Red States Need to Be Citizen Friendly

My latest column is now online in Governing magazine. It’s a very tough look at northern red state governments and how they have not delivered economic results. I specifically mention Kansas and Indiana.

It was prompted to write this column by the state of Indiana unconscionably overturning a very basic city of Indianapolis tenant protection ordinance at the behest of the slumlord lobby, even after the Indianapolis Star had documented horrific conditions in rental properties.

Here’s an excerpt. Please read the whole thing. It’s gotten a lot of attention and pickup.

Why these poor results in states with the full panoply of red state best practices? It’s because the entire philosophy of governance in Kansas, Indiana and quite a few other Republican states is based on a fundamentally mistaken view of progress. Rather than investing to build up the skills and enhance the well-being of their citizens, they engaged in a race down to the bottom as a strategy to attract corporations. This too often can turn into an outright anti-citizen mindset, with governors and legislatures prostrating themselves before the worst sorts of parasitic industries and special interests….

Too many red states like Kansas and Indiana are great for the well-connected but bad for the average citizen. It should be the opposite. They should make being a “citizen-friendly state” their North Star. They should work to make life much better for the people who call them home, whether they be renters, pregnant women, nursing home residents, people who don’t own cars or anybody else for that matter.

One would think that’s the primary duty of a state government. But it’s also good business sense. The most important factor in attracting high-wage employers is the availability of a skilled labor force – talent. Rather than a race to the bottom, these states should be investing in building up their people. And creating the kind of environment in which people want to move there on the merits of the state – not just because it’s cheap. This will be doubly critical in a post-coronavirus world where more workers will have the flexibility to live wherever they want.

Shortly after this column was published, the state of Indiana trumpeted - the governor himself commented on it - that an Apple warehouse (actually run by XPO Logistics) was opening that would employ 500. The same week Apple announced a technology campus in North Carolina that would employ 3,000 high skill workers in areas like artificial intelligence. This is how a heartland state falls behind, as its low end economy grows while its high end economy expands at a slower rater than competitor states and regions.

Whatever the underlying causes of southern red state success, the attempted imitations in the north have not worked.

Professor Tanner Greer wrote an article that got a lot of attention on the problems of the “new right” (defined basically as post-liberal or Trumpist conservatives). This article has a number of problems, including overly focusing on the Catholic integralist movement that is minuscule in size. But it makes an interesting point about the Jacksonian (think small-l libertarian) orientation of much of the Republican voting base.

Indiana, with a heavy influence from the upland South, has a strong Jacksonian streak in its population. Presumably Kansas does as well. That Jacksonian orientation is one reason these public policies persist. Arguing for a more citizen oriented approach by the government, as I do, goes against the cultural grain. Whereas cronyism of the type of Indiana and Kansas engage in is easy to frame in the libertarian language of “pro-business,” “limited government,” etc. Thus the people who live in these places have to take their fair share of the responsibility for what has happened to them.