As rural Virginia loses young people, schools look hard at consolidation (Virginia Mercury)

This one hit close to home.

I grew up in Alleghany County, Virginia, just outside the then-city limits of Clifton Forge. In 2001, Clifton Forge reverted from city to town status—an important distinction that significantly affects governance, taxes and services. The city had long since consolidated its schools with Alleghany County at that point. The school consolidation happened in 1983, just about the time I was starting elementary school.

Now, Alleghany County and the city of Covington are considering a similar school consolidation. And so are several other localities around Virginia, mostly in areas experiencing population loss. Alleghany County, for example, has seen a 16% and Covington a 22% decline in population from 1990. But consolidation and local identity can be tricky, with decisions involving many more factors than just figures on paper.

Read the full story at the Virginia Mercury.

What Virginia’s off-off-year elections mean for 2020 (New Republic)

Virginia’s 2019 elections saw Democrats win control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time since the 1990s. These new majorities are more diverse and progressive than any legislative body in state history.

How did it happen? In this advancer that ran the week before the elections, I charted the events, individuals, and dynamics at play in Virginia’s historic “off-off-year” elections, in which no statewide or congressional offices were at stake but all 140 seats in the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates were up for re-election. Read more in the story at the New Republic.

A podcast about politics, culture, history & life in Appalachia

In late September, I soft-launched Blue Ridge Free State, a podcast about politics, culture, history & life in Appalachia. If you remember There’s Nothing to Do Here!, my regional zine 2003-05, it’s like that but with all the politics I’ve covered since then.

Since the launch, we’ve released six episodes, with more coming soon.

Subscribe on iTunes or on Stitcher.

Here’s a brief rundown on the first seven:

 

1: Our Nerds in Washington (w/ Amy Friedenberger)

In our first episode, we talk about why Donald Trump is campaigning in West Virginia. We also interview Amy Friedenberger, politics reporter for the Roanoke Times, about the 2018 midterm races in Appalachian Virginia.

 

2: Mountain State Melee (w/ Jake Zuckerman)

On this episode, we talk about Donald Trump’s recent swing through Appalachia for Republican candidates for US Senate, and why he’s trying to make it all about himself. We also interview Jake Zuckerman, politics reporter for the Charleston Gazette-Mail about the West Virginia teacher’s strike, Gov. Jim Justice’s recent PEIA presser, the Manchin/Morrisey race for US Senate, the Miller/Ojeda race in southern West Virginia, and how healthcare is playing as an issue.

 

3: Can Democrats win in a post-Trump Appalachia? (w/ Kyle Kondik)

On this episode, we talk with elections analyst Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, about a variety of House, Senate, and gubernatorial races in the Appalachian region. We consider how opposition parties have fared in midterms since the 1990s, with a focus on Appalachia.

We also hear an excerpt with Mason and Madelyn Beck of Harvest Public Media from Us & Them, a West Virginia Public Broadcasting podcast about political and cultural divisions in America.

 

4: MDC—Marcin Dishes Candidly (w/ Deanna Marcin)

On this episode of Blue Ridge Free State, we talk about punk and LBGT history in Roanoke, Virginia, and how those two came together at the Backstreet Cafe.

We interview Deanna Marcin about the recent controversy of MDC’s show, how it was cancelled, and how it was rescheduled. She also talks about her journey as a transsexual woman, how she landed in Roanoke, how she came to work at the Backstreet Cafe, the atmosphere there in the years that followed a fatal shooting rampage, how she started booking punk and metal, and what’s happened since then.

 

5: Under Construction—Trauma, Urban Renewal, & 25 Years of Activism in Roanoke (w/ Brenda Hale)

On this episode, host Mason Adams interviews Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke Branch NAACP. Topics include childhood trauma, urban renewal, politics, activism, the Confederate invasion of the 2015 Roanoke Christmas parade, and much more.

 

6: 2018 Midterm Election Wrap-Up

On this episode, Mason looks back on the 2018 midterms and how they played out in Appalachia. And he looks ahead to the podcast’s near-term future.

 

7: Mountain healthcare, from VW Beetle to Drone Delivery (w/ Teresa Gardner Tyson of SWVA’s Health Wagon)

On this episode, we interview Teresa Tyson Gardner of the Health Wagon, a free clinic serving a vulnerable population in Southwest Virginia’s coal counties.

Teresa talks about the past, present, and future of the Health Wagon, the challenges to addressing healthcare in the mountains—but also how that need drives innovation and creative approaches.

Also, Mason talk about why a Roanoke city school superintendent gave copies of JD Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” to all of her principals ahead of the 2017-2018 school year.

Virginia’s Medicaid expansion vote shows the shifting Republican approach to healthcare in Appalachia (Belt Magazine)

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.

Upcoming midterms in New York & West Virginia give glimpse of rural politics in 2018 (Daily Yonder)

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.

Don Blankenship has turned WV’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate into a 3-way race (New Republic)

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.

How Appalachian black metal is defining a new era of mountain music (Noisey)

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.

How Roanoke reinvented itself by bringing housing to a fading downtown (CityLab)

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.