7The American Prospect, May - June 1999
Headline: The New Map Of American Politics
Byline: Jonathan Tilove
In 1964 an Orange
County man by the name of
Ron Rankin helped mastermind the conservative takeover of the California Republican
Party. But, after Barry Goldwater's electoral debacle that fall, Rankin says he
looked homeward and realized that his devotion to right-wing politics had
exacted a cost: "My family life was zilch." So Rankin decided to move
with his wife and five children to a quieter place. He wanted a rural
community-albeit one within driving distance of an orthodontist. And he also
wanted a place that was politically ripe for the hard-right gospel he still
intended to be his life's work. "We looked at the constitutions of the
various states along the Rockies, from Idaho to New Mexico, and Idaho's constitution was
so far backwards by contemporary comparison as to be, in our estimation, ahead
of the others."
So in 1965 the Rankins left California
and within two years Rankin was among the leaders of an effort to recall Idaho's antiwar
Democratic Senator Frank Church. "He was too much like Jane Fonda to be a
senator from this state," says Rankin. The recall effort failed, but in
1980 Church, then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, narrowly
lost re-election in the Reagan landslide. And today, 34 years after arriving in
is an influential Republican and an elected official in a state that would no
longer elect the likes of a Frank Church. In fact, Idaho-where there are now a
mere four Democrats in the 35-member state senate-may be the most lopsidedly
Republican and conservative state in what is now the most Republican and
conservative region in the nation.
Rankin's story is an extreme but telling example of just why that is so: Ron
Rankin moved to a place he thought would be a good fit for his conservative
politics. He made the place more conservative by moving there. And that, in
turn, made it a more attractive destination for those who share his politics.
In the 1990s, Idaho's
population has grown by 20 percent-more than all but two states (Nevada and Arizona)-primarily
because of the migration to Idaho
of folks from other states, particularly California.
And this flood tide of newcomers has swept Democrats and even some moderate
Republicans out of office. Coeur d'Alene's Kootenai County has about doubled its population
since 1985, and among its elected county commissioners is Ron Rankin-onetime
gadfly and perennial candidate, and now officeholder.
On the Road Again
Nowhere has this out-migration done the Democrats more good than in
California. Immigration is clearly the single greatest factor in the
demographic and political transformation of the nation's largest state. But the
metamorphosis that is underway has been augmented and accelerated by the
departure of those who have left. So far in the 1990s, California gained 2 million people through
immigration (mostly Hispanic and Asian) and lost another 2 million people (most
of them white) through out-migration to other states. The result, according to
census projections, is that there will be not only 3 million more Hispanics and
1.3 million more Asians in California
in 2000 than there were in 1990, but also 1.6 million fewer whites. By July of
2001, according to projections by the state of California, the state will be less than half
white and nearly a third Hispanic. And while race is by no means a perfect
proxy for political affiliation, at this moment in history-and especially in
California-it comes pretty close.
When Ron Rankin left Orange County in 1965, it was 90 percent white and it
defined the limits of right-wing white Republicanism. Orange County
today is less than 57 percent white, and that change has begun to take its
political toll. In 1996 Robert K. Dornan, one of the most vitriolic and
conservative Republicans in the House, narrowly lost his seat to Loretta
Sanchez in a district that had become barely more than a third white. In 1998
Dornan lost by a wider margin, despite his claims to be the "real
Latino" in the race because, as he explained it, he opposes abortion and
speaks with his hands. He even dedicated his 1998 campaign to the Virgin of
Guadalupe, the brown-skinned Virgin Mary of Latino veneration. But Dornan had
spent much of the previous two years contesting his 1996 defeat with claims of
immigrant voter fraud, and, in political terms, raining on his own typically
idiosyncratic celebration of diversity. The ultimate lesson is that when folks
like Ron Rankin leave Orange
County, bad things happen
to folks like Bob Dornan. Rankin's election in Idaho and Dornan's defeat in Orange County
were connected. And Dornan's loss was Rankin's gain.
From his perch as the clerk of his Mormon church in Idaho, Rankin could see what was happening.
Folks were moving to Idaho
and leaving behind Mormon wards (collections of congregations) that were now
mostly Vietnamese or Cambodian or Hispanic. "I don't like the use of the
term white flight," says Rankin. "It's sort of cultural flight."
Back in California,
he says, there is "the constant hassle of the clashing of cultures."
Their own Private Idaho
Why has the migration stream [to Idaho] been so skewed to the right? Just
decade in the headlines. There was the 1992 FBI shoot-out with white separatist
Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge. Aryan Nations has made Hayden Lake
its headquarters. (They dream of creating a white homeland in the Northwest.)
The Idaho Statesman noted that planning for the Hitler Day parade made the
front page of the Jerusalem Post. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that
Idaho led the
West in hate groups per capita. U.S. Representative Helen Chenoweth said that
blacks and Hispanics don't like Idaho because the weather's too cold. And then
there's Ron Rankin, whose most recent cause is making English Idaho's official
language. "Rankin's waving the welcome flag," says Mary Lou Reed,
"'Come here if you're a white flighter. Come here. We don't have any brown
If all you knew about Idaho was what you read in the papers, and you were
trying to decide where to make a new life, how would what you read influence
your choice of destinations? "If you were a Californian and you really
cared about education and the environment would you go to Idaho? Would you pick Montana? No. You would go to Oregon or Washington, probably Washington,"
says Reed, who is the mother of Clinton
domestic policy chief Bruce Reed. "But, if you're an independent kind of
redneck that hates the government and wants lower taxes and to be out here in
the open spaces, where the government wasn't going to get you, the Rocky Mountains would look very attractive." And,
she says, it's not just obvious crazies. "It's the quiet ones, the silent
ones, who may not be out on the fringe but are attracted by the idea of a
monoculture and want to get away from diversity."
Rankin dismisses the notion that many people avoid Idaho because of its image as a haven for
right-wing extremists. "If people are afraid to come here it certainly
isn't evidenced by the in-migration," says Rankin. But the question may be
which people. Companies have a hard time recruiting minority candidates. The
Idaho Statesman reported last year that North Idaho
College could not
persuade any person of color to even apply for its presidency. And, while the
total black population numbers are so minute as to render census estimates
somewhat unreliable, it appears that the black population in Idaho, and in
Montana and Wyoming, actually declined sharply in absolute numbers during the
booming 1990s. These states are being transformed, it seems, not just by white
flight in, but by black flight out as well.
New South, New Sunbelt
Take a look at the early line on reapportionment. Based on the Census
Bureau's population estimates for 1998, the Congressional Research Service
projects that after the 2000 Census, California, Florida, Georgia, Montana, and
Nevada will each gain an additional House seat, and Arizona and Texas, an
additional two seats. Meanwhile, Connecticut,
Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin will each lose a seat, and New York and Pennsylvania will each
lose two seats. At first glance this seems like an old story: it is the Sunbelt ascendant, good news for Republicans. But the Sunbelt has changed. In California, all of the population gain is
Hispanic and Asian; in Texas,
blacks, Asians, but especially Hispanics represent 75 percent of the population
gain. In Florida,
62 percent, and Georgia,
54 percent of the population gain is minority. And in Arizona (which has grown 24 percent in the
1990s) and Nevada
(which has grown 40 percent), more than 40 percent of the growth is minority,
mostly Hispanic. "Republicans are now in a huge bind," says Frederick
Lynch, a government professor at Claremont
"If they want to broaden their base among Latinos they are going to have
to dump immigration and affirmative action reform, and that's going to alienate
And what of the future? On one side are those like Texas Governor George W.
Bush, who won nearly half the Hispanic vote (albeit against feeble opposition
and with low Hispanic turnout) in his recent landslide election by steering
clear of issues like affirmative action and immigration, speaking Spanish, and
campaigning strenuously for Hispanic votes. (He also received an estimated 27
percent of the black vote.) Similarly, his brother Jeb Bush, just elected
governor of Florida,
gave Ward Connerly the brush-off when Connerly came by to say he might try to
put a Proposition 209-style initiative on the Florida ballot. Connerly, Bush said,
"wants a war; I'm a lover."
On the other side are those like Patrick J. Buchanan, who prefer making war
to making love, at least politically. Buchanan argues that unless Republicans
rally their white base, and move to place a moratorium on immigration, the
Republican Party is facing a "demographic death sentence." "If
the Republican Party doesn't deal with immigration, in eight to ten years, the
Republican Party at the national level may be a permanent minority party,"
warns Buchanan, who says many immigrants are natural Democrats not only because
of race, but because of class. The Bush approach, of course, has generally won
the praise of "enlightened" punditry. But up in Idaho, Ron Rankin is not impressed.
"That's a gene pool," he says of the Bush brothers, "I wouldn't
want to get involved in."
Wall Street Journal, October 26, 2006
Headline: Republicans' Hold On the South Gets Test in Tennessee
Byline:† COREY DADE and NIKHIL DEOGUN
Race has long been a deciding factor in Southern politics,
helping determine who is picked to represent the region in Washington. Now, parts of the upper South --
including Tennessee, Virginia
and North Carolina
-- are attracting significant numbers of people from other parts of the country
who aren't steeped in the region's traditions but are drawn to good jobs, lower
taxes, top-notch universities and affordable real estate.
This migratory shift is scrambling the region's electoral
politics. It is raising Democratic hopes that some parts of the South may no
longer be as monolithic in their support of the Republican Party and may be
more accepting of African-American candidates.
That helps explain why Harold Ford Jr., a 36-year-old
congressman and scion of a famed African-American political dynasty, is in a
statistical dead heat with his Republican opponent in the race for the U.S.
Senate seat being vacated by Majority Leader Bill Frist. If Mr. Ford wins, he
will become the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction. One
major factor may be an unheralded demographic shift. [Professorís note: Harold
Ford lost in a close election.]
Tennessee has the 16th-largest
population among U.S.
states but posted the 10th-fastest growth rate from 2004 to 2005. The
percentage of native Tennesseans has dipped to 62%, down from 70% in 1990,
according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Virginia and Tennessee are in "the midst of a
non-Southern demographic makeover," says William Frey, a demographer at
the Brookings Institution. Last year, the population of Tennessee included almost 20% who were born
outside the South, versus 13.5% in 1990. "The tipping point may not be
there yet in terms of making [Tennessee]
from a red state to a blue state but it's moving in that direction."
How Mr. Ford does may well decide the fate of the Senate -- and
it also may signal how seriously to take the prospect of Sen. Barack Obama, the
Illinois Democrat, as a viable presidential candidate.
"This becomes an indicator of how feasible it is for an
African-American politician, or a Latino politician, to think in terms of
appealing to a broader constituency," says Bruce Oppenheimer, a political
science professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
Signs of Acceptance
Nowhere is the shift in population more visible than in
Nashville, both the geographic and political center of the state. Wedged
between the pillars of liberal, majority-black Memphis in the west and
conservative, predominantly white Knoxville in the east, the capital city and
its suburbs are experiencing the sort of dynamic change that transformed other
southern cities, such as Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C. Loft apartments are being
erected and trendy bars hum with activity. At Radius10, a new restaurant
overlooking downtown, a customer favorite is the $18 foie gras appetizer.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Southern states became a magnet for auto
companies and other manufacturers looking to set up plants in right-to-work
states. Tennessee was among the first to
benefit from this shift, when Nissan Motor Co. in 1981 opened a plant in Smyrna, Tenn.
Today, the auto industry employs nearly 127,000 people in Tennessee. Workers at the area auto plants
who followed their companies from Michigan and
elsewhere in the Midwest fill the Gaylord
when the Nashville Predators hockey team hosts the Detroit Red Wings.
Disapproving locals nicknamed those with divided loyalties
These days, the city is benefiting from an influx of
white-collar jobs. Nine company headquarters, bringing 4,635 jobs, have moved
here in four years.
latest is Nissan, which has relocated its North American headquarters from California to the Nashville
area, bringing with it about 500 white-collar employees. The company has since
added hundreds more employees. Until it builds its new headquarters in Franklin, Tenn., the
company's temporary head office is in downtown Nashville in the BellSouth tower, a building
affectionately called the "Bat" tower because of two giant spires
that rise from the top of the structure in a shape resembling the cowl worn by
While it's impossible to know the politics of the new
transplants, a number of them eagerly shook hands with Mr. Ford one day last
month as they filed into work, with several of the women taking pictures on
their cell phones and gushing about his good looks. (A bachelor, he was named a
few years ago as one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people.)
By one demographic factor, Mr. Ford should be far behind in the
has one of the lowest African-American populations in the South -- about 16%.
Logically, that should put African-American candidates at a disadvantage for
statewide office because they can't count on a massive bloc of votes to give
them a head start in a statewide election. But political scientists say the
reverse may be true: In states with smaller black populations, whites don't
feel as threatened and the state isn't as polarized. For instance,
African-Americans make up a very high percentage of Mississippi
-- 36.5% and 26%, respectively -- and black voters tend to vote Democrat while
white voters go for Republicans. The "blacker" the state, the larger
President Bush's margin of victory in 2004.
Questions:† How does Jonathan Tilove explain changing
party strength in the different states?†
What is his evidence?††† Do the
politics of† Tennessee fit Tiloveís