Sunday, July 15, 2018

VISITING A RED STATE

I'm in deep red Trump Country.  This North Idaho county voted for him 64.2% to 37.0% for Clinton, with the rest scattered amongst a number 3rd party candidates.  Seventy-five percent of registered voters voted.  But that was only 59% of those of the voting age population, which always stuns me.  Why in the world don't people register to vote???

Just out of curiosity I looked up some other stats that seem to go along with being a supporter of this president.  In this town, 91% of the population is white.  The median income is $37,000.  Fifteen percent of residents have a college degree or higher.

The high school here has 346 students, mostly white;  8% of students are classified "minority", mostly Hispanic.  Forty percent of the student population are considered economically disadvantaged.  The graduation rate is 83%, an increase over 5 years from 66%, so that's good but the total enrollment is dropping, down 17% over 5 years.  No stats were reported for "college readiness" or for mathematics test scores; students hover around 52% in reading proficiency.

One thing that this town has going for it is a mountain.  A big one.  One that attracts skiers and snowboarders and mountain bikers.  There's also a section of a 72 mile breathtaking bike trail running through town, so trail riders regularly pass through too.  Most of those folks don't live here, but they do bring in some money.  Not enough, though, and the jobs the resort creates are "service industry" low-paying jobs and again, not enough of them.  Statewide the unemployment rate is 3.1%  In this county it's 6.0%

Folks here recall the glory days of the booming economy based on silver mining -- many are waiting for the mines to come back.  There is a proud heritage here of those mining days, the generations of miners who pulled silver from the mountains, supported their families, and lived mostly protected from big city, urban concerns in a valley surrounded by stunning natural beauty.  There were mining "mishaps" and one big disaster to which monuments have been raised.  But it was a good life most say.  They didn't know until much later that the lead from those mines was poisoning the river that runs through town and the dirt on the hillsides and in the yards where their children played.  An EPA Superfund was set up to remediate that...digging down 18 inches to remove contaminated soil and replacing it.  There are still signs up on the bike trail to stay on the cement trail and wash well before eating.

I've never lived full time in this small economically-depressed town, but we own property here.  You may ask, "Why?!?"

Hub is an avid snowboarder.  He read in 2006 that this town was on the cusp of being the next big thing...a new Vail.  Our sons were in college in Eastern Washington and we thought it would be a great gathering place for family fun.  I was working full time, those two sons gave me worry fits on occasion, and I was seeing signs of dementia in my aging mother.  I needed an escape; a respite from stress.  It's quiet here.  Plus, the housing was "cheap".  We could buy a house and an empty lot and soon, we were sure, they would prove to be a veritable gold mine as the resort expanded and the hordes rushed in to buy property at premium prices.  Development was just taking off.....but a year later the housing market crashed and we were stuck with a house we thought we'd "flip" in 2-3 years.  It's been 12 years of ownership now.  When I told a financial planner that we thought it would be a good investment, he corrected me and said what it was was a speculation.  An investment is when you can reasonably expect, with good odds and a proven track record, a return on the investment.  Oh.

We almost just dumped the house a few years ago, but then we got a second wind after Hub retired.  He started to come here with his friends for ski/boarding adventures several times during the winter months, and to ride his bike on the trails in the summer.  Our sons never did come here for "family fun" very often, but they both have come for "guys" weekends and seem to like it.  We rented it as a vacation rental for awhile, but that's hard to do long-distance.  We encourage friends to use it.  For now it's working out to hang on to it. The housing market is rebounding a slight bit and a new resort owner has some big plans for continuing the stalled development.  Our home is in a "nicer" part of town.  So we'll see.

But mostly the town itself is still depressed and depressing (to me, anyway).  There are some lovely homes here on quiet tree-lined streets, but interspersed are hard-luck rentals (and their ubiquitous pit bulls behind chain link fences.)  I took an hour long walk "uptown" today and photographed the sad and dilapidated storefronts of this small town USA.  

I saw the Trump sign in the window of one home and wondered.....Why?  Why still demonstrating such support?  What magic do these folks believe can trickle down to them from the Golden Tower of Trump?  It makes me sad that they believe he will save them and their children and their children's children.  Maybe it's his promise to similarly strapped West Virginians that "coal is coming back."  Maybe they think the mines here will re-open too.  But he didn't even bother to pander to poor Idaho; no presidential visits here.  These folks just get a constant barrage of FOXified "news" and hopes for better days.

What do I hope?  I hope something will turn around here and that these people can benefit from a new economic base that doesn't displace them from the area they call home.  I understand now that our plan to cash in on the gentrification we'd hoped for is just another form of oppression.  If the town does boom, most here won't be able to afford living here, unless construction jobs, businesses, and a tourist industry economy raises all ships.   I don't have answers.  But we are paying our taxes, buying in local stores, eating in local restaurants, chatting with our neighbors, and trying to be good citizens, even if only part-time.  And in a few days I'll go back to my urban Blue Bubble and keep wondering about that Trump sign.

At least, that's the view from here...©