Restating: Rethinking States, Cities, and Redistricting

Maura Alwyen

HVAC/R Master Craftsman, Chef, Woodworker, Journeyman Metalworker, somewhat of a Blacksmith, & Author I do my own stunts & cinematography. Typos, poor word choices, wrong but similar sounding word choices are par for the course. All mistakes are artisanally crafted from the finest oopsies. Otherwise I'm just a regular girl with opinions and a point from which to shout into the void.

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47 Responses

  1. Chip Daniels says:

    That’s an intriguing idea, that we Restate every so often for the same purpose as redistricting, to even out the balance between large and small states.

    Impractical to do it entirely, since the population clusters would warp the map but still, there really is a good reason to break California and Texas up into smaller units, and sweep the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming into a cohesive entity.
    The electoral implications are obvious but worth noting that plenty of states only became so for partisan reasons anyway.Report

    • Living in a western state, I would be concerned about water and energy. Moving a state line might have drastic effects on interstate water compacts that took decades to negotiate. Or split existing intrastate agreements into odd interstate ones. Also moving large generating assets from a state with one set of regulations into a different state with a quite different set.Report

  2. Marchmaine says:

    I grew up in Chicago too! And if we’re exploring the concept of a City-State, would it make more sense to emphasize the City vs. State? That is, Cook and DuPage make sense… Maybe even NW Will… but I’m not entirely sure what the objective is by going all the way to, say, DeKalb.

    The City-State concept, seems to me, should be compact, dense and rich. But it still has to act as an engine to surrounding areas… so giving the City-State some *extra* autonomy/representation might be a good idea, but it should still be circumscribed somewhat aggressively.

    So my counter would be to *not* try to create new ‘States’ but to think through what a revival of an older concept of ‘City-State’ might look like. But that would come down to are we trying to create ‘free’ senators to swing existing balance of power, or are we trying to find a new modus of governing vast geographies in a mass democratic paradigm?Report

    • Philip H in reply to Marchmaine says:

      Virginia has an example – Arlington. Its a city, its a county and its neither. Granted it’s not going to run out of NOVA anytime soon, but its a small illustrative example.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to Philip H says:

        Of what though?

        My position is that if we want to take seriously the notion of expanding the Polity to include new entities that impact politics at the Federal and State levels, then we should look at what that means.

        It’s ok to say, MOAR STATES… I’m just not sure that creating a State out of Chicago makes as much sense as saying… what if we look at some sort of Autonomy for City-States which has greater discretion on funding local projects, but which also has duties/taxes to the surrounding state(s), and which has some new electoral capacity yet to be defined…

        Or, we should all take baby steps and simply focus on the Reapportionment Act of 1929 — let that change settle for a decade or two, then reassess.Report

        • Philip H in reply to Marchmaine says:

          Arlington is an example of a county-city combination that can offer guiding lessons on what a city-state might actually look like.Report

          • Marchmaine in reply to Philip H says:

            How? Seriously… it has no unique privileges or duties that aren’t wholly dependent upon the State dividing administrative boundaries somewhat arbitrarily.

            I guess I don’t find the tricky part guessing what Cities might be candidates for becoming a City-State so much as what that would mean in practice.

            Also… I wouldn’t think that Arlington would qualify for City-State status… it’s just a plain old small city.

            But likely I’m not quite getting what you’re going for here?Report

          • Kolohe in reply to Philip H says:

            Arlington is not unique in a unified city-county government. And it’s a de facto city by almost any definition.

            Honolulu (Hawaii) has had a unified city-county government for decades, and has rural areas* in addition to suburban and urban.

            Macon and BIbb county merged sometime in the last twenty years; that was small city merging with suburbs.

            *maybe not in the strict census sense since they are rather small area wise, and I’m not sure the central pineapple fields are there anymore (as open fields) as they had shut down most operations as of my last visit 6-7 years ago.Report

  3. Pinky says:

    I made a comment recently about state politics being different based on the number of major population centers and the relative population of non-population-centers. It seems relevant here, although I’m not sure what recommendations it would lead to.

    Looking over your top choice cities, I notice four where I see the states as locked in a city versus non-city battle (NY, IL, WA, and MA). Actually, in Washington, there may not be enough of a non-Seattle population for it to count as a feud. In CA, TX, PA, and FL there are enough population centers and other population that I don’t think they’re dominated by one or two factions. I don’t know AZ in-state politics enough to comment on it.Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to Pinky says:

      Ultimately I think there are two competing objectives:
      1. Team Blue needs/wants more Senators.
      2. Are we governing our Giant State well

      I’m open to discussing #2 and am somewhat indifferent to the pleas of #1 becuase addressing #2 will likely reshuffle the deck and make #1 moot — or so I surmise.

      If #2 were the overriding factor *and* we were willing to jettison both historical and constitutional ties… then we could just re-apportion the states to whatever number we want. Let’s say that while we abandon all other ties, we sentimentally decide to adhere to the number 50 states. Cool. Each State is reapportioned into a ‘district’ that incorporates approximately 6.6M souls. Congressional districts would then be equally divided among all 50 ‘states’. Voila.

      Of course, now we have massive battles on where the lines are drawn for each state every 10-yrs (assuming we keep that artifact) and we still have the battle over what principles we use to draw the state lines (Compact? Communities of interest? Preferred historical borders, etc. etc.).

      But mostly I think people are just trying to snake their team’s interests into some theoretical ‘democratic’ principal that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny if we aren’t willing to drop all constitutional bonds — drop one, drop all.Report

      • Pinky in reply to Marchmaine says:

        I’m assuming good faith here, that the goal isn’t to boost one particular party. Anyway, that doesn’t always work the way it’s expected to, so I’m assuming this is “let the chips fall where they may”. I think the issues are whether we’re governing our states well, and whether their residents are getting fair representation in Congress.

        I don’t have a sense of how strong people’s state loyalty is. I’m sure Wyomingans would love for their state to be split into four, just to see the reaction from Californians, but I have the impression that Seattlites are proud of their state. Actually, though, I think they’re most proud of their region (including Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Canada). I just can’t gauge the “sense of statehood”.Report

        • Philip H in reply to Pinky says:

          A great many people in the south identify by state first, university second, and city/town third. Even living in Seattle and DC I always told people I was from Louisiana. Still do and I live in the next state eats.Report

        • Marchmaine in reply to Pinky says:

          Yeah, I’d like to assume good faith, but I don’t. DC Statehood is so transparent when compared to simple retrocession (if the goal is ‘representation’) that any other scheme I run through a filter.

          Like Nuclear is to Green Energy Reform : Reapportionment Act (reform) is to Electoral College/Representation/Gerrymandering reform. If we aren’t starting with the simple things that don’t require constitutional level approvals, then we aren’t really starting anywhere.Report

          • InMD in reply to Marchmaine says:

            I actually think the statehood/retrocession debate is very illustrative of the faulty assumptions in play, aside from the naked self-interest in how sides are picked. Just because neighboring jurisdictions vote for the same party at the federal level doesn’t mean they could be happily mushed together without all manner of complications. At the very least there’s some serious begging of the question going on with respect to cause and effect.Report

          • Philip H in reply to Marchmaine says:

            Maryland’s Democrats have said time and again they don’t want DC retroceded back because it shifts the political center of gravity away from Baltimore.Report

          • Pinky in reply to Marchmaine says:

            I assume good faith in this OT conversation, while recognizing that it’s not going to impact the national agenda. In my lifetime, I think we could see a breakup of CA or TX, and maybe statehood for DC, Puerto Rico, or Cuba. Outside chance, we get maybe seven more states if we merge with Australia and New Zealand. I don’t see cities becoming states, and I don’t see a redrawing of our current states, but it’s interesting to talk about.Report

            • Marchmaine in reply to Pinky says:

              Oh yes, always assume OT good faith in principal…which is why I make my baseline assumptions explicit…in case I’m going too far afield.

              I take seriously that we’ll probably see some restructuring too.Report

  4. Saul Degraw says:

    “The issue in many states is that senators are actually elected by the major cities, so in Illinois that means Chicago gets the attention and down state not so much. Missouri is another good example. St. Louis and Kansas City are all anyone has to campaign in to win a senate seat, meaning rural Missouri does not get a say (in disclosure I have lived in the greater St. Louis region for 38 years.)”

    In Illinois and other state yes but I don’t think it is true for Missouri. Democrats would have no trouble retaining control of the Senate if all they needed to do was focus races on the big cities and inner-ring suburbs of said cities. What happens in many states like Missouri is that the cities are not quite large enough to dominate the election. Cities in red states like Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, and Missouri tend to be quite blue but they are not quite the population hubs of the state.Report

    • Philip H in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Mississippi has this dynamic as well, though down here ion the coast white liberals have taken to running as independents to get elected to county level offices. We haven’t had a Democrat elected governor since the 1990’s and we lost our last statewide democrat when Jim Hood lost his bid for governor to Tater Tot.Report

  5. Michael Cain says:

    When this sort of discussion comes up, I invariably drag out my map and cartogram of the Great Plains states. From the 2020 census, just over a half million square miles (almost double the size of Texas) and a bit over five million people. The counties in white collectively gained population in 2020 for the first time since 1930. The population gains in Texas were due to expansion of the DFW suburbs, the major oil and gas counties, and Lubbock. Outside of Texas there was another net population loss. More than half the counties have population density below 7.0 people per square mile, the traditional definition of “frontier”.

    There is no sane thing to do with this vast empty space except chop it up and attach it to the cities along the edges.Report

  6. InMD says:

    I’m going to echo some of the other sentiments by asking what exactly the goal of this would be. My prediction is that the most immediate outcome would be to national-ize issues better addressed at the local and state level. I have no idea how anyone can look at the federal government and be hopeful it would result in better outcomes. The red state-blue state divide is bad enough as it is without unleashing the larger coalitions and associated zero sum approach to politics on each other for regional decision making.Report

  7. J_A says:

    The point I would made -and have several other times in OT- is that, with the exceptions of Louisiana (civil code), Hawaii (history and ethnicity) and Alaska (weather), the states are not historically, geographically, ethnically, culturally, economically, or juridically different enough to consider them functionally equivalent to separate sovereigns.

    All 50 states are definitely much more similar to each other than the European Union countries are. The 13 colonies might have had significant differences between them, in days of yore, when the fastest way to go from one state to the next was days of horse riding. But those differences have been erased when we all watch the same TV, use the same internet, buy the same products, and apply the same standards to them, no matter where we stand with respect to some arbitrary lines on the ground.

    What is very different today, more so than in the XVIII century, is the difference between urban and rural areas, and the degrees or urbanization/population density. San Francisco is probably more similar to New York City than to Los Angeles. which is probably more similar to Houston or Phoenix than to Sacramento.

    If the objective is to devolve power and government to that level which works better for its population, we should dissolve the states and focus in “metropolitan areas”, where the economy, the population, and the culture might be similar. Upstate NY or IL might resent to be run by NYC or Chicago the same way Tampa resents being run from Tallahassee or Laramie being run by even more rural WY.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

      If the cities are “running” the rural areas, you get the problem of the rural areas being treated as playgrounds for urban dwellers, rather than cultural and economic areas distinct from the cities. We already kinda have this problem with people at the federal level who rarely leave the coastal urban corridors deciding what the best way to manage the open spaces in the middle is.Report

      • Philip H in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        We already kinda have this problem with people at the federal level who rarely leave the coastal urban corridors deciding what the best way to manage the open spaces in the middle is.

        That’s allegedly why you have congressional oversight . . .

        and its why a mere 15% of the federal workforce sits in the DC metro area. There are SOME mismatches – Interior’s most senior oceans person sits in Boulder, CO but generally the folks making the decisions are actually in touch with the resources they manage.Report

      • J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Far from saying that coastal cities should manage interior lands. Coastal cities should govern their own coastal hinterland, and inland cities their direct hinterland, and whatever rural empty lands there are manage theirs.

        Whatever is not directly related to the community, including trade, defense, industrial and environmental standards, criminal and civil law, education standards, etc. should be federalReport

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

          I grew up in rural WI (near Sheboygan). My wife grew up in even more rural WI (outside of Marinette, way up North). One of the problems her community had was passing levies for schools, because too much of the land was controlled by people in Milwaukee and Chicago (lots of urban dwellers owned summer vacation homes and hunting cottages up there). Being land owners, they had a right to vote regarding things that impacted their property taxes, so when the school districts tried to pass levies to keep the local schools running, those property owners would make the effort to vote against such levies*.

          Hence my wife went to school in a building that had open holes in the floors where you could look down from one classroom to the one below it.

          The laws got changed such that eventually such behavior became more difficult (time in residence rules or some such, I can’t remember exactly), but this anecdote illustrates the point I’m making, that control located far away tends to lose sight of the immediacy of issues. Local representation is supposed to deal with that, but history shows that it’s easy to co-opt, or over-ride local representation.

          This is not to say that political centers shouldn’t have any say over their hinterlands, but as you suggest, that control should be higher level, not ground level. And there should be clear guidelines for when those are in conflict and what will happen when they are.

          *Out west, you get similar impacts when most of the land is owned by the federal government.Report

          • J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Not having grown in the USA, I find local property taxes as the basis for funding schools a bizarre concept. My peeve is mostly the opposite of your wife’s. I find it extremely unfair that real state rich school districts can afford facilities bigger than many colleges, while rural WI schoolchildren have to do with derelict buildings.Report

            • Michael Cain in reply to J_A says:

              In many states, there is decreasing dependence on local property taxes for schools. Starting as far back as the 1970s it became increasingly common for states to create “equalization funds” to provide poorer districts with assistance. (Later, there were requirements to keep poor districts from cutting their tax rates in order to get more state money.) Generally the “equalization” tag has been dropped and it’s just state funding.

              In my state, some of the poorest districts’ budgets are 80% state money. On average across the entire state, about 64%. The lowest I know of is the Aspen school district, with few kids and staggeringly high property values, at about 25%.

              The federal Dept of Education does something similar, although not to the same extent.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

              Even in states like WA, where the state evens out the funding, you still get differences through PTA/PTSA orgs. Also, IIRC, major school infrastructure, like building a new school, or major work on existing schools, still requires local levies to pass.Report

              • Colorado has a state construction fund that helps, starting from 2008. In FY2020 they handed out a bit over $250M. When you thumb through the projects, a ton of rural districts have been getting replacement roofs and boilers.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to J_A says:

      I’ll toss in my usual two cents… The only place that sufficiently significant regional differences are emerging is west of the Great Plains. Fire. Water. Electricity, because thermal power plants in general are not tenable without cooling water. Because in the US, there is a difference between the largest minority group being African-Americans — east of the Great Plains — and African-Americans being the second, third, or possibly fourth largest minority group in any particular western state.

      I claim we’re still 15 years out from not just the coastal West, but that larger West, beginning to think seriously they might do better on their own. And the rural parts of those states will go with the cities then. None of them are crazy enough to believe that rural TX/FL/NY/IL are going to offer them nearly as good a deal as the seven or eight major metro areas in the West can offer.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I think your points about the density of legal and regulatory requirements written as state identities, and how deeply embedded they are in our business and infrastructure are well taken and probably put cold water on any reforming of state boundaries.

        But I could see the development of the western states growing into semi-autonomy, where things like environmental and water and power entities sever themselves from an unfriendly federal state.Report

        • Philip H in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          What’s unfriendly about the federal power management approach out west? the Bureau of Reclamation does a great job delivering hydro power, as does the Columbia River Power system. There’s been no move to investigate western power companies for wildfire increases. Absent federal intervention salmon would likely be functionally extinct. And states are not being held to the same fire reduction land management standards being rolled out (again) for federal lands). Where’s the beef, so to speak?Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to Philip H says:

            Neither the BPA, nor the WPA, have given an inch in terms of cooperation with maximizing total renewable power used, versus those power administrations maximizing revenue turned back to the Treasury.

            Eg, almost everything in the Western Interconnect east of the Continental Divide would desperately like to expand trading renewable power through the CAISO’s energy imbalance market. That trade would expand the use of renewables significantly, if WPA made their transmission capacity available.

            The other example is BPA routinely forcing Columbia gorge wind power generators to throttle back so BPA can deliver much more expensive nuclear power from that one f*cking reactor in Washington that the state’s voters would greatly prefer to shut down completely.Report

            • J_A in reply to Michael Cain says:

              Though @ Michael Cain and I would probably enjoy discussing optimal power regulation and dispatch over beers, and though I am willing to agree with him that the examples he mentions are probably egregious (at least the way he describes them), I do think that proper power regulation should be exclusively a federal competency. If anything, the problem he’s signaling probably stems from having several federal agencies with overlapping competencies – ATF, Marshalls, FBI, DEA, you get the gist

              I do not believe West Plainlands power producers would be better off with an OR BPA running the show, or with CAISO completely shutting them off the California market.Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to Philip H says:

            I was thinking of a future in which a Trumpian type tries to force the western states to regulate differently than now.

            That secession might be unfeasible, but a snipping of some of the many regulatory cords would be possible.Report

      • J_A in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I think you are right in saying that the western Great Plains states -plus the Pacific NW coastal fringe, form a cohesive and distinct geographical and economic entity that can be integrated into a larger entity. Again, this West Plainland would be a “federated” thing, meaning the West Plainland government ought to regulate issues like water/energy/environment/natural resources and communications. There’s no real justification to a WY being distinct than an ID or a MT in West Plainland though there’s good reason that Missoula should be run differently than Casper.

        My issue is not with larger cohesive units. It is with the artificial nature of the statesReport

  8. LeeEsq says:

    Unitary states play around with their administrative divisions frequently because they are basically lines on a map with no inherent identity of their own. During the 1970s, the Heath cabinet basically totally rewrote the administrative map of the United Kingdom because they could. Federal systems tend to be very conservative when it comes to doing this because each state is semi-sovereign and has at least some historical identity. So this isn’t going to happen.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I think the states would bristle at the federal government imposing changes, but I’m not so certain that the states themselves wouldn’t mind re-drawing borders, if the federal government wouldn’t constantly say no to it.Report