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People Are People, Not Political Categories: Appalachians Discuss The Issues That Matter Most

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Marisa Helms
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What happens when people of varying political opinions come together for a political discussion dinner party? Find out in this episode of Inside Appalachia.

Four years ago, 95 percent of Appalachian counties voted for Donald Trump. National journalists parachuted in to try to understand why. But, what did they miss? This week on Inside Appalachia, we’re talking with voters across Central Appalachia about the issues that matter to them.

“You might have someone who you think would fit into a specific voting category,” said Travis Long, a reporter with the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was part of a team who spent months interviewing people from every county in their state. “They may be very pro-second amendment but at the same time, they may be very concerned about climate change.”

And we hear what happens when seven voters with different political views sit down together to talk. Us & Them host Trey Kay held a virtual dinner party with guests whose politics reach across the divides. They came to the video chat potluck showing off some favorite family foods. The guests were ready to disagree and see how the conversation would go. Along the way there were some good meals, honest conversation and even a few surprises.

Also, because it’s Halloween, we’ll hear one of our favorite spooky tales.

Taking The Political Temperature

In North Carolina, reporters from two newspapers, The News & Observer, and the Charlotte Observer, spent months interviewing people from every county in their state. They made 100 videos, asking voters what’s on their minds. Travis Long produced and reported for the project. He spoke with Caitlin Tan about the Journey Across the 100 project.

Voting In Appalachia

The 2020 presidential election is just days away. While some national polls show Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden ahead, it’s hard to predict just exactly how voters will cast their ballots.

West Virginia hasn’t voted for a Democratic President since Bill Clinton in 1996, and some folks in the southern part of the state aren’t expecting an upset this year. Jessica Lilly recently spent some time talking with residents to find out what issues are influencing their vote.

 

Voter Participation

While southern West Virginia voted big for President Trump four years ago, a recent analysis by the Ohio Valley ReSource reveals that the percentage of registered voters who actually cast ballots was one of the lowest country. In fact, this was the case across much of Central Appalachia.

Politics And Potluck

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Marisa Helms
Joe Solomon share's his dinner during the Us & Them political potluck.

You’ve probably heard it’s a bad idea to talk politics at the dinner table. But what if it’s not? Listeners to the podcast Us and Them got a taste of an experiment: a political dinner party.

Us and Them host Trey Kay likes stirring up debates between people on opposite sides of issues so he hosted a virtual dinner party over Zoom and invited seven guests who live in West Virginia or grew up here. The guest list included conservatives and liberals, pro-life and pro-choice. They broke bread and discussed topics that mattered to all of them. They were even able to find some surprising common ground.

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People are people -- not political categories. That’s what Gary Bentley. a former coal miner from eastern Kentucky, believes.

People Not Politics

One big takeaway from the 2016 election, is that people are people -- they aren’t political categories. That’s a topic of interest for Gary Bentley. He is a former coal miner from eastern Kentucky, who now lives in Lexington. He’s written extensively about his time underground, including in a blog series called ‘In the Black’ for the Daily Yonder.

Spooky Story

For a few years now, we’ve had an annual tradition of asking our listeners for their favorite ghost tales and legends. We have a lot of great storytellers here in Appalachia, and we love to celebrate that.

One story we received, like most great ghost tales, takes place late at night, some years ago.

Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Dinosaur Burps, the Soaked Lamb, Michael Lipton and Tristram Lozaw.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups. Kelley Libby and Glynis Board edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce our show this week. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.

You can also send us an email to InsideAppalachia@wvpublic.org.

Inside Appalachia is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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Caitlin Tan is working as Inside Appalachia’s folklife reporter, as part of a Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies grant. The goal of her reporting is to help engage a new generation in Appalachian folklife and culture.
Roxy Todd is a reporter and producer for Inside Appalachia and has been a reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting since 2014. She’s won several awards, including a regional AP Award for best feature radio story, and also two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. You can reach her at rtodd@wvpublic.org.