Republicans Who Voted Against Infrastructure But Still Love Infrastructure.

Funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress last fall is starting to hit the ground in earnest, and elected officials are coming out of the woodwork to let their constituents know about new spending available for water projects, highways, high speed internet, bridges, and more. The hype train is happening in rural newspapers, radio stations and social media, as opportunities for legislators to cut ribbons and show off are simply too juicy to miss.

The thing is, while I certainly commend Congress for adding $550 billion to infrastructure spending during the next decade, it’s important to remember that the vast, vast, vast majority of Republicans voted against—and fought against—this package every step of the way. Sure, a handful of Republican Senators and even fewer GOP House members supported the final bill. But it was a pretty small handful.

Take my U.S. Representative here in rural Western North Carolina, Madison Cawthorn (R, NC-11th). Cawthorn has somehow found the time in his first term between crashing local school board meetings (to bash mask mandates and the teaching of real history) and speaking at meetings of “patriots” who support armed insurrection of the federal government to pretend he supports funding for rural internet and local power grid improvements. He voted against this spending, and spent much of 2021 calling the infrastructure bill variations on a theme of “Communistic government oppression designed to take away your freedom and liberty.”

Or what about first-term Iowa U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson (R, IA-1st)? Hinson, who serves the northeastern quadrant of Iowa, got caught in a game of pickle when she started promoting her pretend-work to support Iowa lock and dam projects on the Mississippi River. Turns out Hinson is just like Cawthorn and the Republican obstructionist mainstream, who voted against the infrastructure package stating incorrectly that the package was tied to a broader Democratic “socialist agenda.”

While this is all unsurprising, pointing out hypocrisy has about as much impact as other forms of fact-checking, particularly when it comes to politics.

That said, I would prefer to have a little more honesty in our discourse over democracy. I’d like our elected officials to actually sit in the chambers and take vote after vote rather than prognosticate about the potential of all of these supposed “grand bargains” to solve all of our problems. Mostly, I’d like for politicians to be judged on their Congressional votes, large and small, by informed and engaged voters.

It’s probably never been that way, nor is it likely to be that way any time soon. But it sure seems preferable to the confusion and disorientation of the current political moment, when disinformation and misinformation are carrying the day.

Rural Reading List

The Daily Yonder keeps cranking out the rural reporting, and the broader media has a few good pieces as well, for this week’s list of news worth reading: 

Commentary: ‘The Battle Is Far from Over’– Recent Abortion Bans Foreshadow Struggles for Rural Women

Carolyn Campbell for the Daily Yonder, describing her journeys and experiences in rural Texas and Mississippi as a witness to womens’ movements for reproductive freedom. Countering the pro-migrant “sanctuary city” movement for worker rights and safety with a “sanctuary city for the unborn” framing is not something I have seen reported before.

Farmers Union Campaign Hopes to Fight Monopolies Through Awareness-Building Storytelling

Still more happening on the “break up monopolies” in agriculture, this Daily Yonder feature focuses on a new Farmers Union campaign. 

For Small Towns With Small Work Forces, Omicron Means Small Margins for Error

A New York Times feature on the impacts of Covid-19 on the public sector workforce staffing issues of rural areas. This one features Southeastern Arkansas.

Plans to Close All but One Polling Place in a Rural Georgia County Reverberate Through a Battleground State

On-the-ground reporting about rural counties in Georgia, particularly where large percentages of Black voters live, facing loss of polling places and vote-by-mail options.

One More Thing: Chef Michael Twitty on Cornbread

The relative ease of talking smack about regional food preferences in the social media/internet era is one of the “good things” about being alive these days. From barbecue to BBQ to Bar-B-Que, our lives (or at least mine) is slightly richer for the ability to type nonsense food opinions into the world wide web, fanning a minor argument that—for once—does not devolve into talk of “civil war.”

You might not, for instance, understand what a rural Missourian means when she/he/they are “needing to make up a pot of chili.” That’s likely to be venison, or freezer beef in a pinch, with beans in a tomato-based sauce served with cheese and saltines or Fritos. Many Texans, on the other hand, reject the beans and switch the tomatoes for peppers. Cincinnati chili people of the Ohio River Valley are on a different planet altogether, somehow settling on a regional chili that embraces spaghetti noodles and mole-like flavors. (Personally, I prefer the Missouri version but I cook and enjoy eating all varieties of chili, so long as supplemental spices and heat are encouraged.)

Recently I had dinner with some of my neighbors, and though we were sharing a delicious meal of Tex-Mex style flour-tortilla-soft-tacos with “Spanish rice,” the conversation drifted to a fundamental disagreement about cornbread dressing versus traditional wheat-bread stuffing. I’m on team cornbread dressing, of course, and team cornbread in general. My neighbor, she’s a staunch supporter of bread stuffing and also she’s from small town Kansas. We are supposed to be enemies, you see, wheat-growing Kansans versus corn-embracing Missourians, and so we slipped into those stereotypes real naturally.

The real point I’m getting at is that stuffing and dressing are delicious in every form. And if you are a New Englander or Westerner or Great Lakes person who has yet to enjoy cornbread’s many gifts, I invite you to join team cornbread. Reading this essay about cornbread dressing by the writer/chef Michael Twitty is a good introduction. And if you’re one of them people who find themselves with oodles of boxes of Jiffy Cornbread mix in the pantry shelf, here’s some tips for making that sweet-instead-of-savory staple sing with flavor.

Welcome to Team Cornbread, Keep It Rural readers. I invite you to enjoy the view for a minute, even if you prefer gluten and yeast.

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