Opinion: The Republican War Against Small Towns

"Standing with small towns" seems to me "keep depriving them of necessary services.
"Standing with small towns" seems to me "keep depriving them of necessary services. Photo by Matthew Rutledge/Flickr
For more than a week, my inbox has been full of fundraising emails asking me to “stand with small towns.” They come from the National Republican Congressional Committee, who are looking to capitalize on the backlash to country singer Jason Aldean’s music video for “Try That in a Small Town.” The song is full of anti-Black dog whistles, and the video was shot at the site of a famous racist lynching.

It's hardly surprising that Republicans want to use this chance to look like they’re standing up for their rural, small-town base. It helps distract from the fact that Republicans in Texas have been destroying small towns in the state for years.

Let’s look at three issues where Texas Republican policies have inarguably made small towns shittier to live in: medicine, education, and power infrastructure.

Republican refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act is the primary reason we have more uninsured people than any other state in the country. According to the Texas Hospital Association, rural Texans make up a disproportionate number of uninsured folks. This means their hospitals have lower rates of reimbursement, and it’s led to a slew of closings all across the state.

Because the rural counties are smaller, they tend to have fewer resources to pour into public health. Combined with the refusal to expand Medicaid, Texas small town health care is death spiraling. You’re not really standing with small towns when you’re denying them health insurance to score ideological points with a handful of wealthy conservatives.

And on that note, school vouchers. The legislative session this year was a battlefield on the school voucher question. Governor Greg Abbott personally went on a tour throughout the state speaking to the importance of “school choice,” by which he means that taxpayers should front the tuition costs for mostly religious private schools.

The only reason that hasn’t passed is because of a staunch group of rural Republicans who understand that vouchers will only ever harm public school funding in the long run. Public schools are often the lifeblood of rural communities. They employ a lot of people and serve as social hubs. Abbott’s allies have tried everything from bribing rural Republicans with stipends for lost students to outright threatening them with primary challenges. It doesn’t get more small town than the local high school football game, but Texas Republican leadership has been trying hard to funnel cash out of them and into the coffers of urban and suburban campuses.

Lastly, let’s look at the war on wind. When Winter Storm Uri sent the state into prolonged blackouts, Texas Republicans were quick to blame solar and wind for the failure rather than oil and gas. While the growth of wind power in Texas was formerly a point of pride even for conservatives, now it’s been drafted into the endless culture wars.

Which is a problem for the rural parts of Texas where the wind farms operate. If Texas would reconnect to the national grids, rural communities could make fortunes exporting power to places that need it.

Instead, Texas passed some middling electrical grid reforms and refuses to rejoin the national grids, all in the name of maintaining the unregulated energy market. Small towns, as usual, get the worst of it when the systems fail because they have fewer resources and get less attention than when Houston goes dark.

What exactly are Republicans doing to stand with small towns? Can championing a rich racist singer who will never do a damn thing for a rural Texas community really be considered helping? Republicans could be insuring sick people, protecting schools, and helping the renewable energy farms. That would actually improve the lives of small-town people. Unfortunately, paying on bigotry is cheaper than actually doing stuff.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner