Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Monday, March 10, 2008

"Socio-Cultural Characteristics of the Palouse Basin"

You're really going to enjoy this particular piece of professorial fluffery. It demonstrates considerable academic laziness, liberal bias, greatly oversimplified generalizations, and a general surrender to popular stereotypes. It's from the Palouse Basin Community Water Resource Information System, part of the Water Resources Program at the University of Idaho which provides a "platform for cross-disciplinary analyses of water resources sustainability within the eastern Palouse Basin watershed of western Latah County, Idaho, and eastern Whitman County, Washington."

I have highlighted what I consider the biased parts below:
A large proportion of rural residents in the area, especially those living outside of its population centers, were born in the Basin. Their customs and lifestyles are typical of those found in rural areas of the West, in that they tend to have resource-based and land-production occupations, and are comparatively more conservative in their values and perspectives. One crude indicator of this social characteristic is the number of campaign contributions made by residents of Colfax, WA, in the 2004 election: all but one were made to the Republican Party or its candidates – in a state where a minority (46%) of voters voted for George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election.

However, in the Idaho portion of the basin’s rural areas, an exception is that some proportion of rural landowners either are faculty of the two universities or professionals attracted to the university-town of Moscow, and thus comparatively more liberal and affluent than their neighbors -- or they are even more liberal residents who have been attracted to the area as part of the back-to-the-land movement that began in the 1970's. One indicator of this social characteristic is the proportion of voters in Latah County that voted for George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election – 50% -- in contrast to a state in which a majority voted for Bush (69%).

It might also be noted that a major segment of the Moscow and rural Latah County population, given a more liberal political orientation and the fact that they have come from other more populated, congested and poorly planned areas of the country, are more concerned than other residents with growth management and the use of government and public policy to advance economic and community development in a way that they see as being progressive and well-planned. Some are opposed to certain kinds of economic activity (e.g., "big-box" retail stores) and have been labeled by others as "anti-growth."

In contrast, some residents of the Basin, especially in rural Whitman County, are more conservative in their beliefs and preferences, and some (including many farmers in the region) are among the region’s most conservative, especially in comparison to their fellow citizens on the "west-side" of the state of Washington and in Latah County. These individuals tend to believe that the less government involvement in citizens’ lives, the better, and they espouse principles of free-market economics, despite the subsidies that some receive from the federal government. Of particular relevance for water resource management, they are generally in favor of community development through increased economic activity (i.e., "pro-growth"), and would like to see their communities grow in terms of the basic industries and retail outlets available for local services, consumer choices and purchasing options, and general local prosperity, through the jobs, income and economic expansion generated.
So, I guess we can interpret from that we conservatives are in favor of "poor planning" and "wasting water?"

And while there is some truth to this assessment, categorizing people as "anti-growth" and "pro-growth" by who voted for Bush and who voted for Kerry is embarassingly simplistic, insulting, and just plain wrong.

I know MANY Democrats who are in favor of Wal-Mart in Pullman. Pullman is around 55% Democrat, and yet Judy Krueger of PARD lost overwhelmingly in the 2005 city council race. I'm sure many of those folks who voted against Krueger voted for Kerry the year before.

Moscow is also strongly Democratic, yet the city council members who opposed big boxes were thrown out en masse last November. The same council that approved the Hawkins water deal went on a few weeks later to uphold a controversial measure granting health benefits to "domestic partners" of city workers, including those of the same sex, in violation of Idaho law. "Conservative?" You tell me.

On the flip side, I know of many conservatives who strongly oppose big-box stores in both Pullman and Moscow. And Whitman County is not underdeveloped because the Democrats have been in control all these years. Whitman County government has largely been a Democrat-free zone for a long time. No, it is in large part due to those farmers mentioned above who fear suburban development intruding into rural areas. In Pullman, it was business owners that chased away the Palouse Mall.

Until recently, Democratic Latah County had been the center of retail and housing development on the Palouse. Republican Whitman County had developed the anti-growth reputation. The opposition to big boxes is a coalition that spans political parties, the unholy alliance of liberal fascists and NIMBYists. The common thread with each group is that they want the government to decide what other people can do with their land. The NIMBYists just tend to be a little more quiet about it.

As an information system for those making decision about water, this seems to be a very poor resource. You would think they could do their homework and conduct some meaningful surveys on political attitudes about growth on the Palouse. They probably wouldn't like what they found.

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