Politics in America are split along urban versus suburban/exurban lines. Urban areas are likely to be more “liberal” when it comes to issues of public transportation, the environment, education, gun control, race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. A glance at presidential election maps by county confirms this and numerous studies correlate voting patterns to population density. (Exceptions include national parks, indian reservations and college towns).
This political pattern makes sense. If you live closer to people, by necessity, you have to be more tolerant of differences. Also, collective problems that can be masked by distance and separation in suburban or rural areas become glaring in urban areas where they are inescapable. These include environmental problems and gun violence as well as basic necessities like the transportation, sewage and water systems necessary to supply services to large masses of people. Living closer to other people requires more human interaction, socially and legislatively and, thus, more government.
These urban versus exurban political patterns are evident at a national level and at the state level. In state legislatures, urban and exurban/rural legislators fight it out over resource allocation and public policy. If urban legislators want money for public transportation, they have to give rural and exurban legislators more highway money or other sweeteners to earn their votes.
If urban areas are more liberal and, based on voting patterns, form the backbone of the Democratic Party, it’s worth asking the question: “Is the Democratic or DFL Party an urban party?” Put another way: “Do Democrats and the DFL represent the interests of urban voters when it comes to transportation, the environment, housing, and a host of other issues?”
Certainly the DFL wishes to portray itself as a progressive urban, environmental party, but what’s the reality? There are certainly progressive, urban and environmental people in the party but in terms of overall policy it’s harder to say where the DFL stands. Now they favor GLBT rights but this wasn’t always the case. Now they claim to represent minority groups but they were also the party of “urban renewal” in the 1950s and 60s, where entire minority neighborhoods were wiped off the map by freeways and ill-considered housing projects. They were and continue to be the highway-building party– one of the most environmentally destructive human activities on the planet. They paved over the Twin Cities’ tax base with I-35E, I-35W, I-94, 280, 62, 55, 36 and many other highways that gutted the cities with freeways and parking lots, even as they enabled urban flight and suburban sprawl. The DFL did this as payback to their trade union constituent base and Farmer Labor Party founders like Floyd B Olson, colluded with known gangsters like Kid Cann who murdered journalists and helped to destroy Twin Cities Rapid Transit. To this day, whether it’s a new $700 million Stillwater-bridge-to-nowhere, or expansions of I-35E, I-35W, the Crosstown and other urban freeways, the DFL is always willing to give “Municipal Consent” and line up with opponents like Michelle Bachmann to get new highways built. As I said in my previous post, the DFL chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees won’t even allow a Vulnerable Road User Protection Bill to be heard in committee, and pedestrians and cyclists getting hit by cars is largely an urban problem. When it comes to transit, would we ever have gotten the Hiawatha LRT line without Jesse Ventura? Even Tim Pawlenty made sure there was money for the state’s share of Central Corridor LRT. Yet now, a DFL governor and legislature can’t seem to get state funding for transit, bike and pedestrian projects.
When it comes to allowing 3M to dump perfluorinated chemicals next to the Mississippi and other waterways, pipeline spills, huge hog farm operations or other environmental calamities, you can be sure the DFL supports big business over the environment. David Dill, the DFL Chair of the “Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee” just co-authored a bill nullifying all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations! I’m willing to be surprised but, if I was betting money, I’d bet that the DFL will approve the Polymet Mine.
I’m not saying that the DFL hasn’t done some good things but, as a city resident, they need to earn my vote and show me they stand for better environmental and transportation policies. When they really want to get a project done, it happens, even if it’s as pointless and wasteful as a new billion-dollar Vikings stadium, the Stillwater bridge or a giant new parking garage at the state capitol. Based on their recent statements and actions on transit funding, I have to assume that the governor and legislature simply don’t care about this issue and don’t care about cities.