An Alternate Vision for the Fifty States

For those of you who believe that the geographic boundaries of the 50 states are the arbitrary and illogical constructs of history, consider the map above, drawn by Artist Neil Freeman. Freeman’s boundaries have the virtue of creating states with near-equal populations of 6.2 million each. His goal was to solve address the injustice of states varying in size and population from California to Rhode Island having an equal number of United States senators, a violation of the one-man-one-vote principle.

Of course, the boundaries would have to be redrawn periodically to reflect shifting populations, inevitably giving rise to gerrymandered states, and also vitiating the concept of the co-sovereignty of state and federal governments upon which the entire U.S. Constitution is built.

Personally, I’m not wild about the idea of Richmond being thrown into “Tidewater,” which extends almost all the way down to Charleston, including some of the poorest regions of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. On the other hand, co-blogger Don Rippert would see the consummation of his dream: a state essentially consisting of the Washington metropolitan region.

Hat tip: Rebecca Tippett on the StatsChat blog.


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31 responses to “An Alternate Vision for the Fifty States”

  1. Actually – boundaries are almost always historical artifacts – arbitrarily drawn. Does anyone know any other ways they have been determined?

    But this is a useful exercise if for no other reason to ask DJ why the current boundaries of Fairfax are already “correct” and do not need to be re-drawn to be more consistent with “home rule”?

    so a challenge to DJ – suppose you were granted limited and automatically sunsetting “king” powers to redraw the boundaries of the counties within Virginia.

    How would you go about doing it? Why, for instance, would you not create a county that included all of NoVa and perhaps extend south to include all of Richmond?

  2. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    You are not wild about Richmond being in “Tidewater?” Son, I’d see a shrink soonest. You are not from Richmond yet you have this all-consuming love for the place! How strange!

  3. Ed Risse seems to have some thoughts on the issue but prefers to snipe via email rather than in front of God and Country these days.

    Risse uses a concept called NUR – New Urban Region.. and apparently some thinking that goes into geography and population but the world at large did not use such criteria when allocating itself into countries and cities with borders expect perhaps some examples like DC which was explicitly laid out boundary-wise but no less arbitrary than other places… why the particular size? Why not 3 times as large or 1/3 as current size?

    boundaries are curious things anyhow.. as they seem to have almost nothing to do with efforts to determine proper settlement patterns.

    Risse says he covers the issue in his Trilogic book.. but I’d be curious to know what the “ideal” size is for a given NUR – a max/min size range – and why….

    It’s one thing to say (correctly) that current boundaries are little more than arbitrarily drawn artifacts but here’s the bigger question – what do boundaries really do – and not do?

    the boundaries of the US — and most countries – nation states – are powerful things…wars are fought over such things.. but less obvious is state and county boundaries though as of late “states rights” and “home rule” are not exactly milk toast issues either.

  4. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Image the US Senate with SEVEN sitting senators from California? Right there in the US Senate at one time, seven of them!

    If this map does is not conclusive proof of the timeless wisdom of our Founding Fathers, nothing else is.

  5. did the founding fathers have much to do with drawing the boundaries prior to and subsequent from their writing of the Constitution or did I miss the point of your comment?

    I’m not sure there was any direct connection at all between the Constitution and the boundaries of the states…

    was there even any kind of plan at all with respect to drawing boundaries.

  6. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    “I’m not sure there was any direct connection at all between the Constitution and the boundaries of the states…”

    I thought you said you’d read the Federalists papers!

  7. re: Federalists papers..

    refresh my memory Reed. It was my understanding that many of the 13 state boundaries were drawn by the King and many of the other states were not even states until well after the founding docs were long finished.

    the kerfuffle in the Federalist Papers seemed to be not so much about specific boundaries but about how much land was encompassed or allocated. Many of the boundaries were just natural features or arbitrarily derived straight lines.

    but add to this Reed… I’d like to hear the things you think were decided.

  8. I can think of few worse results than being part of a state with Maryland and the District of Columbia. There is a big difference between Sharon Bulova and Ike Leggett even though both are Democrats. I’ll take Bulova any day of the week.

  9. Boundaries are not only arbitrary in many respects but there are powerful obstacles to changing them.

    For instance, what would it take to create one place called NoVa?

    If someone said lets created a place called Fredericksburgia by combining Fredericksburg, Stafford and Spotsylvania – I can predict without any fear of being wrong that the politicians of the 3 jurisdictions including the city/county staffs, police and schools would be strongly opposed.

    However we do know that some very large cities were created by combining counties down towards Hampton.

    And a fellow in Culpeper got the county and the town to quickly agree to a long-un-resolved cooperative water/sewer agreement by threatening to get put on the ballot a proposal to combine the two into one jurisdiction.

    and I know of no states that would agree to combine although we do hear from time to time rants from certain folks in NoVa to secede from Va.

  10. A key factor, at least in Virginia, is the fear of the general public of the ability of developers to sway local government. The bigger the entity, the easier this occurs. A few years ago, the Chamber of Commerce whined about Fairfax County’s nine supervisor districts because the individual supervisors tended to pay attention to the concerns of constituents and not “take the bigger picture.” Gee, I wonder what they meant!

    Further, changing boundaries can change the balance of power. Many people are uncomfortable with that. I would be. I think I have a basic understanding of the balance of power in Fairfax County, which, since Gerry Connolly went to Congress, is actually fairly dispersed. No interest group can easily dominate, and there needs to be some consensus for things to work.

    I’d bet most people really prefer the devil they know.

  11. even if it is inefficient and top-heavy on govt and administration?

    is this the classic fear of change? honest question.

    more – Can Fairfax achieve it’s goals without working hand-in-glove with the surrounding counties like Loudoun?

    TMT – I have an interesting governance tale for you.

    We just concluded a major “chicken” controversy down my way.

    Basically what it boiled down to was that some people who lived in subdivisions were building chicken coops and keeping chickens – mostly for their eggs.

    Complaints were filed and the newly-elected tea-party tinted BOS decided this was a clear property rights issue and proceeded to push for a chicken ordinance to allow folks to have chickens in their backyards in subdivisions.

    Well.. both sides came out in force but a good number did not want their next door neighbors having chicken coops and so after a lengthy time spent re-writing the draft ordinance to suit some of the complaints – it came up for a vote.

    4 were in favor and 3 were opposed. It appeared it was going to pass.

    but no.. … one of 3 made a motion to not allow chickens in his district.

    the four seemed to think he would be outvoted but then a funny thing happened.

    One of the 4 conservatives decided that each BOS should truly represent the folks in his district and she voted to allow any BOS to remove their district from the ordinance upon which – 3 promptly did so.

    So now – we have our first ordinance that applies to only parts of the county and a warning …. from the 3 … that if the 4 try to outvote them on issues like this in the future – that they will do the same thing and exclude their districts from the majority vote for the county.

    Now , one can think two distinct ways about this and I have thought both ways and I do have an opinion but I thought I’d ask TMT what his opinion is – along with DJ, Reed, Jim, Peter, etc…whoever wants to weigh in on it.

  12. DJRippert Avatar

    Well done, Jim!

    I like the New United States. I’d make a couple of changes. First, I’d rename my new state Columbia. “Washington” is a decayed brand. Second, I’d move Richmond out of Tidewater and into Shenandoah. Then, I’d move Raleigh Durham into Tidewater. You guys in Richmond could continue re-fighting the Civil War while the good people of Tidewater attended to the business of economic expansion. (and before you start ranting – that was in jest since you say you don’t want to be in Tidewater).

    I’d also like to see the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia somehow included in Columbia. I think that’s an area of boundless untapped potential.

    And … once Richmond is in Shenandoah – you might want to retry that succession thing you guys seem to like so much. This time, nobody will object. Although … we may need to find a way to carve out Charlottesville and keep it in the US. Kind of a modern day Berlin type arrangement.

    Joking aside, I think America would be a generally much happier place with those state boundaries.

  13. Like the people in Spotsylvania, I want to opt out from Maryland and the District. Heck, I’d give them Arlington to seal the deal.

    To Larry’s point, I’m not sure where I would come out. Fairfax County allows Domestic Fowls and Livestock on lots of two acres or more. The larger the lot, the more animals allowed. That seems reasonable to me. I think the noise and smell might be problematic on smaller lots.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      You would be able to “opt out” – by moving to one of the other states. The failure of the Tebow Bill proves again that Virginia is broken. Why should Richmond decide whether Fairfax County allows home-schooled children to play sports on public school teams? How is this possibly a state-wide matter? Why do I want legislators from SW Virginia deciding what rules of eligibility should be for Fairfax County (and visa versa).

      Seriously, this state is badly broken and the culprit is the General Assembly. New state? Kiss the GA goodbye? Works for me.

      1. And so can people opt out of Virginia by moving to Maryland or the District.

        The biggest problem remains our own elected officials. The Kings Dominion law repeal passed the HoD. But three local senators, Black, Saslaw and Barker, voted to kill the bill in the Senate Committee. They are our local representatives voting to oppose authority for Fairfax County to decide when school starts.

        Also, I believe there is some strong opposition to the Tebow bill among FCPS School Board members. They may well be lobbying to kill the bill.

        1. DJRippert Avatar

          But … as EMR so routinely reminded us … the NoVa suburbs, DC and the DC suburbs of Maryland are part of one logical region. These areas share common infrastructure challenges, common employment outlooks, common educational goals, etc. That is not true for Falls Church and Alta Vista for example.

          If we had more local autonomy we could pass laws that limited the campaign contributions that people like Saslaw can take. Look at Saslaw on VPAP.ORG. He wins every election by a landslide but still gets huge campaign contributions. Why? So he can make his own contributions to politicians he supports. The state-wide philosophy is broken. If you took a poll of people in NoVa or the National Capitol Sub-Region asking whether there should limits on campaign contributions the answer would be a resounding YES. But that won’t happen because the oligarchy that runs Virginia doesn’t want it to happen.

          We’ve got to get loose from the deeply embedded political corruption in Virginia. By limiting Dillon’s Rule, by forming a new state, by whatever means necessary.

          The Tebow bill is a perfect example. The only reason that local officials don’t have to go on the record about the bill is because it is incorrectly decided at the state level. They can “hide behind” the process in Richmond. They should be voting themselves on this issue.

          Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God. Obey God – bring a political fist to the oligarchy that pulls the puppet strings tied to the arms and legs of our General Assembly.

          1. “NoVa suburbs, DC and the DC suburbs of Maryland are part of one logical region.” The “cultures” of NoVA suburbs and those of MD and DC are very different IMO. Generally and with some exceptions, elected officials in NoVA are much more fiscally conservative than those across the Potomac River.

            Recall Sharon Bulova walked the distance from the above-ground Metrorail site-to-be to the terminal at Dulles to prove her point the savings were more important and the extra effort to walk was minor. Tell me one elected official in MD or DC who would do that? Absolutely no one. The Fairfax County supervisors are constantly poking the School Board for savings. In DC and MD the solution would be to give the school board taxing authority.

            Elected officials in DC and MD (Arlington too) truly believe Smart Growth has no costs, only benefits. Fairfax Supervisors readily acknowledged the huge additional costs at Tysons and even adopted a plan that shifted $403 M dollars (2012) from taxpayers to landowners from what county staff had originally proposed.

            I’ll stick with the elected officials I know thank you. EMR can move to MD or DC if he likes. Heck, I’d even support retro-cession of much of DC back to MD. Just keep them away from me and my wallet.

  14. geeze TMT – in some cities they allow people to keep chickens in their apartments!

    after all .. it IS property rights!

  15. re: ” Why should Richmond decide whether Fairfax County allows home-schooled children to play sports on public school teams? How is this possibly a state-wide matter?”

    I think most of the 50 states do business this way …. though….

    It’s not a Richmond-only issue. I’ll bet Annapolis is just as much top-down, maybe more.

    though I do not entirely disagree with DJ on some of these things either.

    Dillon is the law of the land if you think about it.

    Most states determine what degree of autonomy localities have or not.

    the only difference with so-called Home Rule is that the localities have authority for things not specifically denied but if something happens that the state does not like – then it just adds one more thing to the list of what home rule can’t do.

    1. Only the national government and the states are sovereign. Home Rule is simply an allocation of greater, but still limited, authority to local governments. It’s just different points on the line than Dillon Rule states.

      The NoVA business community likes the Dillon Rule too. The Fairfax Chamber consistently opposes Home Rule.

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Home rule is the willful devolution of states’ rights to localities. There is no purely Dillon’s Rule state and there is no purely Home Rule state. Interestingly, Judge Dillon’s home state of Iowa is the closest to a pure Home Rule state. It seems that Iowa got a taste of what their drunken native son wanted and rejected it.

        The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce does not represent me or, in my opinion, the NoVa business community as a whole. Rather, they represent the oligarchy that orbits Richmond looking for endless tax breaks and concessions that cost the state $2B per year. We wouldn’t have any transportation problem if targeted tax breaks had a five year sunset clause and the $2B per year in taxes were spent on transportation. However, that proposal was made and rejected by the General Assembly. Interestingly, those who killed the bill ran the gamut of conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, NoVa, SWVa and everywhere in-between. It seems that graft has no ideology.

  16. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    This of course is not the first attempt to mess with boundaries around here.

    George Washington first tossed northern Virginia into the hopper to get his capital city up an running along the Potomac, only to have the Rebels revolt nearly 6o years later. Seceding from DC in 1847, they refused to rejoin their former home of Fairfax County, Va. Instead they rejoined Virginia by establishing a new county, calling it Alexandria County.

    This lasted twenty years. Until the sophisticates and commercial barons of Alexandria City grew frustrated and appalled at the “goings on” of their up river and inland country rubes. Formerly virtuous Virginia farmers, these fellows were morphing into highwaymen. Operating along Glebe Road, they were diverting goods from the port at Alexandria, and driving it north to their notorious at den of vice and brothels upriver at Rossyln. The illicit goods were then transported across the Aqueduct Bridge into Georgetown.

    Thus appalled, Alexandria City seceded from Alexandria County in 1870.

    Not until 1920 did the outlier Alexandria County attempt a reach for former respectability. In so doing, they renamed their county “Arlington” after the home of their hometown hero, Robert E. Lee.

    Thus Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax have long suffered somewhat tenuous relations among themselves and the balance of the Commonwealth.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      “Many of the boundaries were just natural features or arbitrarily derived straight lines. but add to this Reed… I’d like to hear the things you think were decided.”

      Like TMT says above -“changing boundaries can change the balance of power.”

      It’s what all this old northern va. boundary history is all about, obviously.

      And that is what this map change, however tongue in cheek, is all about. It’s what most all the best bickering over the terms of the Constitution were about – how to protect the weak against the strong.

      Change those mechanisms and you unleash a Pandora’s box. Changing established state boundary lines effectively does the same, amends the constitution, but other means. It’s a pure political act fundamentally, altering forever the political power among groups of people.

      In this case, I suspect this map shifts huge power to unfettered majority rule. That should frighten a lot of folks. It frightened most founders.

  17. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    TMT said above: “Elected officials in DC and MD (Arlington too) truly believe Smart Growth has no costs, only benefits.”

    In my experience, DC officials have not a clue about Smart Growth. And if they do, they have not a clue as to how to implement it.

    Regarding Md, in my view as a smart growth advocate, I found the top down coersive tactics of former Dem. Md. governor Parris Glendening to force smart growth down the throats of Md. citizens, stripping them of their private property rights, to be appalling. It started in the 1990s. Virginia beware.

  18. re: smart growth.

    If one believes that govt should not be involved in smart growth one can take the position that it’s the responsibility of developers and let the market provide for the demand.

    but you also have to ask oneself – what is the PURPOSE of Smart Growth?

    that’s a serious question.

    what do the advocates say that Smart Growth benefits are?

    and after you answer that question – tell me who controls the things necessary to change to enable smart growth and who pays for it.

    but even before that point – show me what in Farifax what is NOT smart growth – explain the features that make the growth not smart and then explain how you would change it – without govt involvement OR tell me what govt’s role is and is not.

  19. My impression of “Smart Growth” is that the supporters of it see it as NOT the free market at work – at all and their belief is NOT to let Smart Growth occur organically by removing the obstacles to it.

    When I look at an air photo of Fairfax – I see a sea of built environment with a good number of green space but I wonder if Fairfax is sprawl and it’s already chock-a-block with homes, roads and commercial what is supposed to happen to make it “smarter” and who is supposed to do that?

    Does “smart” mean to get rid of the single family homes and replace them with what you see in Arlington instead?

    How would you even do that? Who is going to tear down perfectly good single family homes and replace them with higher density residential – and why? Seems like if there were more demand for higher density housing – the market itself would seek out places where the demand would make it worthwhile to tear down single family neighborhoods and replace them with Reston-like development.

    I just don’t see the unfettered free market doing this on it’s own without govt involvement.

    1. Larry, you’re referring to what Ed Risse termed “subdivision recycling” — tearing down less valuable property in order to build something more valuable. That’s hard enough to do in a free market — the developer pays a premium for the real estate but there’s always a hold-out. In Fairfax, Risse said, it was even harder because there were obstacles or restrictions (I forget of exactly what sort) against in in the county code.

  20. One point to keep in mind is that development or redevelopment requires a significant size block of land. Trying to change a lot or two at a time constitutes illegal spot rezoning. Thus, teardowns should be consistent with existing zoning.

    RF – Interesting perspectives on DC and MD on Smart Growth. My view was developed listening to, and reading about, elected officials and staff. No deeper than that.

    Fairfax County has decided to put significant amounts of density at Tysons and smaller increases at Springfield, Baileys Crossroads, Merrifield, Reston, and even smaller increases in selected other spots. Other areas should not be considered for density.

  21. re: govt involvement in re-development and “smart growth”.

    we seem agreed .. that it cannot happen just from the free market.


    what should govt role be – and not be?

    Reed thinks the govt should not be involved in dealing with individual landowners in a block of land even if all but one or two are agreed.

    I wanted to provide an example but was unable to find a picture but we have a shopping center in our area where one owner refused to sell and the developer then built the shopping center around his house … and it has been that way for 20 or more years – that house still sits there ….

    the other thing I would point out is that when you rezone an area to a higher density – it cannot be done without regard to the existing utilities – electric, water, sewer, gas, etc… all of that stuff is not only buried but likely not sized for higher densities. Who pays to upgrade it? And of course TMT would point out the same thing with regard to roads, schools, EMS, libraries, etc…

  22. […] running basically on a line of latitude just south of Colorado Springs (think, roughly US 50): An Alternate Vision for the Fifty States | Bacon's Rebellion All arbitrary, of […]

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