Should Cities Become States? (And Should We Expand The Number Of Seats In Congress?)
It is very rare that I find something Pat Buchanan says to be insightful or interesting, but such an occasion has come forth. The current debate over D.C. Statehood is split between two sides, those who want D.C. to have representation in Congress and those who are scared they’ll pick a member of the other party. Pat Buchanan belongs firmly to the second camp, as he explained in a column published on 4/27/2021:
Since the 23rd Amendment was ratified, 60 years ago, D.C. residents have voted in 15 presidential elections. In all 15 elections, D.C.’s three electoral votes have gone to the Democratic nominee. Even in the 49-state Nixon and Reagan landslides of 1972 and 1984, D.C. went four- and five-to-one Democratic. In eight presidential elections since 1990, the GOP nominee has failed to win 10% of the D.C. vote. Since the mid-1970s, D.C. has had home rule and, in every election since, has chosen a Democratic mayor and a Democratic city council. How irredeemably Democratic is D.C.? Voter registration statistics in the city as of last December was 403,000 Democrats and 30,000 Republicans, a ratio of 13–1.
You guys thought I was being hyperbolic when I said critics of D.C. statehood “are scared they’ll pick a member of the other party,” didn’t you? Hey Pat, should we also cut off statehood from Minnesota considering it was the only state to vote for Walter Mondale in 1984? Are Democrats allowed to de-annex Wyoming, considering it hasn’t even voted more than 40% for a Democratic nomination for President since 1964? For that matter, why is it the fault of the people of D.C. that the Republican Party doesn’t appeal to them? The Republicans are the ones who are fighting for votes here, if they do so poorly in D.C. that making it a state would make it much harder for them to win, that’s the fault of the Republican Party and nobody else.
Wait, isn’t this the same guy who said this during his 1992 Presidential Campaign:
If the country wants to go in a liberal direction, if the country wants to go in the direction of [Senate Democrat Caucs Chair] George Mitchell and [House Speaker] Tom Foley, it doesn’t bother me as long as I’ve made the best case I can.
However, there’s one part of this column that I want to talk about, because in fear-mongering about D.C. statehood Pat warns of an idea that’s been on my mind recently:
Statehood for little D.C. could start a trend where mega-cities like Chicago and New York, with five and 10 times the size and population of D.C., secede from their respective states and seek full statehood as well.
Buchanan warns of this as if it would be a nightmare scenario, but what exactly would be the issue with it? The Declaration Of Independence does state:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
The political bonds being talked about by Jefferson are obviously the political bonds between the colonies and Britain, but why does the same logic not apply domestically? Why is it seen as insane for part of a state to dissolve its political bonds and start fresh as its own creation?
This would not even be the most extreme view of these words. Once upon a time, the idea that states have the right to leave the Union was common sense. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration Of Independence, said the following in a letter to James Madison:
[We should be] determined . . . to sever ourselves from the union we sho much value rather than give up the rights of self-government . . . in which alone we see liberty, safety, and happiness.
For the record, part of a state breaking off and becoming its own state has happened in American history before. In 1863, the western part of Virginia decided to split off and become its own state. The reason was simple, while Virginia was a major player for the Confederacy — it was the home of its capital as well as the birthplace of its famous general Robert E. Lee — the move was controversial, especially among the western counties. As such, not only did the western counties of Virginia split off from Virginia to become their own state, but that state also joined the Union so they could fight with Lincoln during the Civil War. (I would expect Buchanan to know this considering his homestate is Virginia, by the way.)
After both the 2016 and 2020 Presidential Elections, we heard non-stop about how Donald Trump won the vast majority of counties both times, and how the Democrat only won the popular vote because of a handful of highly populated areas. As Paul Joseph Watson tweeted on 12/1/2016:
There are 3,141 counties in the United States. Trump won 3,084 of them. Clinton won 57.
It should be noted that this is objectively wrong, in 2016 Hillary Clinton won 487 counties nationwide — or eight and a half times more than Watson stated. The number Watson used came from an article by Michael Patrick Leahy for Breitbart published on 11/15/2016. However, Leahy did not claim that Trump won 3,084 counties, instead, he claims that if you add up all the votes in these counties, then Trump won:
Donald Trump won an overwhelming 7.5 million popular vote victory in 3,084 of the country’s 3,141 counties or county equivalents in America’s heartland. Fifty-five point seven million out of the 109.3 million Americans who cast their ballots in those counties voted for Trump, while only 48.1 million voted for Hillary Clinton, according to the latest county by county election results reported at Politico. The remaining 5.4 million voted for other candidates.
However, despite being based on incorrect numbers, Watson does raise an interesting point. Many states are Democratic because of a handful of cities, where most of the population of that state live. Meanwhile, the barley populated rural areas are the parts of the state that continually vote for Republicans, which has a much bigger landmass but barely any population to speak of. (D.C. has a population of 10,588.8 people per square mile, while Alaska has a population of 1.3.)
So, going back to Buchanan’s example, why can’t a city like Chicago or New York City leave their respective states? Why does Manhatten, a small island with a combined population equal to North and South Dakota, have to be part of New York?
Now, I’m not advocating the federal government go in and slice up states for no reason, but I am saying the idea of cities leaving states is nowhere near as absurd as Buchanan makes it out to be. In fact, some have tried it before. In August 2017, Tim Draper attempted to get Proposition 9 on the ballot of his home state of California. Proposition 9 would allow California to be divided into three smaller states — each with about thirteen million people. On 9/12/2018, the California Supreme Court banned the idea from ever being on a ballot, but the fact that Draper’s movement gained enough traction for a court to need to review it is evident that some are thinking about this idea nonetheless.
Here’s another idea of mine to improve Congressional Representation, we should dramatically expand the number of seats in the House of Representatives. The 2020 Census was just released, and the states of California, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia all lost seats in Congress. None of these states have a lower population than they did in 2010, but they have a lower percentage of the United States population than they did at the time. As such, because the number of people in the House of Representatives is stuck at 435, states end up losing seats despite having a larger population.
Here’s a fun fact: Did you know that one of the concerns anti-federalists raised about the Constitution was that they didn’t think it was possible for one person to represent thirty thousand people? According to our newest census, the United States has a population of 332.6 million, with 435 members of the House of Representatives. This means that one Congressman now has to represent, on average, 764,598 people — over twenty-five times the numbers of people our founders feared could make a population unrepresentable.
The House of Representatives did not have 435 members until 1911, a year after the United States was found to have 92,228,496 people. One Congressman only had to represent 212,019 people on average, a third of what they have to represent today.
Both of these ideas would greatly improve representation in Congress, and as such, they should be considered.