- Democrats won big last week in prosperous parts of Virginia, but continued to lose huge in struggling areas in Appalachia.
- The party needs a message for how these communities can be included in economic progress.
- Encouraging tech firms to look for non-traditional locations is one way to bridge the gap.
Last week, Virginia sent a message to this President that America rejects a politics of division and hatred. In fact, at the statewide level Trump has done what Krystal never could have imagined growing up in rural Virginia. He’s solidified Virginia as a blue state!
Yet as we dig deeper into last week’s results, the electoral split mirrors 2016. It’s big metro areas versus small towns. College educated versus high school. The places where the wealth and talent are being sucked out versus the places where the wealth and talent are piling up.
Yes, Governor-elect Ralph Northam won in an impressive nine-point landslide. But if you exclude the prosperous Washington suburbs in Northern Virginia, the results look quite different: a three-point advantage for Northam’s Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie.
Even more shocking, for the first time in modern history, the Democratic candidate for Governor in Virginia did not win a single precinct west of Radford, in the southwesternmost part of the state extending toward Kentucky. In the parts of Virginia struggling the most, where drug addiction is rampant, jobs are scarce and suicide is on the rise, voters just threw their lot in again with the Republican candidate by 50 and 60 point margins.
The problem for Democrats and the problem for the country is that there are a lot more places like Southwest Virginia than there are like Northern Virginia.
It used to be that when the nation prospered, that prosperity was broadly shared. That relationship is fundamentally broken. We believe that bridging this geographical divide is the central challenge of our time.
As a Silicon Valley representative, Rep. Khanna has been working with leaders in Paintsville, Kentucky; Youngstown, Ohio; and Beckley, West Virginia to provide a vision of prosperity and twenty-first century jobs. Krystal has been working to recruit candidates with deep roots who can be authentic advocates for the aspirations of communities in middle America.
We are working to provide a constructive way forward in the Trump era.
Donald Trump is the type of president you get when a significant portion of the population feels they have no stake in the preservation of the current system. They delight in seeing him stick it to the folks who are succeeding but have been, at best, indifferent to places left behind.
Can one blame voters for their frustration?
Just five metro areas account for half of all new net business creation. In contrast, over two-thirds of the counties in America have lost businesses over the past decade. According to the nonpartisan Economic Innovation Group, 52 million Americans live in economically depressed communities: places where the poverty rate is 27% and 42% of prime-age adults aren’t working.
This dynamic cannot continue, and need not continue.
Given modern communications technology, there’s no reason why good jobs in the new economy should be sequestered in a few hubs. In fact, the greatest challenge to shared prosperity may well be psychological.
Why should only the tiniest sliver of venture money find its way to these communities? Why don’t companies more frequently look to build out workforces in much lower-cost locations? Why do the national networking circuits only include leaders from a few select cities?
Krystal recently accompanied Richard Ojeda, a phenomenal congressional candidate from West Virginia, to Ro’s district for a fundraising event. In a room full of tech leaders, executives and entrepreneurs, Richard said something simple but powerful: “You know, we have smart people in West Virginia too.”
In that moment, something clicked, a recognition that perhaps we haven’t always seen the inherent talent and possibility that exists in every community. This myopia has kept businesses and investors from venturing outside their hometowns.
Government should absolutely incentivise investment, apprenticeships and job creation in struggling communities. But business leaders need to step up, too.
Its not only the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do. It’s good business sense to locate your workforce in low cost locations where those jobs will be highly sought after.
All of us need to do a better job harnessing the work ethic and sense of pride that is present in communities across America and empowering those communities to shape their own economic destiny. To borrow a Silicon Valley phrase, we need distributed networks for jobs.
Unless we integrate every community back into our national economy, we will not succeed in keeping this whole project we call America stitched together. And unless the Democratic Party offers a plan for economic opportunity for twenty-first century jobs in places left behind, we will not earn a governing majority.
Ro Khanna is the representative for California’s 17th congressional district. Krystal Ball is president of the People’s House Project, a political action committee that recruits Democratic House candidates in the Midwest and Appalachian states.
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