City And State

In the wake of John Kerry’s 2004 electoral defeat,  the editors of The Stranger, an alternative newspaper published in Seattle, published a wonderful rant. The editors looked at the red and blue election map, and pointed to the (visually obvious) fact that even in the reddest states, cities were bright blue. America’s urban areas comprised what they called an “urban archipelago” that reflected political values and attitudes vastly different from those of rural America.

Academic researchers have since confirmed that observation: virtually every major city (100,000 plus) in the United States of America has a political culture starkly different from that of the less populous areas surrounding it. As I wrote in a post back then, the problem is, the people who live in densely populated cities have demonstrably less political voice than their country cousins. Most states don’t really have “one person one vote” and the result is that rural voters are vastly overrepresented. State taxes paid by city dwellers go disproportionately to rural areas, and the people who populate state legislatures  have gerrymandered voting districts to keep things that way.

Representative government wasn’t genuinely representative then, and in 2021, the situation hasn’t improved.

Earlier this month, Governing Magazine noted the same problem, in an article titled “Why Cities Have More People But Less Clout.”

Gun violence is on the rise in Philadelphia. In January, homicides jumped by a third over the same month in 2020, which itself had been the deadliest in three decades. Non-fatal shootings increased last month by 71 percent.

City officials, wanting to address the issue, have repeatedly come up with gun control measures they believe will save lives. Their efforts, however, have gone nowhere. Pennsylvania, along with more than 40 other states, blocks localities from passing their own firearms regulations.

Last fall, Philadelphia sued the state to end its gun pre-emption law. “If the Pennsylvania General Assembly refuses to do anything to help us protect our citizens,” said Darrell Clarke, the president of the Philadelphia city council, “then they should not have the right to prevent us from taking the kinds of actions we know we need to keep our residents safe from harm.”

Good luck with that. Courts have repeatedly upheld Pennsylvania’s power to block local gun control laws. Across the country, states have consistently pre-empted localities on a broad range of issues, from minimum wage increases and paid sick leave requirements to bans on plastic bags or removal of Confederate monuments.

Sounds pretty familiar to us Hoosiers…

The article reports what most of us know–that the majority of the nation’s economic growth has been concentrated in major cities that are the primary economic engines of their states. You would think that would make them deserving of support– but state officials pretty consistently opt to keep money flowing from those cities to rural, less prosperous areas of the state. Cities send far more tax dollars to the state that they receive back in spending.

As cities are prospering (or at least were, before the pandemic and the great migration out of downtown offices), they have been moving in an increasingly progressive direction. Only three of the nation’s 25 largest cities have Republican mayors. Meanwhile, a majority of state legislatures are controlled by the GOP. That creates a disconnect that leads to frequent pre-emption, particularly in Republican states in the South, Southwest and Midwest.

It isn’t just a partisan political gap; the urban/rural divide “reflects and is reinforced by other overlapping differences, including cultural attitudes, education levels, class and race.”

Democrats can compete and win statewide in states including Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin — and now Arizona and Georgia — but they’re shut out of power at the legislative level in all those places. Pennsylvania falls into this category as well.

The article acknowledges the a long tradition of outstate resentment of the dominant city–a resentment made stronger by the partisan split.

“They don’t have any reason to take into account the interest of the urban population in making legislation, and they have a lot of interest in not doing so,” says Schragger, the UVA law professor. “Particularly on cultural issues and fiscal issues, it pays for these legislators to resist giving cities more home-rule powers, because their constituents tend to be opposed even to local policies that are contrary to national conservative positions.”

The article is further evidence of America’s undemocratic move to minority rule, buttressed by giving every state two senators, irrespective of population count (the recent Republican Senate majority, which refused to rein in Trump’s abuses after his first impeachment, was elected with 20 million fewer votes than the Democratic minority), and
by the anti-majoritarian operation of the Electoral College.

How we give America’s urban majority at least an equal say with its rural minority is an increasingly critical question.


  1. Indianapolis, the capitol city of the state of Indiana with its Democratic Mayor Hogsett in his second term, was meaningless in this Republican state when it came to efforts to remove AG Curtis Hill of the Donald Trump “p*##y grabbing ilk”. Replacing him with Todd Rokita simply brought to the public a different set of issues to face during his administration.

    “How we give America’s urban majority at least an equal say with its rural minority is an increasingly critical question.”

  2. And instead of meeting for coffee or lunch at the local diner, most of our rural folks gather at their churches. They have cable TV access but limited access to the internet.

    Not sure how you “bridge that gap” to create unity on fiscal and social policies.

    Once again, we have the Northern oligarchy versus the Southern oligarchy. The manipulation is the same, with the focus being racism. As long as inferior minds have somebody to look down upon…

    Albert Einstein basically asked for sociologists to be more involved in the planning of society instead of economists. I agree, and even more so today.

    Also, I can’t leave without congratulating (not really) Indianapolis for surpassing Chicago as a Top 5 Murder Capital. Nobody will surpass Detroit, but Indy is eyeballing Philadelphia.

    What exactly has the state done to protect its citizens besides eliminating the need to have a gun permit? #SMDH

  3. This is such an issue compounded by the political primary voting system which reward extremism in low turn out primaries. Do you think ranked choice voting and open primaries would be a way forward. My feeling is it would allow us all a chance to elect more moderate candidates that are more likely to want to change the gerrymandered lines in favor of balanced representation.

  4. It all begins at the grass roots. The Dems have to get out and go door to door even in the red areas of the states they live in. Oh, and they also need to man up about what they want to do and why they want to do it. Wishy washy won’t cut it. Take a principled stand and stand firm.

  5. Funny how “federalism” is the marching song of the GOP, but not the same concept for “stateism” – the opposite. Could it be that neither is important – only power of the minority?

  6. Todd; do you have documentation regarding your statement, “They have cable TV access but limited access to the internet.”? Are you referring to their meeting in churches related to church access to cable and Internet? Any documentation regarding what access to cable and the Internet church congregants of all denomination have in their homes; is this the access you referred to?

  7. So … what to do? … boycott food produced from the rural areas? Good luck with that!

  8. We’re good out in the country, thank you.

    We have a majority of the fresh water (40% of the earth’s) supply in the Great Lakes.

    We also produce the food you eat.

    We have more real estate, a better chance of knowing our neighbors, and feel safer because of both.

    While your cities do generate a lot of tax dollars (often the downtown zone of urban geography), what else do your cities contribute?

    Professional sports? ?

    When our society collapses- and it will, sooner rather than later, sadly-

    Your cities will become death traps..kill-zones where any law will be whatever your neighborhood war-lord thinks is appropriate.

    We’ll be observing the calamity and deal with any problems as they interfere with our life, loved ones, and property.

    If you come begging and behave, we may even share bread with you, or teach you how to grow your own.
    Hopefully by this point, your wholly unrealistic sense of urban superiority vis a vis population density will be shattered and thrown into the dustbin of history.

  9. Hi Bemused,
    The food you grow in your personal gardens is not usually the food that urban groceries sell.
    Agriculture has sold out to Monsanto and junk food industries. The corn you grow is to make high fructose syrup for sodas and many unhealthy products that contribute to obesity – an issue in both in town and country. The wheat you grow is engineered to have more glutin which hastens bread production. The mass produced produce is tasteless. I suggest you read “White Bread” by Aaron B Strain.
    The fertilizers and pesticides may increase production, but they also increase toxins in the environment and pollute that 40% of water that you enjoy.
    The tax money allocated to rural areas disproportionately is not always used wisely. Instead of repairing pot holes in Indianapolis, bucolic country roads in Yellow Wood state park are paved when the locals stood firmly against it. But the money had to be spent! Nature is plundered in your Red counties. And then there is the rural opioid problem. And, are the churches cliques where white supremists feel comfortable?
    Yes – urban areas have gun violence. But as Democrats try to enact more regulations for safety, Republicans thwart the efforts. It seems to me that the Republicans care more about defending big business than the environment or the welfare of all. You may feel privileged to live in the country, but I wouldn’t be so smug!

  10. Peggy Hannon, normally I would agree with you. But when my mother recently dished out the tripe that my “lifestyle” in Indianapolis was SO much different than hers in Plymouth, IN, you could have knocked me out with a feather.

    I grew up in a 2-parent house w/ 3 siblings in NW IN, have lived in other cities in the Midwest and South, have been in a homogenous marriage for nearly 40 years, have had 4 varied careers (which would not have been possible in the small town of my upbringing), am a member of church and community organizations, in short, live pretty much the same as my parents and extended family. Yet, I was told I live a “completely different” life.

    Sadly, no door-to-door canvassing will alter that belief. God knows I’ve tried. Just presenting facts will not stem the chasm of “us vs them”. I’m unsure what, if anything, will.

  11. Bemused, In downtown Indianapolis, I know dozens and dozens of my neighbors. I feel safe on the streets.

    Indianapolis accounts for 25% of Indiana’s GDP, and if you include the Metro counties (which would not exists without Indy), accounts for 40% of the states GDP.

    In normal times I am a 10 minute drive to dozens of non-chain restaurants. I attend plays, and concerts. I am 15 minutes to drive to top tier museums.

    My carbon foot print is lower because I have little lawn to mow, it is not 1000’ feet of pipe or wire, or asphalt to connect my house to all of this. I put few miles on my car, because I don’t have to drive far to get anything I need. Public transit runs down my street.

    On average all of the people in Indianapolis pay $500 more in taxes to the state than they get back. I am going to tell you that your lifestyle is subsided by the very cities you despise. Think about that as rural lawmakers actively try to destroy the major urban areas. The state tax dollars flowing to your area will shrink by 25% or more.

    If we get into an apocalyptic meltdown, like you think we deserve, it will because of the rural lawmakers think Indianapolis needs the same rules as Podunk Indiana. Rural lawmakers seem to be very willing to force their idealist version of reality in Indianapolis. It might be out of spite or jealousy, but I am willing to bet, deep down, it might even out of subtle racism, that something that benefits Indianapolis, might help “Those People”.

    And yeah… I could kind of take or leave the professional sports, but it does generate business for my Airbnb and that pays for my health insurance.

  12. Bemused, I was going to ask if you were, perhaps, being tongue-in-cheek, but from the other responses to your post, I guess you were not. “Urban superiority?” Maybe you are speaking from a sense of rural superiority, unbeknownst to your smug self?
    So, as it stands today, we do not have a democracy, as in Demos, but a gerrymandered minocracy, focused on maintaining power and White rule.
    I expect that some of the resistance to allowing local gun control rule is the myth that most of the inner city murderous violence is Black on Black, so “What the hell, why would we want to stem that activity?” Read “How To Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi.

  13. We used to know what to plan for and everyone agreed. It was growth both in population and wealth and more and more comfort for everyone. Now we have no idea either jointly or separately. What are we preparing for?

    Many people offer visions of possible futures. They range from dystopian to utopian, from drop out to kumbaya, from paradise to hell. We are trudging in different directions hoping others will follow. “We are lost and alone on a forgotten highway traveled by many but remembered by few.” Society needs rebuilding but to what vision?

    To me, all possibilities start at the same place. Save the earth first. If we can’t do that the rest is irrelevant. If we continue to destabilize energy on earth with no idea of in what place the changes we are making will end, all possibilities slide down the scale towards chaos.

    It will take a century for us to stop making things worse and for the effects of our actions to stop changing on their own and for a new reality to stabilize. Our choice is to move slowly and accept a more unfamiliar world, or to move with urgency as we did leading up to WWII and welcome a world not so unlike what we built civilization for.

    Biden is at least “woke” to reality and that is a big improvement. That doesn’t get anything done though. Perhaps that’s coming but his plate is overflowing with things to do. Can he raise the level of urgency to WWII levels?

    We’ll see.

  14. Hi bemused,

    I grew up in rural communities. As a lesbian woman, I no longer feel safe in them. In my town a gay man, was brutally murdered. Communities were very segregated between black and white people.

    I was lucky to have music classes and was in choirs both in junior high and high school. However, as a budding songwriter the opportunities were limited.

    In both rural and urban communites, there are many challenges that must be addressed ie pollution. My mother noted many people in Rushville were dying of cancer. She wondered if the farmer’s pesticides were causing this.

    The top soil has been badly eroded by plowing.

    I’d like to know your ideas about sustainable farming. My grandfathers were farmers and had to leave some of their fields idle every year to comply with government regulations. They knew that if you did not take care of the land(soil), the land could not take care of you.

    If we quite ridiculing each other urban and rural communites could benefit from each others’ knowlege i.e. how to create a good public health infrastructure that improves health care access to rural communities, how cities can address food scarcity in certain communites.

    You have knowledge that we need and we have knowledge that you need.

    By the way, my Dad’s cousin never used a gun to go deer hunting. He used a bow and arrow. That’s what I call a real hunter.

  15. Thanks to all who had words to challenge Bemused sense of superiority. As long as people look outside themselves at the negative of others, they are failing to view themselves with the eyes of those they condemn.

    We are all in this together… is not a competitive social game! Maybe we might want to stop using the idea of competition, as is so very much exemplified to us by sports, as our model of living. From a larger viewing scale, there are no county boundaries, really no state boundaries, or country boundaries. If you believe in a God who exists on a much larger plane, it sees us as one; one peoples, one planet. So sad we seem to be unable to use that view of each other.

    Once again, perhaps using the idea of Nomadland as an example, those of us who are urban dwellers might take up legal residence in smaller communities for six months prior to voting so we can have our votes count. That might turn Gerrymandering on its head. Just saying!

  16. We Americans can’t stand success. Since FDR unified the country with his New Deal via a majority vote in both urban and rural areas and since we were unified during WW II ( a war in which I spent some time in the South Pacific and did not ask other Americans there if they were Democrats or Republicans or whether they lived in the country or in town back home) and (since Reagan’s campaign of union busting and mammoth tax cuts for the rich and corporate class destroyed the remnants of FDR’s New Deal has been subsumed) we had to find something else to fight about among ourselves. So now it’s urban vs. rural. Black vs. white. Immigrants vs. natives (former immigrants or successors of immigrants). Rich v. poor etc.

    Each and all of such brawls whether real or contrived present a rich pasture for scheming politicians to harvest, and they have finally brought us to what I hope is the end what with Greenes, Trumps and other political scumbags who are about as far from the noble sentiments of the founding fathers as one can get, but societal collapse is not a necessary end to present day brawls between those competing for money, recognition, geographical distancing etc.

    We need a new unifying sense of being Americans but with the current greed is good and alternative facts and other such delusional claims to leadership I confess I don’t have an answer other than to persevere socially, economically and politically in pursuit of the common good. John Locke and Plato were right and Fox News and Putin are wrong, but it is up to wiser heads than mine to get that story out to Mr. and Mrs. America, wherever they live, whatever their color, and irrespective of their credit status.

  17. It’s time for all of us to watch that great science fiction movie, “Soylent Green”, before it becomes our reality. We can at least start hoarding strawberry preserves.

  18. If the Congress will pass House bill 1 of two years ago, it will require non-partisan commissions to draw state legislative and congressional district maps. That should help considerably. I can’t ever recall a time before this last decade when our Indiana State Senate had a four-to-one partisan majority for the GOP (or for the Democrats either). That’s how extreme our state has become, and those incumbents are not at all interested in drawing themselves out of the map and a political future. Here’s hoping the U.S. House will pass H.R. 1 again and the Senate will now take action as well.

  19. Back when I was pre-teen boy my Dad took me hunting with his buddies for rabbits, pheasants and quail back in the early 1960’s.

    We would drive into Southern and Central Illinois and passed through many small towns. The grown -up talk with those local townies went over my head at the time. The townies lamented the loss of jobs and people and the Interstates that were by-passing their areas.

    Years later in 1975 I married into a farm family. My father-in-law worked sun up to sun down and had to be a jack-of-all-trades. Big Agni-Business was becoming dominant, the local grain elevators were bought out and the small business agri stores were bought out or could not compete.

    Sometimes when I drive back to the Chicago area to see friends and relatives I pass through those same small towns. The little down towns are crumbling and boarded up. If you look at census data the populations have all declined, empty lots where there were once houses.

    The one way gerrymandering works is to cut out pieces of the metro areas and dilute the Blues among a sea of rural or suburban Red.

  20. Let’s see…most folks with solid jobs can work remotely….most younger folks and families want fresh air and land instead of streets…many rural areas could be nice tourist territory for recreation…why not connect the dots?

  21. Carrie,

    I’m speaking of policies. The policies that benefit the urban dwellers will also benefit the rural dwellers. Bringing health care to all. Making the economy work for everyone, not just the CEO/ COO class . Jobs that pay living wages for everyone. Bridges that won’t fall into the rivers they span. Transportation that reduces travel time to take people and any crops they may want to take to market at a reasonable price in a time that allows them to be delivered fresh. These are things that there is agreement on regardless of where you live. Stick to policy issues and get away from “values driven” issues.

  22. So here I was, talking with my favorite space alien, who is circling the earth in a UFO. He’s a big fan of Sheila’s blog.

    He read Bemused’s screed and laughed. He read the rebuttals by Celia and Dan, among others, and laughed harder.

    “Don’t they see,” he told me. “They are all partially correct and partially wrong and,” he stopped to chuckle, “they are missing the point. People on earth are interdependent, or should be, but they don’t seem to see that. That guy Lester is on the right track.”

    I asked him what to do.

    “Todd was on the right track too, but not completely. More Internet and more cable will only lead to more polarization. More radical education is needed. Think of the cold war. The US really destroyed the USSR by the most diabolical means – music. Jazz and Rock ‘n’ Roll. It radicalized the children. Look at Cuba. Again, music. Gillespie stirred their souls. Paquito and Arturo left to follow the freedom of jazz.”

    “You need something like that, but then again, you already have. ‘How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?’ You see, they are still leaving. Plus ca change, plue c’est la meme chose.”

    So my friend still didn’t have an answer, but I tend to agree with him. That’s why we are friends. Talk about seeking reinforcement. 8)>

    It’s almost Friday after a long week.

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