Over the July 4th weekend, we made a quick trip south to Dallas, and were blessed with a brief look at that particular large chunk of the American southwest, with all its geographic and historic and cultural particularity. (More about the trip here.) One thing it put me in mind of, however, was an old post of mine, written back in 2005 (and slightly updated here), in which I praised the value of particular states, and suggested that we needed more of them. I figured that notion ought to appeal to at least a few folks around the Front Porch Republic, so herewith, my suggestion–as kind of a belated contribution to our annual holiday of praise–that America is a great place, and would be even greater if we divided it up more.
When the opportunity arises, I like to take my family to visit Spokane, Washington, where I grew up. Not only does it give us a chance to see extended family, it enables us to ramble around Washington states and other parts of the Pacific Northwest with our kids. Over the years, we’ve taken them to Seattle and Portland and Coeur d’Alene, and driven back and forth along the Columbia River Gorge, we’ve taken them to Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens. Whenever I return to Washington, I’m always struck once again by the diverse beauty of its environment: the Cascade Range, the Yakima River Valley, the Palouse Prairie, etc. And, of course, I’m reminded of how much I’d like to divide it up.
The ambition (mostly humorous, but sometimes serious) to carve a new state out of parts of Washington, Idaho, and a little bit of Oregon has been around for a long time; I remember people talking about it when I was a kid. The most reasonable plan usually calls for taking the region often referred to as the “Inland Empire” (here’s a rough map) and renaming it “Columbia,” with Spokane as its capital, bordered by Canada on the north, Kalispell and Missoula, MT, on the east, Wenatchee and Yakima, WA, on the west, and maybe Baker City, OR, on the south (just so long as we get Hells Canyon). Granted, most of the local people who talk about creating such a state are doing so only because they want to make some sort of point about the ideological divide between the liberal, metropolitan enclaves of Seattle and Portland, and the conservative, mostly rural territory which those areas politically dominate. But if you look at it that way, you force the question of who is really being “served” or “represented” by whatever strange ideological combinations the boundaries of Washington (or any state, for that matter) call into being–and by that standard, poor Eastern Washington benefits a lot more from wealthy Western Washington than local politicians care to admit. Which means, of course, that the debate founders on the usual dispute over economic advantage vs. political liberty, with plenty of mockery and cheerleading to be found on both sides.
I don’t see it in those terms however; my concern is more cultural and civic. The whole theoretical point of granting substantive political power to individual states–given that the logic of “one man, one vote” suggests that we ought to actually abolish both the electoral college and the U.S. Senate, and turn the whole United States over to a single unicameral legislature–is the old republican notion (as transformed by James Madison and Co., of course) that people will take their democratic duties as citizens more seriously when they feel a greater attachment to that public of which they are a part. Of course, that’s only part of the issue–the historical reason for granting substantive political power to the states in the U.S. had little to do with theory, and a lot to do with the fact that distinct sovereignties existed along the eastern coast of North America, had existed for quite some time, and couldn’t be gotten around in any imagining of a new American polity. But still, that factors into the theoretical concern–if you have historical localized attachments, then they need to be constructed, legitimated, and assembled in such a way as to preserve their function in the larger whole. As the country has developed, much of that function has broken down, at least in part due to the unwieldiness of certain state boundaries as they’ve developed over time. Spokane (despite what some of its boosters claim) doesn’t dislike Seattle, anymore than Pendleton dislikes Portland or Bonners Ferry dislikes Boise. They just don’t have a lot of mutual affection for each other, that’s all. So, why not divide up certain boundaries to reflect the developed history of these places? The result would be along the lines of what Michael Lind suggests: more states, making for more and more balanced representation.
Okay, I admit, Lind’s vision of 75 states is a little much. Moreover, Lind is, as always, a purely civic nationalist; his vision is entirely wrapped up his drive to make the American nation a more unified and democratic political body. I’m sympathetic to such national republican concerns, but I also think that Lind’s proposal foolishly ignores the cultural and historical aspects of belonging. You can’t just divide up states left and right for the sake of representational equivalence, however worthy the goal; the roots of identity begin locally, not with lines drawn for wholly political purposes. Sure, politics is part of it–as I’ve discussed before, boundary-drawings, like all foundings, is a complicated affair, with outright acts of political will balanced against the pre- (and non-)political elements of “people-making,” whether linguistic or geographic or cultural or otherwise. But nonetheless, the affective aspects of identity, as they grow (and change) over time, need to be considered. Which just means that it’d obviously be plain electoral suicide to try to get the Great State of Texas, with all its myth and history, to submit to a break-up. If you’re going to be that crazy about it, you might as well throw your lot in with those who advocate annexing British Columbia and Alberta as well. I don’t think a purely representative calculus will serve America–to say nothing of eastern Washington–very well. The goal shouldn’t be achieve a perfectly responsive representativeness (we arguably already are too addicted to that chimera anyway, what with recall elections and ill-considered election laws hampering the overall process); rather, the goal should be more representation in general. Where possible, where the people’s sympathies clearly support it, let’s have more states, with a larger Congress and more representatives serving the people on a smaller, more affective basis. (Which will also, I think, also turn out to be more effective–but that’s, as I say, a separate matter.) Moreover, let’s start with my Inland Empire homeland (and let’s do it soon, before my father is too old to run for governor).
What other new states do I think are plausible? Western Kansas, unfortunately, almost certainly isn’t, but there are other candidates out there was well; Lind’s list, over-enthusiastic as it is, contains some obvious possibilities. Clearly, California should be split up–it’s too large, spread out and disconnected as a population for current arrangements to be defensible, to say nothing of economically sustainable. Plus, there’s precedent for northern California separating itself; consider the proposed state of “Jefferson”. Splitting up New Jersey, perhaps in conjunction of some redrawn boundaries within New York and Pennsylvania, would follow natural population lines. (No doubt Long Island would love to be its own state.) I’d personally like to give Michigan’s Upper Peninsula back to Wisconsin, since that makes more sense geographically, but dividing the state along a north-south line, giving the U.P. to the western half and forming a new state out of the Detroit area and the “thumb” probably wouldn’t cause too many tears (at least not if my Ann Arbor-raised wife’s opinion is any indication). And that doesn’t even begin to address harder cases, like Puerto Rico. But this would give us 5 new states, and they’d be fairly evenly divided between “red” and “blue” too, on my reading. Why not 55 states? We could add another line of stars to the flag, don’t you think?
And from Virginia I propose everything from Fredricksburg north to the Potomac (and east of the mountains) be chopped off from Virginia and made it own state. We can call it Beltlandia. It hasn’t been Virginia for a long time.
Interesting proposition. I like the idea.
I would vote to have all “red” counties secede from the “blue” ones. The blues couldn’t last a week.
Steve K. said:
“And from Virginia I propose everything from Fredricksburg north to the Potomac (and east of the mountains) be chopped off from Virginia and made it own state. We can call it Beltlandia. It hasn’t been Virginia for a long time.”
Let’s include the District (where they pine for statehood, anyway) and Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, MD, inside the Beltway, too.
California needs to be much more than two states. Our size and external borders make absolutely no sense. We are several geographically, economically, and culturally distinct regions:
1. northern california (rural forest mostly) should join up with Western OR – excluding Portland;
2. our eastern border splits the Sierra Nevada Mountains about in half between CA and NV, there should be a united and independent governance for the range;
3. similarly, dividing the Mojave Desert in half between CA and AZ is non-sensical, should be a united and self-governing territory;
4. California’s Central Valley and coastal mountain ranges (including the coast from Big Sur to Lompoc) should be its own state (perhaps named West Tulsa);
5. and 6. San Francisco and LA should be the capitals of two independent (culturally distinct) states covering the coastal basins, one from Santa Rosa to Monterey, the other from Santa Barbara to San Diego (or, arguably, Tijuana).
Six states for 12% of the country’s population isn’t too much to ask, is it?
Unfortunately none of this will happen until the Electoral College is eliminated. Politicians don’t care if California collapses, just as long as one California voter can swing 20% of the entire election. That degree of leverage is irresistible to the operators like Rove and Morris.
There’s a movement afoot to break down at least the all-or-nothing device (which is clearly not how the Constitution meant the College to be used.)
Section 1. Any congressional district, excepting the district wherein the state capitol resides, may, by special election,
secede from the jurisdiction of its state to any state with which it shares a common border.
Section 2. Separation shall proceed only upon election by two thirds majority of district voters and ratified by simple
majority of the receiving state’s legislature.
Re-drawing state boundaries would serve to make a state more of the particular region that used to be meant by “state” — at least in the American idiom.
Here in western Pennsylvania, we do not share much of the culture of the Philadelphia at all. And we hardly understand the Lancaster/PA Dutch-lands, nor do we feel much kinship with the Pocono region, which seems to be ably represented by the “Office” comedy series. Erie and the rest of the northwest seem to have more to do with Buffalo and Batavia than Pittsburgh.
We have our one city here, which seems to be our center of consciousness. Then we have our river valleys and our hilltops, our patchwork of third-generation immigrants, Scots-Irish and German ruralities who have all been taught Pittsburghese.
We need our own state, if only to escape the withering mindsets of Republican nincompoopery and Democrat central-planning-lust.
Right on, Russell, though Puerto Rico isn’t a hard case: it deserves independence.
Coincidentally, my next book (due out in ’10) is about redrawing the map, splitting overlarge states (California, New York) and permitting states both illegitimate (Alaska, Hawaii) and venerable (Vermont) to split from the union if their citizens so desire. And yes, Viva the State of Jefferson!
Yes, please, divide, divide . . .
Can’t wait for the book, Bill.
I’d say 75 states sounds small, or at least reasonable. The Agrarians in “Who Owns America?”, it is worth noting, believed that any renewed federalism would result in regions rather than states as the units of governance. I wonder would this attempt at compromising federalized tradition with centralized modernity is worth revisiting — and revising. Your wife, in any case, is correct that Detroit should be part of a separate state from the rest of Michigan; unfortunately, that’d be a little bit like making Devil’s Island its own polity. Everyone outside of Detroit would benefit; Detroit would just continue to reel.
I don’t think the proposed amendments would be effective. It doesn’t allow for the creation of entirely new states, on the secession of parts of states into each other, making it difficult to form, say, the Inland Empire, the state of Beltlandia, or the state of Upstate New York.
I grew up in Western New York (New York, like California, really ought to be at least four states: Downstate, which should include parts of Connecticut and New Jersey; Weststate, which should stretch from the Niagara River and Lake Erie at least through the Seven Counties which are traditionally considered Western New York; Lakeland, which would consist of the Finger Lakes region, and possibly all the way to the Hudson; and Adirondackia), and now I’m a good Southern boy in Virginia (real Virginia, not Beltlandia). Virginia should also be several states: Beltlandia, in which it can join DC and southern Maryland; Tidewater; and the rest, unless we want to split the Richmond area up. But the fact is that the Piedmont (where I live, in Martinsville) and the mountains have a lot in common, while the Piedmont and the Richmond area just don’t.
But the bottom line is that the amendments proposed don’t allow that. If real Virginia wanted to secede and become part of Tennessee, they’d be fine; but they couldn’t become their own state.
Further, an amendment to this effect seems contrary to state sovereignty anyway; why should the states be subjected to two-thirds of the other states to allow secession, if they don’t want to?
Rather, let’s propose laws in individual states:
“Resolved, that any political subdivision of the Commonwealth, upon a two-thirds majority vote of the registered voters within it, may secede from the Commonwealth to form an independent sovereignty, with or without the consent of the legislature of this Commonwealth.”
This appears to me to be the worst sort of social engineering. Aren’t states “places” with histories and traditions and distinctive ways of life? Even the Supreme Court in its worst social engineering phase with court-ordered busing and all that stopped short of dismantling states. I admit that the states themselves could be more localist and all that, but…
A lot of fine comments to catch up on here. Thanks for your thoughts, folks.
Steven K. and Nathan,
As a former resident of both Arlington and Alexandria, I’ve actually given a lot of thought to DC statehood over the years. I think the ideal arrangement would be if Maryland’s and Virginia’s historic borders, centered aroung the Potomac river, would be preserved, and the bulk of Washington, the city, be given to Maryland (thus becoming Washington, MD), with a roughly 20 square block “Monument Core” be preserved, Vatican City-like, as our Federal City. But I fear that would be just too much innovation for our sclerotic bureaucracy to take. So the more likely option would be simply give Washington to Maryland outright (complicated, but doable), or return parts of Virginia, as Steven suggests, to the District, and grant it statehood (Arlington County, at least, was part of the original Federal City).
Yours is a suggestion that will no doubt go over well with many of the conservatives who write and read here, and to be sure, as an old fan of William Jennings Bryan, I’m sympathetic to pretty much anything that pits the farms against the cities, but still, let’s be honest: if that actually happened, without an attendant complete restructring of patterns of transporation, education, trade and industry, then the population of all those sovereign “red states” would be close to nil within a generation. There are reasons why the overwhelming majority of Americans (including the overwhelming majority of contributors to this blog) live in cities, suburbs, or other exurban areas; simply talking the seccession of everything rural from everything urban doesn’t do a thing to address the real problems of growth, distribution, sovereignty, and opportunity.
I like what you’re saying, but I’m not sure I can go along with it. Depsite your reference to several different factors, you seem to be thinking a little too much like Lind, and focusing mostly on how to handle populations in their several geographic regions. But people can and do identify culturally and economically with people in other locals with whom they share a history. Of your list for breaking up California, I guess I can see the point of three states emerging: 1, 5, and 6 (it seems to me that, properly, 5 would incorporate 4 as well).
I’ll check out your link. I’m personally pretty hostile to the Electoral College; it seems to me that, given our national embrace (both popularly and legally) of the “one man-one vote” notion of democracy, than it is only proper for our single national executive to be elected by a single, nation-wide plebiscite. However, I recognize that the College, as abused as it has become, still serves the indirect purpose of forcing people to think about the states. The same thing goes for the U.S. Senate–it doesn’t at all perform the role the authors of the Constitution imagined it would (especially not since the 17th amendment), but then again, the fact that our Senate evolved in repsonse to new understandings of democracy means we still have a Senate, and hence protects some decentralization of power amongst the less-populated rural areas of the nation…which isn’t the case in some other democratic states, where the federal element of their original constitutions have long since been entirely lost.
I disagree, Puerto Rico is a very hard case, because the great majority of the people who actually live there, as has been demonstrated through local elections several times, don’t want to be independent from the U.S. It’s not even close. What they want, by clear majorities, is to be a state.
I should not that in response to Patrick Deneen on my home blog, I confess that I should have update the post to recognize that I don’t actually feel that Lind’s proposal of 75 states is as outlandish as I once did. I don’t think you can plausibly make a case for 25 more states, when all the historical and cultural and demographic factors are taken into consideration, but you could very likely make a case for 10, perhaps 15 more. Oh, and I think you’re wrong about Detroit, since quite logically, if Michigan divided, the Detroit part would get The Thumb.
I don’t think you read my post closely enough, or perhaps are being swayed by over-excited commenters. I completely agree that, given the long, complicated, and deeply embedded histories of foundings and boundary-drawings which attend the creation of any polity (or division of such), one can’t just casually divide something up, especially not in the name of some overarching ideal, whether it be national political representation (which was Lind’s civic goal) or pure localism (which often motivates many folks around here). Probably Pennsylvania or any number of other states includes divisions that lead some people to speculate about divisions (I know Kansas does!), but mere speculation is no excuse for arbitrary top-down fiddling, not when whole patterns of life have emerged in the meantime. Still, I do believe that our sense of federalism could be strengthened, and our national democracy made more appealing and responsible, if we had more sovereignty and representation, coming from more places…and that will entail, well, enabling the creation of additional places. Not willy-nilly, but honestly, if you have long-standing plans in place, talking about the creation of a separate Northern California state, well, why not explore the possibility? See what the people of California and their current representatives think. I suspect that, in the face of the complete meltdown of the state’s economy, they might well jump at it.
“people can and do identify culturally and economically with people in other locals with whom they share a history.”
California doesn’t have a history, except of people moving into its borders to either start over or get rich. The only connection is disconnectedness.
“thinking a little too much like Lind, and focusing mostly on how to handle populations in their several geographic regions.”
You say that like it’s a bad thing. Perhaps statehood is a step too far, but if geographic regions are not represented as regions but are instead arbitrarily divided up between various bureaucratic regimes (i.e. what we call states), how can they ever be governed as anything other than colonies or viewed as anything other than regions for resource exploitation (which is exactly how the portions of the Pacific forest, Sierra Nevada Mountains, and Mojave Desert that are ruled by Sacramento are viewed and governed)? It seems to me that shoring up true regional identity (i.e. understanding the connection between yourself and your community and the land it lies and depends on) is fundamental to the sort of embedded virtuous communities that are the goal of this site.
I like the idea of dividing into more states, especially since the U.S. population has increased so much since most states were formed. It would seem to be reasonable in the face of such growth.
I wonder about the comments regarding the electoral college, though. I had thought that the college was intended to provide a mediating, republican bulwark against a pure democracy so as to prevent precisely the kind of “election-as-popularity-contest” process that we have today.
As long as the federal government exists, it might be better, perhaps, to strengthen the institution of the electoral college.
What….New Yawk aint satisfied with stealing the Oblong from Connecticut? All that nice horsey country along Quaker Ridge should still be in Connecticut dammit.
Fox: More States equal more members of Congress equals more money needed from K Street and that just might finally bankrupt the Corporate Coffers once and for all.
Don’t know however, if we might be better served by formalizing what already exists anyway and consolidating the 50 into 1 big state called Confusion with the Ostrich as the State Bird, Possum as State Mammal, Poison Ivy as State Plant, Fools Gold as State rock and IOU scrip as the currency. 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall can be the National Anthem. The current New York Legislature can give a seminar on legislative conduct and then we might have two teams of two representatives placed on a rotating basis via the vehicle of a Reality Television show. Two liberal teams and the others conservative and everything can be decided in a Mexican Wrestling Match broadcast by CSpan. The masks will insure anonymity for the Representatives after their 90 days on the Wrestling Circuit is over.
In a well-removed-from reality abstract sense, MAYBE a good idea.
But since we don’t live in a big “what’s the BEST policy” laboratory, there are several major practical problems. Here’s three:
First, serious localists should never waste their limited political capital (which as of now, they haven’t even accumulated) on this. They should not try to initiate such efforts. Their primary aim should be to increase the power of the existing states vis-a-vis the feds, and even more so, localities vis-a-vis the feds and the states.
Second, who knows what the price-tag of splitting up and to some degree duplicating state bureacracies that presently are doing a whole hell of a lot of things is? It might be pretty huge.
Third, Art. IV, sect. 3, mandates congressional permission to split states. Why would the small states’ representatives have incentive to give permission? Every split would grant a greater share of Senatorial power to the other states, which of course from the large (population, we’re talkin’) states’ perspectives might be the most important motive for splitting in the first place. That present (and it will grow worse) disproportion of senatorial power is written into the Constitution’s ONE non-amendable part, Art. V., which contains the unambiguous words “provided that…no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the senate.”
As a Rhode Islander (no – due to current events I am a proud Providence Plantationer), I heartily endorse the concept of small states. RI is 39 cities and towns squeezed into a 30×40 mile rectangle – that’s about 325,000 hectares in front porch speak. We’re so small the census bureau doesn’t even consider us worthy of our own Metropolitan Statistical Area. We all pretty much live within a half-hour of each other – but we make up for it with our lack of mobility. I know plenty of people from Northern RI who vacation a half-hour away in Southern RI. Cape Cod is just so far away. Really, anything farther than 20 minutes is rather inconvenient. And to make sure our political thoughts don’t have to wander too far from home, we’ve managed to fit a newly condensed 75 legislative districts into this tiny sliver of land.
Rhode Island and all of New England provide excellent examples of state division. At one point or another the whole region had to deal with the theocrats in Massachusetts. And while they may have been happy to get rid of the folks in Connecticut and Rhode Island, they certainly made very valid claims on Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. If we were all pushovers, the whole region would be one big Massachusetts – just a little bigger than Washington I figure.
By the way forestwalker, as a New Englander, there is absolutely nothing wrong with six states for twelve percent of the population. Heck, I bet you could easily make 13 or 14 with that many people.
Oops…should have said every part of Art. V is amendable, except the part I quoted.
Good points, Carl.
I tend to lose my senses in joy and hope anytime someone tells me something big and inhuman might be broken down to human scale; Mystical Body of Christ excepted, of course, for obvious metaphysical reasons.
Arben, did you read what Carl wrote? Start thinking about how to increrase “State” power as opposed to the Federalis! We need a posting NOW!
“What….New Yawk aint satisfied with stealing the Oblong from Connecticut? All that nice horsey country along Quaker Ridge should still be in Connecticut dammit.”
Don’t put me in with those people! I lived in New York State for fifteen years; never went to NYC, or anywhere south of Poughkeepsie (including Poughkeepsie itself), and never wanted to. What they did or did not steal from Connecticut is no nevermind to me. As I understand it, though, most of southwestern Connecticut serves as commuter country for NYC; if that’s not the case, then my comment has to be altered.
The low vote totals for the independentistas indicate the debilitating effects of colonialism, as Luis Munoz Marin predicted in his brilliant “The Sad Case of Porto Rico” in the American Mercury (1929). The contiguity of the states was an important principle that our rulers threw out the window during the madness of the Cold War. Alaska and Hawaii should not have been admitted to the Union; nor should Puerto Rico today.
The low vote totals for the independentistas indicate the debilitating effects of colonialism, as Luis Munoz Marin predicted in his brilliant “The Sad Case of Porto Rico” in the American Mercury (1929).
You may be right…but then again, at what point does that become a kind of “false consciousness” accusation, with all the potential for condescension that involves? It seems to me that, whatever else we can do in regards to building sovereign consciousness, we have to accept the people that are in a given place, and not wish for some other. (Someone who knows more about the history and psychology of colonialism might want to consider the odd fact that, from what I can tell, Hawaiians, as residents of a full-fledged state, have nonetheless developed a stronger and more complete independent cultural consciousness of themselves as a people than the Puerto Ricans have. But maybe ethnicity and demography helps account for those differences.)
Us New Jerseyans like our state just fine – and for sure do not want to be part of NY or PA.
Divvying up some of the current states into smaller states might be a worthwhile idea – certainly there are many of us out here in dusty West Texas who feel a distinct disconnect from the more metropolitan regions of Texas. But I have a slightly different angle on the addition of new states. Rather than (or perhaps in addition to) carving up existing states, we just need to make some new ones. How? Take Mexico.
Right. Screw our immigration woes, stop trying to secure the U.S.-Mexican border with pathetic fence schemes, and simply take Mexico!
Yup, seize the country; divvy it up into a handful of new states; clean up the water; exploit the massive labor pool; tax the snot out of the tourism industry; and end the illegal immigration problem once & for all. Sound extreme? Maybe not so much. Would you rather continue to throw boatloads of money at useless border fences or earn $9 billion in tourism investment income?
The profits from the real estate boom on the beachfront property in those new states alone would be unimaginable — and the tax income could fund other vital infrastructure improvements in those new states.
Who’s up for a land grab?
If we eliminate the electoral college, politicians will focus only on the most populous cities; the rest of the country will be ignored. Having to count the extra 2 votes per state gives a small incentive to be seen and heard in smaller states which would otherwise drop off the map.
It was a mistake to switch to direct election of Senators. Originally, they were appointed by and beholden to State legislatures. The system was designed this way to curb the tendency toward centralization of power. Who can argue that the federal imposition of the 55 mph law, or any number of other sweeping “reforms”, was better than letting 50 states experiment with and share solutions to various problems? To centralize everything is to lose a great deal of information and information-processing capabilities.
[…] Arben Fox goes into more detail with article from Front Porch Republic entitled “In Praise of the States. Let’s Have More of Them”. Bill Kauffman also writes about this in “Nowhere USA” on AmCon’s website. | […]
This idea of dividing states up into smaller segments has definite possibilities. When Texas joined the U.S. much of our land was given up that now includes parts of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. Part of our treaty with the U.S. was that if we chose to, we could divide into several smaller states. It makes sense for us. Tekarkana in the northeast of the state is actually closer to Chicago than El Paso in the extreme west of the state. The eastern part of the state is more like the deep south. The far west is more like New Mexico and Arizona. The central section is different from the rest having more of a liberal focus. North Texas and the Panhandle are more like the Plains states. So, it is a good idea to me.
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