In its April issue, the government-insiders' mag Governing takes a long look at the political rift between urban and rural communities. Much of what happens politically in Whatcom County can be viewed through this lens.
For instance, allowing rural growth (and, rural types would say, allowing rural property owners to prosper) vs. encouraging smart growth -- even to the extent of taking development rights out of the rural lands. Or county leaders negotiating with Bellingham officials for improvements to rural Slater Road after the county funded stormwater treatment inside the city for the future site of Costco.
Neither the 40th nor the 42nd Legislative District is purely rural -- the two districts share Bellingham -- but the 40th was drawn to be much more urban. In addition to liberal south Bellingham, the 40th includes Burlington, Mount Vernon and Anacortes in Skagit County. Besides north Bellingham, the 42nd is most of rural Whatcom County, including all the small cities. The urban/rural split manifests itself in the battles between legislators in the 42nd, which is all Republican, and the all-Democrat 40th.
For a broader perspective, with a focus on places such as North Dakota, Nebraska and Nevada, check out this four-part series in Governing:
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Rural delegations don’t dominate legislatures the way they used to — yet rural members in many states have become masters of coalition politics. Often, they’re able to take home more than their share of the pot. "Rurals are still overrepresented, despite their anemic demographics," says Robert Lang, a professor with the urban affairs program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "They've taken the legislature more seriously and can find consensus around regional issues. They don’t fight over the things that divide a metro."
Recent political battles over water, fracking and gun regulation have highlighted the decades-old divide between cities and their rural counterparts. With some counties in Colorado and Nevada agitating last year for the creation of new rural states — no longer tethered to Denver or Las Vegas — groups that occupy a middle ground may be more necessary than ever.
This piece may not have much bearing on Whatcom County. It refers to rural parts of North Dakota where the residents became flush during the oil boom but a county government has to consider returning the few paved roads it has to gravel.
And finally ...