Hillary talks up McDowell County initiative in Chicago
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In her first major speech since stepping down as U.S. secretary of state in February, Hillary Clinton spent several minutes Thursday talking about McDowell County, citing the Reconnecting McDowell program as a model for public/private partnerships.
Clinton gave a 30-minute speech in Chicago at the annual convention of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
The much-anticipated speech -- Clinton's return to the national stage amid rampant speculation of a possible presidential run in 2016 -- focused on early childhood development and education, expanding opportunities for women and girls and creating jobs, particularly for young people.
The convention brought together high-ranking elected officials, Cabinet secretaries, business leaders and political activists.
Clinton cited Reconnecting McDowell, a program to improve education and economic opportunity in McDowell County, as an example of the collaborative work that the foundation was trying to do.
"In a place like McDowell County, West Virginia, the problems didn't start with the latest recession and no single program or investment is going to turn things around. The schools, jobs, infrastructure, public health, it's all connected, and you have to work on all of them at the same time. That's what this new partnership is designed to do," Clinton said.
"In a larger sense, that's what CGI [Clinton Global Initiative] America is designed to do, too. To bring together the best ideas, wherever they come from, to find the most innovative solutions and most committed partners, to take on our country's biggest challenges in an integrated, collaborative way."
Reconnecting McDowell is a joint venture of the American Federation of Teachers, state government and more than 100 businesses and nonprofits.
Gayle Manchin, the vice president of the state Board of Education and one of the people who helped launch Reconnecting McDowell, was delighted to hear about Clinton's remarks.
"I've said this many times, it is about McDowell County but it is also about rural America," said Manchin, wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. "If we can create the model that will work, then that could be replicated across the country."
McDowell County has lost nearly 100,000 residents since 1965, as area coal mines have closed. The county leads West Virginia in teen pregnancy and school dropout rates and has high levels of prescription drug abuse.
The rate of deaths from drug abuse in McDowell County -- 38 per 100,000 people -- is the fifth highest of any county in the country.
More than 70 percent of children in McDowell County live in a house that does not have an adult with a job.
"A remote county where more than a third of the residents live in poverty, two-thirds of homes are substandard and only half the residents have a high school degree," Clinton said. "A place, like too many in the United States today, where community institutions are crumbling, social and public health indicators are cratering, and it can feel like life is coming apart at the seams."
Reconnecting McDowell is in the second year of a five-year program.
So far, the program has wired all McDowell County schools with high-speed Internet and is in the process of bringing access to about 10,000 homes in the county. The state Board of Education recently returned control of the county's school system after 12 years of state control.
Reach David Gutman at email@example.com or 304-348-5119.