Terry Kilgore saw the writing on the wall. The longtime Republican state delegate, who represents Virginia’s southwestern-most district, had watched as Republicans grabbed the White House and both houses of Congress in 2016 and then failed to act on healthcare. A year later, Democrats came within a single, disputed vote of winning parity in the Virginia House of Delegates. And Kilgore’s constituents in an economically distressed Appalachian district were struggling with paying for healthcare.
All that contributed to Kilgore’s flip after four years to support Medicaid expansion in Virginia. He and a handful of other Appalachian Republicans broke ranks to join Democrats to expand coverage for an additional 400,000 Virginians, including many in the mountainous part of the state.
I wrote about the why and how for Belt Magazine. Read it here.
I’m writing a series of previews of congressional midterm elections for the Daily Yonder, a website about rural America published by the Center for Rural Strategies out of Whitesburg, Kentucky.
“Rural” as measured by the US Census—which is based not on geography but what percentage of a population is living in metro vs non-metro areas.
My first story focused on upstate New York, home to two of the 20 most rural districts in the US. This story looks at developing midterm races in NY-19 (a toss-up) and NY-21 (safe R). Read it at the Daily Yonder here.
The second story looks at West Virginia’s 3rd congressional district, which Donald Trump won by 50 points but which is an open seat with unpredictable dynamics. Read that story here.
When he first entered the West Virginia Republican primary for U.S. Senate, I kind of wrote off Don Blankenship’s campaign as an effort at rehabbing his image after a year in prison. But now, five weeks out from the primary election, it appears that the former apex predator of blood capitalism is in the hunt.
Read my story about Blankenship’s background & the current moment at The New Republic.
The music of the rising Appalachian black metal scene is awesome, & the musicians behind it are extraordinarily thoughtful individuals, so I always jump at the chance to talk to them.
This story features Slaves BC, Ulfrinn, Twilight Fauna, Nechochwen, and Vials of Wrath.
I recommended more artists here:
Read my story at Noisey.
I spent the last day of February in Charleston at the WV Capitol, where despite the governor’s announcement of a resolution, hundreds of teachers showed up to chant, sing, shout & dialogue. Schools in all 55 counties are out again today, as lawmakers debated what to do. Here’s what I saw & heard.
Read the story at Vice.
In 1979, Roanoke was a blue-collar New South city built around the Norfolk & Western railroad. The city core was decaying as businesses and residents moved outward to suburbs and adjacent counties.
Today, the Star City has become what so many cities of its size, geography, and history want to be. It’s burgeoning, chock full of craft beer, and eminently welcoming to outdoorsy Millennials. As small cities struggle to retain young people, Roanoke is attracting them.
How did this happen? And what does downtown’s transformation mean for nearby neighborhoods like historic Gainsboro?
Read the full story at CityLab.
Roanoke has successfully reinvented itself from a gritty blue-collar railroad hub into a burgeoning, craft-beer soaked, millennial-friendly outdoor mountain town with a cool, freshly restored downtown.
In doing so it has become a model for small cities in Appalachia and the South looking to transcend outdated community narratives. But Roanoke still faces significant challenges in spreading that new prosperity to neighborhoods that have been hit by generations of segregation, deepening economic inequality, a powerful business class with outsized influence on city politics, & a legacy of disruption via urban renewal.
Roanoke’s challenges are those of many other New South towns that also struggle with historic economic immobility. I wrote for Scalawag about the Star City’s struggles, largely through the past and present of its public schools.
Before West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, the US nearly had Westsylvania, Transylvania & Franklin.
This story, for Blue Ridge Country, is about the wild, unruly period between the end of the War for Independence & the writing of the US Constitution that saw Appalachian statehood movements that fell just short.
For more than three decades the Park + Backstreet Cafe were cornerstones of Roanoke’s gay bar scene. Hell, it wasn’t just LGBT folks, either: When I moved to Roanoke in 2003, punk bands would drink at the Backstreet, go down & play a show at then-boozeless Factory 324 (former Iroquois), and then half the crowd would go to dance afterward at the Park.
The Park continues to operate as a dance club, but the ownership changes there in 2015 + this year’s change from the Backstreet Cafe into the Front Row mark the end of a particular era for Roanoke’s gay bars, and the beginning of something new.
I wrote about the history & changes for Vice’s Munchies.
Statistically, crime in public wildlands is relatively rare. Most crime there tends to be vandalism or illegal dumping. As is the case with crime generally, violent crime on public lands tends to be domestic, occurring between people who know each other.
But occasionally something bad happens. Unsolved mysteries on public wildlands grip our imaginations, in part because they took place at the places we play.
For Blue Ridge Outdoors, I looked at unsolved homicides and a mysterious disappearance. Read the story here.