Archives for posts with tag: politics

Did you visit a state park over the Memorial Day weekend? You might be interested to read about the financial pressure on parks after legislatures cut parks’ general revenue funding. My latest story for Stateline

The Idaho legislature whacked state park funding by 80 percent at the height of the recession, leaving the Department of Parks and Recreation with little choice but to think outside the box.

Parks officials decided to replace the old $40 season pass with a $10 “parks passport,” good for admission to all 30 state parks. Under the new system, they automatically put the passport option in front of Idaho’s 2.5 million vehicle owners as they renewed their license plates each year. The gamble paid off: Last year, 95,800 people opted to buy the $10 passports, compared to 15,000 who used to purchase the $40 season pass each year. So far, the new passports have generated more than $1 million.Image

“We’re able to reach more people,” Jennifer Okerlund, communications manager for the parks department, said of the Department of Motor Vehicles opt-in. “Selling it for the discounted amount is very attractive to Idahoans, and they’re taking advantage of it.”

As the Memorial Day holiday opens the 2014 summer vacation season, state parks have had to get creative about ways to raise money because budget officers are being chintzier with tax revenue. State general revenue for parks has plunged from a nationwide average of 59 percent of park funding in fiscal 1990 to 33 percent in fiscal 2012. Read more here

A guest post from my husband, Chuck Raasch, affectionately known in this blog as CRR. He recently traveled cross-country with our son.

Political handicappers in the nation’s capital expressed surprise last month  when former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, seen as the Democrats’ best hope to  hold on to the seat of retiring Sen. Max Baucus — and with it, possibly keep  control of the Senate — decided not to run next year.

But in Big Sky country there wasn’t much surprise when Schweitzer said: “This  is my home, not Washington, D.C. I don’t want a job where I have to wear a suit  and my dog isn’t welcome.”

After compiling bylines from 49 states in my career, I’m convinced that you  cannot even begin to understand what you don’t know about this country until you  have driven across it, probed its byways, sat in its cafes, and listened to its  local radio. This was my third cross-country trip, fourth if you count the one  from the Lower 48 to Alaska via the Alcan Highway. This time, I came away with a  much different feeling than on any previous trip.

There’s a growing indifference toward Washington in Flyover Country. Not in  any naïve sense that it has lost power over people’s lives, but more of a  feeling that anger, hope, insurgency, and change have not really changed how the  town works. So why bother? It’s no wonder Mr. Schweitzer is not coming to  Washington.

Most Americans I talked to along the way were still in love with the ideal of  America, and you can understand why. It is a great country, despite our problems  and self-doubts. We reveled in both the grandeur and garishness of Flyover  Country.

We hiked to the summit of the 10,243-foot Mount Washburn in Yellowstone  National Park; from there you can see 50 miles in any direction. In the stunning  proportions of Glacier National Park, we trekked above the tree line to a  pristine alpine meadow whose beauty forced an appreciation of Teddy Roosevelt’s  activist Republicanism.

After paying $20 to see a mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota being  carved into the purported image of Crazy Horse, we pondered the objections the  great Sioux leader was raising, in spirit. We paid homage to the agrarian Oz — the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. We drove the Herbert Hoover Highway in Iowa,  where locals are not nearly as down on the Depression president as are  historians. We took a two-day journey across a green sea of corn and soybeans  that stretched from Minnesota to Ohio. West Virginia’s mountains at dusk are  just as beautiful and majestic as anything Out West.

corn palace

corn palace

I called it our “Those Towns” journey, what seemed like a logical response to  the snarky tweets I was seeing about “This Town,” Mark Leibovich’s gossipy  takedown of Washington. No index — take that, D.C. social climbers! People are  getting rich by trading on their influence, acting cravenly, or sucking up! The  new guys who promised change haven’t changed much at all! Names were named!

The naming of names was big inside the Beltway, but in Those Towns, “This  Town” seemed yawningly familiar. A tale of inside trading written for the  insiders.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Those Towns, and observed some of the great  movements of the last 40 years through them. I had a grassroots view of the rise  of the religious right in the late 1970s while covering George McGovern’s last  Senate race in ’80. I watched people running in the parking lot of a California  mall to sign a Perot-for-president petition in ’92, and saw others crying at  Obama events in rural Iowa in ’08. Anyone who was paying any attention to  Flyover Country in the early 2000s knew that Tea Party antipathy to  business-as-usual had been brewing long before it was given a name.

Yet so many of the big stories in Flyover Country are happening irrespective  of what D.C. does. Detroit went bust, despite a thriving auto industry that not  long ago needed a federal boost. North Dakota’s energy boom is spilling into  neighboring states despite the lack of a coherent national energy policy that  merges the economy and the environment, and people there think the boom is going  to last. Despite lingering pockets of drought and Congress’ struggle to come up  with a new farm bill, the Farm Belt is about to deliver a potentially record  corn and soybean crop this fall. On farm radio stations, Brazilian soybean  yields or Japan’s latest wheat purchase are as important as anything out of  Washington.

During a brief stop in Hungry Horse, Mont., I emailed a former boss back in  D.C., saying that the capital seemed a lot further away than the 2,300 miles  that separated us. Literally, it feels so.

Social media’s “me-ism” ethic is deleterious to the tenets of a journalism  that seeks the unfamiliar and explains the unknowns of a larger world. The  economic pressures it has brought to traditional media and the celebrity-as-news  movement have made it harder to do the explanatory and oversight journalism that  once brought Washington and the provinces closer.

Local and regional newspapers and TV stations have shuttered or stripped down  their Washington bureaus. Coastal-centric national cable networks and news  organizations have devalued original, explanatory and expensive reporting on  Flyover Country in favor of drive-by disaster coverage or the same endless-loop  ideological arguments from people who, you suspect, not only have never been to  places they are talking about, but have absolutely no desire to go to Those  Towns.

As a consummate newsie, I am always attuned to local coverage when I travel.  I have learned more from any random local weekly than any episode of “Crossfire.” And over two weeks and nearly 3,000 meandering miles, I can’t  remember picking up a paper or listening to a radio news program that ran an  interesting, local-impact story about doings in Washington. Except, of course,  the one about Schweitzer’s desire to keep his dog far, far away from This  Town.

Chuck Raasch is a former national reporter for USA Today.

Senator George McGovern, one of the first politicians I covered as a reporter, has died. We last saw him just weeks ago at his 90th birthday party, a celebration at the Newseum that was an ode to a genuinely modest man who attained extraordinary achievements.

Long before he was a senator, he was a World War II flying ace, a decorated war hero. But he grew up in an era when people didn’t brag about their achievements, or exploit them for political gain. The same was true with Bob Dole, another losing presidential candidate who  was a war hero.

These two men of the prairie, of different parties, worked alongside each other and with other for the greater public good on many causes, including fighting hunger and providing food for the starving here and abroad. Neither Dole nor McGovern would recognize the chasm that now divides Washington.

I have many McGovern memories, all of them colored  today by his gentle smile and soft-spoken voice. This one, out of character, was summed up by CRR in a USA Today column:

In 1980, on a Saturday morning a few days before an election he had to know in his bones he was losing to Jim Abdnor, George McGovern stormed into the Associated Press office in Sioux Falls, S.D., where my wife, Sandy Johnson, then a 24-year-old rookie, was working the desk.

The usually even-keeled McGovern was mightily upset about a story the wire service had run, and he let her know it. The way she told it, an angry George McGovern was quite a sight. A George McGovern gesturing angrily with an unlit cigar was even more out of character, and it is something I still have trouble getting my head around.

They agreed to disagree and parted ways.

A few days later, Sandy got a handwritten apology from the senator. And forever after, almost every time my path crossed with McGovern’s, he would ask about her before he said anything else. Often, he’d offer regrets about blowing his top years and years before.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening.