If Rural Voters Are So Worried About 'Defunding Police,' Why Aren't They Properly Funding Their Own?

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On Thursday, the Associated Press ran an article about how the Democratic brand is so "toxic" in rural areas that Democrats have to take their political signs in at night for fear they will be vandalized. Earlier in the week, Politico ran another, similar article, about how the DCCC's own research shows that Republican culture war attacks have been "alarmingly potent."

Naturally, both of these articles have been shared with absolute glee by far-Right outlets like Breitbart, just as gleefully as we might share articles about Trump supporters who are sad about how they can't get dates.

The AP article in particular is focused on Democrats' trouble in rural areas, first highlighting progressive Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman's unusual tactic of trying to appeal to rural voters by actually going to those areas and talking directly to them, and then moving on to the concerns of Democrats like Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, who is not seeking reelection, and former Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who remains steadfast in her belief that "defund the police" is the biggest problem for rural voters and the reason she could not get reelected.

Via Associated Press:

“Democrats have the House, they have the Senate, the presidency, but it’s an unstable majority. By that, I mean, the narrowest kind, making it difficult to advance ideas and build coalitions,” said Heitkamp, who now heads the One Country Project, which is focused on engaging rural voters.

She criticized her party’s go-to strategy for reaching rural voters: focusing on farmers and pledging to improve high-speed internet. At the same time, she said Democrats are hurting themselves by not speaking out more forcefully against far-left positions that alienate rural voters, such as the push to “defund the police.”

While only a handful of Democrats in Congress support stripping such money from police departments, for example, conservative media popular in rural communities — particularly Fox News — amplifies such positions.

“We’re letting Republicans use the language of the far left to define the Democratic Party, and we can’t do that,” Heitkamp said. “The trend lines in rural America are very, very bad. ... Now, the brand is so toxic that people who are Democrats, the ones left, aren’t fighting for the party.”

Huh. Curiously enough, this was also cited as a major issue for Democrats in the Politico article about the DCCC report, along with open borders, which no elected official that anyone knows of is actually advocating for.

Democrats’ own research shows that some battleground voters think the party is “preachy,” “judgmental” and “focused on culture wars,” according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

And the party’s House campaign arm had a stark warning for Democrats: Unless they more forcefully confront the GOP’s “alarmingly potent” culture war attacks, from critical race theory to defunding the police, they risk losing significant ground to Republicans in the midterms.

Rural voters are concerned about "defund the police," are they? Let's discuss.

Well, one thing that really does bear pointing out here is that rural police departments are chronically underfunded. In fact, they frequently have trouble finding people willing to work as police in these areas, because people tend to prefer jobs that pay them enough to live. This means that those in these areas who want to be police officers tend to go to cities, where the jobs pay well and include better benefits.

Via NBC:

“I don't know that there's any department out there that says, ‘Man, I have enough officers, and I don't have a problem with hiring officers,’" Carsten said. “The smaller towns that I part time at have the same problem that I'm having.”

Attracting recruits to work for rural police departments is getting increasingly difficult, especially as most new law enforcement officers are choosing to work in urban areas, which tend to pay better and be better staffed.

Police officers earned an average of $56,160 in 2011. That rose to $65,210 in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Rural departments, however, struggle to match those salaries.

“I don’t see the younger officers, the newer officers, coming into the smaller towns,” Carsten said, noting that pay disparity was one reason.

It seems to me that if this were truly such a big concern for these people, that they would fund their own police departments before worrying about police departments in areas where they do not live. Most police departments are funded by property taxes, so perhaps the citizens of these areas could get together and advocate for higher taxes, or for funds to be taken away from other services they use, in order to properly fund their police departments.

I also do not see these areas advocating for the same kind of police presence in their towns that exist in urban areas, I don't see them advocating for stop and frisk or other intrusive policing methods in their own areas, and I can't imagine they would enjoy either of those things too much. Now, sure — it's easy to say "Well there's more crime in urban areas," but according to statistics from the Bureau of Justice, only 42 percent of violent crimes and 55.8 percent of serious violent crimes are reported to police in rural areas — and in 16 percent of those cases, the reason cited was that police could not or would not help.

Child abuse is also a pretty big issue.

Via the Administration for Children and Families:

Except for educational neglect, the incidence of all categories of Endangerment Standard maltreatment was higher in rural counties than in urban counties and similar patterns also emerged in rates of most categories of Harm Standard maltreatment. Rural children had a nearly 2 times higher rate of overall Harm Standard maltreatment and nearly 2 times higher rate of overall Endangerment Standard maltreatment.

Now, I'm not saying this to drag on rural areas. I'm really not. I grew up in a fairly rural area myself. I'm saying this because it is very much worth noting that this may not be the actual thing that people are concerned about. Especially when you combine it with the other "issues" like "critical race theory" and "open borders." Just think about that. Let it wash over you. Is anything perhaps becoming more clear? What do these issues have in common?

I'm not saying that all Democrats ought to jump on the "Defund the Police" bandwagon. I happen to personally believe that we would be better off directing some police funds into other services that are better equipped to handle some of the things police are currently handling, particularly as it concerns mental health crises and non-emergencies, which is what defunding is — but I'm a weirdo like that. What I am saying is that over-correcting for this particular issue is not necessarily going to be as effective as people hope and will just force us all into a never-ending game of dog whistle Whack-A-Mole that we will never, ever win.

Democrats could pour billions into police departments across America, they could build a Trump-style wall at the border — it will never stop Fox News from coming up with other obviously racist nontroversies to scare their audience. They had to dig to come up with "critical race theory." If they can't dig to find something, they will make something up. Trust that.

Perhaps it would be better to focus on things that Democrats can do for people to make their lives better that Republicans won't do, to go into these areas and find out what people are concerned about beyond whatever it is Tucker Carlson was yelling about the other night.

Heitkamp was right about a couple things. Focusing on farmers and broadband probably isn't all that appealing to rural voters — at least not enough to sway any votes. People in rural areas need jobs, they need unions, they need their children to get a good education, they need help with the opioid epidemic, they need affordable and accessible health care, they need affordable emergency health care and for something to be done about the absurdly high cost of air ambulances, they need a lot of the same things the rest of us do. Hell, maybe they even need funding for their police departments. They also, quite frankly, need to feel like people are not looking down on them.

Beltway Democrats tend to prefer aspirational candidates over relatable candidates, but maybe it wouldn't kill anyone to tweak that recipe a little bit for these areas. While Fetterman is a good example of doing this, it's not exclusive to progressives. Certainly Bill Clinton, with his saxophone playing and "I feel your pain"-ing, proved that you can have your Third Way politics and eat your Big Mac too.

It's not a surefire recipe for success, nothing is, but it's a lot more sustainable in the long run and requires selling out far fewer Democratic voters than trying to play Fox's reindeer games will.

[AP | Politico]

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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