Moral Mondays demonstrators in North Carolina, 2013.
Moral Mondays demonstrators in North Carolina, 2013. Credit: -ted/FLICKR

Following the 2016 election, the media has been replete with stories about Trump voters, especially those from small towns and rural America. The only thing that is unique about the latest example from the New York Times is that it serves as a reminder that there are even pockets of rural Republican voters in the extremely blue state of California. Otherwise, their story sounds pretty familiar to the one’s we’ve heard from other states.

From Hollywood to Silicon Valley, California projects an image as an economically thriving, politically liberal, sun-kissed El Dorado. It is a multiethnic experiment with a rising population, where the percentage of whites has fallen to 38 percent.

California’s Great Red North is the opposite, a vast, rural, mountainous tract of pine forests with a political ethos that bears more resemblance to Texas than to Los Angeles. Two-thirds of the north is white, the population is shrinking and the region struggles economically, with median household incomes at $45,000, less than half that of San Francisco.

Jim Cook, former supervisor of Siskiyou County, which includes cattle ranches and the majestic slopes of Mount Shasta, calls it “the forgotten part of California.”…

The residents of this region argue that their political voice is drowned out in a system that has only one state senator for every million residents.

Like other small towns and rural areas that voted for Donald Trump, this part of California is predominantly white with a higher rate of unemployment and more residents who depend on Medicaid for their health care. They don’t like paying taxes and blame their economic woes on federal regulations.

To the extent that these voters feel they are forgotten and aren’t heard in their state, I’d like to introduce them to groups of voters who feel the same, but aren’t seeing their story become an obsession with the mainstream media. Just as these California voters feel frustrated because they are conservatives living in a blue state, there are a lot of liberals living in red states whose situation goes beyond not being heard in their state capitol. They’re being overruled at the local level.

At a time when Democrats are locked out of power from the White House, both chambers of Congress, the majority of governor’s offices and three-fifths of the country’s state houses, their ideas at least have one reliable outlet. Democrats still control most of the country’s biggest cities.

Even that power center, though, is increasingly under attack.

In the last few years, Republican-controlled state legislatures have intensified the use of what are known as pre-emption laws, to block towns and cities from adopting measures favored by the left. The states aren’t merely overruling local laws; they’ve walled off whole new realms where local governments aren’t allowed to govern at all.

The pattern has worsened a different kind of partisan war beyond Washington, where the political divide cuts not just across the aisle, but across different levels of government. As standoffs between red states and blue cities grow more rancorous, the tactics of pre-emption laws have become personal and punitive: Several states are now threatening to withhold resources from communities that defy them and to hold their elected officials legally and financially liable.

Preemption laws have been targeted at cities that want to raise their minimum wage, offer paid sick leave, advance LGBT rights, decrease gun violence or ban fracking. The state of Ohio even passed a law that blocked a longstanding requirement that city construction contractors in Cleveland hire some local workers. Most of the laws that have been blocked via preemption were the result of movements organized by local citizens advocating for them. They too have a reason to believe that their voices are being drowned out.

The reason this is important to note is because much of the reporting we’re seeing in the media lately reinforces the Trump/Bannon message about the “forgotten man” and suggests that white rural Republicans are uniquely victimized. But there are men and women all over this country whose political aspirations are being silenced in their very own communities via this growing use of preemption. They deserve to have their stories told as well. Where is the so-called “liberal media” on that one?

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.