That cities are “blue” has become a truism. For the past several election cycles, the nation’s urban areas have repeatedly voted Democratic, while more rural parts of the nation have remained–or become increasingly–Red.
The article focused upon St. Louis; the author noted that while conservatives love to point to San Francisco as an example of failed “liberal” policies, places like St. Louis demonstrate the harms done by conservative state legislatures.
St. Louis’s significantly more dire problems don’t neatly fit that conservative-media narrative. Unlike San Francisco, St. Louis is a blue island in a red state, and conservative state policies have at least partly driven the city’s decline. More apt parallels to St. Louis are places like Kansas City, Mo.; Memphis; Nashville; and Little Rock, Ark. — liberal enclaves that in a macrocosm of the worst kind of family dysfunction are at the mercy of conservative state governments. The consequences of this dysfunction can be far-reaching.
The article noted that St. Louis has been losing population for years, a situation exacerbated by the coronavirus. The pandemic especially emptied out the office workers, “who scattered away to Zoom from their suburban homes and have not fully returned.”
A July 2022 Brookings Institution analysis described urban population loss during the pandemic as “historic.” The report highlighted cities like San Francisco, New York, Washington and Boston — and St. Louis. Some downtowns have since bounced back. St. Louis, like San Francisco, isn’t among them.
The reasons are debatable, but St. Louis’s politically fraught relationship with the Republican-controlled state government certainly hasn’t helped. Even as St. Louis leaders and schools struggled to navigate the once-in-a-century plague by following federal pandemic guidelines and expert advice, they had to contend with a barrage of lawsuits from the Republican state attorney general (now the state’s junior senator), Eric Schmitt, demanding that they drop their mask mandates.
Missouri Republicans also echo the accusations of Hoosier politicians who claim that crime is out of control. In Missouri, that led to the legislature attempting a state takeover of the city’s police force.
The narrative from the right was that the city’s soft-on-crime policies were to blame for the unmoored violence that is driving the city’s economic decline, so the police need to be under outside control.
That narrative sounds very familiar to anyone in Indianapolis who has seen the television ads of this year’s GOP candidate for mayor, who (inexplicably) wants to govern a place he evidently considers an urban hell-hole.
Left out of that narrative is the fact that gun crime here is abetted by Missouri gun laws that are among the loosest in the nation. Virtually anyone can walk around the city with a gun, with no state-mandated background check and few state-level restrictions, and there’s next to nothing the police can do about it until the shooting starts. The state has rebuffed all entreaties from the city to be allowed to enforce some kind of permit requirement.
We have precisely the same situation in Indiana, where the Republican super-majority in our legislature has ignored both public sentiment and law enforcement testimony in favor of “permit-less carry.”
Republican critics maintain it is the city’s de-emphasizing of policing that’s the real problem, and as such, the legislature in 2021 passed a state law that effectively penalizes cities that cut their police budgets. But even the largest St. Louis police force would still be policing a city flooded with unregulated guns and few tools to confront them, courtesy of the same Republican state leaders. A current effort to pass a statewide ballot referendum that would go around lawmakers to give St. Louis the authority to impose firearms permits and other reforms is the kind of Hail Mary the city is left with.
At least Missouri allows referenda–in Indiana, there is absolutely no check on the culture warriors in the Statehouse, who were elected by to rule over us by mostly rural voters.
The state has been unhelpful in other ways. The largest-ever Missouri state income tax cut, which lawmakers passed last year, will inevitably affect St. Louis and every other city in Missouri, where basics like infrastructure and education remain chronically underfunded.
It’s the same situation in Indiana, made even more frustrating by the fact that Indianapolis is the economic engine of the state. Evidently, none of the “good old boys” running things in the Statehouse have ever heard of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs…