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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Thoughts on Rural and Urban Politics

Thoughts on Rural and Urban Politics

Rural America.

This article at Roll Call by Alex Roarty tells the story about the loss of rural America by the Democrats. But to be honest because I’m from rural America I saw the same things going on in the Republican Party for years. I have been fighting it for years. I know firsthand about the “Professional” political class overlooking the rural areas and taking us for granted.

If you think not, think of Jeb Bush’s claim that he would win the Republican nomination without the base. The base is rural America. While Hillary and the Dems. take the minority vote for granted and abuse them and make policies that keep them from succeeding even she would not have the gall to claim she could win without them. Poor old Jeb got tons of money from the big urban donors spent it on ads and a bunch of college kids and ended up wasting all of it.

Why do both parties do that? Simply put it’s easier.

I’m as lazy as the next person, and when I did some campaigning in rural areas but lived in an urban area I hated it because the people lived so far apart. It is easier to knock on 100 doors in the city with houses at most 100 feet apart than in the country where they might be ½ a mile apart. The city offers so many things that make campaigning easier. Besides the closeness of the people there are infrastructure advantages. I’m talking about easy hookup for internet and TV. Good cell phone reception. And above all enough people in one place to justify the expense of a campaign headquarters.

All up and down the campaign trail population centers make it easier. The bigger the concentration the better. Therein lies the seductive seed for what ails both parties. A class of college kids end up running these urban areas and do it the way they are taught and they are judged by the number of contacts they make – not the quality. It becomes all about numbers. The numbers of contacts become the gospel of the major party operatives.

The problem is those contacts are by mail or phone or the dreaded recorded phone message and door knocks by people that just want to knock on your door and mark you down as a contact but don’t really want to talk with you about what you want to talk about. This quote from the article says it all. “….And they’re not addressing stuff that’s important to us.”

In my own experience I learned about the power of rural America from then State Rep. Goeff Hansen. Hansen was a State Rep from Hart and decided to run for the State Senate. At the time I lived in Muskegon. He invited me to an organizational meeting for his campaign. This is when I first learned the power of rural America, and its inherent difficulty. The power in Rural America is scattered over a large area as Trump would say a Yuge area. His Senate District included three Rural Counties plus urban Muskegon County which alone had as many votes as the 3 Rural Counties put together. 

Goeff knew rural America, he lived there, he worked his way up the political ladder there,he had won elections there. He showed us at that 1st meeting, how in his winning State Rep campaigns he had over 60% of the vote from the rural counties and all he had to win was somewhere around 25% of Muskegon to win the Senate Seat.

In black and white it was obvious and I’ll never forget it. It sunk in. Coming from a rural district, Goeff knew he could not win without the rural vote. He also knew how to get it. His main competition for that seat was Holly Hughes and David Farhat both from Muskegon they didn’t know much about the rural vote. Their favorite saying was “you can’t win this seat unless you’re from Muskegon”. May have sounded good in Muskegon but sounded pretty condescending to those “Rural Folk”. In their eyes Muskegon was just too big, had too many voters to not be the key to the election, plus easier to campaign in. In their self-righteousness they became lazy – but the numbers and Goeff’s hard work proved them wrong.

Guess what? They ignored the rural vote and well Goeff didn’t. He jumped in hard and early in Muskegon, Goeff was all over the place, both rural and city and was out there beating the bushes when all Holly and Dave were trying to figure out was which one of them would win the primary. Hansen made such an impression around Muskegon that his two likely opponents decided not to even run in the primary. Remember also that there are plenty of rural townships East and South of the City of Muskegon.

Getting back to the article one of the interviewees seems proud that he “…is trying to organize a conference call with New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, to talk about outreach strategies.”

I too have seen all this top down outreach, all it amounts to is the urban planners trying to get rural people to do things the way they do. For all their good intentions it just doesn’t work. The logistics alone are staggering. For example 2,000 Trump yard signs could have been dropped off at the urban area HQ and dispersed by people coming into the headquarters, easy peasy.

In my case, living now in rural America, the 2,000 signs I bought had to be distributed by me. I first delivered them to the County Parties 250 to Mason County, 300 to Saginaw County, 100 to Lake, 100 more to Mason, 100 more to Lake, 100 to Muskegon County, 100 to Benzie, 100 to Newaygo, 150 more to Mason, and about 400 in two trips to Oceana County. All the rest were hand delivered to people who called me or the party. I probably spent $200 just on gas. I didn’t keep track of time but a trip from my house to Ludington is 45 minutes one way. Imagine the head ache that kind of logistical problem would be to a bunch of college kids running a campaign? When compared to the cost per number of signs delivered it just wouldn't be worth it. I've seen it from past experience and that is why I bought those signs.

In Oceana County our Party had no Headquarters out of which to organize or have people come to pick up signs. In Oceana County we have a “Mobile Campaign Headquarters” which is simply a pickup tricked out with Banners for our Party that every Friday morning set up at a different village in front of the local breakfast joint. We would wave signs and give out all the signs from all the candidates to the voters. We gave out lit and buttons and bumper stickers and what have you. But again what a logistical nightmare.

We had to have the schedule in advance then advertise it twice in the local paper. Get a motivated crew to show up early Friday mornings and I mean early. This however when done right was a far more personal method than the formal HQ set up. After all Politics is Personal.

With this unique Trump campaign year, we turned these events into “Trump Flash Mobs” we had more volunteers than normal and everyone was pumped up. That is where I found out about rural America and the love they had for Trump. People would give us the thumbs up and honk their horns. It was really invigorating for the volunteers.

On the last day at a special “Flash Mob” we called in Hesperia, one man gave us a $100 and said we should buy ourselves lunch. Another one came up a little later with a $20 and said buy yourselves something to drink. Wow – we did. After the “Flash Mob” we went to Daniels Restaurant wearing all our Trump gear and had a big lunch left a healthy tip and split the rest. That was the only money out of all the stops and it somehow seemed fitting.

Some more quotes from the article. “They’re not showing up. And they’re not addressing stuff that’s important to us.” Another quote. “People just love it when you show up,”. Here is another quote. “They talk about the messages that worked in very urban areas, where you have a million people or more. But they don’t know how to talk about ordinary people.”

Those poor Dems in the article think they have it bad. Well if you remember the Republicans too talked the same talk not very long ago --- like last year.

What we too easily forget especially in a bureaucratic setting is how important the top of the ticket is in relation to getting people fired up. Getting them fired up about a great candidate is easy, firing the base up about a Hillary or a Bob Dole is impossible.

The Dems made inroads into rural America and all over the place when Obama first ran. I remember walking in a parade in Muskegon Heights for Republican Karen Bui during that first Obama wave and I could feel the excitement in the crowd. I remember there was a ripple through the crowd because a representative from the Obama campaign was said to be there. I never saw him/her but the excitement was the same as we felt at our “Trump Flash Mobs”.

The point of this blog is three fold.

1. Change, real change needs to come from the bottom up.

2. It comes faster if the leadership understands that, as Trump enthusiastically did.

3. Urban as well as Rural Americans respond better to people who understand their problems. One on One campaigning works in both Urban and Rural settings.

I’ll end this post with a reminder. Politics in a Democracy is by definition never ending. It ebbs and flows. New vibrant leaders are always needed, new spins on age old problems will forever be used. Excitement among the “unwashed masses” needs to be stirred. The more the better for our representative Democracy. For it is from that mix that new ideas and leaders are born.

We need to continue stirring that pot and letting new people and ideas rise and let free people decide what they want. The people need to be trusted if they are expected to be self governing. If we don’t then the only change remaining possible is too revolutionary and bloody to contemplate.

That is the hard work of politics. The never ending work of politics. As Patrick Caddell so aptly put it. “It’s a peaceful uprising of a people who see a country in decline and see nothing but failure in the performance of their leadership institutions. They have signaled their intent to take back their country and to reclaim their sovereignty.” .

Although Patrick was talking about the last election, it encompasses the never ending work of politics. The surprising thing is this was written by a Democrat pollster of note one day before the election. He nailed it, not with a wish and a prayer but with hard researched facts. How did I miss this? How did the country miss it. It is the best commentary I’ve seen. It is close to all of my opinions on the election and why Trump won except mine was more of the wish and prayer type.

I found it while I was looking for the picture that tops this blog. I was at a polling station all day in Fruitland Township a rural area of Muskegon and when I pulled up before the polls opened I had to park in the street because the parking lot was full. The line was as long as the picture above. Check out the blog from the rural Nor-East of our country. Sounds pretty familiar.

That is the hard work of politics. The never ending work of politics. It is done best at the local level.

Regards, Bob Carr
Live Dangerously, Tell the Truth

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