The View From Appalachia: What Issues are Most Important to Voters in Appalachia?

May 27, 2016

It's election season and we want to know what Appalachians are looking for in a new president. We’ll hear from a former coal miner from Whitesburg, Ky, Gary Bentley. We'll also hear from a veteran who lives in Bristol, Va., Ralph Slaughter.

This year America will elect a new president. Some folks are counting down the days until President Obama is out of office, while others shiver at the thought of the possibilities we have in a new president. So what’s on the minds of Appalachians?  Well, understanding what motivates voters anywhere to support one candidate over another isn’t always as simple as party affiliation or even surveys. While there’s always room to find common ground between groups of people if you look for it, there are many unique struggles and challenges that create a different set of priorities for many Appalachians.

NPR's Morning Edition recently traveled to parts of Appalachia for a series called "The View From." The series is an election-year project focused on how voters' needs of government are shaped by where they live. Morning Edition host, Steve Inskeep did a series of reports from Appalachia for the show.

Steve Inskeep visited Bristol Virginia, Knoxville Tennessee, and Whitesburg, Kentucky. This show, we hear from the people he talked with along the way, and hear a behind the scenes interview with Steve about his impressions on the Appalachian people and their unique struggles.

Historic Day in McDowell County, West Virginia

Credit Glynis Board

While three presidential candidates made stops in West Virginia, only one traveled to McDowell County.  It's the first time a presidential candidate has visited McDowell since Kennedy in May of 1959. He made three stops in one day, starting at a food bank in McDowell County. Glynis Board was there for this historic day.

“Hope is a Luxury”

We’ll also hear from Wheeling resident, Ron Scott Jr. to get the view from up in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. After decades of economic decline, more young people have begun buying and rehabbing old houses in the neighborhood of East Wheeling, historically home to the city’s African American community. The revitalization movement is largely made up of middle class, white professionals. So how does the movement look to a young person of color from East Wheeling, where nearly 70% of children live below the poverty line? Last winter, producer Catherine Moore toured the neighborhood with one of its long-time residents, Ron Scott Jr., who counsels at-risk youth in East Wheeling. We also heard from him on one of our recent episodes talking about the hip hop scene in Appalachia. But in this next story, he shares his memories of the way things used to be, his perspective on how things have changed, and his opinions about the efforts to re-envision his old stomping ground. This story was produced by the What's Next Project.

Whats in a Name: Rabbit Hash Kentucky?

What town in Kentucky elected a dog as its mayor? Rabbit Hash, Kentucky-where a dog named Lucy Lou is now the mayor, which just adds to the unique flair of this Appalachian town, as if the name wasn’t quirky enough.

Campaign poster for a dog named Lucy Lou

There’s not a whole lot of documented history about the town because floods along the Ohio River have repeatedly destroyed photos and town records. But the town's name is said to have originated during the flood of 1847. At the time, there were lots of rabbits in the area driven to higher ground. The furry animals became a food staple in a special stew called "hash."

For years, the general store was a gathering place for the community- and local music jams were held there until this past February when another tragedy struck. The historic general store burned to the ground.

But the owners have built a temporary store next door inside a barn- and they are open seven days a week. They’re determined to rebuild the store- and the community has started a fundraiser to help support the rebuilding efforts.

Listen to this week's episode to hear Rabbit Hash’s store owner Terrie Markesbery talk about the uniquely special draw she feels for the town. 

Music in today’s show was also provided by Dinosaur Burps, Ben Townsend, Jake Schepps, and Kaia Kater. Our What’s in a Name theme music is by Marteka and William.

We’d love to hear from you.   You can e-mail us at feedback@wvpublic.org. Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia or @JessicaYLilly.