Updated: Jun 2, 2021
Washington's second congressional district consists of 5 counties. By land use, they're pretty rural, although Snohomish and Whatcorn are considered predominantly urban and suburban.
Snohomish (88.4% rural)
Island (81.5% rural)
San Juan (100% rural)
The incumbent, Rick Larsen, is a former Medical Industrial Complex lobbyist and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say he doesn't do anything for his rural constituents, although that might give you the misconception that he does something for his urban or suburb constituents. The fact that he doesn't has moved Democratic Party activist and progressive Jason Call to run for the seat. He did a guest post for us today on the rural communities in his district. Please give it a read and consider contributing to his campaign by clicking on the Blue America 2022 congressional thermometer on the left.
Why Progressive Policies Are Good For Rural Communities And How We Can Sell It
-by Jason Call
The Democratic Party conventional wisdom on campaigning is designed to keep policy focused on a perceived ‘center’ of voters, seeking to maximize their portion of the electorate. In their voter outreach missive, the goal of GOTV is to target a very narrow subsection of the electorate-- namely, likely Democratic voters with an inconsistent track record of voting. If those voters can be motivated to turn in their ballots or go to the polls, theoretically, seats can be won in purple areas, so long as the candidate is moderate establishment with (again, perceived) broad appeal. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with Democrats unwilling to support candidates who push progressive out of fear that “you can’t win swing seats with progressives.” As it turns out, the party establishment for more nefarious reasons (the grift of corporate money), is fine with this status quo, and as much as a big tent is touted, the tent always opens to the right (come, moderate Republicans, join us!) but rarely the left. The party won’t invest in any outreach into areas it deems unwinnable, and that means that a wide swath voters are missing consistent contact with progressive ideals outside of the Faux News propaganda machine, under which they face withering and disingenuous criticism.
However, many of us on the left have long believed that rural America is ripe for a nationwide progressive messaging push, particularly as the youth of rural America are increasingly aware of the planetary environmental crisis, and as we’ve seen from recent analysis, the share of wealth of contemporary under 30’s is a quarter that of the boomers of the same age. As we’ve also seen in recent years, leaving the ideological education of rural youth to the Republicans is reckless in the extreme. There have always been pockets of fascist ideology in America, but as history repeats itself, the continued widening of the income gap plays into right-wing anti-Semitism and general xenophobia. The source of the unrest is economic, and Democratic party neoliberalism doesn’t offer the working class (rural or otherwise) a clear or tangible pathway out of wage depression, housing depression, healthcare depression, student debt depression, or any of the other daily pitfalls that make life in America-- land of great wealth-- precarious for a hundred or more million people.
As a matter of responsibility to counter fascism, as well as build the support to institute progressive policy, it is incumbent on the progressive left to be the vanguard of outreach to rural communities. It is activism-based candidates like myself who must take the lead in this outreach, because we seek policies that will benefit the vast majority. Our messaging focus has to be two-fold; we must make the economic arguments against neoliberal crony capitalist policies (which will require we expose corporate Democrats as policy-weak incrementalists), and we must counter and supplant the false narrative (in these largely white rural areas) that immigrant and minority communities are somehow the root source of generalized trouble, both economic and social.
A common thread in “why rural areas don’t have…”, is that it’s simply too expensive to have systems in place to efficiently and effectively serve rural communities. Why is it too expensive? Is it because we don’t have the resources or the technology to build those systems? No, we are rich in both labor and materials. The “too expensive” is largely a matter of privatization of systems-- energy systems, communications systems, healthcare systems, transportation systems-- the basic infrastructure that is essential for modern human existence. Too expensive is a cynical euphemism for not enough profit in rural customers for private institutions to justify investment in this infrastructure. The easy and clear response to this is that such systems must be nationalized and the profit incentive removed so that all residents have reasonable, equitable, and affordable access. And because local economies also don’t have the tax revenue for such undertakings, the majority of the funding for these projects must come from the federal government, either in whole or as an assistance to (and in cooperation with) local governments.
What are we talking about? We’re talking about rural hospitals and clinics staffed with medical and support staff who aren’t overworked, underpaid and struggling with student debt. Providing tuition and fee free college will reap rewards in the sheer numbers of healthcare workers available; the reduced hours and guaranteed living wage pay will result in a more patient-centered healthcare system. Taking the for-profit health insurance industry out of the mix (eliminating it almost entirely) will ensure both preventive care and prescribed treatments that ultimately result in reduced reliance on more costly critical care facilities.
Federal investment in tuition-free college, vocational and trades training, and rural healthcare via Medicare For All will reap rewards for rural employers in payroll savings to private insurance; having healthier communities not steeped in medical debt will be its own reward in rural areas that have historically been underserved in regards to health needs.
Of course, the construction, maintenance, and staffing of rural healthcare is just one economic sector which will benefit from a federal jobs guarantee; how about massive investments in energy-efficient rail that can reduce the cost of goods transportation to and from more remote communities, all while working to eliminate carbon footprint that impacts our weather systems which in turn affects the stability of farming communities? For that matter, simply investing in the manufacturing of sustainable rural electrification systems not as a private enterprise, but as a national imperative for a livable future. While housing tends to be more expensive in urban areas, virtually everything else-- energy, education, healthcare, transportation-- is more expensive per capita in rural areas. Rural economies tend to be more depressed than suburban and urban economies, so what could be better for them than these kinds of federal investments in the quality and affordability of living? Such improvements don’t have to negatively impact rural lifestyles; rather, they will make it easier for the rural lifestyle to be maintained.
When establishment Democrats talk about improving the rural condition, they’re unfortunately not talking about meaningful systemic change. They’re talking about making sure rural Americans have internet access (for which the road block still is that internet infrastructure is privately owned). If that’s as far as Democrats are willing to extend themselves, they have virtually nothing to offer rural voters. The Republicans don’t either, but the Republicans maintain the advantage of a narrative built over 40 years. You can’t counter that deeply ingrained narrative without a real plan of action for improving people’s lives. Progressives have the plans, now we need to convince those voters that the real divide in this country is between the 99% and the 1% (or more precisely, the top .01%, the billionaires), and not between the various social and ethnic groups, the various labor groups, or even the various economic groups within the 99%, most of whom could reasonably be considered working people. Our fight is with the Lockheed Martin CEO who makes $28 million in salary, which is paid by government weapons contracts. It’s with the UnitedHealthgroup CEO who makes $19 million in salary by denying healthcare claims. It’s with Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and the other billionaires who have so much market power now that the combined wealth of the 400 richest people in America (that is, 0.0001%, or one 100,000th of 1%) is now closing in on 20% of GDP. While the oligarchy is allowed to run roughshod over people’s lives with the blessing of both party establishments, short term concentrated profits rather than diffuse long term sustainability will remain the norm.