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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

We Should Rearrange the States

I wrote last week about states, specifically about “donor” and “receiver” states: how much each gets back from the federal government for each dollar paid. You may recall that North Dakota was the biggest beneficiary, getting more than $2 for every dollar that residents pay in federal income tax, while New Jersey folks get only 61 cents of each buck.

It made me think about another idea that’s been rattling around in my head for decades. This won’t happen, of course, and certainly not in my own limited lifetime, but there’s no point in not exploring ideas. Everything comes of musing, pondering, and finally inking in an idea.

So, here goes: I think we should rearrange the states.
It just makes sense to reevaluate what has evolved from the misty points in time when boundaries were set, and then to draw new lines according to the best interests of the people who live there, not on the quantities of state land – which never was anything like equal in the first place. The point is to recognize that back when surveyors like the young George Washington went west and drew lines on blank maps, no one could predict how settlement patterns would emerge and what therefore would work best for governance.

* * *

To take the Northeast as the first example, New York City and its suburbs in eastern Connecticut and northern New Jersey should be a state. They have the common interests of coastal commerce and international finance. The majority of residents too often are thwarted by legislators in Albany, Hartford, and Trenton, who do not understand the needs of urban Newark, NJ and Bridgeport, CT -- let alone the great NYC.

In western New York, the old industrial cities of Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, whose commonality is the Great Lakes, should join together -- and maybe even move south to take in Erie, Pennsylvania and possibly Cleveland, Ohio. Maybe Pittsburgh, too.

In eastern Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and its Jersey neighbors should be a state. They probably should add Wilmington, Delaware, too; it’s just down river from Philly. Then these heavily industrialized areas no longer would have their futures tied to legislators in Harrisburg, Trenton, and Dover.

It would make the rural folks happy, too. Central New York and Pennsylvania still have a lot prosperous farming country, and they could join together to better represent rural needs. They might add western Maryland, too, leaving Baltimore to join with Washington, which is the everyday reality of life in its media markets and transportation systems.

At the easternmost point of these states, we have quiet, coastal resort areas stretching from Atlantic City in New Jersey down to Myrtle Beach in Virginia. They could work together to emphasize another sort of lifestyle and economy, including those great Chesapeake Bay soft-shell crabs.

* * *

Going west, Indiana farmers would be glad to lose Gary and South Bend, impoverished towns on the inner Great Lakes. They might be glad to go, too. They and other rust-belt cities could tackle their profound problems better if they merged with similar areas in two other states – Toledo, Ohio, and Detroit, Michigan. They are closer to them than to the cornfields of southern Indiana.

Look at a map of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, and consider whether we also should include cities at the edge of two other states, Illinois’ Chicago and Wisconsin’s Milwaukee. That would leave the farms and small towns of these states to pursue their quite different interests.

Going sharply south, Texas probably should be at least three states: the commercial centers of Dallas/Fort Worth/Waco area in the middle; the Gulf Coast area of Houston/Galveston/Brownsville, which is more akin to Louisiana in its oil and shipping businesses; and the old Hispanic ranching areas stretching west from San Antonio to El Paso.

Austin logically should be part of that one, although I’d like to figure out a way to make this wonderfully progressive city a state of its own. Humm, maybe all of the nation’s cities that are both capitals and university towns should figure out a way to unite… They really are the special places, the leaders in 21st century lifestyles. A study I did for my recent Congressional Quarterly book showed that capital cities, especially those that also are home to the states’ most prestigious universities, also are most likely to elect women as mayors. It’s probably not coincidental.

* * *

Finally, on the West Coast, I’d start by dividing Arizona. The mountainous eastern part should sign up with similar New Mexico, while the Phoenix/Tucson area belongs with San Diego and Los Angeles. They share the same desert climate, overbuilding, and water shortages.

That corner of the southeastern US would make great sense as a state, while northern California and San Francisco Bay has another personality. From Sacramento down through “the People’s Republic of Oakland” and on to Santa Barbara, I predict that this area would lead international environmentalism and global economic transformation. Silicon Valley is a good place to start.

Nevada? Utah? Kick ‘em out of the Union, perhaps? The Mormons who settled Salt Lake City intended it to be a separate nation – Deseret – and maybe we should let them re-explore that idea. Ditto Nevada, which sits next to puritanical Utah and yet is the nation’s sin capital. Or maybe we should meld them together and watch the sparks fly.

But seriously, I do think that a realignment of some states could lead to better governance and happier citizens who have more in common. Here in Florida, at a minimum, we should let the Panhandle sign up with Alabama. In fact, a logical new state could incorporate parts of four states that run along the Gulf: Louisiana’s New Orleans, Mississippi’s Biloxi, Alabama’s Mobile, and our Pensacola. These places have much more in common with each other than with the interior portions of their states, and it would be in the best interests of all to bid a mutual goodbye.

The aim is to increase areas of common concern, to eliminate fighting and gridlock in state capitals. I think it is worth thinking about. I know that’s idealistic, but what else can one do with an idea?

* * *

Okay, last thought re this. Capitals.

Why is Jefferson City the capital of Missouri, not St. Louis? Why is Carson City the capital of Nevada, not Las Vegas (or as a friend pronounces it, Lost Wages)? In Oregon, it’s Salem, not Portland. Maryland’s is Annapolis, perhaps the most inaccessible point in even that small state. Alaska’s Juneau is literally thousands of miles from most Alaskans.

The conspiracy theorist in me says that it is because, when capitals were designated, most of the governing class wanted to be away from their constituents. There is, in fact, historical evidence for that: when the United States was formed, the word “democracy” was used in a way similar to “terrorism” today, and many lawmakers were not embarrassed to say that they wanted to be far away from potential mobs. And Paris, as the capital of France during the French Revolution during that era, seemed to justify the view.

Some Founding Fathers got it right, though, not fearing to put themselves where their people were. Boston became the capital of Massachusetts and Hartford of Connecticut -- unlike their neighbors to the south with Albany and Harrisburg. Harrisburg, for heaven’s sake! It’s still a little town out in Pennsylvania’s western mountains. How could Penn’s people have done that? Of course it should have been Philadelphia. This probably is the most egregious of the “getting away from the people” mentality.

We have Tallahassee, you know, because when Florida became US territory in 1819, it was halfway between the old Spanish settlements of St. Augustine (1565) and Pensacola (1698). Like Washington, DC, which was laid out in the early 1800s, Tallahassee was a planned capital begun in 1824.

For most of the next century, its location – just a few miles south of the Georgia border – was not too much of an imposition. Although Tampa began (as Fort Brooke) in the same year as Tallahassee, most of the population lived north of Gainesville. As the 1800s turned to the 1900s, though, more and more of the southern peninsula was settled, and after World War II, that area would dominate Florida.

Prior to the building of the new capitol in the 1970s, there was some discussion of moving the capital to central Florida, perhaps to the Orlando area. The porkchoppers of north Florida prevailed, though, as the state was run by residents of LA – “Lower Alabama,” in a term widely used by politicos. Dempsey Barron and WD Childers, denizens of Panama City and points west, dictated that Tallahassee would remain the capital, conveniently connected to them by an almost empty I-10.

While I-95 overflowed with traffic from Jax to Miami, and while much of I-75 remained to be built, especially between Tampa and Fort Myers, the dollars continued to flow north, where the fewest people lived. It’s doubtless still true in per capita terms. Let’s find out, and re-imagine the future.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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