Tag Archives: home rule

America the Divided

A new Brookings Institution report shows that a substantial majority of Americans live in counties that did not vote for Donald Trump.

The contentious political back and forth seen daily in the media, cable TV, and polls should come as no surprise in a nation where Donald Trump won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote by 2.9 million votes. Newly released Census population estimates for 2016 provide further evidence of just why the nation’s politics are split demographically. These data show that 31 million fewer Americans live in counties that voted for Trump than in those carried by Hillary Clinton…

While it is true that Clinton took less than one sixth of the nation’s 3,100+ counties, she won most of the largest ones, including 111 of the 137 counties with over 500,000 people. Trump won the Electoral College by successfully navigating rural-urban balances in key swing states, taking small areas by large vote margins.

The report–replete with multi-colored graphs– is well worth studying. It also describes the demographics of those Trump and Clinton counties, noting that when they are classified by income,  the least well-off households are over represented in Trump counties and the most well-off households are underrepresented.

Generally, Trump counties are least likely to be home to those with “urban” attributes. Only about one in five foreign-born residents live in these counties, compared with a much larger share of the United States’ native-born population (49 percent) that calls these places home. Fewer single than married persons are Trump county residents. Especially sharp divides are seen by race and ethnicity. Less than one fifth of all Asians and less than one third of all Hispanics and blacks live in counties carried by Trump.

I have written previously about the increasing urban/rural divide, and the Brookings research adds considerable data confirming that divide.

Still more confirmation is contained in an article from the Atlantic, titled “Red State, Blue City.”

The article begins by underscoring the decidedly progressive politics of cities, and the growing numbers of people choosing to live in them, but it also makes an often-overlooked point:

If liberal advocates are clinging to the hope that federalism will allow them to create progressive havens, they’re overlooking a big problem: Power may be decentralized in the American system, but it devolves to the state, not the city.

City folks in Indiana are painfully aware of that reality; Indianapolis is the economic generator in a state that barely  pretends to allow municipalities any self-determination. There’s no meaningful “home rule” in Indiana. The article also points out that most state-level policymaking is conservative:

That’s partly because Republicans enjoy unprecedented control in state capitals—they hold 33 governorships and majorities in 32 state legislatures. The trend also reflects a broader shift: Americans are in the midst of what’s been called “the Big Sort,” as they flock together with people who share similar socioeconomic profiles and politics. In general, that means rural areas are becoming more conservative, and cities more liberal. Even the reddest states contain liberal cities: Half of the U.S. metro areas with the biggest recent population gains are in the South, and they are Democratic. Texas alone is home to four such cities; Clinton carried each of them. Increasingly, the most important political and cultural divisions are not between red and blue states but between red states and the blue cities within.

There is no love lost between these progressive cities and the rural areas surrounding them.

In most states, agriculture is no longer king. Rural areas are struggling, while densely packed areas with highly educated workforces and socially liberal lifestyles flourish. In turn, rural voters harbor growing resentment toward those in cities, from Austin to Atlanta, from Birmingham to Chicago….

By and large, though, cities hold the weaker hand. It makes sense that these areas, finding themselves economically vital, increasingly progressive, and politically disempowered, would want to use local ordinances as a bulwark against conservative state and federal policies. But this gambit is likely to backfire. Insofar as states have sometimes granted cities leeway to enact policy in the past, that forbearance has been the result of political norms, not legal structures. Once those norms crumble, and state legislatures decide to assert their authority, cities will have very little recourse.

An important lesson of last year’s presidential election is that American political norms are much weaker than they had appeared, allowing a scandal-plagued, unpopular candidate to triumph—in part because voters outside of cities objected to the pace of cultural change. Another lesson is that the United States is coming to resemble two separate countries, one rural and one urban.

Only one of them, at present, appears entitled to self-determination.

Speaking of Cities…

Citiscope (a site I highly recommend to those readers who care about urban policy) has been focusing on Habitat III, the next major U. N. conference on cities.

Habitat III is to be held next month in Quito, Ecuador. For more than a year, global networks of mayors and local governments have been gearing up for what amounts to the Olympics of urbanism. Habitat III is arguably the world’s most important conversation about the future of cities. And it’s taking place at a time when rapid urban growth on all continents, especially Africa and Asia, makes that discussion more crucial than ever.

Officially known as the U. N. Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III is a rare event in global policy circles — the one time every 20 years when heads of state and national ministers gather to discuss and debate urban policy. (The first Habitat conference took place in Vancouver in 1976.)

The gathering in Quito is expected to produce a sweeping but nonbinding global strategy on sustainable urbanization. Known as the “New Urban Agenda,” this strategy will include recommendations for fighting urban poverty, devolving authority to local governments and bolstering streams of municipal finance, among other issues. Diplomats are still negotiating the details, but once finalized in Quito, the document will join last December’s Paris climate agreement and other recent accords to create a global framework for sustainability.

The problem is that, thus far, U.S. Mayors are nowhere to be found. If the governance of cities is becoming increasingly central to the national and global future, “opting out” should not be an option.

In a different article, also posted to Citiscope, respected political scientist Benjamin Barber explains what he sees as the role of urban areas:

In my 2014 book “If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities”, I proposed that cities may be to the future what nations were to the past — efficient and pragmatic problem-solving governance bodies that can address sustainability and security without surrendering liberty or equality. If, that is, they can work together across the old and obsolete national borders. And if they can assume some of the prerogatives of sovereignty necessary to collaboration.

In fact, cities are doing just this. A few years ago, the United Nations announced that a majority of the world’s population lives in cities, while economists recognize that 80 percent or more of global gross domestic product is being produced in cities. From the United Kingdom and China to the United States and Italy, authority is being devolved to cities.

One of the reasons that scholars like Barber have high hopes for cities is their recognition of the importance of civic trust (an essential element of social capital); polling shows that citizens’ trust in city governments remains high while, on average, only a third of citizens around the world say they trust their national governments. Two-thirds or more of those same citizens say they trust mayors and other local officials.

Although Barber doesn’t address it, I think one reason for higher levels of trust in city governments is the perception–largely accurate–that individual actors can influence local government. That perception is in stark contrast to the widespread conviction that ordinary citizens have no voice on the national stage. Much of the anger and hostility on display in our national politics comes from a feeling of powerlessness–a recognition that systemic and institutional forces are beyond the ability of average citizens to modify or control.

Cities, too, face institutional impediments.

In the United States, federalism has meant devolution of authority to states, not cities, and as a result, in states like Indiana that lack meaningful home rule, urban areas lack political power to decide their own fates. If the scholars who write at Citiscope and the political figures who support Habitat are right–if cities are going to be central to future governance– eliminating the barriers to genuine home rule will be critically important.

I don’t know about other cities in other states, but in Indiana, where cities are firmly in the thrall of our “overlords” in the state legislature, gaining the right to self-determination won’t be easy.

 

Bagging Home Rule

The IBJ reports on a measure approved by the Indiana Senate that would prevent local government units from taxing or restricting the use of disposable plastic bags by retailers, including grocery stores.

Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said businesses, industry groups and many consumers oppose regulation of bag use.

Many consumers are also citizens who believe the cities they live in should have the right to determine their own policies–on plastic bags, on public transportation, and on the myriad other issues pre-empted by state legislators who believe that they know better than local officials what rules Indiana residents should follow, and what programs and/or initiatives those residents should be allowed to implement.

Whatever your opinion about plastic bags or public transportation, the high-handedness of our statehouse overlords on those and other issues ought to infuriate you.

It is particularly offensive that decisions affecting residents of urban areas are routinely made by representatives of suburban and especially rural populations, whose grasp of the challenges and realities faced by elected officials in metropolitan areas is limited, at best, and whose hostility to the needs of Indianapolis and Central Indiana is a perennial statehouse reality.

This disinclination to allow Indianapolis to govern itself, to make decisions about its own affairs, is particularly galling because the city is the economic driver of the state.

Talk about your “makers” and “takers”!

Life in the City

INIndianapolis will be holding its elections for Mayor and City-County Council in November, and the candidates will be talking about the issues that face our city–and hopefully, how they plan to address those issues.

It will be interesting to see how many of the challenges they identify are the same ones that mayors of other cities cited most frequently at a recent conference on the state of the nation’s cities.

Our annual State of the Cities report examines what is happening now in cities. The top 10 issues discussed by mayors in their 2015 State of the City addresses are essential to operations, development, and livability.

The analysis reveals what issues mayors are focused on by measuring the percentage of speeches significantly covering an issue. We examined 100 State of the City speeches in cities large and small, with a regionally diverse sample from across the country. These are the top issues that matter to cities.

The issues identified were, in ascending order of frequency, healthcare (especially in states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA); demographics (race relations, cultural diversity, sexual orientation, and immigration); environment and energy (a category that includes public transportation); data and technology; housing; education; budgets; public safety; infrastructure; and economic development.

All of these issues face us here in Indianapolis. Unlike cities in states with genuine home rule, however, the ability of our mayor and council–no matter whom we elect–will be severely constrained by the fact that, in Indiana, municipal governments can do very little beyond what the state legislature in its “wisdom,” allows. (You will recall we spent a good two years begging the General Assembly for the right to decide whether to tax ourselves in order to expand mass transit.)

So–as the candidates mount their campaigns, hold “meet-and-greet’ events and fundraisers and otherwise make themselves available to We the People, in addition to asking about their preferred policies, we also need to ask them how they intend to work with our “overlords” at the Indiana General Assembly.

A Pox on Thy House (and Senate)

I am in an utterly foul mood. I guess that’s what I get for following the news.

In the last few days, lawmakers from near and far have engaged in a contest to see who can offer the stupidest laws while ignoring constituents’ most pressing problems. A couple of days ago, I reported on some craziness from Tennessee and South Dakota, opining that those states’ legislatures were making a bid for the coveted “worst” title; several comments here and on Facebook attempted to reassure me that Indiana lawmakers would come through to win that accolade before the session was over. They were right–although North Carolina just made a gutsy play. Their legislature just voted to establish a religion and declare the state exempt from the Establishment Clause (and, presumably, the Supremacy Clause).

Indiana’s intrepid lawmakers have been working overtime to exasperate reasoning people. Is gun violence a worry? Let’s require an armed person in each public school. What could possibly go wrong there? (As Matt Tully noted, the NRA and the Indiana Legislature are a match made in hare-brained heaven.) Is a family planning clinic prescribing a (legal) pill to induce early abortions? Require the clinic to meet standards devised for surgical facilities. Pill, surgery–same thing, right?

What really has me gritting my teeth and contemplating a move out of state, however, is what our retrograde legislature is doing to Indianapolis.

In the last few days, the Indiana General Assembly has taken pains to remind us that home rule is a foreign concept. The Republican Super-Majority, in a display of really breathtaking arrogance, has reminded residents of Indianapolis and its collar counties that they don’t like cities and they really don’t like democracy.

Mike Young’s bill to create an “imperial Mayor” is sailing through (although we all know it will be repealed the day after Indianapolis elects a Democrat as Mayor); and lawmakers have once again derailed the measure that would allow us to decide for ourselves whether we want mass transit enough to pay for it.

The Indiana legislature has long been dominated by rural and small-town interests. Legislative hostility to Indianapolis is simply a fact of Indiana life. That doesn’t make it any less infuriating. At the Statehouse, there is an absolute lack of sympathy for–or understanding of–urban issues. It’s bad enough that most of our lawmakers really do not care about Indianapolis’ problems; what’s worse, not only do they refuse to address our issues, they won’t allow us to tackle them either.

The imperial mayor bill is an invitation to corruption. While most of the media attention has been on the proposal to eliminate the at-large council seats, the most dangerous parts of the bill give the mayor control of the Development Commission and remove council oversight of many–if not most–spending decisions. It effectively removes important checks and balances on administrative behavior at a time when local media oversight is virtually non-existent. Actions by the Development Commission can move big money; for one thing, the Commission can ensure successful financing for a project that would otherwise be unable to secure such backing. The current appointment structure was intended to prevent decisions based upon cozy relationships and political connections rather than sound principles of land use. The imperial mayor bill will facilitate cronyism.

The refusal to allow Indianapolis citizens to decide for ourselves whether we want mass transit is the most infuriating action taken in a legislative session that has produced plenty that is infuriating. The notion that a study committee is needed is laughable–Central Indiana transportation organizations have studied the matter for the last twenty years. Let’s call it what it is: a giant “fuck you, Indianapolis” from the General Assembly to the region that generates the bulk of the state’s tax receipts.

And let’s call the Indiana Legislature what it is: an embarrassment.