By Dr. James M. Davis
Eastern Kentucky and much of Appalachia have been plagued by poverty, economic stagnation, and difficult living for generations.
Many of these problems that affect so many individuals have resulted in a collective impact upon a region inhabited by hundreds of thousands of people. Appalachia is a region that is steeped with cultural significance and a rich history to include the pioneers who traversed the hazards of the Cumberland Gap and settled in the rugged mountains of east Kentucky and brought their music, crafts, language, and belief systems. These hard working and self-reliant people become the lumberjacks who harvested timber that was exported that helped to fuel the rise of the large urban areas on the east coast of America, the coal miners who produced an energy source that fueled the industrial revolution, the farmers who practiced agribusiness and produced corn, tobacco, honey, salt, and other food stuffs, and yes, moonshine. These mountaineers are the brave and patriotic people who have volunteered and served their Nation in higher per capita numbers than any other ethic group of people across America.
The purpose of this narrative is not to only acknowledge the historical significance of our people and their contributions to America and protecting the world, but it is to bring attention to and facilitate thought about the current state of our people throughout the mountains of Kentucky. The Appalachia Regional Commission has once again released a report on the County Economic Status in Appalachia, FY 2016, that clearly demonstrates that this hard-working, persistent, and resilient people continue to struggle as much or more than any other regional group in the country (http://www.arc.gov/research/MapsofAppalachia.asp?MAP_ID=105).
So, now you may be asking yourself, what do we do, where do we go from here, how can one person make a difference?
It is obvious the War on Poverty programs of the 1960's has not worked and often it can be found has resulted in a permanent poverty lifestyle that has been subsidized by federal and state welfare programs that inhibit self-reliance, work ethic, and socioeconomic mobility. So, your saying to yourself, if the feds can't defeat poverty how do we push back, create change, and make a better future for everyone in our community. I propose that several initiatives are taking place right now and at a time in our lives that we can engage ourselves and set about making real change, right now!
Regardless of political persuasion, whether you be Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Independent, you have a role to play in this process moving forward. Some of the most important players in this are those that have been frustrated by the status quo, those disaffected citizens who haven't voted recently, and those young working families who are trying to make ends meet and don't think their vote matters. Recent elections refute such thinking and we all know from news reports just how so very close some election counts are and that every vote really does matter.
The Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) is the latest initiate that can positively impact our region. Becoming involved in SOAR can help you to learn more and become actively engaged in civic affairs. The KentuckyWired I-Way will increase high speed internet capability and create the infrastructure for more jobs to be developed in the region that are not limited by geographic boundaries and inability to have major four lane highways that take millions of dollars and many years to develop and build. It is a $324 million public-private partnership that will enhance business, community, and educational access to reliable high speed internet.
The Kentucky Promise Zone has increased attention on the region and has moved to develop a number of initiatives to improve educational opportunity, economic development, and social development within the region.
We MUST demand that more of the dwindling coal severance tax revenues be placed into a specialized economic development account that can be utilized for job creation incentives such as tax breaks, infrastructure assistance, and other important projects that can be tied directly to job creation. For too long, the coal tax dollars have been used in non-coal counties across the state and they have prospered from those allocations. Our representatives and senators must enact legislation to re-allocate those funds to the coal producing region for economic development.
We MUST demand the expansion to four lanes the Highway 119 from Pineville, Harlan, Cumberland, and Whitesburg into Pikeville; the Hal Rogers Parkway (fondly referred to by me as the Daniel Boone Parkway) from London, Manchester, Hyden, and Hazard to connect to the Highway 80 which is operating as four lanes from Hazard, Hindman, and into Prestonsburg; and we are certainly excited about the expansion of the Bert. T. Combs Mountain Parkway from Winchester, Stanton, Campton, West Liberty and Salyersville.\
We MUST demand the creation of a designation of Economic Freedom Zone status in Appalachian eastern Kentucky as promoted by Senator Rand Paul. This is not a government program that utilizes taxes collected and uses redistribution policies to allocate according to political prerogatives, but more importantly it defers tax collections from designated areas for a period of time to help increase economic activity within that zone. We know from various reports and according to, Tim Mitchell in Northwest Earth Institute's Choices for Sustainable Living states, 'A dollar spent at a locally owned store is usually spent 6 to 15 times before it leaves the community. From $1, you create $5 to $14 in value within that community. This allows people to keep more of their own money, have more control over their incomes, and spend more money in their local communities. That's good news for everyone in the community.
So now that you have read my thoughts, you may be asking yourself, so what? why me? how do I make a difference? I say in response that you are more powerful than you think, more powerful than some would like for you to be, and yes, you can make a difference in your community.
I suggest three steps to making a difference:
1. Engage and educate yourself on the issues by attending city council meetings, county fiscal court meetings, as well as chamber of commerce meetings. Your being present and participatory says with clarity that you expect transparency and results.
2. Make sure that you speak to others about the issues, even if they think you're a geek and are out of your element. Your talking about the issues makes others more informed and says to them, that you care about your community and they should too.
3. Go vote, vote every election, every time the polls are open. By being disaffected, uninformed, and non-participatory your vote is taken for granted and is discounted since you don't vote. The politicians know who votes and how often per public record. You know the old addage, the squeaky wheel gets greased, so voters get results, non-voters are dismissed as not being relevant.
Together, WE can make a difference! Together, WE can bring about much needed change! Together, WE can be that generation of people who said, No More! WE expect real leadership, WE expect real jobs, and WE expect results and are not going to take it any more. We are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the status quo! No more apathetic officials who cannot provide Leadership, No more political corruption and crony practices! Let's demand positive change from others or tell em' to get out of office!