The decline of rural America
I just got through reading an interesting piece by James Huffman, where the former law school dean theorized that rural Americans are now the victims of disenfranchisement. (Since I set my links to open in a new tab, you can read it and come back here. I’ll wait.)
Thoughtful piece, huh? (And a tip of the hat to Christy Waters, who posted the link on the Conservative Bloggers on Facebook page.) It seems to me Maryland once had a system similar to that described by Huffman, where the House of Delegates was set up to be the people’s house while the Maryland Senate was more for county interests, although also directly elected by county residents. Still, a Senator who represented the minuscule population of an entire Eastern Shore county had the same say over affairs as one coming from populous Baltimore City. Obviously, the urban centers didn’t like an arrangement where 3/8 of the body represented about 1/10 of the state’s population and the Senate was changed decades ago.
Yet I would wager that if the system were in place today, there would be no such thing as a “War on Rural Maryland.” Whether you take it by statewide election results or have Senators appointed by the local county commission or council (as pre-Seventeenth Amendment United States Senators were selected by state legislatures, not popular vote), it’s obvious that such a body would be far more conservative than the Maryland Senate we have now. Arguably it would create a situation where the lower House in Maryland would be as heavily Democratic as it is now, but the upper chamber could be slightly Republican, depending on how some rural counties voted. If each county had two Senators, the Eastern Shore would likely comprise 14 to 16 seats of a Republican voting bloc that, when combined with the counties in other parts of Maryland that also lean Republican, would likely indeed place the GOP in a narrow majority.
Of course, that’s not to say much of the same Annapolis-centric legislation wouldn’t pass, for the closeness of the upper chamber combined with the Democratic dominance of the lower House would probably lead to a number of Republicans crossing the aisle on certain issues, particularly environmental ones. (Moreover, the state’s chief executive would likely also be a Democrat.)
But there would likely be a lot more respect for the agricultural industry if such a system were still in place; alas, we lost our last grip on power when the “one man, one vote” edict was misinterpreted by Maryland lawmakers and jurists into a belief that both houses had to comply. Imagine a U.S. Senate elected on a proportional basis like the House of Representatives is – states like Delaware may as well not bother showing up.
Our founders put into place a beautifully-crafted system of compromises when considering the layout of the government, including the planning of our bicameral system. Larger, more populous colonies wanted more say in affairs, so they received a House which was elected by the people and proportioned according to population. The smaller colonies, though, wouldn’t press forward unless their needs were met so a Senate comprised of an equal number from all states was included as a balance – as originally created, these Senators were selected by the state legislatures. As we mourned a century of Constitutional acceptance of the income tax a week ago Sunday, come April 8th we will have endured a century of another Progressive mistake: direct election of Senators as enshrined in the Seventeenth Amendment.
In his closing, Huffman writes:
The point is that, because of their minority status in statewide population terms and their lack of representation as communities, rural Americans are denied full self-governance. They have become the objects of what might be called the soft tyranny of others desires and expectations.
Just as states seem to be falling in line to the desires of the bureaucrats inside the Beltway, by extension we who choose to live in the hinterlands of the so-called Free State are being corrupted more and more by do-gooders whose ideas of rural Maryland are formed as they drive at seventy miles per hour to the beachfront condo they’ve rented in Ocean City. To them, we are the two-hour obstacle between them and enjoyment – never mind that chicken dinner or produce may be grown right here.
Yet those of us who actually live here and like it – despite their best efforts at driving us away – still deserve our say. The founders intended this to be a republic, with all voices heard. Just because there’s fewer of us out here doesn’t mean we should be drowned out in the cacophony of voices screeching “gimme, gimme, gimme” from the big cities.