50 States. Such a nice, round number. Even makes for a good looking flag. Sure, the WWII-era 48-state flag offers a greater appeal to the rectilinearly-obsessed, but the 6-5-6-5-6-5-6-5-6 array has both symmetry and artistic appeal. 50 States also gives us 100 Senators, which is a really easy number to remember, even for a nation that continues to eschew the metric system.

But, roundness of a number does not convey any greater measure of correctness or finality, and we should not assume that 50 is the perfect number of states.

Especially when the nation’s population has nearly doubled since the last two states were added in 1959, more than tripled since the 48th state was added, and especially when we find multiple examples of states that are thoroughly dominated by one political party but with geographically-contiguous sub-majorities that hold strongly with opposing political views. The latter phenomenon exists all over and in both directions. New York, California, Pennsylvania and Washington are four of a number of “blue” states that have enormous swathes of “red” residents; and Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina are three of a number of “red” states that have contiguous concentrations of “blue” residents (you can find the other states here).

This isn’t news, and there have been many initiatives in recent decades to break particular states into two or more new states, so that decades-unrepresented political minorities might get more of a voice in how their lives are managed. As a life-long New Yorker, I am aware of how short a shrift the Republican majorities in 46 (of 62) counties get, and how totally dominated the residents of the Southern Tier and the center of the state are by the Democratic voters of New York City and its suburbs. A similar tale can be told for residents of northern California, eastern Washington, et al.

Unfortunately, every state-partitioning initiative is immediately viewed through the lens of national-level partisanship, in particular the balance of power in the Senate. A gain of 2 or 4 Senate seats by the GOP that would be the result of splitting NY into 2 or 3 states (as has been proposed) would be opposed tooth-and-nail by the Democrats at the Federal level, and that’s before we contemplate the loss of power, money, etc. in Albany, or the electoral college implications for presidential elections.

Still, the difficulty of something doesn’t mandate we simply stop thinking about it.

I perused the Wikipedia page on proposed state partitions, selected the most recent for each state in the last 50 years, and dropped a couple that didn’t seem serious enough:

Arizona: 2 (Arizona, Baja Arizona).
California: 6 (Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California, South California).
Colorado: 2 (Colorado, North Colorado).
Delaware/Maryland/Virginia: 3* (Maryland, Virgina, Delmarva).
Florida: 2 (North Florida, South Florida).
Georgia: 2 (Georgia, South Georgia).
Idaho: 2* (Idaho, Lincoln (merges with Eastern Washington State)).
Illinois: 2 (Illinois, Chicago).
Kansas: 2 (Kansas, West Kansas).
Maine: 2 (Maine, Northern Massachusetts).
Maryland: 2 (Maryland, Liberty/Antietam/Appalachia/Augusta).
Massachusetts: 1** (Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Elizabeth Islands would transfer to one of the other New England states).
Michigan: 2 (Michigan, Superior).
New Jersey: 2 (New Jersey, Southern New Jersey).
New York: 3 (New Amsterdam, New York, Montauk).
Pennsylvania: 1** (Transfer of Philadelphia to New Jersey).
Utah: 2 (no names proposed).
Washington: 2 (Washington, Liberty).

If all these happened, we’d end up with 19 additional states.

In addition, “under the resolution by which the Republic of Texas was admitted to the Union and the state constitution, it has the right to divide itself into up to five states.” A look at the 2016 election map suggests that it wouldn’t have to go that far, since 2 or 3 would be enough.

Beyond these overtly declared partitions, it’s easy to look at several other states (Oregon, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Minnesota, and Arkansas) and see obvious bifurcation, and one state (Alabama) and see obvious trifurcation. This is strictly geographical based on the last Presidential election, of course, and the reasons that prompted partition movements in the states I listed earlier often extend beyond simple blue-red politics.

Add it all up, and we have 30 potential new states (assuming Texas doesn’t get greedy). 80 states is a nice round number, and would make for an 8×10 field of stars on the Flag, which would make the OCD folks happy.

One of the greatest features of our federalized system is the ability to vote with one’s feet, a feature that’s reflected in the decennial reapportionment of Representatives in the House. But, we could recognize the reality of people’s self-sorting even within the borders of existing states by engaging in one soup-to-nuts partitioning of the existing states.

Unfortunately, the mechanism for doing so is a mechanism that stands in the way of it actually happening. A state partition must be approved both by the state’s legislature and by Congress, meaning that a one-and-done effort would require unanimous consent from every affected state. The political jockeying this would entail hurts to even think about.

So, this is mostly “how nice would it be” musing.

Of note, though, is the odd dissonance in progressives’ attitudes towards federalism. Progressives are fighting tooth-and-nail to expand government power at the federal level, and face resistance (except, sadly, in matters of spending) from the Republicans (both parties love to spend your money and saddle your descendants with crippling debt). The resistance they experience could easily be avoided were they to embrace federalism: to call for greater state autonomy, focus their efforts in the deep-blue parts of the country, and achieve far more of what they claim they want to do. That they aren’t doing so suggests that their real priorities lie in accruing power and exerting dominance over those who disagree with them – priorities that seem increasingly obvious with each passing day.

This further supports the conclusion that a mass partitioning won’t happen, even though it would better serve individual citizens by giving them a bit more of a voice. Not when power is a higher priority than representation. If there’s a chance, however, count me on board. Government should be as local and as granulized as practical. More, smaller states would serve that end.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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