The Rising Blue Tide

A conservative columnist explains how once-Republican states are switching sides.

Matthew Continetti, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and founding editor of the Washington Free Beacon, explains “How States Like Virginia Go Blue.”

Virginia, which Continetti and I both call home, was a rock-solid red state not long ago.

John Warner’s election to the U.S. Senate in 1978 was an early sign of the Republican revival in the South. The election of 1993, which brought George Allen to the governor’s mansion, was a preview of the Republican Revolution the following year. In 2000, Allen joined Warner in the Senate.

For the next year, the governor and both U.S. senators were Republicans. Then Mark Warner won the governor’s mansion, then Jim Webb defeated Allen, then Warner replaced Warner (confusing, I know), and except for a brief appearance by Governor Bob McDonnell, Democrats have held all statewide offices since.

The Commonwealth voted Republican in every Presidential election from 1952 to 2004, with the exception of the Goldwater debacle of 1964. It has voted Democrat in the last three elections and will almost surely do so in the next.

Continetti nails the why:

The former capital of the Confederacy is now a hub of highly educated professionals, immigrants, and liberals whose values are contrary to those of an increasingly downscale, religious, and rural GOP. Democrats continue to benefit from the shift in the college-educated population toward progressivism. Not only are Republicans increasingly bereft of a language in which to talk to these voters. They may be incapable of doing so. The two sides occupy different realities.

[…]

Over the last 29 years, Virginia has become wealthier, more diverse, and more crowded. The population has grown by 42 percent, from 6 million in 1990 to 8.5 million. Population density has increased by 38 percent, from 156 people per square mile to 215. Mean travel time to work has increased from 24 minutes to 28 minutes. The median home price (in 2018 dollars) has gone from $169,000 to $256,000. Density equals Democrats.

The number of Virginians born overseas has skyrocketed from 5 percent to 12 percent. The Hispanic population has gone from 3 percent to 10 percent. The Asian community has grown from 2 percent to 7 percent. In 1990, 7 percent of people 5 years and older spoke a language other than English at home. In 2018 the number was 16 percent.

If educational attainment is a proxy for class, Virginia has undergone bourgeoisification. The number of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher has shot up from 25 percent of the state to 38 percent. As baccalaureates multiplied, they swapped partisan affiliation. Many of the Yuppies of the 80s, Bobos of the 90s, and Security Moms of the ’00s now march in the Resistance.

Nationwide, “In 1994, 39 percent of those with a four-year college degree (no postgraduate experience) identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party and 54 percent associated with the Republican Party,” according to the Pew Research Center. “In 2017, those figures were exactly reversed.” Last year, college graduates favored Senator Kaine over challenger Cory Stewart by 20 points.

All of these developments are more pronounced in the most important part of the state: northern Virginia. Fairfax County has grown from 800,000 people to 1.1 million. The percentage of foreign-born residents has gone from 16 percent in 1990 to 31 percent in 2018. The number of Hispanics has more than doubled from 6 percent to 16 percent. The number of Asians has almost tripled from 8 percent to 20 percent.

I’ve lived in Fairfax County for the past fifteen years and adjacent Loudoun County the three years before that. We were the harbingers of the shift:

Slightly less than half of Fairfax County residents held a bachelor’s degree or higher in 1990. Now that number is 61 percent. The median home price has gone from $225,000 to $535,000. In 1992, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot won a combined 58 percent in Fairfax. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 64 percent of the vote.

When I was growing up, Loudoun County was considered a rural area disconnected from the rhythms of the Beltway. In the years since, its population has exploded from 86,000 people to 407,000. The percentage of foreign-born residents has gone from 6 percent to 24 percent. A county population that was 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Asian is 14 percent Hispanic and 20 percent Asian. The percentage of the county with a bachelor’s degree or higher has gone from 33 percent to 60 percent. Loudoun is the richest county in America. Fairfax is second. In 1992, Bill Clinton won 35 percent of the vote in Loudoun County. Twenty-four years later, his wife won 55 percent.

As Virginia has moved into the Democratic column, the state Republican Party has become more populist, more nationalist, and more culturally conservative. The dwindling number of Republicans who spoke the language of suburbia could not escape their party’s national reputation for hostility to immigrants and opposition to progressive ideals. A similar process occurred in states like California, Colorado, and Nevada. It may also be underway in Arizona and Texas (!).

Continetti, who I gather is still a Republican but an anti-Trumper, sees non-college whites as “Trump’s Reserve Army” and laments the political contradictions of progressivism (namely, that the policies Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and others are proposing for the country are bankrupting states and localities).

While I share Continetti’s belief that the Republican Party shows no signs of turning around any time soon, I don’t see that it has much choice in the longer run. Trump could win re-election by riling up the base and leveraging the rural advantage fo the Electoral College. But that’s a strategy that requires everything to go right and won’t be replicable for many more cycles; the old white guys are dying off and will soon be outnumbered.

Further, the “values” differential isn’t fixed in stone. Gay marriage was a sure-fire red meat issue just a decade ago. Putting a “one man, one woman” initiative on the ballot almost anywhere in the country was guaranteed to increase Republican turnout. Now, it’s just a fact of life and most people under, say, 60 have gotten used to it.

As it often is, California was the national leader in the trend Continetti identifies. In my youth, the GOP was said to have a “lock” on the Electoral College, partly because it almost always won California. It voted red in every Presidential election from 1952 to 1988–again, with the exception of 1964. It’s now voted blue—usually overwhelmingly—the last seven times.

The reason, as Christopher Caldwell explained in a 1998 piece for the Atlantic Monthly, is that the Republican party has put all its eggs in the Southern basket, not realizing how radically the country as a whole has changed. That trend, obviously, has gotten worse rather than better in the 21 years since.

Because the way we elect Presidents and Senators has a heavy rural bias, the GOP has won often enough to convince itself that it has a winning strategy. The fact that it has won the popular vote for President just one time since California turned blue has been disguised by nonetheless winning the White House three times during that span.

But while there are multiple instances of states like California and Virginia turning solidly blue over the last thirty years, there are none of the opposite trend. Eventually, the GOP will be forced to evolve or die. But it’s unlikely to happen soon. Not when they can win the biggest prize with some regularity under the current strategy.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. What happened in Virginia is likely spreading to other states. We’ve already seen the potential for Democratic pickups in neighboring North Carolina — which Obama won in 2008 and narrowly lost in 2012 — as well as Georgia and Arizona. The last of these should be particularly interesting on both the Presidential level and at the Senate level, where Martha McSally, who already narrowly lost a Senate seat to a Democrat last year, headed for a likely campaign against Mark Kelly, who is proving to be a formidable campaigner and fundraiser,

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  2. Mikey says:

    Mean travel time to work has increased from 24 minutes to 28 minutes.

    28 minutes? If only. Hahahaha… *cries in Northern Virginian*

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  3. Mikey says:

    Here’s an interesting and appropriate piece from the NYT, with some good graphics that illustrate how sudden and extensive the shift has been:


    How Voters Turned Virginia from Deep Red to Solid Blue

    Mr. Katkuri always thought he would be a Republican in America.

    “Taxes, family values, these things are closer to our hearts,” he said. He likes Mitt Romney.

    But when he got his citizenship in March and started talking with his friends about whom to vote for in the first election of his life, he realized it had to be Democrats. Mr. Trump helped him decide.

    “The way he speaks, you get the feeling that you are separate,” Mr. Katkuri said. “This is not what we signed up for in America.”

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  4. Teve says:

    and laments the political contradictions of progressivism (namely, that the policies Elizabeth Sanders and others are proposing for the country are bankrupting states and localities).

    this Elizabeth Sanders person sounds terrible. But if her economic policies are so terrible, I have to assume she’s a Republican, so who cares, she’ll never beat Trump.

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    I think the evolution train left the station some time ago. The Republican Party is increasingly following its leader into corruption, overt racism and denial of reality. It’s no longer a legitimate political party, it’s a white power cult. It is evil. Has the Nazi Party reformed its way back into power?

    Does anyone think the kids who already despise the GOP are going to come back as the climate deteriorates? Do you think black people, or brown people, or the more urban and educated whites are coming back to the party of Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell and Trump? The Republican Party consists of nasty, stupid, spiteful people devoid of integrity or honesty. A Parliament of . . . well, not whores, after all whores deliver a product. A Parliament of liars, cheats, frauds, hate-mongers, thieves, cowards, toadies and traitors.

    Here’s how you bring back the GOP: close every college and university and wait ten years. It is quite clear that education is to Republicans what water was to the Wicked Witch of the West.

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  6. MarkedMan says:

    James, you outlined the state of the GOP very cogently, as well how it arrived there. But when you get to predicting the future I think you are making a fundamental error: you are projecting agency and intent to a thing that does not and cannot have it. For example, you say:

    the GOP has won often enough to convince itself

    The GOP is not a thing with a mind and so it can’t convince itself of anything. You could argue that it’s just a useful way to summarize all the individuals making up the party. In the first half of your phrase you do so by saying the “GOP has won” and I agree that can be a useful way to sum up trends. But the second use, where you assume there is a collective GOP that can “convince” or “decide” interferes with any attempt to predict what state the Republican Party will be in down the road. In the end the fate of the GOP is not in its own hands but rather in those of the thousands of individual Party leaders who make their own calculations as to what is best for them going forward. I doubt a single one would add risk to their own futures in order to benefit the party as a whole, nor should they. I would also bet that 90%+ know that Trump is damaging the party brand and the party would be better off if he left office today. But they make their individual calculations and realize that while the party might be better off if people like them spoke out, the risk to themselves as an individual is just too high.

    I don’t make any predictions as to what the GOP will be ten or twenty years from now, other than to say if they continue in this spiral of extremism and denialism they will become less and less relevant. Which means the Democrats will become a more and more diverse party. If, as in California, it becomes the only way to get things done, people who want to get things done will steer it in their direction.

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  7. Kit says:

    When I started reading the article, I thought that the take away was going to be that Republicans we’re finally getting fed up. Well, they certainly took their time about it… But no! It’s simply that some traditionally conservative parts of the country are rather nice places to live, and fresh blood, often well-educated fresh blood, has decided to settle those savage lands. Depressing.

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  8. Modulo Myself says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I don’t make any predictions as to what the GOP will be ten or twenty years from now, other than to say if they continue in this spiral of extremism and denialism they will become less and less relevant.

    They aren’t relevant now, and they have power, so maybe there’s a connection here. And that’s now. It’s not like American capitalism is just producing great work for humans which allows them to live mindful contented lives. The next twenty years is going to be a fractal meltdown as the conservative cash machine goes berserk in a final blaze of glory. America is a huge country with tons of losers of all types. But the conservative establishment has built an army out of a certain type and these people are going to say and do anything. Trump is just the beginning. The Democrats might/probably/who knows win in 2020, but anyone who thinks that the GOP will just fade away has missed everything.

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  9. Chip Daniels says:

    Loudoun County sounds like Orange County, CA, which was another stronghold of Republican voters which is now solidly blue.

    Here in CA where the GOP is virtually extinct, the two parties are actually just two wings of the Democratic Party.
    You see it in how the tech oligarchs are reacting with barely concealed panic over Warren, and rushing to find someone, anyone who can replace her.

    As the GOP has swirled down the black hole of white nationalism the more natural divisions between wealthy oligarchs and working people has shifted to become a division within a single party.

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  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    (namely, that the policies Elizabeth Sanders and others are proposing for the country are bankrupting states and localities).

    Better than Brownback did in Kansas? Really?

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  11. Scott says:

    A similar process occurred in states like California, Colorado, and Nevada. It may also be underway in Arizona and Texas (!).

    Yes, Texas is becoming more urban and suburban. Which drives people to Democrats. It is interesting that the Republicans keep bragging about how bad California is and how many Californians are moving to Texas. What I suspect they don’t understand is that even conservative Californians are pretty moderate when it comes to Texas. In 2018, the suburbs went pretty well for the Democrats. State issues? Education. There is nothing that drives suburbanites more than education.

    And don’t forget about North Carolina. If my retired in-laws who moved from Ohio are any indication, NC is also going slowly Democratic.

    Really, the only big cultural thing that drives cultural conservatives is abortion.

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  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    Because the way we elect Presidents and Senators has a heavy rural bias, the GOP has won often enough to convince itself that it has a winning strategy. The fact that it has won the popular vote for President just one time since California turned blue has been disguised by nonetheless winning the White House three times during that span.

    While people were willing to accept the popular vote winner losing when it was an occasional fluke (e.g. 2001 – 2016 was a 15 year span), that doesn’t mean they’ll do so when it becomes an every election thing. At some point, the bluer states are going to start just straight up ignoring the federal government.

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  13. JKB says:

    Loudoun is the richest county in America. Fairfax is second.

    Which makes one wonder how those wealthy people hope to avoid the debilitating taxes proposed by Elizabeth Sanders. Will their be an exemption for those with Deep State sinecures? One certainly doesn’t see a return of the SALT deduction given the amount of money needed for the proposed programs.

    And there are already stirring in Virginia to take away the guns. I see quick movement on this issue as good for 2020 clarification.

    One has to wonder if H.L. Mencken’s quote might not come to govern

    Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

    I happened to just arrived in DC when the Republicans took over the VA legislature in 1999. A big issue was to reduce the tab tax on automobiles. A year later the WaPo had an article on the Democrats pointing out how much money the state was losing given all the new cars that were seen around the state. More aware Republicans pointed out that there were so many new cars because the annual tax on having one was very reduced. And as a bonus, the environment was better off than having all the old beaters being held together like some Havana on the Chesapeake.

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  14. Modulo Myself says:

    Also, I think the term moderate is really being overused. You can be a moderate who is against big M4A-style change, but what does that mean? The GOP relied upon deep skepticism about government plus a childlike faith in business and free-market. That’s conservatives they have to demonize the ‘political contradictions of progressivism’ because they are not allowed–per their masters in their heads–to believe any other system has contradictions, nor are they allowed to believe that these systems are bigger than progressivism. They have one thing their allowed to dislike: government. What’s happening in Virginia and a lot of other places is that moderates–who used to balance both sides–are finding it impossible to understand conservatives, because all they have as policy is fear of government action.

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  15. Jay L Gischer says:

    I kind of love the “Elizabeth Sanders” construct, which seems deliberate to me. It flows better than “Bernie Warren” for one thing.

    As to raising taxes, Trump raised taxes on people in CA and a few other states by capping the mortgage interest deduction. You are free to argue that he lowered your taxes, and then we would know that, in all likelihood, you are a billionaire. Because that’s who the “tax cut” actually helped.

    When it comes to difficulties that federal policies might create for local governments, we can do a thought experiment about how the current administration might deal with it (“We have the best local governments! Any difficulties are fake news! That guys is a Never-Trumper!”) and how Elizabeth Warren might deal with it. (“Come over to the White House and we’ll have a town hall, or several about it. I’ll read three dozen books on the issue this weekend and you can tell me all about it, while I question you incisively, like law profs always do.”)

    Which do you want to have happen?

    I’m not a natural fit for Warren. Her stuff is a little too leftish for me. But I love the process I’m seeing. That is a very good, and healthy process. And she seems fearless. It’s what we need.

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  16. Kathy says:

    It would seem Democrats, or Liberals, are enacting an unintentional, unplanned version of the Free State Project.

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  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    More aware Republicans pointed out that there were so many new cars because the annual tax on having one was very reduced

    It was so amazing it somehow affected vehicle sales all across the country! Part of a steady growth in car sales that began about ten years earlier. Also auto loan rates were unusually low. And of course the economy generally was doing very well under Bill Clinton. Right JKB? Despite Clinton raising taxes? Right?

    Motivated reasoning, just one of the mental issues that make it impossible for you to reason coherently.

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  18. Mikey says:

    Another data point:

    ‘Trump basically turned me into a Democrat’: Working-class white women drifting away from the president

    But the one pivotal group showing the most evident signs of splitting from the president are white working-class women, according to a review of polling data, focus groups and interviews with more than a dozen party strategists and voters like Heather.

    It’s these voters packed in eastern Iowa, central Minnesota, southwestern Wisconsin, northern Ohio and throughout Michigan who will wield outsize influence over Trump’s 2020 fate. Republican pollster Patrick Ruffini calls these women the essential voter as it relates to the Electoral College.

    “If I could talk to one voter in the country, it would be a non-college-educated white woman,” he said. “It’s definitely the kind of voter Trump can’t lose.”

    Trump carried non-college-educated white women by 27 points in 2016. They’ve been slipping away ever since.

    In the midterm elections, they were the hidden fuel behind the Democratic comeback. Exit polls showed white women both with and without a college degree shifted 13 points in the Democratic direction from 2016-2018. But white women without a college degree made up a greater percentage of the midterm electorate.

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  19. gVOR08 says:

    I hope this is how it works out, but I’m not comfortable. In 2022 Trump will be gone (please gawd), Mitt Romney will be lying his arse off prepping for 2024, and no Republican will have ever heard of Donald Trump. And in 2040 70% of us will live in 15 states, leaving 70 senate seats for a rural rump Republican Party. That’s enough to block everything. which is all our plutocrats need.

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  20. steve says:

    Meh. This sounds a little bit like the times in the past when a party became convinced they owned the future, and the n it didnt happen. The GOP in the aughts thought they would rule forever. Then the Dems thought with Obama demographics guaranteed wins forever. This is all nice, but it would be a lot better to concentrate on policies that will appeal to most people, find good candidates and actually win elections.

    Steve

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  21. EddieInCA says:

    NC and AZ are next.

    Then GA close behind.

    Then TX.

    Given current trends and what Trump is doing to the GOP brand, it could happen by 2024.

    Trump is turning an entire generation against the GOP. Who thinks that 18-30 year old building his political philosophy is going to change to GOP down the road unless they’re an evangelical already?

    What does the GOP do when TX, GA, AZ, and NC are solidly blue. Which states are going to change from blue to Red full time? Ohio? Iowa maybe?

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  22. Nightcrawler says:

    Here’s where I’m at: I’d rather pay higher taxes and remain alive to pay them.

    Lower taxes aren’t going to do me a damn bit of good if my cancer comes back, and I can’t get treated because I have no insurance, and I don’t have a few hundred thou to spare.

    Lower taxes are not the do-all, end all for me. Then again, I’m a Nothing, which means that in addition to not being a liberal or a socialist, I’m also not a capitalist, so…

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  23. grumpy realist says:

    Drawing a lesson from previous historical splits: if we continue with FPTP representation, what will probably happen is that states will drift more and more into voting blue, the Republican Party will dwindle, and at some point the Democratic Party will split into Medium Left and Further Left.

    I suspect that the trajectory of the Republican Party is being driven not so much by a wish for being elected as the greed of the grifter cloud surrounding it. Hence the pressure ever-further right.

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  24. Scott F. says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I don’t make any predictions as to what the GOP will be ten or twenty years from now, other than to say if they continue in this spiral of extremism and denialism they will become less and less relevant.

    Relevance is conceivable for a party committed to extremism. There will always be people who will convince themselves to hold firm to some ideology and vote against their interests in the name of principle. The extremism is working for the GOP these days.

    But, there will never be long term relevance built on denialism. You can claim the sky is green for awhile and slow down change, but eventually facts have a way of asserting themselves. Climate change, increasing wealth inequality, disproportionate gun violence, health outcomes lagging other first world economies – these phenomena are real and something needs to be done about them. Granted “Do Something, Anything” can end badly, but for each of the pressing challenges of the day, there is a whole spectrum of actions to be taken. Unfortunately for the Republicans, “Do nothing, it’s a hoax” isn’t a plausible answer for any of our issues as a country.

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  25. Scott F. says:

    @JKB:

    Which makes one wonder how those wealthy people hope to avoid the debilitating taxes proposed by Elizabeth Sanders.

    It shouldn’t be all that hard. Nothing being proposed by Warren or Sanders is remotely “debilitating” to those wealthy people.

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  26. MarkedMan says:

    The argument of the self described Conservatives seems to be “Why don’t the people who live in the wealthiest, most successful states, the ones with decent health care, the rule of law rather than the rule of the tribe, the ones with the best schools and infrastructure – why oh why won’t they accept the advice on how to govern from the people from the poorest states, the ones with the worst schools and health care and a constant focus on pulling the other guy down?”

    To me, the question answers itself, but obviously these Conservatives don’t feel the same way.

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  27. MarkedMan says:

    This conversation got me thinking. I’ve lived in at least two cities that were solidly Democratic and had been for generations (Chicago and Baltimore). Essentially, if you wanted to exercise or influence political power, you had to be a Democrat. Republicans were essentially cranks who were more interested in throwing fits than getting things done. So how does a single Party accommodate the wide array of individuals that comprise it? By focussing less on the iconic issues and much much more on the everyday issues. When the Democratic ideals are mentioned, they are often done so in a Mom and Apple Pie kind of way.

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  28. Gustopher says:

    @MarkedMan:

    This conversation got me thinking. I’ve lived in at least two cities that were solidly Democratic and had been for generations (Chicago and Baltimore). Essentially, if you wanted to exercise or influence political power, you had to be a Democrat. Republicans were essentially cranks who were more interested in throwing fits than getting things done.

    Republicans really need to figure out how to compete in cities if they want to make inroads in blue states. But the cranks and crazies have destroyed their brand.

    In Seattle, there has been a move (funded by the Chamber of Commerce) to make a lot of positions “non-partisan” so voters cannot tell at a glance which candidates are Republicans. Hiding their candidates seems like the wrong way to go.

    But, by and large, the Republican Party has given up on a large chunk of America, all the while claiming that Democrats have given up on rural voters. And while attacking the post office, and regulations that make cellular and internet access more affordable for rural America.

    The Democrats don’t have a great message on small towns withering as their only employer moves out. (I would claim that the Republicans just offer lies — bringing back coal!). It’s a hard problem that doesn’t lend itself to easy bumper sticker solutions.*

    But the Republicans don’t have a message for cities other than they aren’t Real Americans.

    ——
    *: Warren’s recent statements about trade needing to be predicated on labor laws are a great example. It’s a good policy, but not by itself a solution.

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  29. Nightcrawler says:

    the Republicans don’t have a message for cities other than they aren’t Real Americans.

    As an aside, this amuses me greatly, being as I’m from Philadelphia.

    Nothing “Real America” about the home of the Liberty Bell, the place where the Constitution was signed … No, nothing at all!

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  30. Nightcrawler says:

    The Democrats don’t have a great message on small towns withering as their only employer moves out. (I would claim that the Republicans just offer lies — bringing back coal!). It’s a hard problem that doesn’t lend itself to easy bumper sticker solutions.

    No, it doesn’t.

    I think one of the best things we could do for rural areas is to ensure that all of them have high-speed internet access so that the people living there could have access to remote work. But there’s no profit in private-sector companies building infrastructure in sparsely populated areas, and the government can’t subsidize it because muh socialism!

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  31. DrDaveT says:

    John Warner’s election to the U.S. Senate in 1978 was an early sign of the Republican revival in the South.

    Purely in terms of policy positions, John Warner was to the left of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. That’s the part of this story that is being swept under the rug.

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  32. Kylopod says:

    But while there are multiple instances of states like California and Virginia turning solidly blue over the last thirty years, there are none of the opposite trend.

    West Virginia?

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  33. Moosebreath says:

    @Kylopod:

    “West Virginia?”

    Louisiana as well. Missouri going from a bellwether to a solidly Republican state (and to a lesser extent, Ohio and Iowa going from blue leaning to red leaning).

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  34. Kylopod says:

    @Moosebreath: Agreed. LA voted for Bill Clinton twice (the second time by an absolute majority), and it had a Democratic Senator and Democratic legislature as late as 2014. Arkansas didn’t just vote for its native son twice (also by a majority, despite Perot), it was solidly blue at the state level until the century rolled around.

    WV is the most striking turnaround, though, because basically the two “Virginias” swapped places at around the same time. Even Dukakis won it. Dubya managed to win both states, but they were essentially transitioning right around that point, WV becoming red at the same time VA was becoming blue. WV was also one of only a few states (all in the South) where Obama in 2008 did worse than John Kerry. In fact, if you look at the Democratic margins in the state since the ’90s, it looks like a very steady–but historically rapid–descent:

    1996: +15
    2000: -6
    2004: -13
    2008: -13
    2012: -27
    2016: -42

    WV, in fact, is the state that gave Trump his largest overall share of the vote (and his second-widest margin, after WY). It’s way redder at this point than VA is blue. VA has been strongly trending blue in recent times, but it’s still been won by fairly narrow margins so far, and it would only take one bad cycle to move it in the other direction (for instance, if Dems win the White House in 2020 then face a tough midterm in 2022). I’ve been a bit worried about the state for a while now, since Trump’s current approval there (per Morning Consult) is -7, which may not seem great but is better than in any other state Hillary won, and better than several of the states Trump won. I can envision a map where Trump loses WI, MI, and PA but wins VA, giving him a different path to 270. Last week’s elections have helped ease some of my nervousness on this point.

    The basic picture is that a few formerly red states have turned blue in the past generation, but much of the South meanwhile has slipped completely out of Democratic hands, and while there are a number of red states which could be on the brink of turning purple if not blue (Arizona, Texas, Georgia, NC), Dems mostly have not reaped the benefits just yet, while the Repubs have largely reaped the benefits of the rural and white-working-class defections to their party.

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  35. James Joyner says:

    @Kylopod: @Moosebreath: Yes, that’s interesting. West Virginia looks to have simply made the switch the rest of the Deep South did a couple cycles later. I’d guess some combination of a larger union workforce and Robert Byrd. I’ve got no explanation for Missouri or Louisiana.

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  36. Jen says:

    @Kathy: Some of those Free State nuts continue to wreak havoc in NH, mostly in smaller towns during town meeting day.

    I am not a fan.

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  37. Matt says:

    @Scott F.:

    disproportionate gun violence,

    You can blame guns all you want but one of these days you’re going to have to face the reality that more people are killed each year via punching and kicking or blunt objects than rifles. That trend extends back at least a decade. We’ve got a violence problem in general. Probably connected to the prison industrial complex and the general macho-ism of American culture…

    “deal with it yourself”
    “don’t be a pussy”
    “blahblahblah”

    @MarkedMan: It’s always “fun” to listen to right wingers complain about California and how no one wants to live there because it’s too expensive to buy a house. In their mind housing there is expensive because of the state government making it expensive. They blame taxes, regulations and random things they are against. Instead of maybe the possibility that the reason the housing market has such high prices is because there’s so much demand from people wanting to live there…

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  38. Jen says:

    @James Joyner: In Missouri, much of the switch has been fueled by the choice issue. A *lot* of the St. Louis region–city and county–used to be represented by pro-life Democrats. The city has a very strong Catholic community, starting with a very established Catholic school system. Irish, French, German, and Italian immigrants each settled different parts of the city, and in many of those communities the Catholic church was at the center. There’s a reason Pope John Paul II made a trip to the St. Louis Basilica.

    A bunch of Democratic state representatives and state senators were appointed to positions in Gov. Carnahan’s administration following the 1992 elections. Virtually every one of those seats was flipped from D to R in special elections that ran from December of 1992 (right after Clinton won the presidency) through 1993–largely on the abortion issue. (Remember, this is the state of Webster in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services.)

    Losing those seats set the stage for more losses in 1994, when the US Congress flipped too. After steady gains, Republicans were able to redistrict carving out much safer seats for all, from Congress all the way down to state reps. This is why a Congressional seat that was once held by Ike Skelton, a Democrat, is now held by Vicky Hartzler, one of the Republicans who stormed into the closed-door congressional hearing with Matt Gaetz.

    This is why you see a pretty solidly red state have such close US Senate races (Roy Blunt v. Jason Kander, and McCaskill v. Hawley). It’s also why Democrats can and do win statewide elections, such as former Gov. Jay Nixon.

    TL; DR: Republicans flipped Democratic seats using the pro-life issue, held those seats, and created a redistricting map in their favor.

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  39. sam says:

    @JKB:

    One has to wonder if H.L. Mencken’s quote might not come to govern

    Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

    Might come to govern??? Boobocrat is thy name and Donald Trump is thy president.

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  40. An Interested Party says:

    The reason, as Christopher Caldwell explained in a 1998 piece for the Atlantic Monthly, is that the Republican party has put all its eggs in the Southern basket, not realizing how radically the country as a whole has changed. That trend, obviously, has gotten worse rather than better in the 21 years since.

    Isn’t it funny how the South is usually involved when things go bad in this country…in the 19th century we saw how Southern values led to the Civil War…we now see Southern values leading to the possible defenestration of the GOP…

    Which makes one wonder how those wealthy people hope to avoid the debilitating taxes proposed by Elizabeth Sanders.

    Many of those wealthy people are well aware of the more progressive policies the Democrats favor and are still voting for Democrats…what does that say about the Republican Party?

    And in 2040 70% of us will live in 15 states, leaving 70 senate seats for a rural rump Republican Party. That’s enough to block everything. which is all our plutocrats need.

    As Stormy Dragon noted, blue states may eventually just ignore the federal government…

    WV is the most striking turnaround, though, because basically the two “Virginias” swapped places at around the same time. Even Dukakis won it. Dubya managed to win both states, but they were essentially transitioning right around that point, WV becoming red at the same time VA was becoming blue.

    And which state is moving forward, looking towards the future, while the other state is looking back, pining away for some magical past that never existed? That is the problem for the GOP…

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  41. Neil Hudelson says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’ve got no explanation for Missouri or Louisiana.

    With Louisiana, I imagine the loss of a quarter million New Orleanians post-Katrina had something to do with it. But that is just conjecture.

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  42. Kylopod says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    With Louisiana, I imagine the loss of a quarter million New Orleanians post-Katrina had something to do with it. But that is just conjecture.

    It’s conjecture whether that had any effect, but there’s no question a significant portion of white voters in the state stopped voting Democrat over the past generation or two. It’s become more like Mississippi and Alabama, where despite the large African American population, the white voters still outnumber them and vote Republican as a bloc, and also do a good job of suppressing the black vote.

    In contrast, Maryland is a solidly blue state (despite the governor) with one of the nation’s largest AA populations, in large part because enough of the white residents still vote Democrat. Georgia may be headed in that direction.

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  43. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Jen: The free staters are a PIA, but they were responsible for the crushing defeat that gay marriage repeal received.

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  44. An Interested Party says:

    Glancing at the comments on Continetti’s article linked at National Review is fascinating…apparently this is a just a sign that evil leftist socialists are slowly destroying the country…someone actually typed, with a straight face (I’m assuming) that Trump is actually a moderate…I guess for some people, reality is a sucker’s game…

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  45. Scott F. says:

    @Matt:
    A violence problem in general combined with gun fetishism and too easy access leads to disproportionate gun violence. These conditions are not mutually exclusive.

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  46. Teve says:

    Dinesh D’Souza
    @DineshDSouza
    ·
    Nov 9
    Remember nuclear winter? Of course you don’t. That’s because it didn’t happen. Yet it was all the rage on the Left in the 1980s. A generation from now, no one will recall climate change either, and for the same reason. The apocalypse has become a political racket!

    This guy is the Republican version of an intellectual.

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  47. MarkedMan says:

    @Kylopod: FWIW I don’t think there is any mystery whatsoever about why Louisiana has become more Republican: it is a deeply, deeply racist state and the Republican Party, through its Southern Strategy, has spiraled to the point where it is the only party for racists.

    Pretty much the only place in LA that anyone goes to is New Orleans, and so they come away thinking that represents Louisiana as a whole. But it doesn’t, in any way. In the early 90’s an unrepentant former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan came within a hair‘s breadth of becoming governor. I lived in NOLA at the time (and loved the city and still do) and sometimes listened to an AM radio show on my commute. This was no Rush Limbaugh type of thing but rather kind of a general purpose show. Callers were more likely to ask the hosts opinions on the best seasoning for a crawfish boil or the prospects of the Saints. (Poor, in that era. Always poor.) But with depressing regularity someone would call in to make what to them was the obvious point that the Klan was a good thing and was necessary to protect “our women”. The host never let it turn into a discussion but from incidents like that and dozens of others I came to realize that Louisiana was racist in a way that surpassed even my hometown on the South Side of Chicago, and I grew up during the time of the 70’s era Neo Nazi riots and the women in house coats and curlers screaming hate at the busses bringing African American kids to the last all white school public school in Chicago (Bogan High).

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  48. MarkedMan says:

    @Teve: Wow. That was awesomely stupid. “Remember nuclear fallout? That never happened either. So atom bombs causing radiation is just a myth”.

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  49. Kylopod says:

    @MarkedMan:

    In the early 90’s an unrepentant former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan came within a hair‘s breadth of becoming governor.

    Well he lost 61.2-38.8%, so I wouldn’t say he came all that close to winning. But I would agree it was pretty shocking for a bona fide “ex”-Klansman to get as far as winning the nomination of a major party (and he was actually elected to the state legislature).

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  50. MarkedMan says:

    @Kylopod: Thanks for that. I guess my sense of dread when I lived there warped my memory of the outcome.

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  51. Kylopod says:

    @Teve:

    A generation from now, no one will recall climate change either

    In the ’90s I saw a creationist booklet with the heading “Evolution: Science of the 20th century, joke of the 21st century.”

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  52. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    One could be charitable, and assume he meant the global cooling notion that floated around the mid-to-late-70s.

    Or he may be that stupid, and not remember, or have never known, that nuclear winter required a large-scale nuclear war take place first.

    BTW, I recall some pushback from the right against the idea of a nuclear winter. As though global nuclear war need not be a bad thing. In an essay around that time, Asimov wrote “We can’t well have a nuclear war and see whether we kill all humanity or only half,” highlighting the idiocy of the nuclear winder deniers.

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  53. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:
    I never bought the ‘new south’ thing that was being bruited about in the 80’s. The new south amounts to northern Virginia, Asheville and Research Triangle in North Carolina.

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  54. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Nightcrawler:

    I think one of the best things we could do for rural areas is to ensure that all of them have high-speed internet access so that the people living there could have access to remote work.

    Obama tried. As part of the stimulus there was money to lay the pipe for fiber optic cables here in NW Washington County MO. My wife was quite excited about it as it would have made working from home a lot more feasible. In 2019 that pipe remains empty of FOC because of the 2010 elections. And my wife made her twice a day 1 1/4 hr commute for another 10 years (until her company “restructured” all their 60 yr old employees out of their jobs).

    But there’s no profit in private-sector companies building infrastructure in sparsely populated areas, and the government can’t subsidize it because muh socialism!

    As embodied by the Rural Electrification Act.

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  55. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’ve got no explanation for Missouri or Louisiana.

    Can’t speak for Louisiana but here in Misery it’s pretty simple: Reactionary guns and Jesus. With a nice heaping side dish of racism, of both the hateful and the merely heavily biased types.

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  56. Teve says:

    @Kylopod: There’s a fun list you can find on the internet of Christians predicting the imminent demise of evolution. according to the creationists evolution is always either just about to be destroyed or has recently thoroughly been destroyed.

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  57. Teve says:

    @Kathy: he’s not talkin about the handful of papers in the seventies that suggested that aerosol pollution would cause an amount of cooling in the atmosphere, which is correct, but turns out not to matter much considering that we banned chlorofluorocarbons. He’s just dumb as a stump.

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  58. Kathy says:

    @Teve:

    He’s just dumb as a stump.

    Oh, absolutely.

    But in the kingdom of Deplorables, the stump is king 😛

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  59. KM says:

    @EddieInCA :

    Which states are going to change from blue to Red full time?

    Even if that works, native blue state Republicans are a different beast then red state ones. Have been cradled in the bosom of civilization, they’ve internalized some socialist niceties that aren’t present out in the hinterlands. For instance, looks at all the people “fleeing” blue states like CA and bringing their ungodly liberal ways like expecting to have roads up-kept with tax money! Don’t they understand the whole point is to *not* pay taxes at all and to hell with your tires? Damn commies keep thinking the state should invest in education and infrastructure and a non-polluted environment. What do they think this is, NY? I’ve met many a blue state transplant who happily moved away from their former socialist hellhole that was stealing their livelihood with heavy taxes….. only to try and recreate it in their new red state home because my god, have you *seen* the school system?! Sure they’re not forcing evolution and sex-ed genderism on the kids but that’s because they’re no books from before 1972 to do it with.

    It’s like indoor plumbing – used to be a radical new tech but is now considered so essential it’s absence is usually a cause for major freakout. You can’t go back from that – any new “paradise” that doesn’t have will be swiftly modified to include the “basics”. Coming from a blue state means you are used to certain things that can be glaring absent (on purpose) in your new red accommodations. So you slowly start to modify paradise to be more livable…… until it’s not really red but a lovely shade of purple.

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  60. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Red States that are becoming redder are not really growing in population, with Metropolitan areas that are shrinking. It’s similar to what happens in Europe, where migration from Eastern Europe is making these countries more Conservative.

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  61. Michael Cain says:

    @KM:

    For instance, looks at all the people “fleeing” blue states like CA and bringing their ungodly liberal ways like expecting to have roads up-kept with tax money!

    Interestingly, the “California diaspora” has been a thing in western states for going on 30 years now. A small set of historians/anthropologists actually study it. It is one of the factors in the gradual “blueing” of that region. There is a reasonable possibility that after the 2020 elections, the Mountain West states will have more Democratic Senators than Republicans, 9-7 (following the 2000 elections, the split was 13-3 for the Republicans).

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  62. Fortunato says:

    RE this:

    (namely, that the policies Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and others are proposing for the country are bankrupting states and localities).

    March 26, 2018 – Brookings:
    Do states regret expanding Medicaid?

    With the ACA in its fifth year of full expansion, we now have an established track record in the expanding states to help estimate what the actual costs of expansion will be to the states and how those costs have compared to states’ projections.

    ..The strong balance of objective evidence indicates that actual costs to states so far from expanding Medicaid are negligible or minor, and that states across the political spectrum do not regret their decisions to expand Medicaid.

    Claims that the costs of Medicaid expansion have far exceeded expectations are overstated, misleading, and substantially inaccurate, based on a review of the credible evidence from either academic or government sources.

    ..To the contrary, the leading peer-reviewed, academic study on this question documented, based on comprehensive data from the National Association of State Budget Officers that, by 2015, “there were no significant increases in spending from state funds as a result of the expansion.”

    This analysis is part of The Leonard D. Schaeffer Initiative for Innovation in Health Policy, which is a partnership between the Center for Health Policy at Brookings and the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics.

    Then there’s that.

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  63. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Fortunato: Fake news.

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  64. gVOR08 says:

    Somebody had a line that red states are turning blue one U Haul at a time. I’m doing my bit for Florida. But West Virginia is nobody’s retirement dream.

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  65. gVOR08 says:

    @Teve: I’ve a couple of times seen comments to the effect of why should we take Global Warming seriously? After all, the scientists said we’d have an ozone hole and that problem just went away, so will AGW. FFS. I have no idea how to get them to see it quietly went away because we believed the scientists and took effective world wide action to ban CFCs. Of course the CFC industry didn’t have near the lobbying clout coal and oil have.

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  66. Fortunato says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    : )

    Exactly.
    Cause when George Soros isn’t spreading Sharia Law from atop Hillary’s server in the basement of a D.C. Pizza Parlor filled with naked pre-teens, he’s personally paying members of the Illuminati Deep State to write up and distribute a steady flow of fake lefty lies.

    Seth Rich lives and Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself.

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  67. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I don’t recall anyone advocating the “new south” saying that it would be larger than you described either, though.

    ETA: and be careful about adding Asheville to it. Apparently Drew lives there and likes it just fine based on what he’s said.

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  68. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    As embodied by the Rural Electrification Act.

    Different times. Also don’t forget that Roosevelt was a Socialist (as, apparently, were Mellon and the other investors in the private utilities of the era).

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  69. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I wonder how many of my electric Coop neighbors want to give up their socialized electricity and hire a “private electric provider”.

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  70. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Not saying that they would, but Amity Schlae’s book about the Roosevelt administration notes that back at the time of the TVA, there was an emerging private utility industry that sought to cooperate with–and was rebuffed by–Roosevelt in electrifying rural America. Of course, this can all be discounted as Right Wing Lying Lie Machine lies if you wish. Got no dog in the fight of which side kills the nation.

    ETA: Growing up, my electric company was City Light–owned by the city of Seattle. A move to the suburbs switched me to Puget Power–a private, for profit, shareholder owned company. The electricity worked just fine and was cheaper than I’d had in Seattle. A miracle called, “making it a regulated utility.” You should try it in Misery.

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  71. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    there was an emerging private utility industry that sought to cooperate with–and was rebuffed by–Roosevelt in electrifying rural America.

    And of course, they wanted to make a profit.

    Every year I get a dividend check from Crawford County Electric Coop. I and every other customer (we are actually shareholders). This last year’s was around about $17. I have no idea what our monthly bill is (my wife handles it) but I suspect it is rather substantial in the summer (when we need A/C) but I know my neighbors would bitch to high heaven if they had to pay an extra $17 per month.

    In other words, electricity out here is expensive. We are OK with paying the cost of it and getting a little bit extra back each year (it is safe to assume there are some subsidies but I don’t know). Lining some billionaires pocket???

    Get out the ropes.

    ETA: the only reason I know how much the dividend check was is because the electric is in my name so I have to sign the check.

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  72. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    As I said, I wouldn’t expect them to want to change. I like public utility districts just fine, too. Where you and I might have a difference is that I’m not so progressive that I particularly object to people making profits on their business ventures. I live in an area where the Public Utilities Commission does a good job of making sure that the shareholder owned utilities don’t gouge anybody and everyone pays similar rates statewide. I’m sorry you don’t and have to worry about billionaires gouging you instead.

    Currently, I live in an area served by a public utility district. Our commissioners don’t rebate surpluses back to us. They use the money to lower ratepayers net costs, subsidize alternative energy opportunities, and reduce rates for low income customers. A rebate would be nice though, too (but I probably wouldn’t qualify–I rent).

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  73. grumpy realist says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Public utilities (and the regulating of them) seem to me to be a Good Idea for areas where everyone really needs it: water, electricity, heat, mail…and health services. We’re still arguing whether internet access has risen to the level of a “must have”. I think the more that material (and information) switches to the internet, the more we really should be treating it as a necessary service. (You can’t really decide to post legally necessary stuff on line if your users don’t have a good chance of seeing it.)

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  74. Robert Sharperson says:

    @JKB: Elizabeth wants to tax billionaires and many of her proposals will not see the light of day. Affluent suburban women understand this. These women view Trump and his Presidency as more of a threat than a proposed tax increase. Fairfax and Loudon residents do have high incomes and property values but do not consider themselves very rich and the target of Elizabeth’s tax plan.

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