As US becomes more urban and suburban, rural lawmakers struggle to make their voices heard

The Associated Press

In this Jan. 22, 2014 photo, Colorado state representative Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) talks with Miss Rodeo America Paige Nicholson, inside the chambers of the Colorado State Legislature, at the Capitol, in Denver. Nicholson and fellow rodeo queens Codi Miller, center, and Ashley Fuchs were in town for the National Western Stock Show. Sonnenberg, a rancher who’s the only farmer in the Colorado House, plans to push a radical idea this session: give each of his state’s 64 counties one House seat apiece instead of electing representatives from districts with equal populations. ( AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

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In Minnesota, Rep. Rod Hamilton has long argued that rural concerns get neglected in St. Paul, where the number of farmers in the House stands at six — down from 14 as recently as 1995.

Hamilton, a Republican and pork producer, said he plans to work with other rural lawmakers from both parties in both chambers this session to protect shared interests against a leadership that's mostly from the Twin Cities area.

"You don't need that many votes to make an impact," he said.

Forming partnerships has been key for the only full-time farmer in the Maryland Senate, Thomas McLain "Mac" Middleton.

Maryland has some of the country's richest counties, but its poor, rural areas share many of the same problems as urban areas such as Baltimore — poverty, unemployment, teen pregnancies and lack of opportunities, Middleton said.

So he's made common cause with his urban counterparts to ensure that rural communities have access to education funding as well as high-speed Internet service.

Though his 250-acre farm has been in his family since the 1600s and his ancestors grew tobacco, Middleton converted the property mostly to agritourism. He hosts school groups and families to visit barnyard animals, take hay rides, navigate a corn maze or pick strawberries and pumpkins.

Broadband has been important to the growth of his and many other businesses in rural Maryland.

He said: "I fight real hard to make sure that rural communities don't get left behind."

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