It’s Not Just Tennessee

In the wake of heightened attention to Tennessee, triggered by that state legislature’s expulsion of two young Black Democratic members, Politico ran an article examining the increasingly wide rural/urban divide in that state.

Nashville, Tennessee has been booming. It surpassed Austin, Texas, to take the top spot as the Wall Street Journal’s “hottest job market” of 2022. According to research from the Greater Nashville Technology Council, Middle Tennessee’s tech job growth grew by over 50 percent between 2015 and 2020. The “Silicon Valley of the South,” as Nashville has been called, accounts for some 40 percent of the GDP of the entire state. It’s a draw for talent and industry, a boon to the state’s coffers and a cultural gem of the American South.

So why does Tennessee seem so hostile to its own capital city — and greatest economic engine?

That same question could be asked about Indiana’s legislature, which has long been hostile to Indianapolis, despite the fact that the Circle City is very clearly the economic engine of the Hoosier state. For that matter, as the Politico article pointed out, this urban/rural divide is happening all over the country, at every level of government, “in which the preferences of voters often filter through representative bodies whose lopsided majorities don’t really represent the electorate of the state around them.”

Time for yours truly, the broken record: The legislative dominance of rural priorities is due to gerrymandering.

I have written before about the cultural differences that have exacerbated hostilities between rural and urban areas. Rural residents tend to hold more traditional values, to be more conservative and much more Republican, while in today’s America, every urban area over 500,000 is Blue on those ubiquitous political maps. The political divide  exacerbates the cultural divide, and both lead to an increase in hostility between rural and urban residents.

Economic factors also play a role. A large number of rural areas have experienced economic decline in recent years, with fewer job opportunities and shrinking populations.

The differing interests of rural and urban areas ought to lead to legislative compromises. That doesn’t happen, because– thanks to gerrymandering–rural voters exercise disproportionate electoral power. The result is a legislative super-majority that skews even further Right than its rural constituency–and disdains democratic norms and federalist divisions of authority.

As a CNN article reports,

From Florida and Mississippi to Georgia, Texas and Missouri, an array of red states are taking aggressive new steps to seize authority over local prosecutors, city policing policies, or both. These range from Georgia legislation that would establish a new statewide commission to discipline or remove local prosecutors, to a Texas bill allowing the state to take control of prosecuting election fraud cases, to moves by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Missouri Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey to dismiss from office elected county prosecutors who are Democrats, and a Mississippi bill that would allow a state takeover of policing in the capital city of Jackson.

These efforts by Red states to seize authority over law enforcement in their Blue cities is being fed by two recent, powerful trends.

One is the increased tendency of red states to override the decisions of those blue metros on a wide array of issues – on everything from minimum wage and family leave laws to environmental regulations, mask requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, and even recycling policies for plastic bags. The other is the intensifying political struggle over crime that has produced an intense pushback against the demands for criminal justice reform that emerged in the nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

That pushback against crime has a prominent racial component. Overwhelmingly White rural areas–and the Republicans they elect–want to empower police and reduce oversight that they believe impedes effective policing; prosecutors and other politicians in urban areas want to address racial bias in their criminal justice systems, and ensure that their systems are operating on a level playing field.

That particular divide motivated Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement immediately after the jury verdict that he intended to pardon Daniel Perry, who was convicted of intentionally murdering a Black Lives Matter protester. (The jury that convicted Perry hadn’t seen a document that the judge subsequently unsealed, sharing Perry’s references to Black protesters as “monkeys,” and musing about “hunting Muslims in Europe.”)

None of this intended to suggest that rural Americans are all racists, or that all urban dwellers are racially progressive. In fact, the Politico article points out that Republicans representing rural areas tend to be well to the right of their rural constituents on many issues, including guns.

The problem is the systemic distortion that operates to empower the most resentful cohorts of rural voters, who then elect extremists willing to kill their state’s urban “golden goose.”

Resentment isn’t logical.


  1. “Resentment isn’t logical.”

    Not in the case of our urban/renewal divide, for sure. I just published an article about Indiana’s $2 billion budget surplus and the Hoosier lawmaker comparing Indiana to California, which had a $49 billion deficit.

    None of the stenographers in the crowd pressed him on that comparison. Viewers are should the homeless in CA. Does Fox News break down the economics for viewers so they can make an intelligent decision at the polls?

    When our political talking heads can lie to the people and the media endorses it, how do you change the minds of voters?

    Gerrymandering isn’t a negative word unless used for malicious reasons. It’s good to have even districts, but neither party uses the tool maliciously because neither wants to eliminate it.

    Same thing with money – NO OUTSIDE money in a district. That is called bribery to even a layman.

    Why does Charles Koch get to spend unlimited monies on political races outside his district?

  2. The term “rural” used to mean country and farmlands with green fields producing much of our food; that is no longer the case. Rural areas surrounding urban and suburban Indianapolis now have many large cookie-cutter housing developments and some apartments where predominantly white, higher income, families have moved to escape the declining neighborhoods they grew up in and the minorities and immigrants who populate our city. When referring to “urban” does that include the once suburban areas which sit between urban and rural Indianapolis and Marion County?

    Southeast side of Indianapolis, once farmlands with those green fields of corn, soybeans and other produce which now come from who-knows-where, now lay barren and fallow with a few actual farm houses between the cookie-cutter housing developments. The inner-city and too many surrounding neighborhoods are declining due to what was reported in the Indianapolis Star a few years ago as “Abandon Indy” series which was ignored and forgotten. The staunch Republican tax law regarding purchase of declining properties at “tax sales” allows buyers to buy only the tax lien with a one-year waiting period before actually owning the property. These declining areas are also ignored regarding infrastructure maintenance and repair due to general conditions and adding to the declining general condition of vast areas of neighborhoods. This has not only moved the population, predominantly white, into our rural areas but has already taken over our rural green spaces which once cleansed the air and is now being touted as a primary cause of the drastic Climate Change and the poor progress to save the environment.

    What exactly do the terms “urban” and “rural” mean today? Along with other changes through recent years, terminology definitions have changed and we have been forced into an electronic age to run our lives. Changing economic situations at all levels of income have dropped middle-income to low-income status and low-income to poverty level. Political talk has divided residents into two categories; “urban” and “rural”, where the hell do those in between fall as we watch our neighborhoods and surrounding business conditions decline along with our infrastructure?

    We in Indiana have our own increasing wide urban/rural divide to deal with. Bring Politico here to sort us out with our increasing historic level of morning shooting reports on the news, primarily in that no-mans-land between what was once urban and what was once rural. Politicians are dividing us as residents and politics are dividing families, friends and neighborhoods. Where will it all end?

  3. One can only hope that someday the people who live in the rural parts of the state will get fed up with being misled by the decisions their elected representatives make that keep them poor, sick, and uneducated.
    Somehow the decision-makers must be held accountable for their failures. Unfortunately the voters are easily manipulated into voting the same people into office, and the progressive voters in those districts do not show up in enough numbers to overcome the gerrymandering.

  4. While Indiana is working hard to win the race to the bottom, we have nothing on Mississippi. You mentioned Jackson and the policing. That’s a good story. The largest city in Mississippi is Jackson. It is SMALLER than Ft Wayne, IN. The state capital is in Jackson, and the University of Mississippi. The urban rural hostility in Mississippi has its roots in the post-reconstruction south. After the Civil War former slaves flocked to the cites to try to build lives. Through the KKK, Jim Crow laws, etc…, the white minority managed to put those “uppity” black people in their place. With most of the black population in cites, cities in Mississippi have been the ongoing target of the rural minority white voters for more than 100 years. The net effect is that the GDP of the entire state is only a fraction of more “progressive” counter-parts, like Indiana. So while cities should be the economic engines of the state, they languish in Mississippi. At the same time everyone else is floating in the same cesspit, but the rural voters are still patting themselves on the back proud of that 8 foot satellite dish on the side of their trailers, where they religiously watch FOX news (speculation on my part). So along with everyone else Jackson starves for money. You may also remember Jackson also made the news for a failing water system and the Federal government had to step in. Even though you couldn’t get a drink of water from the drinking fountains in the state capital building, state law makers were not willing to step in.

    The state lawmakers have to travel to Jackson to the state capital. Like everything, the Jackson police force is underfunded. Fearing for their on safety, State Lawmakers decided to enact a state capital policing district that gives capital police a 2 mile square district around the capital building they are allowed to police. A lot of the officers on this expanded force are former Jackson police officers because the state offers about 30% better pay. The state capital police won’t even say what their policy’s are. Like most cites struggling with over policing minorities, Jackson has policies in place to limit stop and frisk, or car chases. Not so much for the State police.

    When you exclude a percentage of population from fully participating in the state’s economy, your entire GDP is going to be lower by that percentage. Compound that over years and it adds up.

    Some people find it hard to remember; We all do better when we ALL do better.

  5. Todd, you’re totally off the rails today. Just because we can all see the flaws in a system doesn’t mean human nature won’t exploit those flaws to ones advantage and to the detriment of someone else. Gerrymandering is used maliciously.

  6. Drive threw sections of Indy’s north side and you will find pockets of hard core GOP/MAGAs. They are mostly in high income, older neighborhoods with an aging population of white collar professionals. They have GOP candidate yard signs that represent the very pushback Prof. Kennedy mentions, decrying the high crime/daily shootings in the city without any plan to address the underlying issues other than to beef up the police. No mention of the facts that it takes years to train new officers, let alone recruit them in the first place, takes money to fund those programs and ignores state legislators who hamstring local governing bodies to put programs in place to reduce access to weapons and address mental health/poverty issues.

    The unending stream of political propaganda by candidates who tell you nothing about what party they represent or how they plan to pay for their simplistic and vague policy positions play on fear and are subtlety racist.

    It always amazes me that people seem to think that someone who is a successful business person, with profit the motivation, is qualified to manage a service organization with no financial incentive can suddenly run a government entity whose sole responsibility is service to the citizenry. Too often those experienced in business only wind up catering to those they know, the business community. Just look at the majority of those in the GOP super-majority in the Indiana General Assembly. The revolving door from business to the legislature and then back to the business insider jobs continues unabated.

  7. This entire discourse focuses upon the continuing reality of a lack of servant leadership among the supermajority legislative establishment placed there merely because they have an (R) behind their name. These individuals do not encourage diversity of thought or compromise; they do not create a culture of trust; they do not possess an unselfish mindset; and they do not foster leadership in others. Lacking any sense of stewardship for the entire citizenry of their respective states, they put their selfish needs first over others, resulting in the detriment of even their own local constituency.
    What a bitter irony!

  8. JD – “It always amazes me that people seem to think that someone who is a successful business person, with profit the motivation, is qualified to manage a service organization with no financial incentive can suddenly run a government entity whose sole responsibility is service to the citizenry. Too often those experienced in business only wind up catering to those they know, the business community. Just look at the majority of those in the GOP super-majority in the Indiana General Assembly. The revolving door from business to the legislature and then back to the business insider jobs continues unabated.’

    You betcha! Why we need “main street” folks to run for and win elections rather than lawyers and the businesses they serve.

  9. Entrenched gerrymandering has ensured that Indiana will elect even more far right politicians. The gop needs to find a better candidate than Banks to be the next Senator and District 3 gop must find a better candidate than Marlin Stutzman to take Banks’ place. They are both lying scheming self-serving alt-right extremists that need to be stopped.

    I’ll repeat myself – As long as far right media is allowed to keep lying and creating BS to keep their followers angry and afraid things will continue to get worse in this country.

    Sheila, it would be wonderful if there is some way that you and your colleagues would consider creating an educational speaking tour for rural areas to teach the public about gerrymandering and how it has enabled the election of politicians that don’t truly represent their interests. The general public is either unaware of it or they don’t understand it. They only know that their votes don’t count and things keep getting worse.

  10. It takes a lot of time, money, smarts, and hard work, but the Dems can win. I give you Michigan as proof positive of this hypothesis. The question is are Dems everywhere up to the task?

  11. Peggy, Indiana no longer has enough good paying union jobs to elect Dems anywhere other than the larger cities. Back in the ‘80s when corporations with unions closed their doors in smaller towns and sent the work to Mexico it economically gutted those rural areas. Many former democrats were compelled to switch political parties in order to keep or obtain what few living wage jobs are available.

  12. “… systems are operating on a level playing field,” is NOT a Republican wet dream, never has been!

  13. Sadly this country is doomed to environmental, economic, and cultural collapse very soon due to ignorance, bigotry and greed. Fortunately my wife and I recently bought a lovely little casita in the mountains of Costa Rica where we will be living full time before the 2024 elections. Indiana is a totally fcked up state and the fascists have control of too many other state legislatures across the country…plus the SCOTUS is run by right wing theocrats and corporate whores for a generation… srsly FCK the US and everything it stands for

  14. The Alaska supreme court just issued a decision declaring that gerrymandering is illegal under the constitution of Alaska.

    Quite a contrast to the US supreme court, which says “go for it.”

  15. Joseph Momma. FCK everything the USA stands for? Pls stay in Costa Rica. Good riddance!

  16. Sharon Miller, yes indeed. I would have thought that the berry-patch language would have been eliminated sooner than later. Costa Rica may welcome such talk.

  17. Sorry. I only visited Jackson once. It is Jackson University and not the university of Mississippi.

    The Jackson University has an outsized influence on Jackson, like IU in Bloomington. But with the sad realization that Jackson is the largest city in Mississippi.

  18. I just read that the ACLU has sued Mississippi over the the state police district, claiming that is separate but not equal.

  19. The rural dominance over cities and towns in our state grows exponentially with the the lower the population. County government is way too over representative of interests. Because County Commissioners are elected at large , but from districts. Cities and small towns actually are over taxed for the same services for which rural populations are under taxed. I pay for state, county and city policing in my tax assessment. But our city officers are employed to a large degree serving the needs of the county prosecutor and courts. As well as assisting the other two police agencies. Rural firefighting for three townships is provided to them by our city for below the cost of the service. Eventually the urban growth of Indianapolis and donut counties will one day make rural dominance irrelevant. While it will be the key element in destroying small cities Indiana towns across Indiana.

  20. Dan, there is no Jackson University in Jackson, MS. The diverse four-year university is Jackson STATE University. Their football team holds a thriller game annually with Tennessee State University, which is in Nashville, TN. The fans, and especially the bands, go all out for the big rivalry!

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