in those heavily Republican areas. The report quotes Ohio GOP Chairman Robert T. Bennett: "These are the ones that will make a difference, giving us 150,000 additional votes."

Reporter Ralph Z. Hallow writes, “The party's decision to funnel resources into increasing turnout in rural counties, other party officials say, has escaped the notice of pollsters and the press — and even misled some Republicans into thinking that President Bush's re-election campaign has let itself be outperformed by Democratic Sen. John Kerry in the state.”

Hallow cited a Zogby poll showing Bush leading in Ohio, but last night's Zogby track in the state showed Kerry leading 47 to 44 percent. Bennett told hallow that public polls may not fully capture voter sentiments in Ohio’s Republican-leaning rural areas.

Other updated Zogby numbers from battleground states, as of last night: Colorado, Kerry 48-47; Florida, Bush 48-47; Iowa, Kerry 45-44; Michigan, Bush 47-45; Minnesota, Bush 46-45; New Mexico, Bush 49-43; Neveda, Bush 50-45; Pennsylvania, tied at 47; Wisconsin, Kerry 49-46.

Kerry gains papers in Wisconsin, Missouri, elsewhere to widen endorsement lead

Kerry widened his lead in newspaper endorsements tallied by Editor & Publisher, including some battleground-state papers: the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Green Bay News-Chronicle, and The Capital Times in Madison. “The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel backed no one in 2000 and as recently as two weeks ago a top editor told us that this was likely to be the outcome again,” Greg Mitchell writes. “But today they went for Kerry.”

Mitchell adds, “In picking up the Springfield News-Leader, Kerry accomplished a sweep of the leading papers in Missouri, a state that had slid into the Bush column by most estimates a couple weeks ago but now, according to some pundits, is back in play. He also picked up the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, giving him both papers in that city, at a time when as experts suggest that Hawaii is not only now up for grabs but could decide the election.”

Generally, the larger a paper’s circulation, the more likely it is to go for Kerry. So far, 162 papers with circulation of 18.4 million have endorsed Kerry. Bush is the choice of 129, with 11.8 million in circulation. Kerry has won the support of 36 papers that endorsed Bush in 2000.

E & P offers a new twist to its election coverage today, tracking the Electoral College maps of major newspapers to highlight the differences and suggest a consensus.

“In the all-important swing-state category, identifying where the polls are too close to call, the sites agree on only five true undecideds: Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Ohio, and Wisconsin,” Erin Olson reports. “Five of the six sites we're tracking put Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania in that tossup category, with only The New York Times claiming the three lean to Kerry. The breakdown is the same for Nevada, but here the Times lists it as a Bush leaner.”

The Note from ABC News' political unit this morning handicaps it this way:

"States that will almost certainly decide this election: Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, and New Mexico.

"States that are hanging around to make a difference: Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada, and Maine's Second Congressional District.

"States that could come washing through in a landslide (or abberationally shock us all and decide the race!!): Hawaii, New Jersey, Colorado, and Arkansas."

Racist group distributes white supremacy CDs in West Virginia, weeklies report

Michael Browning of the Coal Valley News reports the CDs were distributed on streets near Madison Middle School and Scott High School in Boone County last Thursday, “prompting school officials to seize the CDs.” Jeff Nelson, the middle school’s vice principal, told the paper that the group claims to have distributed 20,000 of the CDs and its Web site says it plans to distribute 20,000 more. “This appears to be a nationwide effort,” Nelson said.

Browning cites local schools’ policy: “It is the policy of Boone County Schools that racial, sexual, religious/ethnic harassment and violence will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Racial, sexual, religious/ethnic harassment and violence will be defined as unwelcome and unwanted behavior related to sex, race, religion or ethnic group that makes the recipient feel afraid, embarrassed, helpless, angry or unsafe or upsets the recipient to the point that he/she cannot learn, cannot teach or be effective at school or his/her job.”

Chief Boone County Deputy Sheriff Rodney Miller told the Coal Valley News that the group, “as long as they don't cause anyone any harm,” has the constitutional right to distribute material. “When they're near the kids, that gives us something a little different. It appears it's just an isolated incident. I think the general public is satisfied with the response the school system has taken in regard to these people being around their children.”

In Pocahontas County, Pocahontas Times Managing Editor Pamela Pritt reports that the CDs were distributed at Marlinton Elementary School last week. Sheriff Bob Alkire told the Times “that he had spoken with David Cobb, the new owner of Gray's Store, Aryan Autographs and 14 Words, LLC, at Frost, who was handing out the Panzerfaust CDs. . . . The sheriff said Cobb told him he was targeting 13-to-19-year-olds.”

Top federal mine-safety official calls for crackdown on drug use by coal miners

The head of the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, David Lauriski, is quoted in a Louisville Courier-Journal story today calling for a crackdown on and stricter laws and policies regarding drug use in our nation’s mines.

Current requirements make it difficult to determine the size and scope of the problem. Lauriski cited two recent Kentucky mining deaths tied to drug use as underscoring the need for reforms. He told C-J Eastern Kentucky Bureau reporter Alan Maimon that no one knows with any certainty how many miners are working under the influence of drugs because state and federal laws currently do not allow mandatory testing.

Maimon's story quotes Lauriski saying at a news conference yesterday with state mining officials, "Keeping drugs and alcohol out of mines is a very high priority for our agency." The mining officials said they would create a task force -- which will include industry, labor and government representatives from Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia -- to address the issue."

Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Secretary LaJuana Wilcher said the group would compile data to quantify the problem's extent. The Kentucky Mining Board has endorsed legislation that would allow state inspectors to test miners and is expected to recommend a plan to the state’s General Assembly in January.

Veterans Day sendoff planned for six-state Guard unit heading to Iraq

Some 4,000 soldiers comprising the entire 278th Regimental Combat Team, from six states, will be deployed to Iraq following a special Veterans’ Day send-off ceremony at Camp Shelby, a Mississippi National Guard facility near Jackson, where the unit has been massing since June for training before deployment.

An article in The Plain Talk (one of our favorite newspaper names) of Newport, Tenn., today focuses on the local troops who are part of the unit, and the support they are receiving from their hometown. It quotes a Newport resident, Capt. Alan Mingledorff, as saying, “We’re ready to go. We're ready to get there and get the job done."

Troops have been training in a mock-up Iraqi city complete with Iraqi-born role players, Arabic graffiti on buildings and oversized photographs of Saddam Hussein.

The send-off ceremony for the unit is scheduled to begin at noon on Nov. 11 and will include a parade, fly-overs with Blackhawk helicopters and appearances by members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other elected officials.

Rural Native American lands are also home to military explosives and toxic munitions

A study conducted by two sociologists and published in the most recent issue of the American Sociological News, the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association, says Native Americans and their lands are“disproportionately exposed to hazards posed by the U.S. military's explosive and toxic munitions.”

The study was done by sociologists Gregory Hooks, chair of the Washington State University sociology department, and Chad L. Smith, sociology professor at Texas State University-San Marcos, a former WSU graduate student.

The ASA News says the study “provides evidence that Native American lands tend to be located in the same counties as sites deemed to be extremely dangerous because of a variety of unexploded military ordnance.” The story quotes Hooks and Smith saying, “This latest research is the first to systematically examine the role of the military in the uneven distribution of environmental hazards” and “demonstrates that much of the disproportional exposure of Native Americans to environmental dangers throughout the 20th century was the result of militarism, rather than economic competition.”

The study, titled"The Treadmill of Destruction: National Sacrifice Areas and Native Americans," cites historical evidence the United States widely expanded its military infrastructure in the 1940s, and with expansion used remote lands to serve as bombing ranges and weapons testing and storage sites.

The Rural Calendar (Forestry edition)

Nov. 8-10, Madison, Wis.: Governor’s Conference on Forestry: Building Collaborative Action for Wisconsin’s Forests, to develop a coordinated vision and action plan that will enable stakeholders and interest groups to work together on important forestry issues to enhance the value and sustainability of Wisconsin’s forests.For more information, click here.

Nov. 10, Nashville, Ind.: Forest Land Conservation, An Indiana Portfolio, to explore the alternatives that are available for individuals to work within their communities to protect forest land. The planning committee has identified four institutions to consider: cooperatives, conservation districts, condominium and property owner associations, and informal collaboratives. For more information, click here or here.

Thursday, Oct. 28, 2004

Pennsylvania may now be the election's epicenter, L.A. Times polls suggest

Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote about the rurality of the presidential race in a story posted on The Rural Blog yesterday afternoon, reports this morning that his newspaper’s polls now indicate that Pennsylvania may be the key to Tuesday's election.

“The surveys find President Bush holding an 8-percentage-point lead among likely voters in Florida, Sen. John F. Kerry opening a 6-percentage-point advantage in Ohio, and the two men battling to a dead heat in Pennsylvania,” Brownstein writes. “Analysts in both parties think that whoever wins two of them will have a clear advantage in the race for the 270 electoral votes needed to win.”

The Times acknowledges that its Pennsylvania survey shows the race slightly closer “than most other recent public surveys, which have shown Kerry with leads of 2 to 5 percentage points.”

Thomas Fitzgerald of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes this morning that the Republican Party “has pumped up support in its traditional base in the rural middle of the state, while cementing Bush leads in the northwest and in the depressed coal-mining region of northeastern Pennsylvania. The other reliable wild card in Pennsylvania politics, the socially conservative Democrats in the southwestern steel-mill towns around Pittsburgh, appear to be returning to their roots, according to several polls. Heavily Catholic and unionized, this bloc of voters has been responsive to GOP family-values appeals in recent decades, and resists the national Democratic orthodoxy of support for abortion rights and gun control.”

Brownstein says the Times poll shows that compared to the other big states surveyed by the paper, "Pennsylvania more closely follows the national pattern, with Bush's strength on security issues balancing poor ratings he gets on the domestic front, producing a deeply conflicted result.”

Not all clergy favor gay-marriage bans, Post finds in Michigan reporting

"Michigan is one of 11 states where constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage will appear on the November ballot. Much of the grass-roots support for these initiatives is church-based. But so is much of the opposition," the Washington Post reports today in a story by Alan Cooperman and political-writing dean David Broder. "Gay rights supporters have found unexpected allies among some clergy and labor unions, giving them hope, at least, of neutralizing the spillover effect on the presidential election."

Many political observers think extra conservative turnout for the amendments could make the difference for Buah and other Republican candidates. "The big question for both political parties is how many voters there are like Tim and Lori Harrington, who worship at the Shrine of the Little Flower and plan to go to the polls Tuesday mainly to cast their ballots to protect the traditional definition of marriage," the Post reports, quoting Tim Harrington: "I'm kind of indifferent about Bush, because he's the worst Republican president of my lifetime. But while I'm there, I'll probably vote for him."

Other states with marriage amendments on the ballot are Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah.

E & P offers detailed report on newspaper endorsements, such as chain-by-chain

In an analysis today, citing increased requests for more detailed information, Editor and Publisher reports how editorial endorsements of Bush and Kerry are running on a chain-by-chain basis.

E & P says the question's importance is underscored especially in a year when some corporate bodies, such as Scripps, are taking a more hands-off attitude and letting local papers decide on their own, with little or no intervention from the front office. The in-depth analysis, done for E & P by Jacob Kaplan-Moss, who works for the Journal-World in Lawrence, Kan., breaks down the endorsements by ownership. His complete report is available on his personal site.

As of Tuesday, the overall count had Kerry leading Bush by 143 endorsements to 125. The E & P report compiles a chain-by-chain accounting. For the entire E & P story click here. For an analysis of the 2004 endorsements so far in a separate report click here. For another report factoring in some smaller papers click here. For a state-by-state tally of endorsements by major papers, click here.

Campaign coverage, cow pies and courtesy

During a Bush campaign stop at a farm in Richland County, Wis., Tuesday, reporters waiting for a photo-op of the commander-in-chief conversing with the farm owner got to experience the full impact of true bucolic atmosphere, as a cow did what cows often do after a hearty meal of hay.

The LaCrosse Tribune reports on the full olfactory impact, in its Wednesday edition and the resulting admonishment from a White House wag chastising the press corps’ lack of proper demeanor. See the not fully detailed accounting of the incident in the paper’s Campaign Notebook. And, read the more conventional account of the meeting between the cow’s boss and the leader of the free world by clicking here.

FFA conventioneers from all over the nation converge on Louisville

Fifty-thousand-plus FFA members from around the nation are making their annual migration to Louisville for their yearly convention, but in 2006 the flock will be flying farther north to Indianapolis, pushed in part by not enough nesting grounds. The convention opened yesterday.

FFA spokesman Bill Stagg told Courier-Journal reporter Gregory A. Hall, "It's an amazing assemblage of people.” In addition to the usual competition involving projects in a variety of categories, this year’s convention features speakers -- including U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman and ESPN commentator and former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann -- workshops, careers, shows and its own shopping mall.

The education, business and leadership-development organization has held its convention in Louisville since 1999. Participants are staying as far away as a 90-minute drive from downtown. A lack of hotel rooms has been cited in the convention's impending move to Indianapolis. For the first time in a decade, the convention is being broadcast on a satellite television network, RFD-TV. Saturday's election of officers will be webcast for the first time at

The FFA, once known as the Future Farmers of America, counts more than 476,000 members between ages 12 and 21 in more than 7,200 chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Concerns about over-storage of grain crops prompt USDA warning

Farmers facing bumper crops this year of corn, soybeans and other grains and limited silo storage space are being urged by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, “to properly store their excess grain or risk spoiling thousands of dollars of their products,” according to an Associated Press report posted today on the South Carolina home webpage

In the AP story out of Fayette, Iowa, the USDA Crops and Weather Report says bumper corn crops are creating storage shortages and on-farm storage already is rated 40 percent short. The report says, with the soybean harvest nearly complete, and only 30 percent of the corn crop out, that means a tight squeeze for many farmers. Dan Meyer, an Iowa State University engineer based in Fayette, told AP, "Producers should know the limitations and risks involved with emergency grain storage."

The report cites agriculture experts who say the easiest and most economical way to temporarily store grain is by keeping it on the ground. If done properly, they say -- including cooling the grain and keeping it dry -- losses can be curbed from 1 percent to 4 percent. For information from Iowa State University click here.
For information from the U.S.D.A. click here. And to see the entire Associated Press story click here.

Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2004

A rural race for president is getting even more rural at the end

Three more rural states are back on the electoral table, adding even more uncertainty to the presidential election and the tactics needed to win it, chief Washington Post political writer Dan Balz reports in a story this morning:

“The electoral map unexpectedly -- and perhaps temporarily -- expanded yesterday, with Democrats suddenly playing defense in their traditional stronghold of Hawaii and some party strategists eyeing two other states that Sen. John F. Kerry had all but written off, West Virginia and Arkansas. Strategists in both parties said they are confident that Hawaii would remain in Democratic hands on Election Day, and most predicted that Arkansas and West Virginia would stay in Republican hands. But the flurry of interest in these states in the campaign's final week underscored not only how close the race between Kerry and President Bush remains but also the combatants' desire to test every opportunity and protect against every contingency.”

In West Virginia, an unnamed Kerry adviser said of the campaign and the state’s residents, "We haven't been able to convince them that we share their values," Balz reported. But polls now show Bush’s margin to be in “low single digits,” and unions such as the United Steelworkers of America and the United Mine Workers could boost Democratic turnout and make up the deficit. Adds for Kerry are back on the air in West Virginia as of today, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

The Post reports, “Bush strategists said earlier they were surprised when Kerry seemed to give up on West Virginia, but one Bush adviser said in an e-mail that regardless of what the Democrats and their allies do in the final week, ‘They can't win Arkansas and West Virginia’.” Former President Clinton has long urged Kerry to target Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, and Clinton will campaign there Sunday, Balz reports. Recent polls in the state have shown the race to be a statistical dead heat. In Hawaii, Republican growth in the state's rural congressional district may have turned the 50th state into a swing state, one that will be the last to close its polls on Tuesday.

Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times confirms the rural nature of the election in a front-page story: "Small-town America has become a pillar of Bush's strength. But in the Upper Midwest, rural communities remain more contested ground. And that means one of the key remaining questions in this on-the-edge campaign is whether Bush can match his strength in rural areas elsewhere in the rolling countryside of the three neighboring states at the top of his target list: Iowa, Minnesota and especially Wisconsin.”

Brownstein offers some important background, tracing Democrats' problems in rural areas to moral questions: "The shifting allegiance of rural America toward the GOP was probably the single most dramatic change in the electorate from 1996, when President Clinton won reelection handily, to 2000, when Bush narrowly defeated Gore." Exit polls in 1996 showed Bill Clinton ran almost even with Bob Dole among rural and small-town voters, "but in the wake of the Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Democratic vote in small-town America collapsed in the 1998 congressional races — with Republicans amassing a resounding 24-percentage-point margin. In 2000, Bush almost exactly replicated that margin, crushing Gore with rural voters by 22 percentage points."

Coalfield turnout could turn West Virginia back into the Democratic column

Turnout in West Virginia’s coal-mining communities could make the difference in the election, Tara Tuckwilier of The Charleston Gazette reports today: “Four years ago, West Virginia’s coalfield voters were Al Gore’s strongest supporters. The problem for the former vice president was hardly any of them voted.”

Tuckwiler reports that early voting may improve turnouts in strongly Democratic coalfield counties such as Fayette and Webster. “In a region with large populations of elderly, disabled and poor people — some of whom have a hard time getting to the polls on Election Day — Democratic supporters are, in some cases, using early voting to their advantage,” Tuckwiler writes. “The United Mine Workers brought vanloads of voters to the polls on the first day of early voting in Fayette County.”

Edwards hasn't won over rural voters, a major disappointment to Kerry

Democrats who pushed Kerry to name John Edwards his running mate argued that he would help the ticket appeal to rural voters, but "there's no evidence that he's managed to pull off that admittedly difficult feat," Chris Suellentrop writes on "If Kerry loses a close election next week, the first second-guessing question has to be, Was John Edwards the right choice?"

Suellentrop cites the recent poll taken for the Center for Rural Strategies, which showed Bush leading Kerry by 12 percenatge points in 17 battleground states. "No reasonable person expected Edwards to help Kerry actually win among rural voters, but it was hoped that he would help the ticket outperform [Al] Gore's number [an 11-point deficit] and reduce the margin to single digits," Suellentrop writes. "When Edwards was criticized for 'disappearing' after the convention, the Kerry campaign explained that he had been dispatched to rural areas that were being ignored by the national media, and they assured everyone that he was wowing local media. Local voters seem to be another matter."

When Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart and pollster Stan Greenberg had a conference call with reporters Tuesday, "the one disappointment expressed by [the advisers] was Kerry's performance in rural areas. "I think we recognize that rural voters have not come to us in the way that we had hoped for in this election," Lockhart said. Greenberg blamed that for the tossup status of Iowa and New Mexico, states that Gore won.

Democrats aim for rural Virginia votes; GOP says they're mixing caviar, pork rinds

Democrats have not given up the idea of carrying Virginia for Kerry, with a last-minute push in rural areas on economic issues – laced with a dose of local culture, reports Michael Sluss of The Roanoke Times:

“A series of appearances by bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley will be part of a final-week pitch to swing voters in predominantly rural parts of the state, especially those that have struggled with job losses and other economic hardships. Republicans countered that Kerry's positions on a litany of hot-button issues will repel rural voters and keep them behind President Bush.”

No Democratic candidate for president has won Virginia since 1964, and Kerry moved about two-thirds of his Virginia field staff to more competitive states last month, “a sign that Kerry had effectively conceded the Old Dominion's 13 electoral votes to Bush. The Kerry campaign's decision to steer another $50,000 to Virginia in the campaign's closing days may not amount to much. But Larry Framme, Kerry's Virginia campaign chairman, insisted the Democrat has not surrendered the state,” the Times reports.

There was a strong hint in Sluss's story that the effort is aimed not at winning the state for Kerry, but at using the overwhelming attention on the presidential race to help U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher or even the futire political prospects of Gov. Mark Warner: “Because of campaign finance restrictions, the ads will promote Democratic candidates but not Kerry specifically.” Warner cannot seek re-election in 2005, but is a potential challenger to U.S. Sen. George Allen in 2006 and a potential national candidate -- one who likes to remind party strategists of his appeal to Republican-leaning groups such as business interests and rural voters. Also, shoring up the Democratic vote in this election could pay dividends in voters' party identification in the next election.

Bush's Virginia chairman, Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, said Democrats were engaging in "an October masquerade" and predicted that rural areas will be the key to a "comfortable" win for Bush in Virginia. "John Kerry and rural Virginia -- sort of like caviar and pork rinds," Kilgore said. "Some things just don't go together."

Sluss wrote, "Kilgore said Kerry's votes for tax-increase and gun-control legislation and against a federal ban on so-called 'partial-birth' abortion procedures will turn off rural voters. Kilgore also criticized Kerry and Edwards for missing a recent Senate vote on a federal buyout for tobacco farmers. Bush initially opposed the legislation, but signed it into law last week. Kerry and Edwards have supported the buyout."

West Virginia elector adds uncertainty to outcome, which could initially be a tie

A potentially faithless Bush elector in West Virginia is part of the dicey possibilities outlined in a Washington Post story by Dana Milbank, who starts with this scenario: "President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry deadlock on Tuesday with 269 electoral votes apiece -- but a single Bush elector in West Virginia defects, swinging the election to Kerry. Or Bush and Kerry are headed toward an electoral college tie, but the 2nd Congressional District of Maine breaks with the rest of the state, giving its one electoral vote -- and the presidency -- to Bush."

Those and other scenarios are unlikely to occur, Milbank writes, “but neither is any of them far-fetched. Tuesday's election will probably be decided in 11 states where polls currently show the race too tight to predict a winner. And, assuming the other states go as predicted, a computer analysis finds no fewer than 33 combinations in which those 11 states could divide to produce a 269 to 269 electoral tie.”

Milbank also reports, “In West Virginia, one of the state's five Republican electors, South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb, has said he might not vote for Bush (although he calls it "unlikely" he would support Kerry). And in Ohio, the political publication the Hotline reports, one of Kerry's 20 electors could be disqualified because he is a congressman.” That is U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, whose possible replacement if Kerry carries the state could be complicated by the fact that Republicans control Ohio’s electoral machinery.

Enough about electoral votes, let’s have some pie with our politics

R.W. “Johnny” Apple of The New York Times, an expert in food as well as politics, takes us on a gourmand’s tour of the battleground states in the Upper Midwest today. As usual, this Apple pie is as large as Johnny, running to four online pages, but it’s worth your time if you don’t mind making your mouth water. For a teaser, here’s one slice from Johnny’s dish, titled "In the Midwest, a sweet tooth is nonpartisan:"

“The Norske Nook in Osseo, Wis., up near the Twin Cities, is pie paradise. The cheerful, red-pinafored waitresses there will serve you apple pie if you like: standard-issue apple, Dutch apple or harvest apple. You won't be sorry if you order it. But there are far more exceptional items in the Norske Nook's repertory of more than two dozen pies, all made from scratch every morning according to the recipes of Helen Myhre, who founded the place. This is the nation's premier dairy state, remember. So go ahead, take the plunge, and order the Farm Belt favorite, sour cream raisin, made from rich, tangy, extra-thick Wisconsin sour cream, with a short, flaky crust and a fine pompadour of meringue, or maybe the lush banana cream, which won the National Pie Championship in 2003.”

Tri-Cities seeing early signs of economic boost from extension of Interstate 26

Another sort of trickle-down theory of economic development may be at work in the northwest North Carolina, east Tennessee and southwest Virginia area known as the Tri-Cities region, prompted by the completion of a northern extension of Interstate 26 into the U. S. 23 corridor.

Some 175 area leaders attended a recent regional economic development conference at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City where they heard anecdotal evidence that new business is beginning to trickle down this improved stretch running north from Asheville, N.C., through Johnson City to Interstate 81.

Completion of the road means motorists can now drive between Asheville and Johnson City in about an hour and a quarter, bypassing a twisty two-lane section of road that long discouraged interstate travelers. North Carolina Department of Transportation figures from earlier this year indicate I-26 was relatively lightly traveled during its first year, reports Mark Barrett in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Conference attendees said the road has boosted traffic across the North Carolina- Tennessee line for things like shopping and tourism, but business investment has an uphill climb. Developers are hoping to stimulate business by exploiting the area’s scenic and cultural resources, from its natural beauty to arts and crafts and bluegrass music.

MountainSouth USA, an effort to draw international tourists to the southern Appalachians, recently obtained $400,000 in federal funds to advance the effort. The conference was the second involving regional business and government leaders discussing common problems and cooperation.

Sole domestic TV manufacturer says foreign competition has forced bankruptcy

The only American-owned, domestic television manufacturer has filed for protection in U. S. Bankruptcy Court in Greenville, Tenn. Five Rivers Electronic Innovations LLC, of Greeneville, says foreign competition has forced it into Chapter 11 reorganization. Company president Tom Hopson told The Greeneville Sun, "We are intent on emerging from our reorganization as a strong and important resource for American consumers."

Hopson said foreign imports, dumping of consumer electronics made in China, and an unexpected decision by one customer to discontinue a product line, prompted the move. Hopson also told the paper foreign imports have had a dramatic impact on all U. S. consumer electronics companies, costing the nation thousands of jobs.

The Rural Calendar

Nov. 8-9 (register by tomorrow if possible): "The changing character of rural Alabama, including the increasing number of urban dwellers opting to move there, will be the focus of a conference in Montgomery next month that will look, too, at the competitiveness of the state's farm operations," the Montgomery Advertiser reports. "While not setting a firm deadline," Auburn University wants attendees to register by Thursday. Registration, along with details of the two-day conference, is available online at The cost is $95 per person, $50 for students, which includes two breakfasts, two lunches and refreshments during breaks.

Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2004

Kerry promises rural summit in an effort to erode Bush's rural base

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry said yesterdaty that if elected, he will hold a national summit to draft plans to reinvigorate the economy and health-care access in rural America. Kerry, who is trailing President Bush among rural voters, made the promise in a conference call with reporters, including Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register.

Kerry said the conference would take place at Iowa State University in Ames within 100 days of his inauguration.He said he wants to bring venture capital and management expertise to small towns, provide universal high-speed Internet capacity to rural areas, mandate renewable fuel standards and combat consolidation of agriculture in large corporations, something he claims President Bush has ignored.

While national polls show Bush and Kerry in a statistical dead heat, Bush has a healthy lead among rural voters in battleground states, according to a recent poll. Kerry told reporters, ""I think that rural America is looking for a change of direction and I believe that the summit will provide an opportunity for everybody to get connected and to share the ways in which we're going to address this agenda."

The Times Record of Fort Smith, Ark., reported that Kerry promised to invite “the best and brightest minds in the country and lay out a very specific plan of action to reinvigorate rural economies,” and that Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Bush's chairman in a state that has become competitive, called the announcement "pure, unbridled opportunism," and cited Kerry's positions on abortion and marriage as against "bedrock issues of rural America."

Huckabee's line reflects the social-issue strategy Republicans have used to convert many rural areas to the GOP in the last two decades, a phenomenon described in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch by veteran politican reporter Jo Mannies. She writes of Bollinger County in southeast Missouri, which has turned Republican because Democrats are identified as social liberals: "The label can often drown out a national Democrat's message."

DNC chairman heads nonprofit effort for rural Hispanic, American Indian vote

Rural Hispanic and American Indian communities are the target of a "virtually invisible network of nonprofit organizations engaged in get-out-the-vote operations,: according to an investigatioin by the watchdog group Center for Public Integrity..

The report says New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, chairman of this year's Democratic National Convention, is the driving force behind the effort. The first-term governor has founded both a public educational charity called the Moving America Forward Foundation and a political action committee called Moving America Forward.

University of Miami law professor Frances Hill told the Center for Public Integrity that Richardson is using "a dual-pronged strategy that, while perfectly legal, operates partly in an unregulated gray area." Hill, an expert on political nonprofits, added, "The problem is when social welfare organizations become redesigned into crypto-political committees." She maintains that is when these organizations could stray from their nonpartisan mandates.

Study ranks states' campaign-finance disclosure practices, a key for rural reporters

With the election a week away, reporters are filing their final stories about candidates' campaign finances. That is much easier in some states than in others, according to the latest comparative study of candidate campaign finance disclosure laws and practices in the 50 states, now in its second year. The studies put a premium on online access to information, a key tool for journalists in rural areas removed from state capitals where reports are filed.

Washington again ranked number first, followed California and Florida. Seventeen states' disclosure programs failed the assessment by the Campaign Disclosure Project, a collaboration of the California Voter Foundation, the Center for Governmental Studies and the UCLA School of Law, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The study evaluated four areas of campaign finance disclosure: state laws; electronic filing programs; public accessibility; and the usability of state disclosure web sites. States with the best overall campaign finance disclosure programs, in rank order from one to ten, are: Washington; California; Florida; Georgia; Illinois; Michigan; Ohio and Rhode Island (tied); Texas; and Alaska and Kentucky (tied for 10th).

Tennessee was the most-improved state, climbing from 46th place to 27th place, followed by Georgia, which moved up seventeen places to number four, and California, which improved from 9th to 2nd place.

States with the weakest programs, in rank order from 41 to 50, are: Nevada; New Hampshire; Montana; North Dakota; New Mexico and Vermont (tied); Alabama; South Dakota; South Carolina; and Wyoming.

Second open-records “audit” in Indiana reveals violations by local officials

Asked by a reporter posing as an ordinary citizen to provide a log of crime in Carroll County, Ind., a worker at the sheriff’s department responded that the fulfillment of the request would require “an act of God.”

Such official reluctance “demonstrates the uphill fight citizens face in obtaining even the most basic government information paid for with their tax dollars,” The Indianapolis Star reported Sunday, in revealing a second test of public access to government data in Indiana.

Journalists from eight newspapers canvassed Indiana in August, posing as common, unidentified citizens and solicited each county’s officials for four documents legally open to the public — a crime log, a crime incidents report, a list of public employee salaries, and court files on sex offenders. The results indicated that “many public servants still don’t understand the state law that entitles everyone equal access to records,” Star reporters Richard D. Walton and Brendan O’Shaughnessy wrote.

Only 11 of Indiana’s 92 counties provided all four documents to reporters within 24 hours. Unfulfilled were 40 percent of crime-log requests, and 57 percent of crime-incident requests and 34 percent of salary requests. However, the journalists’ requests for court files on sex offenders fared far better. Only five counties did not provide these documents. The results were somewhat better than those in the first audit, in 1997.

Walton and O’Shaughnessy report that sheriffs again were the least likely county officials to comply with records requests, despite having undergone training on making information available to the public only two weeks before the unannounced audit. Sheriff Jim Owens went so far as to threaten to jail the reporter assigned to Rush County if the reporter continued to “intimidate my staff.”

Crawford County Sheriff Richard Scott said his office’s refusal to provide the requested information was brought on by suspicion aroused by the reporter. “Sometimes in a rural community, people come in from out of town,” Scott told the Star. “If the person’s being evasive, it may just be a gut feeling.” Other sheriffs, like Cass County’s Gene Isaacs, cite staff caution about terrorism as a stumbling block to free access. “All of us (are) very edgy and apprehensive anymore with anybody,” he said.

At least 33 states have conducted such audits, said Charles Davis, executive of the Freedom of Information Center at the University of Missouri and chairman of the FOI Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists. Soon there will be at least 34. The Kentucky Press Association conducted an audit in all the state’s 120 counties last week, and the results are pending, KPA says.

“Toothless hillbillies” image of Kentucky is mainly self-imposed, survey finds

Is there a national image that envisions Kentuckians as a bunch of toothless dumb hicks, as portrayed in jokes and comments like those made by Tonight Show host Jay Leno? Not according to an “unscientific survey of
out-of-state businesses, travel writers and others,” The Courier-Journal of Louisville reports today.

The state-sponsored survey found that if those contacted had an opinion about Kentucky, they were as likely to laud the state's natural beauty as to repeat the stereotype. The informal inquiry also concluded that people who live in Kentucky are more likely to believe such remarks.

The story by Mike Lindenberger quotes state Commerce Secretary Jim Host, a former communications czar and media mogul: "People here in Kentucky have been told for so many years that we are backward and unsophisticated and undereducated that they tended to believe it. But at the same time they're willing to fight you if you say something bad about their home state.”

Host is spearheading an effort to brand and market the state saying, “We’re going to build on that, (the survey results) and foster a pride in our state." With a $14 million marketing budget, the Kentucky image campaign is designed to draw more tourists, businesses and residents to the state. State officials plan to unveil the campaign today, complete with a new state slogan and visuals for advertising Kentucky.

Public safety concerns may inhibit rural broadband over power lines

Rural Blog stalwart, former newspaper editor and Kentucky Press Association executive David Greer has brought to our attention some additional information regarding the possibility of rural areas getting better broadband Internet service through power lines, a topic mentioned here last week.

Greer points out that many utilities are unsure about BPL as a successful business model and there is also a significant issue regarding interference to existing licensed radio users, something he underscores was barely touched upon in some recent stories in the issue. For previously unreported details, click here and here.

Greer says BPL can be a source of two-way radio interference, particularly in rural areas that have not switched from low-band VHF radio frequencies used by fire, police and other public safety agencies to newer digital radio systems. “So while BPL might benefit rural areas more than urban areas, those same rural areas could see BPL disrupt their local public safety agencies more than their big city counterparts,” Greer writes. “The big city departments are more likely to have converted to more advanced two-way digital radio systems."

Study shows race and poverty are barriers to mammograms in rural areas

A new study shows breast cancer screening in rural areas is still under-utilized and there are barriers marked by major racial disparities, poor knowledge about breast cancer and screening, difficulty accessing facilities, lack of encouragement and funding.

The study will be published in the Dec. 1 issue of Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society and will be available online. For more information from ACS, click here.

Monday, Oct. 25, 2004

Bush maintains double-digit lead among rural voters in battleground states

President Bush leads John Kerry by 12 percentage points among rural voters in 17 battleground states, according to the final poll taken by the 80-55 Coalition for Rural America and the Center for Rural Strategies.

Bush led 53 to 41 percent, virtually the same margin that he scored in the groups’ last poll, in September. “Kerry's failure to trim it is one reason the presidential race remains close in many of the toss-up states, most of which have significant rural populations,” veteran political writer David Yepsen wrote in yesterday’s Des Moines Register.

The results indicate that the president is headed for re-election, Republican analyst Bill Greener said in a press release from the groups. “President Bush has solidified his vote in the rural areas,” Greener said. “I believe this will be sufficient to tip the scales in several critical states and give the president a victory overall.”

Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg said in the release that the survey showed Kerry continued to do better on economic issues among rural voters, and would gain ground among them “if the discussion moves to economic recovery in rural America.” Yepsen wrote, “According to the poll, Bush leads because rural voters are more optimistic about the economy than the nation as a whole.”

Since September, Kerry gained 7 points among rural blue-collar voters, rising to 50 from 43 percent. Among other detailed findings: Bush got 73 percent of the vote among evangelical Christians, while mainline Protestants and Catholics were about evenly split; gun owners preferred Bush while those without guns preferred Kerry.

Kerry is still competing hard for rural votes, including those of gun owners, said Dee Davis, president of the nonpartisan Center for Rural Strategies. “When I see Kerry out there the other day with a gun cradled over his arm, that's got to tell me rural votes still count,” Davis told Yepsen. “There's got to be some reason they're out there shooting geese. I don't believe it's the suburban goose hunter he was going after.”

Davis noted that rural voters have received more emphasis in the race than four years ago, when Bush enjoyed a strong margin over Al Gore in rural areas. “When we see Bush speaking in front of hay bales and Kerry walking a field with a shotgun cradled in his arm, we get the message that the rural vote is important,” Davis said. “This election could very well be determined in the next few days by the rural margins in a few states.”

The CRS Web site has the memo from Greener and Greenberg and details of the poll, along with those taken in June and September. The latest poll interviewed 513 likely voters on Oct. 19-20 in non-metropolitan counties in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Kerry, in church, appeals to undecided religious voters with message about faith

In "perhaps the most overtly religious speech of the campaign by either candidate," Kerry said Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he is "a Democrat of deep Christian faith who would unite a pluralistic society and rebuff attempts by his Roman Catholic church to outlaw abortion and stem cell research," Jim VandeHei of The Washington Post reports today. Colleague Mike Allen was in Alamogordo, N.M., where Bush told a crowd of 8,000, "It's good to be in country where the cowboy hats outnumber the ties."

Allen and VandenHei outline the candidates' strategies for the final week: Bush "promoting himself as the war president who can best protect America, Kerry with a message that is "more diffuse, stretching from stem-cell research to homeland security and the Iraq war. Aides said his speeches will become increasingly positive in tone and optimistic. . . . Some Democratic officials privately say Kerry is making a tactical mistake by not focusing more on Iraq and terrorism to counter Bush. But Kerry aides say they have specific audiences such as socially conservative African Americans, gun-owning independents and undecided Jewish voters to lock up."

The election is a state-by-state contest for electoral votes, and many of the states still up for grabs have large rural populations. "Kerry is leading or tied in three states with the most electoral votes at stake: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Yet he was forced to adjust his schedule to campaign in Michigan on Monday, where several polls show a closer-than-expected race, and Kerry aides say Bush is gaining ground in Ohio," the Post reports. "Two recent polls taken in Hawaii, a Democratic stronghold where Bush received 37 percent in 2000, shows Bush running even with Kerry; Democrats say Arkansas, once considered a virtual lock for Bush, is tightening and might entice a last-minute appearance by former president Bill Clinton, who will campaign with Kerry in Pennsylvania on Monday and will then go to Florida."

Edwards speaks in church where pastor says he's not worried about tax exemption

Sen. John Edwards, Kerry's running mate, spoke at the Allen Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church in Cincinnati, where City Councilwoman Laketa Cole "followed 'All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name' with the exhortation to 'Get those Bush-whackers out and bring in a whole new team of leadership!'," reports Greg Korte in today's Cincinnati Enquirer.

Korte writes: "To those who would complain that his church shouldn't get involved in political activity, Allen Temple Pastor Donald H. Jordan Sr. had an answer: 'I'm not worried about the (nonprofits) law. I'm asking you to support him,' he said in introducing Edwards."

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has repeatedly admonished pastors not to make such comments, warning them that their tax exemption as a nonprofit group could be at risk, and has likewise asked them not to circulate "voter guides" distributed by the Christian Coalition, saying the guides are misleading. We again encourage journalists to report on poliical activities by churches. To see the Christian Coalition voter guides, click here.

Farm appropriations could help Bush as candidates target rural voters

As Bush and Kerry push for rural votes in farm states, “Bush has an advantage Kerry doesn't - the federal purse strings,” Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register wrote Friday, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it was accelerating the distribution of $1.6 billion in payments under a variety of conservation programs. . . . Even before Friday, the USDA had been making regular announcements this month of millions of dollars in grants and loans. On Monday, the department announced it was sending $207 million in conservation funds to Ohio, one of the largest battleground states, to improve water quality.”

“Both sides are appealing to rural votes because the so-called battleground states contain a lot of rural voters," Tom Buis, a lobbyist for the National Farmers Union, which has endorsed Kerry, told Brasher. “We have often lamented before that only during the Iowa caucuses do campaigns talk agriculture issues, and then they move on.” Brasher wrote, “This time, polls show tight races in all three states, and a small shift in the rural vote could be the difference for either candidate.”

Brasher reported that the Agriculture Department usually releases conservation money after Congress passes an appropriations bill for the department, but “this year's budget was passed so late that the distribution was delayed until February, and Congress recessed for the election without finishing the USDA's 2005 appropriations bill.” He quoted Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman: “Releasing the funds earlier . . . gives farmers and ranchers more time to make sound decisions regarding conservation practices.” USDA based the amounts on versions of the pending appropriations bill.

Farmers harvest bounty from federal bonus tax depreciation; GOP may reap votes

While Democrats are targeting agricultural support, hoping to turn those unhappy with the rural economy, the GOP may be harvesting a bounty pf votes from farmers who say they’re living in a “high cotton” economy spurred on by bountiful crops, lofty cattle prices, and bonus depreciation tax breaks.

The Associated Press, in a story about the farm economy in Kansas, says many farmers there are now able to replace aging farm equipment they nursed along during hard years of drought and low prices. One farmer near Wichita says his last harvest allowed him to spend $100,000 on a new combine and other harvest equipment and he recently spent another $20,000 on a new planter. "We would have done it either way, but this deal really helped," said Whitecloud farmer Ken McCauley of the bonus depreciation tax breaks.

The tax incentives have been around since 2002 and were renewed in the last tax bill. Congress approved them to spur business investment during a recession. One farm equipment distributor says when farmers saw the fall harvest would be a good one, they nearly cleaned out all of the used harvesting equipment. He usually carries about 20 used combines, now down to six between his two stores as harvest winds down. He says sales so far this year are up 45 percent over a year ago.

The turnaround in the Kansas farm economy began the summer of 2003 with a near-record wheat harvest. All sectors of the state's huge beef industry improved this year, notwithstanding the mad cow scare. Pork prices rose as the United States substituted more pork to replace banned beef for exports. Milk prices remained surprisingly strong for much of the year. The 2004 wheat harvest, except for drought-plagued northwest Kansas, was generally average throughout most of the state. But fall-harvested crops such as corn, soybeans and sorghum were bountiful almost everywhere this fall.

Highway reconstruction near 212-year-old cemetery prompts protest in Kentucky

A reconstruction project on in front of a cemetery founded in 1792 has raised the ire of residents in Kentucky, who are pointing fingers at Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and his wife Linda, who has supported historical preservation projects in the state -- including redevelopment of the city of Bloomfield near the road project.

The road work will flatten a hill near the upper entrance of the cemetery, closing the entrance permanently, but state highway officials say the project would not affect the historic integrity of the area. The Kentucky Standard of Bardstown reported thata group of 10 to15 protestors picketed the site recently, carrying signs that read "How many curves on Highway 55 -- Why was this one chosen?" "No money, No voice" and "212 years to create -- one week to destroy." The reconstruction work began Oct. 11.

Opponents of the route have questioned the friendship between Linda Bruckheimer and David Morgam, director of the Kentucky Heritage Council. Morgan told the newspaper that he is friends with hundreds of people across the state with the same interest in preservation.

In late September, a new fund to help preserve historic properties in Kentucky was announced at the opening session of the National Preservation Conference in Louisville. Major donors to the Kentucky Preservation Fund include the Bruckheimers. The fund is to provide matching grants to support preservation projects throughout the state, especially in cases where "seed money" is needed to study the feasibility of preserving endangered structures.

The Rural Calendar

Nov. 3-5: Kentucky Women in Agriculture Conference: A public policy institute and micro-processor workshop will be offered pre-conference on Nov. 3.  The conference begins at 9 a.m. EST Nov. 4 and concludes at 2 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center in Louisville.  More information is available online at, by calling (859) 257-7775 or by emailing Kim Henken at

Friday, Oct. 22, 2004

Two more Sundays until the election; what are the churches doing?

A week ago, The Rural Blog reported that the mobilization of evangelical voters was broader and more organized than ever, and quoted a religious critic of the Religious Right as saying the effort is “unparalleled in its energy, its sophistication and its stealth nature.” We’re not saying it’s stealthy, but we do not think political activity among people of faith, on both the right and left, has been covered as much as it should have been at the grass roots -- by community media who know the landscape and have the best access to churches and other religious groups.

Especially in the 11 states that will be voting on constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage, churches and their clergy are more active than ever, and they are making news. We think rural journalists should cover them, even to the extent of listening to sermons by politically active pastors of large congregations. (When your blogger went to church to cover a politician, he felt no obligation to notify anyone of his presence. When he did so to cover the clergy, he felt obliged to introduce himself to someone greeting visitors. You may disagree, and individual situations will differ.)

With the exception of personal appearances by politicians in churches (largely Democrats appearing before African Americans), the most visible form of political activity in churches is often the distribution of “voter guides” by the Christian Coalition, state affiliates of the Focus on the Family organization, and other groups. These guides have long been criticized as misleading, and this year is no exception.

For example, Sen. John Kerry did not answer the Coalition’s questionnaire, but the group’s voter guide lists responses for him on 10 items, based on his votes or public statements, and “no response” for the other five. That gives the impression that Kerry answered some questions but not others, such as one about funding of faith-based organizations. “In fact, Kerry announced several weeks ago that he supports faith-based funding as long as constitutional safeguards are observed,” said Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a leading critic of the Coalition.

“These guides are clearly partisan propaganda,” the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said in a press release. “Any church that distributes the Christian Coalition's literature is advancing a political agenda and endangering its tax exemption. It is also participating in political dirty tricks, something no house of worship should be involved with.”

Americans United says it has delivered that warning in letters to 80,000 churches, but the James Madison Center for Free Speech, based in Terre Haute, Ind., disagrees, and says AU is trying to “silence churches and pastors about the great social and moral issues of our time” and is offering free legal advice to churches and clergy on the issue. The Coalition has defended its guides, saying they are truthful.

While the Coalition's guides have created the most controversy, those distributed by Focus on the Family’s state affiliates may reach more people, because they are readily available on the Internet, are distributed at retail outlets and other non-church locations, and even published in local newspapers as news, not advertising. To see the guides, click here.


The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues examined voter guides from several affiliates of Focus on the Family, with special focus on those from Kentucky and North Carolina, two of the states in which academic partners of the Institute are located.

In some cases, the Minnesota Family Institute guide on the presidential race defines issues in shorthand favorable to Bush, much like the Christian Coalition guides. For example, its first issue is a ban on partial-birth abortion, which Congress has already passed. The guide says Kerry opposed the ban, but does not add a countervailing fact -- that he said he would have voted for the ban if it included an exception to protect the health of the mother.

The North Carolina Family Policy Council guide is evenhanded, though some candidates objected to its final question, “Should an individual’s personal religious beliefs influence the decisions he or she makes while serving in public office?” In our opinion, this is not a question well suited to one of the three answers the council allowed – yes, no, or undecided – because the more important question may be how those beliefs influence decisions.

The Family Trust Foundation of Kentucky guide contains no such question and allows candidates to indicate their degree of support or opposition, and add a brief comment. While the selection of issues reflects the group’s cultural concerns, its guides have been notable for their evenhandedness. However, this year’s edition pushes the group’s arguments in favor of a ballot proposal that would elevate Kentucky’s existing ban on same-sex marriage to the state constitution and deny legal recognition to relationships similar to marriage. It says a “no” vote would “help create same-sex marriage in Kentucky,” a highly unlikely possibility given the state’s cultural conservatism, in our opinion. For a more balanced description, prepared by the staff of the General Assembly, click here.

For our researchers’ detailed analysis of the Kentucky and North Carolina guides, click here.

Sinclair program set to run on stations tonight; Kerry won't participate

Here's the final chapter, we hope, in the saga of Sinclair Broadcast Group and the film attacking John Kerry for his Vietnam War protests, with boiled-down sumamries and links from SPJ Press Notes:

Sinclair said its special, A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media, will focus "in part on the use of documentaries and other media to influence voting, which emerged during the 2004 political campaigns, as well as on the content of certain of these documentaries," Doug Halonen wrote in TV Week. Kerry declined Sinclair's invitation to participate, with a campaign spokesman saying, "Sinclair's latest spin on this premeditated political attack is just a panicked attempt to appear fair and reasonable."

Sinclair's plan " was the latest example of a disturbing trend: ideological programming that blurs the old distinction between news and opinion," Christopher Hanson wrote in the Baltimore Sun. "Reporters who have left the network complain that news stories were edited to reinforce themes of the commentary," which is conservative. But the Wall Street Journal editorialized that "the liberals in the media might . . . eventually rue the day" because the reaction to the company's initial plan went beyond advertiser boycotts to another form of economic pressure, the threat of a shareholder lawsuit. Sinclair has 62 stations, more than any other group, and a large rural audience.

Nebraska funding inequities impede school children's performance

In a study mirroring legal and government reviews of schools in other predominantly rural and poverty stricken states, a Nebraska review of its schools, recently released, has reached similar conclusions; that students in poor, ethically mixed and under-funded systems do not perform as well as their more well-heeled counterparts.

A national non-profit rural education organization, called The Rural School and Community Trust, concluded that Nebraska school systems with the lowest test scores serve a greater number of students facing socio-economic barriers to academic achievement and had to teach them with fewer dollars.

The study says that while these students face greater challenges, they have a lower local property tax base producing less revenue, receive less funding overall, spend less on teachers and less overall per pupil. The study’s author and Rural Trust state policies studies manager, Jerry Johnson, who is based in Ashland, Ky, says, “Money matters, and in Nebraska, not enough money is going where it is needed most.”

The study also concluded the lowest achieving schools serve communities with more students who live in poverty, lower household incomes, fewer adults with high school diplomas, more students still learning English, and more minority students. The three-year inquiry compared funding and students in 256 Nebraska school systems. The three largest systems, and five of the smallest were excluded to balance the data and demographics compared.

Five model small high schools in poverty-stricken rural areas and small towns in the South, including two in Kentucky, are beating the odds to outperform most other schools in their states, according to the Rural School and Community Trust. They area: Central High School, in Lowndes County, Ala., Frederick Fraize High School, Cloverport, Ky, Sicily Island High School, Sicily Island, La., Shaw High School, Shaw, Miss. and Phelps Jr./Sr.
High school in Phelps, Ky.

A 15 page report on the study’s results was prepared by a Southern Rural High School Study Initiative sponsored by the Southern Governor’s Association and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Beating the Odds is available online at

In a similar Kentucky education reform movement, some fifteen years ago, a state study, resulting public outcry and legislative response led to passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act signed into law in 1990. KERA is seen as the impetus for test score improvements throughout the 90s. As in Kentucky, the Nebraska reforms were prompted by lawsuits.

Small, rural schools forced to drop football because of declining enrollments

"As rural schools across Montana slowly lose students, venerable athletic programs are at risk," Great Falls Tribune Sports Editor George Giese reported from Chinook, on the plains about 30 miles south of the Canadian border, where "Friday nights aren't as noisy or as bright as they used to be . . . This is the first autumn in the history of Chinook High School that the Sugarbeeters aren't fielding a varsity football team. Keeping students enthused about football is one problem. But the biggest concern is the high school's rapidly falling enrollment."

Giese wrote, "Chinook is among the many rural towns in Montana struggling to maintain its population. The town shrank about 8 percent from 1990 to 2000, from 1,512 to 1,386, according to U.S. Census figures. But — as is the case elsewhere as Baby Boomers age — school enrollment dropped more dramatically. . . . While many small towns in northern and eastern Montana struggle to maintain their populations, it's extremely rare for Class B schools — with enrollments roughly between 130 and 330 students — to fold up a varsity football program. . . . School officials were concerned for the safety of an undermanned team that would be playing against opponents with 40 to 80 players on their rosters." The school may drop to Class C and play eight-man football.

Omaha farm credit bank drops plans to leave system and sell to Dutch bank

Farm Credit Services of America has backed out of an agreement to merge with a privately held Dutch bank because, FCS says, delays and criticism quashed the deal. The Omaha bank's plan to sell to Rabobank would have taken it out of the national cooperative farm loan system, the first departure since the 1980s.

FCS had announced its intention to merge with Rabobank to free itself from the federal system's restrictions on lending. Those restrictions, among other things, bar offering home loans in communities with populations over 2,500. Congressional members sounded an alarm, claiming one member leaving might jeopardize the entire system, created by Congress in 1916 to ensure farmers and ranchers have a reliable credit source.

Biologists concerned about decline of bobwhite quail populations in Southeast

The bobwhite quail is disappearing in the Southeast but could come back -- and boost rural economies -- "if landowners are willing to make changes in the way they manage their crops and timber to protect the birds' habitat, biologists say," Elliott Minor of The Associated Press reported from Ashburn, Ga., at a field day devoted to the restoration of Georgia's official game bird.

Quail have declined as they have lost habitat, "primarily from development and modern farming practices, for a 70 percent drop in the Southeast's quail population over the past 20 years," Minor wrote. "Biologists cite the elimination of hedgerows and weedy strips between fields, and the reliance on pesticides that don't discriminate between true crop pests and bugs that quail eat." Biologists said quail "need three things: weeds, briars and bugs," but they can coexist with " common Southern crops such as corn, peanuts and cotton."

Georgia offers financial incentives for landowners in 15 of the state's 159 counties to develop, restore or maintain quail habitat. "We are losing $45 million a year associated with quail hunting," said Reggie Thackston, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologist who directs the program. There are environmental concerns, too. "Quail are an indicator species," Thackston said. "Where quail are in decline, all the other species are declining in that environment."

Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia lead nation in obesity; rurality a factor

Trust for America’s Health, a Washington-based group seeking more emphasis on disease prevention, released a report this week that ranked the states in obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Five states with large rural populations were the most obese: Alabama, Mississippi, West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky, in that order.

Mississippi had the worst overall rating for the three measurements, ranking first in diabetes and second in hypertension. West Virginia was third in diabetes and second in hypertension. Trust for America's Health says "obesity is the cause of 400,000 deaths each year and is poised to overtake tobacco use as the leading cause of preventable death," said a story in today's Tuscaloosa News.

"CDC data has shown a steadily growing obesity problem in Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia, said Dr. Monica Baskin, assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health," News Washington Correspondent Bonnie Gibbs wrote.

"What’s similar in those three states is that they all tend to have large rural areas," Baskin told the News. “People have limited access to physical activity; they don’t have as good access to medical care. Then there are the diet patterns of people from the South: the carbohydrates, the fried foods, cakes, things with added sugar. That perhaps may help explain the obesity."

Free “Medicare and Medicine on Main Street” journalism workshop in St. Louis

The Foundation for American Communications is presenting a free workshop for journalists on changes in health-care economics. Some of the nation's foremost academics and health experts make up the faculty.

Government reporters, health reporters, science writers and business editors are encouraged to attend this workshop, presented by FACS in association with the Society of Professional Journalists and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The workshop is scheduled to begin with a continental breakfast at 8:30 Monday, Nov. 15, and conclude at 3:30 p.m.

Some of the issues to be presented: Understanding the Shifting Economics of Medicine; Impact and Cost of New Treatments; Understanding How the New Medicare Rules Affect Local Consumers; and The Rising Cost of Drugs: Pharmaceutical Maker vs. Distributor vs. Seller vs. Consumer.

The distinguished faculty include Elliot K. Fishman, M.D., FACR, Professor of Radiology and Oncology, The Johns Hopkins Hospital; Director, Diagnostic Imaging and Body CT, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; David Webster, Ph.D., a pharmaceutical economist and president of a consulting firm that works with the industry; Lanis Hicks, Ph.D., Director of the Health Services Management Program, University of Missouri and Harry Moody, Ph.D., Director of Academic Affairs for AARP, Washington, DC and author of over 100 articles and book chapters on aging.

There is no cost for the workshop, which includes lunch, but registration is required. To get further information and to register, go or call FACS at 626-584-0010.

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2004

Battle for rural voters continues to rage as presidential race hurtles to a climax

Rural voters remain a focus of the presidential campaign, as many stories this week around the country have noted. Tomorrow, the Rural Blog will offer analysis and ideas for covering some grass-roots activities.

A Minneapolis Star Tribune story by Rene Sanchez began with activists for Preident Bush in Wisconcsin “deluging dairy farmers with phone calls,” except at milking time, and said “the same grass-roots battle is raging across rural America.” Sanchez explains: “Strategists in both campaigns have little doubt that Bush will win the rural vote, which is about a quarter of the national electorate. But both sides say he may have to win big, as he did in 2000, and that might not be easy.”

Polls in rural areas of 17 battleground states for the Center for Rural Strategies showed Bush leading by 8 percentage points in June and by 13 in mid-September. The center, with offices in Whitesburg, Ky., and Norris, Tenn., plans to release its final poll on Saturday.

Star Tribune Washington correspondent Kevin Diaz wrote yesterday that the election “could be decided by a handful of farm states, including Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. Although farmers are a dwindling voting bloc in the United States, some of the most crucial turf in the remaining weeks of the election is in farm country.” Diaz’s story examines the candidates’ records and stands on farm issues.

Last night, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports today, Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards told voters in northeast Minnesota’s Iron Range that he and Kerry would “preserve our rural way of life,” including “ your ability to hunt and fish is protected; making sure that you can go in the national parks and national forests and ride on a snowmobile.”

This morning, Kerry drove home the point about guns, and tried to blunt his 'F' rating by the National Rifle Association, by shooting geese in eastern Ohio. Lois Romano of The Washington Post reports from the field, "Kerry also has been talking about his Catholic faith more, and on Sunday he will give a speech on values. Guns and hunting rights are a big issue in the middle of the country -- and in a number of the battleground states where the race is closest."

The main regions up for grabs in Ohio are the rural southeast and the Columbus area, and both campaigns are anxious to know which one the Columbus Dispatch will endorse, if either. The Dispatch has not backed a Democrat in any Presidential election since Woodrow Wilson's victory in 1916, but "Our endorsement is up for grabs," Editor Ben Marrison told Editor and Publisher.

After a series of editorials that criticized both candidates but were tougher on Bush, the Dispatch and Publisher John F. Wolfe are believed to be wavering in their support for the president.  The final endorsement, likely to appear in this Sunday's edition, could wield major influence in the treasured battleground state of Ohio, E&P says.

Newspapers vocal on national candidates while silent on key FOI issues

A Editor and Publisher story by Mark Fitzgerald, citing E&P’s exclusive tally of presidential endorsements, says the nearly 90 dailies it surveyed had endorsed either President George W. Bush or Sen. John Kerry, unusually passionately, but says Fitzgerald, “You'll search pretty much in vain for any mention of the issues that directly impact the historic mission of newspapers to tell American citizens fairly, fearlessly, and frankly what their national government is doing in their name.”

The article decries a scarcity of discussion on key journalism issues such as“Attorney General John Ashcroft's order to bureaucrats that turns federal Freedom of Information (FOI) law on its head by requiring citizens to prove to government why information must be public, rather than putting that burden on government, where it belongs.”

Fitzgerald’s report, What's Sadly Missing from All Those Presidential Endorsements, says they found little newspaper discussion of how the Patriot Act has removed whole areas of public information from public scrutiny. E&P says it did not find a single editorial about whether L. Paul Bremer III, the chief of the former American occupation authority, was right to issue censorship rules for the Iraqi press and enforce them by shutting down several newspapers. The Iraqi insurgency intensified after Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr's paper was closed.

Fitzgerald did find some notable exceptions. He wrote, “It's heartening to see the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) pressing the Bush and Kerry campaigns to answer its questionnaire on freedom of information issues, even though the organization was stiffed the last time around by both George W. Bush and Al Gore. E&P drew particular attention to Steve Key, the general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, who lays out practical tips for assessing a candidate's position on FOI and other openness issues. It says Key’s advice is valuable because it concentrates on evaluating local candidates, whose attitudes towards government transparency have the most immediate impact on the average citizen.

SPJ questions Sinclair ethics, praises employee who objected to anti-Kerry film

The Society of Professional Journalists said today that it supports the former chief of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Washington bureau “for having the courage to stand up to his employer’s questionable ethics.” Jon Lieberman was fired after telling the Baltimore Sun that he disagreed with Sinclair’s decision to incorporate an anti-Kerry film into a news broadcast on its stations.

Sinclair’s stock price rebounded “after it appeared to reduce how much of the film it would show tomorrow night, Bill Carter wrote in The New York Times today.

Meanwhile, Arizona Sen. John McCain said when asked about the controversy, “This is an issue that results when you have media concentration, which I have been opposed to." He noted at a fund-raiser for Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., that Sinclair has more stations, 62, than any other group, the Philadelphia Inquirer said.

Terry Anderson seeks legacy as a state legislator in rural southeastern Ohio

Terry Anderson, best known as the Associated Press correspondent whom Islamic radicals held hostage for nearly seven years, is running for the state Senate as a Democrat in southeastern Ohio. Anderson “is editing his obituary,” writes Carl Chancellor of the Akron Beacon Journal:

"Obit writers are pretty stubborn people, and I know the first line they will write about me will start out: Terry Anderson, ex-hostage," said Anderson, who once wrote obits. "I'm hoping to do something with the rest of my life to at least push that (ex-hostage) down to the second paragraph."

Chancellor’s story was circulated by Knight-Ridder Newspapers. The headline for it in the Kansas City Star read, “Terry Anderson seeks legacy of rural public servant over foreign hostage.”

Diverse rural Hispanic vote not on last-minute presidential battleground circuit

The Hispanic vote in some rural areas, according to a recent article in the California Hispanic newspaper Vida en el Valle (Life in the Valley) reflects the diverse views of this fastest growing ethnic group in the U. S. While many of these areas are not the focus of last minute campaigns in key "battleground" states, indications are that voter turnout, uninspired in the primary, cannot be taken for granted by major political parties Nov. 2.

The story focuses on the southern California community of Culter-Orosi, which sits in Tulare County between Visalia and Dinuba, a predominately Latino area with 15,000 residents. The Tulare County Registar of Voters office reports about half the area's 4,000 registered votes went to the polls in the March primary.

Reporter Luz Pena focuses on residents Romelia Castillo, a local school board candidate, who is leaning toward presidential nominee John Kerry and Erika Halo who says she will vote for Bush because of his strong family values. Castillo is critical of President Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq. Pea reports many rural Hispanic voters are keenly aware of issues and races from the local to the national level.

The Rural Calendar

Dozens of rural lenders, developers, investors and representatives of cities and counties in Ohio are expected to gather in Bellville, Ohio, tomorrow to hear experts discuss resources and strategies for economic development and housing investment in the Buckeye State's rural communities. Congressmen Mike Oxley and Bob Ney, respectively, will introduce panels on rural development and investment, and affordable housing resources. The luncheon speaker, Deputy Agriculture Secretary James Moseley, will address rural policy issues. For details, go to

Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2004

Towns consider suing companies that got tax breaks, then took jobs elsewhere

Tim Egan, rural correspondent for The New York Times, writes today about “losers in the increasingly cutthroat game of using tax breaks to keep or attract jobs,” Galesburg, Ill. and Putnam County, Fla. “Across the country, communities are competing with one another to offer the most lucrative incentives to lure good payrolls, from the giant assembly jobs at Boeing to small centers for processing credit cards, despite some studies that question the effectiveness of such tactics.” For the full story, click here.

Putnam County “gave $4.5 million in cash and tax breaks to attract a call center owned by Sykes Enterprises, only to have it pull up stakes this month after less than five years in Palatka,” Egan reports.

In Galesburg, the district attorney “wants to sue Maytag to recoup what he says were excess tax breaks in a broad package of incentives to keep the company here. Much of the money, he said, came from a purse that would have gone to schools in this economically fragile community,” Egan writes. “ Maytag says it honored its agreement and took just the breaks to which it was entitled.”

Galesburg residents are divided on then issue, worrying that they might scare off other employers. “Residents say the current civic gut check may determine whether the town becomes another casualty of the force that has devastated communities throughout much of Middle America,” Egan reports.

“Next door in Iowa, officials are keeping one eye on the fight while trying to determine whether they should try to recoup up to $25 million in public money given to business partnerships that have not lived up to their agreements to increase employment. In New York, State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi said in an audit this year that a program that gives millions of dollars in tax breaks to businesses that promise to create work ended up rewarding some businesses that lost jobs. Other state officials disputed those findings.”

New York Times takes note of proposed change in bank-examination rules

On the last day for people to submit formal comments on the proposal, The New York Times ran a story today about the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s plan to change bank-examination rules under the Community Reinvestment Act -- a move that would exempt most banks from the current requirements and, advocates for rural residents say, reduce lending in rural and low-income areas. The Times follows the lead of National Public Radio, which did a story yesterday, and The Rural Blog, which has covered this story since the blog's inception in August.

The Times story says in part, "The law's detractors say that while the Community Reinvestment Act may have initially been a well-intentioned response to limits on loans in poor neighborhoods, it has become irrelevant because small banks now recognize that community reinvestment is critical for their survival. In addition, these critics point out that through consolidation and inflation, the average size of banks has grown since the law's inception, so that the change does not substantially affect the amount of bank assets covered by the law."

Reporter David Chen says the debate has reached the presidential race, with John Kerry saying he strongly opposes the changes and accusing the Bush administration of choosing "favors for special interests over opportunity for millions of average Americans." . Chen adds, "Vice President Cheney demurred when asked about the proposed changes in August at a campaign rally in Iowa."

Bush honing rural message and keeping focus on rural voters

Voters in the heartland, especially so-called Gore Country Democrats, can expect a more tailored message from the Bush/Cheney campaign, according to a major campaign strategist.

Reporting on a conference call with Matthew Dowd, the Duluth News Tribune says, “The campaign the campaign will be further honing its message for rural voters.”

Dowd told the paper, "We think rural issues are a very big part of our constituency. Over the course of the next 10 days, you will be hearing more specific communications."

Bush and Vice President Cheney plan to spend two-thirds or more of their remaining time in "Gore states," or states such as Minnesota that voted for Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000, Dowd said.

Sinclair says only parts of anti-Kerry film will be shown, and not on all its stations

Sinclair Broadcast Group says some 40 of its 62 television stations, many of which have a large rural audience, will not run in its entirety a documentary critical of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s antiwar activities after he returned form Vietnam, and that it was never its intention that the stations do so, as has been reported, CNN.Com reports today.

However, a Washington Post story today says the company changed its plans "under mounting political, legal and financial pressure" and quoted CEO David Smith: "The experience of preparing to air this news special has been trying for many of those involved. ... The company and many of its executives have endured personal attacks of the vilest nature, as well as calls on our advertisers and our viewers to boycott our stations and on our shareholders to sell their stock."

Sinclair issued the clarification after two weeks of intense criticism from Democrats, threats of advertising boycotts and license challenges, and the company’s own Washington bureau chief, who was fired Monday following his criticism of running the film as part of a news program,.

CNN reports Sinclair says its intentions are to air a special news program, called "A POW Story," that will include the documentary's allegations against Kerry in a "broader discussion." The 40 Sinclair stations that will air the program include stations in the presidential swing states of Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin.

For more details and links to other stories on the Sinclair flap, go to SPJ Press Notes at For a Baltimore Sun story debriefing the Washington bureau chief about his career at Sinclari, click here.

Bush’s secret weapon? The Scots-Irish, says their most recent biographer

James Webb, a former secretary of the Navy and the author of Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, wrote in a column in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that the key to President Bush’s electoral success is his appeal to one of America’s largest ethnic groups but possibly its most ill-defined -- the Scots-Irish, perhaps 30 million strong.

We think it’s somewhat broader than that, but first we’ll let Webb recount the human geography of his people: “The overwhelming majority -- 95% -- migrated to the Appalachians in a series of frontier communities that stretched from Pennsylvania to northern Alabama and Georgia. They eventually became the dominant culture of the South and much of the Midwest. … The Scots-Irish comprised a large percentage of Reagan Democrats, and contributed heavily to the "red state" votes that gave Mr. Bush the presidency in 2000. The areas with the highest Scots-Irish populations include New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, northern Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas, northern Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, southern Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and parts of California, particularly Bakersfield. "factory belt," especially around Detroit, also has a strong Scots-Irish mix. The Scots-Irish political culture is populist and inclusive, which has caused other ethnic groups to gravitate toward it. Country music is its cultural emblem. It is family-oriented. Its members are values-based rather than economics-based: they often vote on emotional issues rather than their pocketbooks.”

In our view, Webb’s broad description includes not just the Scots-Irish but the Borderers of Northern England, who fought and intermarried with the Scots before their waves of migration to and from Northern Ireland. One of Webb’s prime sources, the 1989 book Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fisher, says in a footnote on p. 609 that the early estimates of Scots-Irish immigration to America were inflated by the inclusion of “Anglo-Irish, Anglo-Scots, or English Borderers.” Fisher said these people created the culture of the "Backcountry," one of four great folkways that shaped America. The others were the Puritans of New England, the Royalists or Cavaliers of Virginia (some of whom made it to the Kentucky Bluegrass) and the Quakers of Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic.

Webb glancingly acknowledges that point as he reminds us that the Backcountry people created a distinct culture that remains a strong force in America. “The Bush campaign proceeds outward from a familiar mantra: strong leadership, success in war, neighbor helping neighbor, family values, and belief in God. Contrary to many analyses, these issues reach much farther than the oft-discussed Christian Right. The president will not win re-election without carrying the votes of the Scots-Irish, along with those others (emphasis added) who make up the "Jacksonian" political culture that has migrated toward the values of this ethnic group. At the same time, few key Democrats seem even to know that the Scots-Irish exist, as this culture is so adamantly individualistic that it will never overtly form into one of the many interest groups that dominate Democratic Party politics. Indeed, it can be fairly said that Al Gore lost in 2000 because the Democrats ignored this reality and the Scots-Irish enclaves of West Virginia and Tennessee turned against him.”

Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2004

NPR profiles plight of rural needy in light of proposed bank-exam rule change

A story today on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” explored the impact of the federal Community Reinvestment Act's requirement to serve "rural and low-income places" and proposed changes in bank-examination regulations under the act, which are favored by banks and opposed by activists in such areas. The comment period for the regulations expires tomorrow.

The NPR report focused on Iberia Parish, La., where a 47-year-old single mother who works as a clerk in a thrift store says CRA-encouraged loans enabled her to afford a new three bedroom, two bath home. Otherwise, the woman told reporter Howard Berkes, she “probably never” would have been able to purchase the house. “I had no savings, no down payment, no nothing, nothing to back me up,” she said. The report said federal projects, local community groups and local banks (encouraged by the CRA) have helped finance 150 such homes for south Louisiana low-income families over the past 30 years.

The CRA requires rural banks to offer service, make loans, and invest in poor and rural places. Under the rule proposed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., most FDIC-regulated banks could choose among the categories. They would not have to focus on poor or minority areas, and would have less paperwork.

Iberia Parish community activist Lorna Borg calls the CRA “the bear in the room” when she goes to banks for help for the poor. “Take that bear out of the room and the president of the bank cannot go to his board or his stockholders and say ‘the Bear’ made me do it,” she told Berkes. “The Bear has made a real big difference,” Borg said. Without the stricter CRA requirements now in place, banks would have to give into pressure from investors to produce greater short-term profits, she said.

However, a Louisiana banker told Berkes that bankers would continue to invest in their communities because“It’s good business. If you don’t save your community, there will be no community to invest in.” He said bankers would still be scrutinized, especially if community activists complain to federal regulators that they have failed to serve their communities.

Broadband over power lines could boost availability in rural areas

The federal government is “tempting electric utilities to offer broadband services” through power lines, reports. The move that could lead to wider availability of broadband in rural areas, according to several reports, but Wired cautions: “It's unclear, however, just how long it will take for such services to become widespread.”

“The number of broadband subscribers in rural areas and small cities often do not outweigh the cost to networks and service providers of setting up service in such areas,” reports CNET

Wired reports, “Right now, cable modem and digital subscriber line, or DSL, services hold a virtual duopoly over wired broadband services to the home. Regulators said they hope Wednesday's order will rapidly lead to a third alternative entering the race for broadband customers, which could help drive down prices and increase speeds and features offered.”

The new service is called BPL, for “broadband over power lines.” A Federal Communciations rule enacted last week, in cooperation with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, removes some technical barriers and regulatory questions to the service. It is already offered by a few utilities, including Cincinnati-basd Cinergy, which works with Current Communications Group of Germantown, Md. “Current Communications has plans to deploy BPL services covering about 24 million customers of smaller municipally and cooperatively owned electric utilities serving largely rural areas,” Wired reports.

The Cincinnati Business Courier reports, “Cinergy and Current also have formed a second joint venture to explore the possibility of working with municipal-owned power companies and rural electric cooperatives to offer high-speed Internet to their customers.”

From bovine to power line, Wisconsin farmers top renewable energy projects

A report from the Wisconsin Ag Connection says the state’s farmers have once again topped the nation in capturing the most Department of Agriculture grants for renewable energy projects in rural areas. The report cites RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization that seeks greater use of locally available energy resources. According to Director Michael Vickerman, 27 state farms and rural businesses will receive more than $6 million in federal grants for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvement.

Vickerman credits pro-active moves by the farmers, saying, "Their contractors got started well in advance, and several agencies worked together to help develop the projects and write the grants." He said the farmers understand renewable energy development results in high demand value-added products.

Wisconsin Ag Connection reported last month that 19 of the Wisconsin grants will support systems that capture methane from livestock manure. The methane fuels an engine that turns an electricity-producing generator. The other grants will fund projects in bioenergy, energy efficiency, solar electrical production, and wind generation of electricity.   The grants are authorized under the 2002 Farm Bill.  

Sinclair fires reporter who objected to running anti-Kerry film as news; flap grows

Sinclair Broadcast Group fired its Washington bureau chief yesterday, after the employee said the company had “indefensible . . . clear intentions to sway the election” by ordering its 62 stations to air "Stolen Honor," a film attacking John Kerry for his protests against the Vietnam War.

Jon Lieberman told CNN last night that he had been fired for his criticism, which was reported yesterday by The (Baltimore) Sun. “I couldn't be part of this special and call it news when what it is is political propaganda," he told CNN’s Paula Zahn.

Lieberman spoke to The Sun after a staff meeting in which Sinclair employees were told that the program would be presented as news and prepared by the news staff, not the group's commentary unit, the Sun and the Los Angeles Times reported. “Leiberman, 29, is a Baltimore native who has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has worked at stations in Topeka, Kan., and Albuquerque, N.M., as well as Sinclair's WBFF in Baltimore,” the Sun said.

"One person familiar with the situation said Sinclair executives told news employees in the six-hour meeting Sunday that the ad-free broadcast would probably now include about 15 minutes of 'Stolen Honor,' as well as several news pieces about the controversy, the Vietnam-era military service of Kerry and President Bush, and why voters should care the about 30-year-old events," wrote Elizabeth Jensen of the Times.

Sinclair Vice President Mark Hyman said in a statement reported by Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post: "Everyone is entitled to their personal opinion, including Jon Leiberman. We are disappointed that Jon's political views caused him to speak to the press about company business."

Kerry’s campaign is demanding equal time, the Post reported Friday, but National’s Eliza Newlin Carney wrote that the law cited by the campaign actually gives Bush, not Kerry, the right to equal time because "Kerry is the one actually appearing in the documentary."

A group called Frontiers of Freedom, based in Oakton, Va., said in a press release that Sinclair should stick to its guns and uphold its First Amendment rights and those of Vietnam POWs “why have never been able to tell their story.” The film is scheduled to air on Sinclair stations this week, beginning Thursday.

The controversy has continued to get wide media coverage, perhaps building an audience for the film but putting intense scrutiny on Sinclair, a company that has more TV stations than any other group but serves mainly medium-size markets, many with large rural audiences. "After several stock analysts expressed concerns over Sinclair's plans, the company's shares dropped nearly 8% on Monday on Nasdaq, closing at a 2-year low of $6.49," Jensen reported.

The scrutiny has also focused on the company's journalism. “Members of Congress and independent media groups have questioned the company's willingness to respect ‘localism,’ a section of federal law that requires media companies to cover local issues and provide an outlet for local voices,” the Chicago Tribune reported in one of many stories for which Sinclair refused to comment.

“Sinclair's practices as a television operator have also been criticized for removing local control. The company increasingly uses ‘distance-casting,’ whereby local news, sports and weather is uniformly broadcast to its many stations from Sinclair's headquarters in suburban Baltimore. Television viewers receive on-camera reports from ‘News Central’ that appear to be coming from local stations. Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman delivers conservative commentary that must be carried on local news reports."

Meanwhile, the controversy has inspired U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., to revive legislation to limit media ownership, reports Marilyn Geewax of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. That issue was mentioned by New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen in his online column, PressThink:

"In a commercial empire it makes no sense to invite a storm like 'Stolen Honor.' But imagine a firm built for that sort of storm. Is Sinclair Broadcasting a media company with a political interest, or a political interest that's gotten hold of a media company and intends to use it? There are plenty of signs that a different animal is emerging. Sinclair Broadcast's inexact plan to air 'Stolen Honor' in the weeks before the election is an unprecedented move, and it signals the arrival of a new combination in broadcasting: a political empire
made of television stations. Sinclair has been saying for some time that it intends to be that: something new on the American scene. The empire it has assembled so far reaches 25 percent of the U.S., and it
can increase that portion by buying up more stations. Or newspapers. Will it be allowed to buy more stations? Will it be allowed to buy your local newspaper when it already owns your local Fox station?
Ultimately that is a political question-- regulators, courts, Congress, the White House will decide. It has a great deal to do with who wins in November."

Monday, Oct. 18, 2004

Broadband funds for rural areas include projects in upscale Texas suburbs

A plan to reroute to Texas suburbs nearly $23 million dollars in federal funds earmarked to bring broadband Internet services to America’s rural areas has drawn criticism from rural advocates and Democratic leaders. The Department of Agriculture aid would help more than 9,000 homes and businesses near Houston, most of them represented by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Tex.

Farm and telephone groups question giving the money to ETS Telephone & Subsidiaries, a Houston firm that advertises itself as providing telecommunications for, “…quality master-planned communities,” according to a story by Reuters reporter Charles Abbott. A USDA official told Abbott the loan program was created in 2002 to help rural communities with fewer than 20,000 people gain Internet access, and an ETS spokesman said the area qualifies because it is in, “…a traditionally agricultural area and met the population limits.”

However, Eric Hanson and John C. Henry of the Houston Chronicle reported, “The loan agreement does not require ETS to hook up homes and ranches near the seven planned communities,” and said some of the homes to be served have price tags of $500,000. Reuters quoted the National Farmers Union as saying, “It doesn't seem bedroom communities would be the highest priority.” DeLay “plans to look into the program to ensure that the money is being used as Congress intended,” the Chronicle quoted a DeLay aide as saying.

Rural areas must have better wireless Internet service to compete, columnist says

Even as funds flow to wire up rural areas with broadband service, such areas need better wireless Internet service to compete with more urbanized areas, Don McNay wrote in his column in yesterday's Richmond (Ky.) Register.

McNay, a financial consultant, says his wireless PDA "is the most important business tool I own. It allows me to receive and respond to e-mails all day. I use it to keep up with breaking news and search for information on the Internet. I can return phone calls. I can do anything I need to do in an office. It completely changed how I do business."

McNay adds, "There are a number of professional workers, like myself, who enjoy living in a small town. There are many more that would move away from urban areas if they could connect to their offices. It is also good for remote communities to be able to attract and retain people who are highly educated and well paid."


As the election nears, The Rural Blog will be heavy with political news. We hope journalists covering rural areas will take cues from stories we excerpt to do their own stories about rural issues and voters. Of particular interest is the role of religion and local churches, especially in states like Ohio and Kentucky, where constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage are on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Kerry turning into a preacher; friends say it's partly an effort for rural votes

"John F. Kerry is evolving from a reserved Catholic reluctant to discuss faith in the public square into a Democratic preacher of sorts who speaks freely and sometimes forcefully about religion on the hustings," today's Washington Post reports. " From the pulpit to the pastures, Kerry is increasingly spreading a more spiritual message and visiting local churches, as he did the past two days in Ohio, to expound on the political lessons of the Bible's James and Saint Paul." Without noting the original source, reporter Jim VandeHei quotes Kerry using lines from "Amazing Grace," and talking about "God's blessing" of the hills of southeastern Ohio.(VandeHei calls them "mountains.")

At appearances Sunday, Kerry spoke about "the empiness of a faith devoid of deeds," and plans to give a speech later this week on faith, family and values, VandeHei reports. He notes that Kerry earlier "resisted pressure from some Democrats, including aides, to discuss his faith more widely and mostly touched on the topic only before African American audiences on Sundays" and "during the Democratic primaries, Kerry appeared hesitant to discuss religion. He steered the conversation toward his belief that Bush was blurring the lines between church and state in dangerous ways."

Kerry aides told the Post that he has gradually become more confortable with the idea of talking about faith, but the paper reports that unnamed friends of the candidate "say that Kerry also has gained a deeper appreciation of how voters in many of the battleground states -- from Hispanic Catholics in New Mexico to evangelical Christians in rural Ohio -- seek candidates of faith, or at least desire reassurance that their president shares most of their values."

Rove reads clips from small newspapers as he seeks rural voters for Bush

Rural voters are a key part of President Bush’s re-election strategy, directed by senior adviser Karl Rove, who oversees everything “from staffing the campaign with his young loyalists rather than veteran Republicans, to monitoring small-newspaper clippings around the country,” Mike Allen reported in yesterday’s Washington Post.

After Bush took office in 2001, Rove hoped to peel off pieces of some Democratic-leaning voter groups “to create a permanent Republican majority, Allen wrote, but events -- and Bush’s and Rove’s reactions to them -- have left their re-election strategy dependent on energizing their base, including rural folks.

“The Bush-Cheney campaign would be happy to eke out the barest, skin-of-the-teeth majority, and aims to cobble it together by turning out every last evangelical Christian, gun owner, rancher and home schooler -- reliable Republicans all,” Allen wrote. He said the two key elements of the strategy, designed in May 2003, were to raise $170 million and maximize the vote from “core supporters, including fiscal and social conservatives, rural residents and small business owners. Rove would do this both by energizing these voters to turn out and using creative ways to get them to tap into their own networks to expand the base. Rove also put a priority on locking in suburban and exurban voters.”

Allen reported from Rove’s foes and critics: “Democrats contend, and some Republicans fear, that Rove was attentive to the base for far too long, boxing Bush into a corner where he seems always on the attack in a way that may turn off swing voters.”

In D.C. region, the farther beyond the Beltway, the better Bush does

Yesterday's Washington Post also plumbed the divide between rural and urban voters by exploring the D.C. suburbs. Here’s part of a story by reporters Peter Whoriskey and D’Vera Cohn:

“When John M. Hinkle, a 49-year-old financial adviser, plunked a "Bush-Cheney" sign outside his front door in western Prince William County a few weeks ago, he knew most of his neighbors would approve. He lives with his wife and their three children at the region's edge, but at the center of the most "red" areas in Northern Virginia. It is a rural area dotted with old farms, though new subdivisions and big-box stores are under construction just a few miles away.”

The writers quote Hinkle, a financial adviser who says he is a conservative Catholic: "This area has a large percentage of traditional Christians and home-schoolers.” Such folks are attracted to “the country” and tend to vote Republican, he says. “I think liberals tend to have a different understanding of God. They think God did a great job with creation and human wisdom can carry us from here. A conservative is more likely to realize that human wisdom is insufficient and to submit to God's authority.”

Media must not fear to say which campaign misleads most, The Note says

After concluding that Bush seems to have “a small but potentially meaningful lead,” and Kerry “has begun to make false negative attacks a much more central part of his campaign than before, moving toward parity with the president on this front,” The Note from the political unit of ABC News says this morning: “With all of these allegations flying on both sides of the fence, it goes without saying that the stakes are very high for the country and the campaigns — and the media's responsibilities are quite grave for these last two weeks. The press has the responsibility to hold both sides accountable to the public interest. That's why unbiased vigilance is required every day, the rest of the way, for both sides. Further, the press cannot be afraid to point out when one campaign is more aggressively misrepresenting the facts than the other, even when charges of ‘unbalanced press coverage’ come flying in from partisan observers.”

The item was the latest in a debate about how far the press should go in "truth-squadding" candidates and their advertising. The director of ABC's political unit, Mark Halperin, said in an internal memo that was leaked to the Drudge Report: "Kerry distorts, takes out of context, and [makes] mistakes all the time, but these are not central to his efforts to win," Halperin wrote, adding that journalists should hold both sides accountable, "that doesn't mean we reflexively and artificially hold both sides 'equally' accountable when the facts don't warrant that." The issue is the topic of Howard Kurtz's Media Notes column in today's Washington Post. Kurtz says Halperin is "one of the few journalists who sometimes criticize a leftward tilt in the press."

Blog-o-bits for 10-18-04

Picking slate from the coal: Both presidential candidates say they support clean-coal technology, which could boost employment in the largely rural industry, but both are "fudging a bit," Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette reports today.

Rural Georgia switched the state: Georgia finally became a Republican state in 2002 largely because many rural voters abandoned the Democratic Party for statewide candidates from rural areas, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported yesterday.

The Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville, Ky., continued its detailed reporting on the federal tobacco buyout with a story about payments to growers of dark tobacco, a leading crop in southwestern Kentucky. The report by Jennifer P. Brown was based on estimates by University of Kentucky agrucultural economist Will Snell. Brown's earlier story about the buyout payments to burley tobacco farmers used the database of the Environmental Working Group, which several papers have used to localize the story.


Southwest Virginia activist wins big prize from Ford Foundation

Anthony Flaccavento, an environmental and economic-development activist in Abingdon, Va., is one of the 18 receipients of a Leadership for a Changing World award, valued at $115,000, from the Ford Foundation and other institutions. "Flaccavento and the other winners will become part of ongoing leadership research projects," The Coalfield Progress reported.

Reporter John Mongle wrote, "For years, Anthony Flaccavento has tried new ideas to bring more jobs and a better environment to Southwest Virginia and Upper East Tennessee. Working through Appalachian Sustainable Development, the non-profit organization he helped form, Flaccavento has promoted environmentally friendly logging operations, established a solar powered lumber drying kiln and helped area farmers switch from growing tobacco to raising organic produce."

The four-year-old award is given in association with the Advocacy Institute of Washington, D.C., and the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. "These awardees are making a difference in communities across the country and are showing us new ways to exercise leadership in challenging times," Susan V. Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation, said in a release. "The program not only recognizes their accomplishments but also seeks to explore what constitutes effective leadership today and to share those insights more broadly."

Citizens say Eastern Kentucky coal trucks going back to their bad old ways

"Six months after a crackdown on overweight coal trucks led to lighter loads around Eastern Kentucky," residents of the area say the truckers have resumed "running the road at dangerous speeds, blasting (homes) and vehicles with dust and mud, still overloading their trucks," reports Adrienne Steinfeldt of the Harlan Daily Enterprise.

At a meeting organized by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, state Commissioner of Motor Vehicle Enforcement Greg Howard encouraged citizens "to lobby for legislation that would give his enforcement efforts 'more teeth' while urging drivers to haul coal legally," Steinfeldt wrote. Howard wants laws that would spread the responsibility evenly between coal truckers and coal-mine operators.

Friday, Oct. 15, 2004

Evangelical voter mobilization broader and more organized than ever

Efforts by evangelical ministers, Christian lobbying groups and the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign to mobilize religious conservatives are bigger and more coordinated than ever, Alan Cooperman reports in today’s Washington Post.

Cooperman quotes Ralph Reed, the re-election campaign's Southeastern coordinator and former Christian Coalition head: “What's most different about 2004 is that for the first time, the effort to get out the socially conservative faith community has been fully integrated into the presidential campaign.”

For local reporters, a point of entry to this story are the “voter guides” distributed by the Coalition, which at times the past have described issues in terms favorable to the group’s causes and selectively used candidates’ statements voting records to steer voters away from them. Americans United for Separation of Church and State has urged churches not to distribute the guides, and what local churches do with them -- and other mobilization efforts -- could be a story almost anywhere.

Americans United has criticized some liberal churches for effectively endorsing Kerry, and questioned their tax exemptions. The group’s executive director, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, told the Post that the effort to mobilize evangelical voters is “unparalleled in its energy, its sophistication and its stealth nature.”

Cooperman gives the background for this year’s extra effort: “In 2000, the last-minute revelation that George W. Bush had once been arrested for drunken driving may have caused conservative Christians to waver on Election Day. Karl Rove, the president's senior political adviser, has said that 4 million fewer evangelicals than expected turned out at the polls, something the president's backers are determined to keep from happening again.”

Cooperman quotes Seattle-area minister and former pro football player Ken Hutcherson: “If we can get another 10 percent of all believers to get out there and vote, we can elect anyone we want.”

Catholic prelate criticizes treatment by NYT, posts transcript of interview

“Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput is disputing a front page story in Tuesday's The New York Times on the church and politics, saying "a lot of what I said in the original interview was simply ignored," the Rocky Mountain News reports today.

The story, excerpted in a Rural Blog item this week, said Chaput had not endorsed a presidential candidate but “made the conclusion that for Chaput the issue on Nov. 2 is clear -- to vote for Kerry is a sin,” reporter Jean Torkelson wrote.

“Bishops are sensitive to charges they support a political candidate, which would jeopardize the tax-exempt status of their dioceses,” Torkelson continued, quoting an e-mail from Chaput: “The Church does not endorse candidates, has no desire to do so, and neither do I. The issues of Catholic faith and identity here are deeper and more important than politics, but they naturally impact Catholics' political choices.”

Torkelson summarizes the transcript: “Chaput never explicitly condemns a Kerry presidency, but discusses a range of scenarios that could occur under a president who favors policies such as abortion or embryonic stem cell research, which the Catholic Church condemns as the taking of a human life.”

Cheney meets with newspaper editors, executives; reporters get transcript

Vice President Dick Cheney met with executives and editorial writers of Lee Enterprises and its newspapers Tuesday in Davenport, Iowa, in an effort to boost his and President Bush’s re-election chances in states served by many Lee papers.

A story by Ed Tibbett’s of Lee’s Quad City Times said, “Cheney’s comments were taken from a transcript of the meeting. No political reporters were allowed to participate. Cheney’s meeting with Lee executives gave him the opportunity to have an impact on newspapers in a handful of battleground states, among them Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon and Iowa.”

Lee has five papers in Iowa, including the Times, with total circulation of 167,000; and three in Wisconsin, with total circulation of 162,000, including its largest paper, the Wisconsin State Journal.

Sinclair Broadcast Group controversy: Everybody’s getting into the act

The flap continues about Sinclair Broadcasting’s order to its 62 stations – the nation’s largest group – to air a film attacking John Kerry for his protests of the Vietnam War.

As the Federal Communications Commission scoffed at requests it keep the stations from airing the film, Sinclair came in for tough editorial criticism from The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and writer Eric Boehlert, who posted a link to SinclairWatch, a Web site set up to help citizens challenge the license renewals of Sinclair stations, many of which serve small cities and rural areas.

Meanwhile, David Callender of reported that businesses in the Wisconsin state capital, a hotbed of liberalism, are being pressured by customers to stop advertising on Sinclair’s WMSN-TV, a Fox affiliate, and one restaurateur has pulled his ads.

Advocacy groups on both sides of the issues weighed in. Consumers Union objected to station managers, Common Cause mounted a lobbying campaign, and the Alliance for Better Campaigns said Sinclair’s decision threatens to breach the public trust of the system in which broadcasters are licensed in return for serving the public interest. “Sinclair’s agenda appears to be driven more by a political agenda than by news judgment,” said the Alliance, which has taken TV stations to task for skimpy coverage of campaigns at the same time they are reaping windfall revenues from them.

On the other side of the ideological ledger, the American Conservative Union urged Sinclair to stick to its plans, noting that the group has offered Kerry response time and saying that he had not addressed questions about his protests or authorized the release of all his military records. “These issues are fair game because Kerry has made his service in Vietnam a major feature of his campaign,” the ACA said.

League of Rural Voters mounts a campaign on the Web and in advertisements

“Will our children be able to raise their children here?,” asks the tagline in a series of new advertisements touting the new “Vote for Rural America!” campaign, sponsored by the League of Rural Voters. Founded in Minneapolis in 1985, the non-profit league seeks to amplify rural voices in American politics, while raising national awareness of ongoing economic crises in many rural communities.

The ad campaign urges rural voters, especially those in battleground states such as Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, to make their voices heard in the 2004 elections. Focusing on issues such as agricultural and environmental policy, jobs, education, health care, and international trade, the league's Web site highlights the positions of the major presidential candidates.

The league has endorsed no candidate, and says it is trying to reverse a decline in rural voter participation, but its issue-specific guide to Bush’s first term takes him to task for several appointments and policies. It criticizes Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman for her longstanding ties to industry giant Monsanto, and the league Web site depicts the administration as an era of windfall profits for agribusiness and food processing conglomerates, a period of decline for smaller, family-owned farms, and a time of falling fortunes for America’s rural voters. –Alan Lowhorn, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues


Community Reinvestment Act comments reach a record with a week to go

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has received a record number of comments on its plan to relax examination requirements for most banks under the Community Reinvestment Act, and the lobbying effort on both sides is heating up as the Oct. 20 deadline for comments approaches.

The Independent Community Bankers of America issued a statement calling a myth one of the major objections to the rule change, that it would reduce investments in projects that serve low- and moderate-income residents, particularly in rural areas. It says part of the new rule would allow loans for municipal infrastructure or community improvements to count as local reinvestment, which could keep in the community money that might otherwise be invested in state housing bonds because the community lacks enough “qualified investments” under current rules.

Tim Marema of the Center for Rural Strategies, which has mounted a campaign against the rules, said in an e-mail yesterday that ICBA is trying to spread myths, not dispel them. He said nearly all the comments from “ordinary citizens” oppose the change, remarkable because bank regulation is “not exactly a hot button issue. Apart from the content of their comments, that so many people have participated is newsworthy. Look at the things that are risk -- affordable housing, investment in low-income communities, banking services that will be replaced by usurious check-cashing schemes if they disappear -- and the story gets even more compelling.”

Among other developments, American Banker reported that President Bush plans to name the FDIC Chairman comptroller of the currency, a job that would put him on the FDIC board. He favors the changes and the current comptroller opposes them.

For previous Rural Blog items on this issue, check almost any of the archive links below.

Congress reactivates Chapter 12 farm bankruptcy law, at least temporarily

The National Farmers Union says, “After nine months of captivity, Congress freed Chapter 12 farm bankruptcy protection over the weekend.”

Union President Dave Frederickson said in a press release that “Many farmers in financial crisis have been held hostage since January 1, waiting for Congress” to renew Chapter 12 authority.

The union explained, “Chapter 12 exempts land and equipment from liquidation, allowing farmers to reorganize, get their debts under control and continue farming. . . . The legislation, which now awaits President Bush’s signature, extends Chapter 12 through June 30, 2005. It is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2004.”


Records from UMWA indicate feds considered cutbacks in mine inspections

A Charleston Gazette report today raises questions about federal promises of improving mine safety in the Appalachian coalfields.

“The Bush administration paid an industry consultant more than $400,000 to look for ways to cut back on safety inspections at the nation’s coal mines,” reporter Ken Ward wrote, based on information in records released Thursday by the United Mine Workers of America.

According to the Gazette, some options being considered, “would require a major rewrite of the 1977 federal Mine Safety and Health Act,” which calls for MSHA to inspect all underground mines at least four times per year, and all surface mines at least twice a year.

The documents released by the union show an MSHA consultant was critical of those rules because they force inspections at mines with exemplary safety and health records and limits the agency’s ability to focus on “mines with the highest accident/injury rates and highest violation rates.”

MSHA and the consultant have refused to meet with the UMWA about the report, have turned down the union’s requests for a copy of the consultant’s report, and have refused requests by the Gazette for an interview or to answer detailed questions. The Labor Department, which includes MSHA, declined to comment, saying the matter was “under review.”

U.S. Forest Service chief backs limits on off-road vehicles in national forests

The Courier-Journal reports that the top U. S. forestry official said, “Owners of all-terrain vehicles must learn to accept (driving) limits in national forests.”

After a speech to all-terrain vehicle dealers at a convention in Louisville, U.S. Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth told environmental reporter James Bruggers, “It's reached a level in my opinion that we can no longer allow motorized vehicles to go wherever they want to go. That time is over."

Bosworth said his agency's proposal to regulate off-highway vehicles in national forests would allow the managers of individual national forests and grasslands to designate roads and trails where off-road travel would be allowed.Cross-country travel would be banned when the designations are completed. Right now, half the national forests currently have no limits.

In all, the Forest Service oversees 191 million acres of land in the United States — an amount equivalent to the size of Texas.

Tennessee forestry panel may take initiative on water quality enforcement

Forestry officials in Tennessee are exploring the possibility of entering land to respond to water quality issues without waiting for a complaint, as state law now requires. Current law gives the forestry division the right of entry to fight fire, insects and diseases.

The Cleveland Daily Banner reports the Tennessee Forestry Commission wants to clarify who is liable for enforcement of water quality standards, the landowner or the logger, whether or not a memorandum of understanding with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) designates the forestry division as an agent, and can TDEC enter property for purposes of monitoring as opposed to waiting for a complaint.

Virginia governor touts music, crafts and other local skills as economic boons

“Gov. Mark Warner said Thursday he hopes more people in the highlands find work as musicians, quilters and toy makers as the region continues to struggle with shuttered factories and high unemployment,” the Bristol Herald-Courier reported.

Warner announced that the Appalachian Regional Commission would give $100,000 to create an economic development program for artisan and crafts products in Southwest and Southside Virginia. Those regions’ unemployment in the last 10 years “has increased steadily as factories and businesses closed their doors,” reporter Andre Teague wrote.

Speaking at an ARC conference in Abingdon, Warner said promoting the region’s arts and crafts will create jobs will be that cannot be outsourced. “We must draw on the natural skill set and natural affinity of the people,” he said.

Bill Shelton, director of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, said state officials hope to get state and federal money to build five or six marketing centers for Appalachian crafts.

Thursday, Oct. 14, 2004

Local story angles abound as tobacco farmers look toward future

This week’s passage of a federal tobacco buyout has many ramifications for growers and their communities, and plenty of story opportunities for journalists in tobacco country.

Among the stories today are one in the Watauga Democrat of Boone, N.C. Reporter Scott Nicholson interviewed Watauga County’s extension agent for agriculture and an agricultural economist who noted that financial institutions may allow farmers to assign buyout payments to the institution in exchange for one lump-sum payment. The expert “said growers should be cautious of the option because the financial institutions will keep a portion of the pay-out money in return for making the lump-sum payment,” Nicholson wrote.

Nicholson also noted the buyout database of the Environmental Working Group, “an organization that investigates farm policies,” which can provide detailed data on buyouts for localities and individuals. He reported that 316 Watauga County farmers would get buyouts, with five getting more than $100,000 each. He did not name names, as the Owenton ( Ky.) News-Herald did with Owen County’s leading recipient last week.

Kerry scrubs plan to campaign at West Virginia church

Sen. John Kerry has canceled plans to make a church appearance in Huntington, W.Va., following some dissention about the visit in a church that local Democrats had chosen to be the host.

Kerry “had planned to attend the 10 a.m. service at Apostolic Life Cathedral in Guyandotte on Sunday, according to church officials and confirmed by a press release from the state organization for Kerry Wednesday morning,” Bob Withers of the Herald-Dispatch reported this morning.

“But the Rev. E.S. Harper, the church’s pastor, said Wednesday afternoon that’s not going to happen,” Withers wrote. The day before, the Herald-Dispatch quoted Harper as saying that he would not endorse Kerry’s candidacy or allow him to speak from the pulpit, and some members of his congregation saying they were uneasy about the visit. Kerry’s campaign said they had a scheduling problem, and he would be in Ohio or Pennsylvania instead.

Get religion out of political campaigns, Kingsport columnist says

Last night's final presidential debate had a religious segment, prompted by Bob Schieffer's question to President Bush about the role his faith plays in his decision-making. A candidate's faith can be important to voters, especially those in rural areas, but even before the debate, Kingsport Times-News columnist Nellie McNeil wrote a piece headlined "It's past time we took religion out of political campaigns."

McNeil said she was in a doctor's ofice recently when the election came up and another patient said, "Well, I've just got to go with the Christian." McNeil said she asked him, "And a Catholic is not a Christian?" and he replied, "No, ma'am, it ain't." When she told the story to a cousin who is Catholic, the cousin replied, "He is living by the light he has been given."

McNeil said the man's comment illustrates the weakening of separation between church and state and the Republican Party's use of religious and moral themes. "Are candidates not exploiting religion and parishoners as they use them for political purposes? she asked "It would indeed suit me to get religion out of this campaign and all the rest to come, letting each citizen vote his own conscience and returning to rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's."

On the other hand, those who stress moral issues say they are simply defending traditional values against intrusion by government. This debate is likely to be a major factor in the election -- especially in rural aeas, some of them in key battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

SEC widens investigation into newspaper circulation figures

“The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked several media companies to provide information about how they calculate paid circulation, an industry-wide inquiry that comes after circulation-inflation scandals at four large newspapers this year, the companies confirmed yesterday,” today’s Washington Post reports.

The probe was revealed Wednesday by The New York Times, but the Post names companies that are targets, including “the Times Co.; The Washington Post Co.; Gannett Co., publishers of USA Today and 100 other papers; Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal and Barron's; and Knight Ridder, publisher of the Miami Herald, Philadelphia Inquirer and 29 other papers.”

The Post story by Frank Ahrens says, “The investigation is an SEC ‘sweep,’ a relatively recent tactic designed to find out if problems at one company are localized to that company or are systemic throughout the industry.” It follows admissions by four large newspapers, including the Dallas Morning News and Chicago Sun-Times, that they inflated sales data given to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Correction: Harlan County Ten Commandments case not taken by Supremes

Because of incorrect information received, an item Tuesday said a Harlan County, Ky., case was among those the U.S. Supeme Court accepted to resolve legal questions about posting of the Ten Commandments. The Kentucky cases were from McCreary and Pulaski counties. Thanks to Adrienne Steinfeldt of the Harlan Daily Enterprise for bringing this to our attention.

Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2004

Kerry heads for church again, in W. Va., but liberal religious group says "Whoa!"

As John Kerry prepares to campaign at another church -- this time in Huntington, W.Va.-- a liberal religious group is calling on Kerry, his campaign, and local and national religious leaders to stop politicizing religion and misusing houses of worship for partisan, political purposes.

The Interfaith Alliance noted in a press release that Kerry spoke from the pulpit Sunday at two predominantly African-American churches in Miami and said that he and President Bush have both been endorsed from the pulpit of churches, endangering their tax-exempt status.

Now, Kerry is asking the assistance of U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller in choosing a church in West Virginia, a battleground state in the Nov. 2 election. The following paragraph is a revealing excerpt from a story in today’s Herald-Dispatch:

"Byrd’s people called and said Kerry wanted to go to church with him somewhere in West Virginia," the Rev. E.S. Harper, pastor of Apostolic Life Cathedral, 350 Staunton St., in Guyandotte, said Tuesday afternoon. "Byrd’s people suggested Apostolic Life Cathedral. Ms. (Ann) Barth (Byrd’s state director and political director of Kerry’s West Virginia/Victory 2004 campaign) came here (Monday) and asked if it would be all right if they come. I said, ‘Sure.’ "

Kerry’s campaign said the site has not been selected, and there are concerns in the church abut letting him speak from the pulpit. The Herald-Dispatch reported, “Harper said that in order to follow the stipulations of his church’s constitution and protect the congregation’s tax-exempt status, he will not endorse Kerry’s candidacy or permit him to speak from behind the pulpit.”

Harper told the newspaper, "I have never allowed a candidate for office to speak from the pulpit. ...I’ll recognize Kerry and have him stand and join me in front of the pulpit, and we will pray for him as a man because of the tremendous undertaking that he may be embarking upon."

Rural areas could lose lower Internet fees because of FCC spending freeze

The federal program "that has made telephone and Internet access cheap and accessible to thousands of libraries and schools in West Virginia and across the country has been put on hold," the Charleston Gazette reported today. "Officials in Washington don’t know for how long, either."

The Aug. 3 freeze in "e-rate" by the Federal Communications Commission is part of an overall hold on new spending by the agency. "It’s part of an accounting change and efforts to improve financial oversight of a program that some say is susceptible to waste, abuse and fraud," the Gazette said.

Reporter Chandra Broadwater wrote about the boon that high-speed Internet service can be to people in rural areas: "One tiny, rural library in the state had only four magazine subscriptions at one time. Internet access has brought that number to 3,000." She quoted state Library Commissioner J.D. Waggoner: “You don’t have to get in a car and drive to the biggest university campus you can find. All this is available to you on the desktop.”

Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2004

Rural areas still have edge in getting homeland security funds, Times says

Though the 9/11 commission said Congress should “not use this money as a pork barrel,” The New York Times says today that “federal money continues to be distributed by a formula that places a higher value on spreading the wealth among states than on assessing where the risk of a terrorist attack is greatest.”

In a story headlined “Security grants still streaming to rural states,” Dean Murphy traced the problem to the advantage that small states have in the Senate and quoted Gerald A. McBeath, a professor of political science at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks: “It is the price we pay for the kind of federal system we have. It creates an opportunity that a state like Alaska gets all that it does. It is nice for Alaska, but from a national perspective it is not justifiable.”

Murphy highlighted the difficulty Alaska is having in spending all the money it gets, and wrote, “The other states with the highest per-resident spending of domestic security funds are also rural states with a single congressional district: Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont.”

Supreme Court takes Ten Commandments cases from Kentucky, Texas

The U. S. Supreme Court said today that it would take cases from Kentucky and Texas dealing with official displays of the Ten Commandments. The announcement came as a surprise.

“Until now, justices had repeatedly refused to revisit issues raised by their 1980 ruling barring copies of the Ten Commandments from public school classrooms,” KYW Radio of Philadelphia reported today, using an Associated Press report. “Lower courts have yielded conflicting rulings that allow displays in some instances but not in others.”

The Kentucky case involves the posting of the Decalogue by county officials in the courthouses in McCreary and Pulaski counties, and by school officials in Harlan County. The Texas case deals with a monument on the state Capitol grounds.

“Residents in conservative southeastern Kentucky towns celebrated,” The Associated Press reported. “In McCreary County, former Judge-Executive Jimmie Greene heard the news from a local Christian radio station.” He told AP, “The Lord answers prayers.”

Conservative and liberal Catholics at war in parishes about election

Some Catholic bishops and conservative Catholic groups “are blanketing churches with guides identifying abortion, gay marriage and the stem cell debate as among a handful of ‘non-negotiable issues’,” The New York Times reports today, adding that the effort is “converging with a concerted drive for conservative Catholic voters by the Bush campaign.”

The story by David Kirkpatrick and Laurie Goodstein says liberal Catholics and some other bishops are dismayed that “traditional church concerns about the death penalty or war are often not mentioned,” because “the church has traditionally left weighing the issues to the individual conscience. Late in the campaign, these Catholics have begun to mount a counterattack, belatedly and with far fewer resources. In diocesan newspapers in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, they are buying advertisements with the slogan ‘Life Does Not End at Birth’.”

The story focuses on Archbishop Charles Chaput of Colorado, who “has discussed Catholic priorities in the election in 14 of his 28 columns in the free diocesan newspaper [the Denver Catholic Register] this year. His archdiocese has organized voter registration drives in more than 40 of the largest parishes in the state and sent voter guides to churches around the state. Many have committees to help turn out voters and are distributing applications for absentee ballots.”

Update: Sinclair has 62 television stations, more than any other group

The television chain that has ordered its stations to run a film attacking John Kerry for his Vietnam War protests has the nation’s largest collection of television stations and a record of pro-Bush activism, Howard Kurtz reports in an examination of the company in today’s Washington Post.

Kurtz wrote, “Sinclair Broadcasting Group . . . sent a vice president who has called John F. Kerry a liar to Iraq to find good news stories that it said were being overlooked by the biased liberal press. And the Smith brothers and their executives have made 97 percent of their political donations during the 2004 election cycle to Bush and the Republicans.”

Joe Flint of The Wall Street Journal treated the controversy as part of “the debate over media consolidation and the public interest,” reporting, “Sinclair has grown from two television stations to more than 60 over the past 15 years, thanks to deal making and a deregulatory environment.”

Flint's story also alluded to the company’s closure of some of its local TV news departments: “Sinclair has drawn attention for its centralized approach to television news. Much of the news that its stations carry across the country is produced in its Hunt Valley, Md., headquarters and fed via satellite to the stations. While it is an effective way to lower costs, industry watchdogs counter that it also means fewer local voices in markets where Sinclair has stations.”

As reported here yesterday, at least 15 Sinclair stations serve the home territory of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues – Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Those stations are WDKY, Lexington; WSTR, Cincinnati; WDKA, Paducah; WEMT, Johnson City; WFBC and WLOS, Asheville; WXLV and WUPN, Greensboro; WLFL and WRDC, Raleigh; WZTV and WUXP, Nashville; WCHS and WVAH, Charleston; and WRLH, Richmond.

Monday, Oct. 11, 2004

Tobacco buyout passes; some recall a better deal that might have been

Congress passed a $10 billion federal tobacco buyout today, a far cry from the deal growers would have gotten when a buyout was first proposed six years ago, James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal reminded readers in his Notes From Washington column yesterday.

Then-Sen. Wendell Ford, a Kentucky Democrat, proposed a buyout of $28.5 billion over 10 years, and Republican Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Richard Lugar of Indiana proposed $18 billion over three years. “Congress didn’t bite,” Carroll recalled, “And, it is important to note, tobacco growers were divided about the idea of a buyout.”

Buyout "proposals have only gotten smaller over time, as both growing quotas and national interest in a buyout have shrunk," the Louisville newspaper said in an editorial today. "Farmers weren't going to get a better deal. In fact, it's a miracle they're getting this one."

The editorial called the buyout "a turning point for Kentucky. There's no way to overstate the impact it will have. The end of quota and price-support systems will mean that only a fraction of the farmers who grow tobacco today will still be in the business in five or 10 years. It also means the politics of the commonwealth will change. For years, the main business of our state and federal lawmakers has bene to preserve the tobacco economy."

Rural veterans' health is poorer than that of their urban counterparts

The health of rural veterans in the United States is poorer than their urban counterparts, a large study has found.

Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School and the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in White River Junction, Vt., surveyed more than 750,000 veterans treated by VA in 1996-99, when the agency was establishing outpatient clinics closer to rural veterans.

On a questionnaire measuring eight areas of physical and mental health, the average score for physical health was 33 for rural veterans and 37 for their urban counterparts. On mental health, the scores were 44.5 for rural and 45.6 for urban vets.

Sinclair Broadcast Group orders stations to run anti-Kerry film

Several stations of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has ordered its stations to run a film attacking John Kerry’s protests against the Vietnam War, serve the home territory of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues – Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Those stations include WDKY of Lexington; WSTR of Cincinnati; WDKA of Paducah; WEMT of Johnson City; WFBC and WLOS of Asheville; WXLV and WUPN of Greensboro; WLFL and WRDC of Raleigh; WZTV and WUXP of Nashville; WCHS and WVAH of Charleston; and WRLH of Richmond.

The group’s plan “is highly unusual even in a political season that has been marked by media controversies,” Elizabeth Jensen wrote in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times. Keith Woods, dean of the faculty at the Poynter Institute, told Jensen that calling the film news is like calling “Fahrenheit 9/11” news.

Sinclair says it has asked Kerry to appear after the firm airs, but has declined to answer questions about the matter. It posted this statement on its Web site: We welcome your comments regarding the upcoming special news event featuring the topic of Americans held as prisoners of war in Vietnam. The program has not been videotaped and the exact format of this unscripted event has not been finalized. Characterizations regarding the content are premature and are based on ill-informed sources.”

News from the coalfields

Demand for coal creates demand for miners, even banners above the beaches

“America needs coal miners,” Charles Sheehan of The Associated Press reported via several news outlets this morning. “Coal process are hitting record highs and some of the biggest energy companies say they desperately need help to meet demand.”

Massey Energy Corp. went so far as to fly airplanes over Myrtle Beach, S.C., a popular vacation spot for miners, with “banners that promised big money and better benefits,” Sheehan wrote.

Demand will be even greater in five to seven years, with a wave of expected retirements, “but dozens of mining communities saw much of the next generation of miners leave years ago, with few prospects for jobs in the rural areas where coal is mined.”

New dust monitor for coal miners honored as highly innovative

A new coal-dust monitor that has won broad acceptance in the industry is being recognized this week by R & D Magazine as one of the 100 most innovative technologies of the past year, Jim Carroll reported in his column.

“There’s near-unanimity among companies, workers and the United Mine Workers of America” that the monitor “is accurate, durable and reliable (and) is on the verge of changing the face of coal mining,” Carroll wrote. “It’s called the TEOM PDM – the Tapered Element Oscillating Microbalance Personal Dust Monitor.”

Jack Spadaro, outspoken mine inspector, drops his appeal and retires

Jack Spadaro, the federal coal-mine inspector who repeatedly took on his bosses and their political overseers, has stopped appealing his demotion and transfer and retired.

“I just didn’t want to fight with this administration any more,” Spadaro told Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette-Mail. “I just felt it was taking too long,” forcing him to work in Pittsburgh, far from his Hamlin, W.Va., home. In return, the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration restored his old pay grade, giving him more retirement pay.

However, Spadaro said he might return to MSHA or the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining, where he earlier worked, if Sen. John Kerry is elected. “I think Kerry represents some hope for improved mine safety and health enforcement, and also for environmental enforcement in the mining region,” he told Ward, who wrote, “Bush administration officials have repeatedly refused to discuss Spadaro’s case or his allegations against MSHA chief Dave Lauriski.”

More from Ward's story: “ Spadaro said that he was being punished for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing within MSHA. . . . The inspector general has repeatedly delayed the release of a report on those allegations. In 2001, Spadaro resigned from a team investigating the Martin County, Ky., slurry spill because he felt that MSHA was trying to cover up its own role in overlooking previous violations at the Massey Energy impoundment. . . . An MSHA internal review confirmed the allegations at the heart of Spadaro’s concerns.”

MSHA fines operator $536K for violations that led to miner’s death

The Mine Safety and Health Administration has fined Cody Mining $536,050 for safety violations that led to the death of a miner and the serious injury of another in June 2003, MSHA boss Dave Lauriski told the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Lapses by MSHA inspectors at Cody Mining Inc.’s No. 1 Mine near McDowell, Ky., were revealed in October 2003, just three weeks after a U.S. General Accounting Office report harshly criticized the mine safety agency’s enforcement at the nation’s coal mines. At that time, Lauriski said he was “ deeply disappointed that there were unexcused deficiencies in the performance of MSHA personnel assigned to oversee and inspect this mine.” MSHA officials have declined to elaborate or release records that might explain the statement, Ward wrote.

Friday, Oct. 8, 2004

Congress could have headed off meth epidemic, The Oregonian concludes

The federal government could have prevented the methamphetamine epidemic that is ravaging rural areas across the nation, The Oregonian reported in a five-part series that concluded yesterday.

After a crackdown 10 years ago “vastly improved the quality of life” in meth-plagued areas, reporter Steve Suo wrote, “the drug cartels that make most of the nation's methamphetamine found new ways to obtain their ingredients, taking advantage of a loophole left open by Congress. As a result, meth use rebounded, and the epidemic spread eastward.”

Suo wrote that the Portland newspaper’s two-year investigation “establishes for the first time that methamphetamine traffickers are uniquely vulnerable to government pressure,” because they make meth with “chemicals used to make cough and cold remedies such as Sudafed. Only nine factories manufacture the bulk of the world's supply. Deprive traffickers of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, and the meth trade withers. Peter Reuter, a leading drug expert and longtime skeptic of the government's ability to disrupt the drug trade, said The Oregonian's findings were startling. Reuter called them the first convincing evidence that government and law enforcement agencies could substantially reduce meth addiction.”

A teaser for the second story by Suo said, “Attempts to curtail sales of the two essential ingredients to make meth are hamstrung by lobbyists.”

The Oregonian series was highlighted today by Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute, who wrote, “ I do not understand why the presidential candidates and candidates for other offices do not talk more about what to do about the meth epidemic, which has corrupted rural areas of the country from sea to sea.”

One recent example of that was reported this week by the Cynthiana ( Ky.) Democrat. In a story on a drug roundup, Editor Becky Barnes quoted State Police Lt. Kevin Nally: "The threat of meth coming across the nation is here. Five years ago it was in Western Kentucky. Now we can officially say it's in Central Kentucky."

With tobacco buyout coming, database has amounts for individuals and localities

With Congress on the verge of passing a buyout for tobacco growers, county-by-county figures for the deal are available from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit lobbying organization that has created a database from Department of Agriculture information.

The Owenton ( Ky.) News-Herald picked up on that this week and reported that the buyout would put about $7.3 million into the economy of rural Owen County, in the middle of the Louisville-Lexington-Cincinnati triangle .

Editor Patti Clark’s story named names, from a man who would get more than $1 million, ranking 12th in the state, to a woman who would get less than $100.

Bush and GOP outspending Kerry and allies on radio, much of it in rural areas

President Bush and the Republican National Committee have spent about three times as much on radio advertising for Bush’s re-election than Sen. John Kerry and groups allied with him, Fox News reported today.

“It's only been this fall that Democrats, led by the party's national committee, have started advertising on the radio in earnest,: the network reported. “But even then, they still trail Bush's recent radio buys,” and some leading Democrats question the strategy.

“It's a sore point for many of us in the party,” Donna Brazile, who managed Democrat Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000, told Fox. “It explains why voters can repeat Bush's lines over and over.”

Radio is “less expensive than TV, and, therefore, allows candidates to spend more time explaining their viewpoints. And the medium reaches audiences — people driving long commutes, farmers on tractors plowing fields — who are likely to sit still and listen,” Fox reported. “Currently, Bush's commercials are on large radio stations, including conservative talk radio programs, in 14 states, as well as on specialty stations that reach swaths of rural audiences, who tend to lean Republican, and Hispanics, a group in which the GOP is looking to make inroads. The president's ads also are on urban radio stations whose listeners are predominantly black,” with a woman saying “I’m tired of being taken for granted by John Kerry.”

All-terrain vehicles highly popular but often troublesome in Appalachians

Rex Bowman, southwest Virginia reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, writes: “From where Farley Mullins stands, here in a grassy field in the middle of forested Appalachian hills, the green and peaceful landscape needs just one more atmospheric touch to achieve perfection -- the piston-powered growl of an all-terrain vehicle.”

Bowman’s feature (subscription required for access) called ATVs “the speedy mountain goat of motorized transportation” and said their booming popularity may be greatest “in the mountains of middle Appalachia, whose rugged terrain, vast forests, logging trails and abandoned strip mines offer riders an ideal, bumpy and occasionally harrowing landscape upon which to test their skills.”

However, Bowman reported, “ATVs are not welcome everywhere. Some landowners have grumbled that ATV riders use their land without permission, and environmentalists have complained that scofflaw riders have torn up fragile wildlife habitat on public lands.” And it’s hard to cite them for illegally riding on public roads, because "They go off the road onto these side trails, and our cruisers can't follow them," Chief Buchanan County Deputy Sheriff Randal Ashby told Bowman.

“In Kentucky and West Virginia, where ATVs are equally popular, state lawmakers have accepted the fact that ATV riders will use state roads to get to trails,” Bowman wrote. “Instead of cracking down on them, the states have legalized the limited use of the roads by ATVs, at the same time stiffening regulations to make riding them safer.

Appeals court throws out new EPA rules on Western coal mining, remining in East

Yestetrday the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee) threw out Environmental Protection Agency rules that eliminated specific pollution limits for remining old coal mines. The 2-1 decision directed EPA to withdraw the rule or issue a new one consistent with the decision.

The lawsuit challenging the rules was filed by the Citizens Coal Council and the Kentucky Resources Council. While the decision is from a circuit court, it applies nationally because the Clean Water Act allows any circuit to overturn national rules, KRC Director Tom FitzGerald said. Details are on the KRC Web site.

Thursday, Oct. 7, 2004

Key senator says tobacco buyout coming, without FDA regulation, right away

A bill to end federal tobacco quotas and price supports should go to President Bush by tomorrow, without provisions for the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell told Lexington Herald-Leader agriculture reporter Janet Patton yesterday.

“Proponents of FDA regulation of tobacco . . . could attempt a filibuster in the Senate but are unlikely to kill the bill,” Patton wrote. She reported that tobacco farmers believe the bill could reduce their numbers in Kentucky “by three-fourths, drive down the price of farmland, and shift tobacco production out of Eastern Kentucky.”

Patton quoted University of Kentucky tobacco economist Will Snell, “trusted by farmers for his objectivity and straight talk,” as saying: "This is the most significant policy change that we've ever had. There are going to be significant structural changes as a result."

Patton summed it up: “ A buyout would end the Depression-era quota system that has provided tobacco farmers a guaranteed high price in exchange for limits on production.”

The Senate voted for a buyout that included FDA regulation, but a conference committee removed that provision and efforts to restore it failed. Details of that battle were reported yesterday by James R. Carroll of The Courier-Journal and David Rice of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and his Media General colleague, Peter Hardin. Click here for their story in the Winston-Salem Journal.

Farm disaster aid plan draws ire of farm groups, enviros for different reasons

More than two dozen farm groups asked Congress yesterday not to tap farm programs to offset disaster aid for farmers and ranchers. “Congress has not traditionally required that weather-related disaster assistance be funded by modifying or cutting farm-bill programs,” said the letter from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union and 24 other groups. The full letter is here.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Working Group objected to the plan to “raid conservation programs” for disaster aid, and noted an increase in payments over the last nine years to “disaster-prone farmers. The press release was headlined, “For many farms, disaster aid from taxpayers is a staple crop.”

Rural fire protection: Country folks often depend on cities for safety

Fire protection, one of the most critical public services in rural areas, is often threatened by budget problems in cities that extend the service to their country neighbors. The latest threat comes in Bamberg County, S.C., reports The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg, S.C.

"Nobody cares what fire department comes along as long as it's the closest one," said Joyce Millhouse, one of those at a "standing-room only" county counciil meeting reported by Bamberg correspondent Phyllis Overstreet.

Workshop can improve journalists’ watchdog skills

Mark Schaver of The Courier-Journal reminds us that Investigative Reporters and Editors is offering a Better Watchdog Workshop at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky, Oct. 16-17. IRE and the Society of Professional Journalists started these wokshops mainly to help journalists at small- to medium-sized news outlets, and those in bureaus of larger outlets, develop skills that keep government and business accountable and to produce enterprising and informative stories," as IRE puts it. The co-sponsors of this month’s workshop include the Kentucky Press Association and the Tennessee Press Association. The fee is $60; for online registration, click here.

Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2004

That ‘hometown newspaper’ may not be as homey as Cheney indicated

Your hometown newspaper has taken to calling you ‘Senator Gone.’ You've got one of the worst attendance records in the United States Senate,” Vice President Dick Cheney told Sen. John Edwards in one of Cheney's most personal remarks in their debate last night.

The newspaper is The Pilot, published in Southern Pines, in Moore County, N.C. Edwards was born in South Carolina and grew up in Robbins, N.C., which is in the northern part of Moore County but is about as close to Asheboro, in Randolph County, as it is to Southern Pines. Edwards has lived in Raleigh for decades, so “ Which area counts as his ‘hometown’ may be subject to, well, debate,” Erin Olson of Editor & Publisher wrote today.

John Chappell, a staff writer for The Pilot, covered the debate in Cleveland. In his story, Cheney’s barb was in the fifth paragraph, with an explanation that the reference was to a June 2003 editorial – which the newspaper re-posted on its Web site.

The editorial began, “During his 30 years in Washington, Jesse Helms was known as Senator No. Four and a half years into his first term, John Edwards is becoming known as Senator Gone.” The editorial said Edwards and other senators running for president at the time should campaign mainly on nights and weekends and do the jobs to which they were elected. Edwards staffers said his voting record was better than those of his opponents.

The “hometown” rubric can work both ways. In 1972, the Democratic senatorial nominee in Kentucky was state Sen. Walter “Dee” Huddleston – the son of a Methodist minister, whose frequent moves gave the family many “hometowns.” That rankled Huddleston’s Republican opponent, former Gov. Louie B. Nunn, who told Huddleston at one event, “I’ve just come from another of your damned hometowns.”

Forest Service can now waive wildlife-protection rules for logging

“The Bush administration has set aside Reagan-era rules aimed at protecting wildlife in national forests, rules that environmentalists had used to block logging projects,” reports today’s Washington Post.

The change allows forest managers to waive a requiring that “viable populations” of fish and wildlife be maintained, avoid counting representative species and use “best available science,” which reporter Juliet Eilperin notes is “a less specific standard.”

The story said, “Environmentalists and some academics blasted the switch, saying it would undermine protections for animals including moose and the Appalachian brook trout. . . . Timber industry officials, however, said they do not believe the move would ease restrictions on logging.”

Washington Post gets complaints about profile of rural, gay teenager

Washington Post staff writer Anne Hull’s profile of a Oklahoma teenager, titled “Young and Gay in Real America,” drew complaints to Post Ombudsman Michael Getler.

“Several readers objected to the use of "Real America" in the headline, complaining that the phrase is "a meaningless concept," "insulting" and "a gross oversimplification" to imply that small-town Oklahoma is somehow more "real" than Arlington or Washington,” Getler wrote. “The intent, Hull explained in an online chat, was only "to suggest the large swath of land and opinions beyond the metropolitan areas," where homosexuality is not the issue that it is in the Bible Belt. Nevertheless, I also thought this headline was a mistake, a needless red flag that immediately distracted some readers from the story.”

Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2004

Rural editors take pride in making things more open, democratic

At an event honoring their nearly half-century of service to their readers and to rural journalism, Tom and Pat Gish of The Mountain Eagle said they took pride that their efforts have created a more open and democratic society in Whitesburg and Letcher County, Ky.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues announced in Whitesburg yesterday that it would begin presenting the Tom and Pat Gish Award to rural journalists who show the courage and tenacity often needed to render necessary public service through journalism in rural areas.

Tom Gish said that when he and his wife bought the paper 47 years ago and tried to cover public meetings, local officials told them to go away because they have no right to cover them. “We spent nearly a decade fighting the old battle for open public meetings,” he said. “Now I don’t know of any place in the state where things are more open.” He said the newspaper’s agency-meeting coverage is some of the most detailed in the state and helps turn out large crowds for meetings.

There has been much more to the Gishes’ career. “They have taken on corrupt politicians, lousy schools and rapacious coal companies, and suffered for it,” institute Director Al Cross said in announcing the award. The tribulations included the firebombing of the newspaper’s office in 1974.

Lee Mueller, the longtime Eastern Kentucky Bureau chief for the Lexington Herald-Leader, wrote that the Eagle “collected equally impressive lists of talented reporters who wanted to work for them and powerful foes who wanted them gone,” and was the first Eastern Kentucky newspaper “to seriously challenge environmental damage inflicted by surface mining.”

Jack Daniel’s reduction in proof is so simple it’s not news locally, editor says

When the world’s most popular straight whiskey announced last week that it was watering it down, that was not news in the town where it is distilled and bottled.

Bonnie Lewis, editor of the Moore County News, said in a brief interview today with the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, that the Lynchburg, Tenn., weekly will not be covering Brown-Forman Corp.’s decision to lower its famous Jack Daniel’s whiskey from 86 proof to 80 proof.

Though the proof cut received national media attention, thanks in part to a petition gathered by Internet magazine Modern Drunkard, Lewis said her paper did not consider the event newsworthy, because Lynchburg residents thought the company was making a practical decision. “People here thought it just made better sense,” she said.

What is often unreported in national stories, Lewis said, is that the Lynchburg distillery has been producing the 80 proof version of Jack Daniel’s for years to sell internationally. She said about half of the distillery’s output is distributed internationally, and that number may increase greatly.

Lewis said the production of both 86 proof and 80 proof products is seen locally as an unnecessary encumbrance. By producing one proof, she said, the distillery can save valuable time bottling.

For more information on the lowering of Jack Daniel's proof, see the Modern Drunkards editorial at or The Courier Journal’s coverage at

In rural America, Republicans win with guns, abortion, Reuters says

Charles Abbott of Reuters reports from Chippewa Falls, Wis., that “guns and abortion, favored Republican Party themes, trump the economy or health care at election time in a swath of states stretching from Texas to the Canadian border.

Rural Americans “vote their values more than their self-interests," Kathleen Vinehout, a member of the National Farmers Union from western Wisconsin, told Abbott for his story.

”With the Nov. 2 election approaching, the rural and small-town vote -- a quarter of the U.S. population -- could be crucial,” Abbott wrote. “On the campaign trial, President Bush and Sen. [John] Kerry have made a point of visiting farm states that have been ignored in the past, so much so that some residents of the Chippewa Falls area feel that a rally a few miles away is too far to travel to see one of the candidates.”

Citing a poll of rural areas in battleground states by the nonpartisan Center for Rural Strategies, Abbott said “Bush gained support during the summer among rural women and blue-collar workers which are ‘key groups cross-pressured by economic challenges and social conservative values’,” according to Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg and Republican analyst Bill Greener. Rural voters who might still lean toward the Democrats “are the only group still available to Kerry in any numbers,” said Greener, a Republican strategist.

Abbott also cites Thomas Frank, whose book “What's the Matter with Kansas?” argues that social issues make many rural voters vote against their own economic interests. He balances hat by quoting Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, as saying that rural voters are generally more self-reliant and turn to the government “only when we desperately need you.”

Bush, Kerry answer Farm Bureau questionnaire on agricultural issues

Bush and Kerry disagree on issues important to agribusiness, such as extending trade promotion authority and promoting acceptance of biotechnology, the American Farm Bureau Federation said in a press release.

“Bush said that in order for farming and ranch families to continue to make a living, Congress should pass the comprehensive energy bill and eliminate death taxes,” the release said. “Kerry said as president he would ‘fight for fair trade policies, reduce concentration in agribusiness, enhance conservation measures and expand non-traditional uses for agricultural products’.”

More information on the questionnaire is at

Kerry gives up on Virginia

“Kerry's top campaign officials in Virginia have been reassigned to work in other states, effectively conceding the commonwealth to President Bush even as the Democratic presidential nominee rides a wave of momentum nationally from his performance in last week's debate,” The Washington Post reported.

Jonathan Beeton, who was Kerry's Virginia press secretary, said he was probably headed for Minnesota or Wisconsin, two states that Al Gore carried in 2000 but where Kerry has been having trouble. “" Virginia has been a battleground state this year, but it's not a top-tier state. It's never been an Ohio or a Wisconsin or a West Virginia,” Beeton told Post reporter Michael Shear.

Shear wrote, “Senior Kerry advisers crafted a three-prong strategy for the state: Appeal to Northern Virginians, military veterans and rural communities. But throughout August, as Kerry's poll numbers sank nationwide, he failed to build momentum in Virginia. Last month, the campaign signaled its intentions by declining to include Virginia in a list of battleground states in which it planned to buy television ads.”

Clerk in Cairo, Ill., says she just destroyed old ballots Scripps-Howard wanted

An Illinois county clerk “destroyed all of the ballots from the 2002 election shortly before she received a Freedom of Information Act request to allow examination of several hundred questionable votes,” Thomas Hargrove of Scripps-Howard News Service reports.

The service filed the request with Alexander County Clerk Gloria Patton of Cairo, Ill., asking for 3,451 punch-card ballots cast in the Nov. 5, 2002, election for governor. Patton said ballots from 1999, 2001 and 2002 were discarded in late August to “clean up back here because they were going to do air conditioning in here.” Hargrove’s story said federal law requires election officials to keep ballots for 22 months, but Patton said she was told that she could dispose of them after 18 months.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed a civil suit against the voting practices in Alexander County and three more urban areas of Illinois in 2001, alleging that punch-card ballots are error-prone. All the areas have large African American populations and high “fall-off" rates between voting for the top and bottom offices on the ballot. The four districts settled the suit by promising to switch to more reliable voting methods by February 2006.

Journalists who cover polls should ask lots of questions about them; here's a guide

As the election nears, polls will be flying back and forth. Mark Schaver, the computer-assisted reporting director for The ( Louisville) Courier-Journal, reminds is that the National Council on Public Polls offers "20 Questions A Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results."

Portland paper looks at the disparity in health-care access in Central Oregon

The Oregonian uses a comparison between two Central Oregon towns – one urban, one rural, to illustrate the national problem of health-care access in rural areas.

“Only 25 miles separate Bend from its sleepy southern neighbor La Pine, but when it comes to health care they are worlds apart.,” reporter Matthew Pruesch writes. “ Bend boasts one doctor for every 340 people, one of the highest ratios in Oregon. La Pine has one doctor -- period."

Elizabeth Hunt, pioneering woman journalist in Kentucky, dies at 95

From the Lexington Herald-Leader, via Press Notes of the Society of Professional Journalists: Elizabeth Browning Hunt retired in 1990 after more than 48 years at The Winchester Sun. Her tenure included stints as a reporter and city and society editor. She broke some barriers while working at the daily, and remained a valuable resource to the publication long after she retired. Hunt died Thursday at Clark Regional Medical Center in Winchester. She was 95.

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. Cooperating institutions include Appalachian State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Marshall University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and West Virginia University. If the blog provides information for a story, please ket us know by sending an e-mail to To get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.






Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues

University of Kentucky
School of Journalism and Telecommunicatiions

College of Communications & 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: Sept. 30, 2004