Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Agriculture
Crisis in Rural America
by Tommy Fondren

Redistricting -- never in our time span has there sprung an uglier, meaner, more ill-advised effort to destroy the balance between rural and urban Texas and America. This effort shows a complete disrespect for the food and fiber system that makes us the envy of the world for our ability to supply the nation's needs and a large sector of the international population with products in abundance -- foods monitored for safety and nutrition and natural fibers engineered for serviceability, style, comfort, and dependability.

I offer the following as an example of the deterioration of the rural sector, deterioration that has recently been escalated and will increase its rate of decline in the event this redistricting effort envisioned by the questionable leadership of the state is actually accomplished:

Here's a view of a rural community of 1,372 residents, with 428 utility connections. The business district has more boarded and locked buildings than buildings with ongoing businesses. The town is twenty miles from a metropolitan area. A long-time major church has locked its doors, offering no services for over a year now. The parsonage has been rented in an effort to generate maintenance funds. A school built for 650 students now accommodates only 302. City government includes a state mandated bonded debt of $787,000.00, with a payoff completion date of 2019. Of the population of the town, 493 individuals or 35.6% live below poverty level. The remaining 64.4% are not rich. This population generates funding for the current debt load and a $600,000+ city operating budget. This community with many abandoned, substandard, and marginal houses is supported by a weak agricultural economy that faces markets flooded with imports priced in competition with third world countries.

This rural community is a mirror image of the large number of small cities that surround our metropolitan complexes. Media sources have no interest in stories that reflect the decay of rural America, leaving both rural and metropolitan populations with extremely limited knowledge of a huge problem important to all segments of America's "shifting population."

As our rural economy deteriorates, the people drift to urban locations, often causing housing and job problems. No one wins with a forced population migration. The rural sector will struggle until our leadership corrects long-term farm, trade, and monetary policies. Muting the voice of rural America with redistricting is not the solution. We have been told in the past, "decent respect to the opinion of mankind" encourages strong government. It applies today, as well. America's rural voice must be included. United, we are a strong nation.

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