8th congressional district

Gerrymandering: Why Fools Are Running Our Country

Billboard in Jordan’s congressional district asks a valid question. A 2017 Dayton Daily News article shows that, unlike most Congressmen from Ohio, Jordan has very little net worth (estimated at less than $400,000). His sidekick Warren Davidson has an estimated net worth of $2-11 million.

Politics is war by other meansCarl von Clausewitz

If you only glean one fact from the Gerrymandering episode of The Naked Truth news series on Netflix it should be this: Only 37 of the 435 Congressional Seats in the United States are competitive.

Gerrymandering is a structural political issue which most Americans find too complicated or too boring to understand. Fortunately, the episode — hosted by a North Carolina native — breaks it down in an entertaining and understandable way by pulling in some video game designers from Kentucky. Those who prefer an even edgier comedic angle to their information can view John Oliver’s take on gerrymandering.

Both Oliver and The Naked Truth demonstrate how:

  • Gerrymandering has contributed to our partisan divide
  • It has created a false sense of the country becoming more conservative, and
  • Technology upped the ante in 2010

It has also given us jobs-for-life politicians who have no need to compromise. As I’ve learned in Ohio, all this matters.

In 2014, 40 percent of Ohioans voted for a Democrat member of Congress, however because of gerrymandering, 12 of the 16 seats were won by the GOP. This phenomenon is being reported throughout the state as there is a growing Fair Districts movement here.

Two of those 12, Jim Jordan and Warren Davidson, are members of the Freedom Caucus — a misnomer for certain — as it is a group of white men intent on dismantling our government. They fight hard for this dismantling even as their Districts languish in need of livable-wage jobs and  infrastructure improvements. But they have a spin for everything and in an editorial co-written editorial they stated (in 2017 and re-Tweeted in 2018) ‘plenty of jobs’ exist in their districts. The solution, they said, is to put welfare recipients to work.

Of course, to do that would require a revision in child labor laws since a significant portion of welfare recipients are under the age of 18. (Looking at just two Preble County stats one can determine a significant number of recipients are children: Of the 8,030 individuals receiving food assistance in FY 2013 — latest stats available online — 3,431 or 43 percent were children. Of the 525 individuals receiving cash assistance that year, 426 or 81 percent were children.)

2017 Dayton Daily News clipping showing net worth of Congressmen from Ohio. Click to enlarge.

But the real danger in gerrymandering, besides giving us white men determined to destroy government institutions, is it reduces the electoral process to the Primary. Primary voters, of both Parties, are the most radical — and primaries often eliminate the nonpartisan vote. Using Preble County numbers, in 2010 46 percent of registered voters were eliminated from the Primary voting process due to their nonpartisan (Independent) status. In the state of Ohio, one must declare allegiance to a political party to participate in that party’s primary, an age-old disenfranchising tactic.

Gerrymandering rigs the game against the voter and places the politician in charge of who gets to vote. In recent times, it has elevated the incompetence of local politics to the national stage.

Despite what one may believe, in 2020, the issue that really matters is not the presidential race, but rather the state legislators.

They control the redistricting process and, in turn, control the impact of your vote.

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Categories: 8th congressional district, Age of Discontent, American Revolutionary War, My America | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Broke USA:’ Exploiting The Working Poor Is Big Business

Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.—How the Working Poor Became Big Business by Gary Rivlin opens in Dayton, Ohio, a city 20 miles or so to the east of my hometown of Eaton. The opening vignette is the story of a hard-working man who fell on hard times when his wife developed health problems. Eventually, the couple travel to nearby Huber Heights, where they are duped into signing a predatory loan.

When the story opens, the couple have lost their home and have moved a second time — this time into a less than ideal mobile home park — and the man, now in his early 70s, does not see retirement as a possibility. He seems resigned to his fate.

His story is just one of many sprinkled throughout the book as Rivlin crisscrosses the Midwest, including frequent stops in Dayton and Montgomery County. The author investigates the various industries that have exploited lower income workers. These industries include: Rent to Own stores, paycheck lending stories, pawn shops and loans stores dealing in subprime loans. And, as the book notes, these businesses have left behind devastated communities.

In the City of Eaton (pop. 8,200), we have three payday lending stores, a pawn shop and a rent to own store.

What really gives the books ‘its legs’ is the author also reports the other side of the story. He interviews industry leaders and travels to the various networking events each industry holds. He reports on their marketing tactics, their training methods and paints a complete picture from a consumer, industry, and consumer protection point of view. The story includes a lot of ‘unsung heroes’ who fought for the disadvantaged and duped.

After reading the book, I became very aware of the holes in our legislation, and economy, that create exploitation. And, the stories of the victims make it difficult to believe that the current legislative drive — to deregulate — will benefit the middle and lower-middle classes.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. This book gets a high rating because it’s written in a way that all players get a say. Granted, some of the players do not come across as positively as others, but I am okay with that because of the loss of wealth inflicted on many from the working class.


Afterthought

My interest in Rivlin’s book is the unresolved foreclosure crisis Preble County still faces. According to Policy Matters Ohio, Preble County ranked in the top 10 for home foreclosures every year between 2007 and 2013. It peaked at 3rd in the state in 2013 before dropping out of the top 10 in 2014 when it ranked 16th in Ohio.

With 4.5 foreclosures per 1,000, in 2016, our foreclosure density ranks eighth in the state.

Despite the economic decline, as evidence by our foreclosure rates, Preble County saw an uptick in property values during the 2017/2018 revaluation. The uptick in values (mostly for non-farm properties) came as the farm lobby successfully drove down property values on Preble County farmland.  But, some of our farmers are doing okay thanks to government handouts (see chart, click on chart to access database).

According to the EWG Farm Subsidy Database, Preble County farmers received $118 million in subsidies between 1996-2016. Ohio ranks 13th in the nation for monies received. Preble County ranks 16 (out of 88 counties) in EQIP funds received. The most common use of EQIP funds in Ohio is to build fences.

Click on chart to access database.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Books I have read, My America, Preble County

‘Appalachia’ By Catte Is A Perfect Antidote For ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

This photo, from the 1950s, includes two of my uncles. My mother’s family lived in the Cumberland Plateau region of south central Kentucky/north central Tennessee — near Albany, Kentucky. They are Scots-Irish. In J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy’s version of Appalachia, all Appalachia residents resemble this image.

As a family historian I have researched my (mostly) Appalachian roots so I feel somewhat knowledgeable about the culture. Although my paternal side is English, my maternal side is Scots-Irish (Beaty). But personal knowledge can be a small window to peer through so I seek out broader works to better understand my heritage.

Like many, I read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. However, unlike many, I was not impressed with it.

I live in the region Vance details in the book. Preble County, is directly north of Butler County where much of the memoir is set. Preble County is mentioned several times and my favorite quote — with just a little tweaking — says,

When I was about nine years old things began to unravel at home. Tired of Papaw’s presence and Mamaw’s ‘interference’ Mom and Bob decided to move to Preble County…Even as a boy, I knew this was the very worst thing that could happen to me.

Despite the acceptance of Elegy, much like the tweaked quote above, the book does not resonate as an accurate depiction of Appalachia or ‘hillbillies’ in southwest Ohio. When I reviewed Elegy I included comments from Jacobin which provided a much-needed context to the Middletown, Ohio dilemma (and other regions of the country) Vance highlights. The Jacobin review mentions the entrenched systems that prevent upward mobility, a segment of the story that Vance conveniently omits. Or, as the review states in its pithy subhead: The American hillbilly isn’t suffering from a deficient culture. He’s just poor.

As I tried to understand Elegy’s runaway success, I stumbled onto a blog by Elizabeth Catte, and learned about her upcoming book: What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia. Her blog revealed she was from Appalachia but more importantly, she was committed to a realistic representation of the culture. So I preordered her book, and found in it an author who, unlike Vance, is not attempting to package a nice ‘clean’ (i.e. profitable) version of Appalachia.

First, The Basics

The book is succinct — less than 150 pages — but the size is deceiving because a lot of interesting content is packed in between the covers. The book is divided into three parts.

  • Part One: Appalachia and the Making of Trump Country.
  • Part Two: Hillbilly Elegy and the Racial Baggage of J.D. Vance’s Greater Appalachia.
  • Part Three: Land, Justice and People

I have read both Elegy and Appalachia, and for those interested in educating themselves, Elegy pales in comparison to Appalachia. Elegy is a modernized Horatio Alger story that re-manufactures an all-white culture too lazy to solve its own problems, whereas Appalachia rejects the stereotypes and reports objectively on the region.

Part One: Appalachia and the Making of Trump Country.

Catte opens with the national media’s interest in Appalachia during the 2016 presidential campaign. In one telling section she dissects the national media’s assertion that McDowell County, West Virginia was a ‘Trump County.’ She references, among other sources, a Huffington Post article which asserts McDowell County offers a ‘glimpse at the America that voted Trump into office.’

As Catte notes, the media declared the county a ‘landslide’ victory for Trump. McDowell County, which had 17,508 registered voters in the 2016 presidential election, cast 4,614 votes for Trump and 1,429 for Hillary Clinton. As Catte says,

“if we use reported numbers we find that only 27 percent of McDowell County voters supported Trump.”

Besides the fact that in ‘Trump County’ a significant percentage of the voters stayed home, Catte further counters the ‘Trump County myth’ by revealing these facts about West Virginia — truths that defy stereotypes. For example:

  • West Virginia has the highest concentration of transgender teens in the country.
  • in 2017, filmmakers in West Virginia hosted the fourth annual Appalachian Queer Film Festival.
  • More people in Appalachia identify as African American than Scots-Irish.

As she ends this section of the book, she segues into Part Two reflecting on her college years.

“While reading Greek poetry, my professors warned us to be careful of the double meaning of elegies; they were, it seems, often written as political propaganda.”

Part Two: Hillbilly Elegy and the Racial Baggage of J.D. Vance’s “Greater Appalachia”

As Catte states, the concept of a Greater Appalachia, is not an original idea by Vance. The term is usually associated with Colin Woodard who uses the phrase in American Nations. I would argue, based solely on personal experience, that the Vance family’s migration to Middletown is fairly common in southwest Ohio. Butler County, and Preble to the north does have a heavy Appalachia-based population. But, as Catte accurately notes, Vance’s version of Appalachia is all white — which does not accurately depict Appalachia (or Butler County for that matter). This is especially true of the officially designated region of Appalachia which boasts significant African American and Hispanic populations.

But, she opens this section with the story of the 1968 killing of a Canadian filmmaker who was shot by a well-connected Jeremiah, Kentucky landowner. The landowner is eventually convicted of involuntary manslaughter – serving one year in prison. She uses the story to segue into the exploitation Appalachia residents have faced over the centuries — often accomplished through ‘poverty images.’ She notes,

“Much like the visual archive generated during the War on Poverty, Elegy sells white middle-class observers an invasive and exploitative story of the region. For white people uncomfortable with images of the civil rights struggles and the realities of Black life those images depicted, an endless stream of sensationalized white poverty offered them an escape …”

For me, this section of the book is the strongest as Catte builds her case against Vance’s work. I do not want to retell her arguments because I sincerely hope people purchase her book to counter the myth perpetuated by Vance’s work. (For the record, I do not know Ms. Catte and will not financially benefit if her book sells. As a human, tired of myth creation in America, I simply want a more accurate depiction of Appalachia to be read.)

Part Three: Land, Justice and People

Catte wraps up the book building on the photo motif. She describes images of individuals significantly more representative of Appalachia than Vance. This is the section for people who truly want to meet the people who are, unlike Vance, doing work that benefits the community. The individuals range from photographers to community organizers. This section also sheds light on why, and how, the War on Poverty from the 1960s ultimately failed.

Although in this section she does rehash some fairly well-known stories, like the Harlan County, Kentucky strike and Matawan, she also includes numerous lesser-known events like an arsonist attack on Mud Creek Health Clinic. She also touches on the failed promise of political leaders in the current era concerning the private prison industry. In the 1990s, two large prisons opened in southwest Virginia and with them the promise of ‘good paying local jobs.’ As she notes, though, local workers did not receive the ‘good jobs’ instead the ‘locals’ were regulated to low-paying, menial labor positions.

My Rating: 5 out of 5. One of the sad realities of life in the United States is the books that should hit the bestsellers list — this one — will not while those that perpetuate a myth — Hillbilly Elegy — do. Besides being an engaging read, Appalachia, is also a heavily researched ‘textbook.’ Included in the book is a section of 8-10 pages of  resources and suggested reading. Although it may not be important to everyone, it is to me, as I read Appalachia, I feel Catte actually cares about Appalachia and is interested in its progress. This is a stark contrast to Elegy’s author who is simply pushing a popular, but exploitive, political agenda.

Church, located in Cumberland County Kentucky, bears my surname. The church is located about two miles from my father’s childhood home.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Appalachia, Books I have read, My America, Politics, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties