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Among the many takeaways from Tuesday, this one will get the least mention: We have to do a better job teaching history. Specifically, the population-density segmentation influencing our constitutional ideology.

"When [our governments] get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe," wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1787.

He hated cities.

"The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government as sores do to the strength of the human body," he wrote acidly in Notes on the State of Virginia.

"I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and the liberties of man," he hissed in another letter.

Jefferson was familiar with Europe's greatest cities. In the late 18th century, London and Paris had populations roughly matching that of current San Francisco and Milwaukee, respectively. The third largest city in Europe at the time, Naples, was about the size of modern-day Tulsa.

Contrast those large European population centers with then-contemporary U.S. cities: the 1790 census listed New York with 33,131 residents, Philadelphia with 28,522 and Boston with 18,320.

Approaching 900,000 souls, London was almost 30 times larger than NYC, Paris 20 times larger--and both hundreds of times bigger than most any U.S. town outside America's largest 10 cities.

Jefferson, Franklin and others witnessed firsthand how the centralization of population often led to wholesale corruption of governing entities, and public oppression.

They also studied the metropolises of antiquity. Athens in the 4th century B.C. had more than 300,000 people, although only about a third of those would have been citizen families. The city of Rome had grown to a population of 1 million by 100 A.D., just prior to the Empire's decline and rapid fall (by the time of Michelangelo, fewer than 60,000 people occupied the city).

The founders' scholarship and personal observations of urban maladies were major drivers of our Constitution's prudent checks and balances, including our bicameral legislature and electoral college. Their shrewd, farsighted solutions have worked remarkably well. Not because they changed the nature of large cities, but because they counterbalanced urbanism's natural ills.

Abuses of every social system, device and program are easier when urban anonymity comes into play. Our "piled-on" cities routinely and detrimentally skew state and national social statistics, from crime to education.

Arkansas has a disproportionately high crime rate mainly because of a handful of violent urban neighborhoods in a few cities. For any state, and for the nation as a whole, remove the cities from analysis and America's statistical crime problem essentially evaporates. The less densely populated areas of the U.S. are actually very safe.

Likewise with schools, where educators have been seeking to close the achievement gap, urban students suffer for decades. Schools in large cities spend more money but deliver lower test scores. There are individual factors at work, but those only serve to affirm the collective fact that city schools struggle under the problems urbanized society presents. In Arkansas, seven of the 10 lowest-test-scoring high schools are located in just three of the state's largest cities.

Without an equal representation Senate and the electoral college structure, cities' adverse influence would also skew politics and elections. They would promptly deliver the "tyranny of the majority" that James Madison warned against.

Everyone remembers the county election map after 2016--Hillary Clinton won 88 of the 100 most populous counties in the nation, which contributed to her overall popular vote victory of about 3 million votes.

But in the roughly 3,000 counties beyond those 100, Trump got nearly 12 million more votes than Clinton. All told, 85 percent of America's counties voted for Trump. The map was a smear of red, with a few blue blotches in the most urban areas. The candidate with the widest appeal across the broadest subsections of the country won the presidency. Not the candidate who only managed to get the most votes from the people in the most populated areas.

On Tuesday, the Arkansas county map echoed that same crimson coalition effect. The gubernatorial candidate who won the counties with the state's biggest population, highest crime rates and lowest test scores was not Asa Hutchinson. But Governor Hutchinson won 68 of Arkansas' 75 counties overall; as the candidate with the broadest statewide appeal, he was elected.

Unlike Jefferson, I don't hate cities. They aren't bad places, or full of bad people. But urban areas inherently face more challenges because of their population size. Certain city leadership fares better than others, in various times, at managing them.

We should never stop trying to improve our cities. But giving them more political power is not the answer.

President George Washington paired rivals New Yorker Alexander Hamilton and Virginia farmer Jefferson in his Cabinet, realizing that input from both--and compelling them to pull together--would produce better policy than dominance by either.

It's easy to bash our electoral structure when your candidate doesn't win. But it's smarter to recollect that history tends to repeat, and the founders' erudition continues to deliver liberty in spite of our own shortsightedness that would imperil it.


Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

Editorial on 11/09/2018

Print Headline: A midterm recollection


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    November 9, 2018 at 6:23 a.m.

    A truly excellent post by Mr. Kelley. These insights are very meaningful and relevant to what we are seeing in today's news. Good job Dana!

  • RBear
    November 9, 2018 at 6:41 a.m.

    Mr. Kelley you write a very "neat," but grossly uninformed piece today, chastising major cities. The purpose is to attack the progressive migration to major cities by cherry picking a few facts. Let's be clear. If we were to amass the population of the state into a collection of cities, crime would be just as high. You mention corruption, but we find more corruption within smaller towns than in major cities by just looking at findings from legislative audits. In other words, you cherry pick a few facts but ignore others.
    But let's look at a different factor. Where do we see the most job growth in our country? Not in the rural areas, but in the major cities. Where do we see thriving economies? Not in the rural areas, but in major cities. Those are factors you completely ignore in your little cherry picking piece.
    "The candidate with the widest appeal across the broadest subsections of the country won the presidency. Not the candidate who only managed to get the most votes from the people in the most populated areas." It seems you would prefer a system that favors geographic dominance over "Regnat Populus."

  • Morebeer
    November 9, 2018 at 9:15 a.m.

    Stupendously ignorant column, worthy of a Gitz misfire. Paris, London and Rome are the most visited cities in the West, the seats of great civilizations. I just spent a week in D.C., where I walked through countless neighborhoods without nary a hard look from anyone. In Little Rock, we build bigger and wider freeways so the outlying folks can tap the capital city's job engine, arenas, ballparks and restaurants. Apparently, Kelley is shaken by the Democrats clear election victory; they took the House in a blue wave (37-seat swing in latest report), and the House is the pulse of the people, our most democratic institution. So Kelley is trying to rationalize away that victory by discounting urban voters as a "mob". Kelley, while you go about sifting Jefferson's writings, why don't you educate us on his view of a free press, its role in a democracy, and Trump's attack on it?

  • GeneralMac
    November 9, 2018 at 10:07 a.m.

    It seems columnists from Jonesboro(Kelley) , Batesville (Gitz) and Harrison ( MM) understand our great country a lot more than windbags from Little Rock (John Brummett )

  • LRDawg
    November 9, 2018 at 1:12 p.m.

    We'll see in 2020. Hillary simply didn't get the same turn out as Obama. We all know why....but if she did it would of been another Democratic blowout of epic proportions similar to Obama's 2 terms. Cows and grass don't seen in the midterms. If the democratic vote is as strong in 2020 as it was for midterm, Democrats win in a blowout. $100 bet anyone?

  • toto
    November 9, 2018 at 1:24 p.m.

    Given the historical fact that 95% of the U.S. population in 1790 lived in places of less than 2,500 people, and only a few states let males, with substantial property, vote, it is unlikely that the Founding Fathers were concerned about presidential candidates campaigning and being elected only by voters in big cities.

    With National Popular Vote, every voter would be equal and matter to the candidates. Candidates would reallocate their time, the money they raise, their polling, organizing efforts, and their ad buys to no longer ignore 38+ states and voters.

    Big city voters are not as big or as Democratic as some think. And in the real-world, of all other political campaigns in the country, successful candidates do not ignore 70-80% of their voters.
    Candidates for governor and other offices in elections in which every vote is equal, and the winner is the candidate who receives the most popular votes, campaign wherever there are voters.

    In a successful nationwide election for President candidates could not afford campaigning only in metropolitan areas, while ignoring rural areas.

    The population of the top five cities (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia) is only 6% of the population of the United States.

    Now, voters in the biggest cities are almost exactly balanced out by rural areas in terms of population and partisan composition.

    16% of the U.S. population lives outside the nation's Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Rural America has voted 60% Republican. None of the 10 most rural states matter now.

    16% of the U.S. population lives in the top 100 cities. They voted 63% Democratic in 2004.
    The population of the top 50 cities (going as far down as Arlington, TX) is only 15% of the population of the United States.

    The rest of the U.S., in Suburbs divide almost exactly equally between Republicans and Democrats.

  • toto
    November 9, 2018 at 1:26 p.m.

    Anyone who supports the current presidential election system, believing it is what the Founders intended and that it is in the Constitution, is mistaken. The current presidential election system does not function, at all, the way that the Founders thought that it would.

    Supporters of National Popular Vote find it hard to believe the Founding Fathers would endorse the current electoral system where 38+ states and voters now are completely politically irrelevant.
    10 of the original 13 states are politically irrelevant now.

    The Founders created the Electoral College, but 48 states eventually enacted state winner-take-all laws, and the states now can replace those laws with the National Popular Vote bill.

    Unable to agree on any particular method for selecting presidential electors, the Founding Fathers left the choice of method exclusively to the states in Article II, Section 1
    “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors….”
    The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly characterized the authority of the state legislatures over the manner of awarding their electoral votes as "plenary" and "exclusive."

    Neither of the two most important features of the current system of electing the President (namely, universal suffrage, and the 48 state-by-state winner-take-all method) are in the U.S. Constitution. Neither was the choice of the Founders when they went back to their states to organize the nation's first presidential election.

    In 1789, in the nation's first election, a majority of the states appointed their presidential electors by appointment by the legislature or by the governor and his cabinet, the people had no vote for President in most states, and in states where there was a popular vote, only men who owned a substantial amount of property could vote, and only three states used the state-by-state winner-take-all method to award electoral votes.

    The current winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes is not in the U.S. Constitution. It was not debated at the Constitutional Convention. It is not mentioned in the Federalist Papers.

    The constitutional wording does not encourage, discourage, require, or prohibit the use of any particular method for awarding a state's electoral votes.

    States have the responsibility and constitutional power to make all of their voters relevant in every presidential election and beyond. Now, 38 states, of all sizes, and their voters, because they vote predictably, are politically irrelevant in presidential elections.

  • toto
    November 9, 2018 at 1:27 p.m.

    The National Popular Vote bill is 64% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes.

    It simply requires enacting states with 270 electoral votes to award their electoral votes to the winner of the most national popular votes.

    All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.
    Candidates, as in other elections, would allocate their time, money, polling, organizing, and ad buys roughly in proportion to the population

    Every vote, everywhere, for every candidate, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election.
    No more distorting, crude, and divisive and red and blue state maps of predictable outcomes, that don’t represent any minority party voters within each state.
    No more handful of 'battleground' states (where the two major political parties happen to have similar levels of support) where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 38+ predictable winner states that have just been 'spectators' and ignored after the conventions.
    We can limit the power and influence of a few battleground states in order to better serve our nation.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of the electoral votes—270 of 538.
    All of the presidential electors from the enacting states will be supporters of the presidential candidate receiving the most popular votes among all 50 states (and DC)—thereby guaranteeing that candidate with an Electoral College majority.

    The bill was approved in 2016 by a unanimous bipartisan House committee vote in both Georgia (16 electoral votes) and Missouri (10).
    Since 2006, the bill has passed 36 state legislative chambers in 23 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states (including the Arkansas House) with 261 electoral votes.

  • toto
    November 9, 2018 at 1:29 p.m.

    Trump, November 13, 2016, on “60 Minutes”
    “ I would rather see it, where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes, and somebody else gets 90 million votes, and you win. There’s a reason for doing this. Because it brings all the states into play.”

    In 2012, the night Romney lost, Trump tweeted.
    "The phoney electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. . . . The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy."

    In 1969, The U.S. House of Representatives voted for a national popular vote by a 338–70 margin.

    Recent and past presidential candidates who supported direct election of the President in the form of a constitutional amendment, before the National Popular Vote bill was introduced: George H.W. Bush (R-TX-1969), Bob Dole (R-KS-1969), Gerald Ford (R-MI-1969), Richard Nixon (R-CA-1969),

    Recent and past presidential candidates with a public record of support, before November 2016, for the National Popular Vote bill that would guarantee the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency to the candidate with the most national popular votes: Bob Barr (Libertarian- GA), U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R–GA), Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO), and Senator Fred Thompson (R–TN),

    Newt Gingrich summarized his support for the National Popular Vote bill by saying: “No one should become president of the United States without speaking to the needs and hopes of Americans in all 50 states. … America would be better served with a presidential election process that treated citizens across the country equally. The National Popular Vote bill accomplishes this in a manner consistent with the Constitution and with our fundamental democratic principles.”

    November 10, 2018 at 5:53 a.m.

    Leave it to the far leftists, if they did not win by the rules....then change the rules. Such "progressive" reasoning is most evident in Cuba and Venezuela -- both police states with truly miserable economic conditions, led by delusional idealists out of touch with the real world. Both countries now reflect the "Animal Farm" model with the pigs in charge, living in relative luxury, while the vast majority of their citizens struggle daily to just keep body and soul together. They argue for changes in the national election that would result in "they tyranny of the majority," leaving those in less populated states at the mercy of large coastal cities. As an Arkansan I say, no thanks.