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Urban Politics in the State Arena

  • Nancy Burns (a1), Laura Evans (a2), Gerald Gamm (a3) and Corrine McConnaughy (a4)

We seek to explain how states govern big cities. Political scientists' accounts of urban politics either fail to treat the state systematically or place state hostility at the center of such an account. Accounts by historians, by contrast, offer tools political scientists can use to theorize urban politics in the state arena. We use those tools, and we find that cities can manage the legislative process. This power starts with bill introduction and carries through to the vote on the floor. This ability results from a central feature of American state politics: on bills about big cities, state legislators now and in the past find their primary voting cues in the unity of local delegations. The city delegation, then, has tremendous power to manage the state's involvement in city affairs. In many respects, ours is an account of a special kind of divided government, with two institutional arenas where urban government is carried out.

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1. Quoted in the Detroit Evening News, March 25, 1901, 3.

2. Kingdon, John W., Congressmen's Voting Decisions, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper and Row. 1981), 243.

3. Teaford's important work looked at big-city bills in select years and states from 1870 and 1900. Teaford's analysis covers 117 bills from California (in 1873–74), 98 bills from Indiana (1895, 1897, and 1899), 47 bills from Maryland (1892), 31 bills from Missouri (1875), and 112 bills from Ohio (1891–92). Also, he presents examples from California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. He does not specify how states and years were selected. Teaford, The Unheralded Triumph.

4. Teaford, Jon, The Unheralded Triumph (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), 92.

5. Others looked less thoroughly than Teaford, at other times and in other places. When they looked explicitly at the treatment of urban delegations in the legislature, their findings echoed Teaford's. Banfield and Wilson suspected that out-state legislators were caught in a bind, particularly when the local delegation was split. “Frequently, the hinterland is blamed for the failure of legislation about which the city is itself divided,” they wrote. “When, as often happens, the hinterland offers to support whatever the delegation from the city unanimously recommends, the delegation may not agree upon anything. What, then, is the hinterland to do? No matter what it does, it will be charged with interfering in the affairs of the city.” Banfield, Edward C. and Wilson, James Q., City Politics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), 7273. Derge, in his careful analysis of the place of urban delegations in the Illinois and Missouri legislatures from 1949 through 1957, makes clear that at least in these legislatures, and at least at this time, “it is almost invariably true that if the city's delegation is united upon a measure it will be accepted by the entire General Assembly.” Derge, David R., “Metropolitan and Out-state Alignments in Illinois and Missouri Legislative Delegations,” American Political Science Review 52 (1958): 1065.

In Teaford's account, state legislatures and city councils alike carry out their business through legislative courtesy. It is a serious breach of norms to question the local representative or the local delegation (26–27, 90). Key sees similarities in the southern states he studies. In South Carolina, for example, “The power and position of the legislative delegation in local government have reached such a point that a proposal has been made to authorize it to enact county laws between sessions of the legislature.” Key, V.O. Jr., Southern Politics in the State and Nation (New York: Vintage, 1949), 151–52. And he worries that, in Florida, urban representatives had a hard time coalescing (92). Campbell points out a common legislative procedure: “By custom, the Milwaukee delegation constituted an unofficial standing committee of the Wisconsin Assembly, to which pending legislation concerning the city and county was assigned.” Campbell, Ballard C., Representative Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), 143.

6. Boston City Council, 1921 minutes, 345–46.

7. Goodnow, Frank Johnson, City Government in the United States (New York: The Century Co. 1904).

8. Parsons, Frank, The Bondage of Cities, A reprin`t of chapter III … from the work entitled, The City for the People (Philadelphia: C. F. Taylor, 1900) 388.

9. Lee McBain, Howard, The Law and the Practice of Municipal Home Rule (New York: Columbia University Press 1916), 11.

10. Wiebe, Robert H., The Search for Order, 1877–1920 (New York: Hill and Wang 1967), 176.

11. Kantor, Paul, The Dependent City (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman. 1988), 99; Gelfand, Mark I., A Nation of Cities: The Federal Government and Urban America, 1933–1965 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975).

12. Bridges, Amy, A City in the Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 135.

13. Erie, Steven, Rainbow's End (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 204. Specifically, Erie writes of “a new round of state attacks on the big-city Irish machines” (77), of the fact that “Republican state governors and legislators also endorsed big-city annexation—but as a means of weakening the Democratic machines,” of cities' “facing a hostile Republican-controlled legislature” (41), of how “Radical Republicans in other eastern states with big-city Democratic strongholds pursued similar programs of ‘urban reconstruction’” (38), and of how “The Radicals used their control of the state executive and legislative branches to implement a program of urban institutional reform” (37).

14. Griffith, Ernest S., A History of American City Government: The Progressive Years and Their Aftermath, 1900–1920 (New York: Praeger, 1974b).

15. Griffith, Ernest S., A History of American City Government: The Conspicuous Failure, 1870–1900 (New York: Praeger, 1974a).

16. Nardulli, Peter F., “Geo-Political Cleavages, Conflict, and the American States,” in Diversity, Conflict, and State Politics: Regionalism in Illinois, ed. Nardulli, Peter F., (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 200.

17. Wright, Gerald C. and Schaffner, Brian F., “The Influence of Party: Evidence from State Legislatures,” American Political Science Review 96, no. 2 (2002): 367–79.

18. Peterson, Paul E., City Limits (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 3.

19. Dahl, Robert, Who Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961).

20. Hunter, Floyd, Community Power Structure: A Study of Decision Makers (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953); Stone, Clarence N., Regime Politics: Governing Atlanta, 1956–1988 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989); Dahl, Who Governs?

21. Burns, Nancy, The Formation of American Local Governments: Private Values in Public Institutions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).

22. Burns, Nancy and Gamm, Gerald, “Creatures of the State: State Politics and Local Government, 1871–1921.” Urban Affairs Review 33, no.1 (1995): 5996.

23. Logan, John R. and Molotch, Harvey L., Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987); Kantor, Paul, The Dependent City Revisited: The Political Economy of Urban Development and Social Policy (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995).

24. Stone, Regime Politics; Dahl, Who Governs?

25. Bridges, City in the Republic, and Erie, Rainbow's End; Mollenkopf, John, The Contested City (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983); Teaford, The Unheralded Triumph.

26. See Baker, Gordon, The Reapportionment Revolution (New York: Random House, 1966).

27. Weir, Margaret, Wolman, Harold, and Swanstrom, Todd, “The Calculus of Coalitions: Cities, Suburbs, and the Metropolitan Agenda,” Urban Affairs Review 40, no. 6 (2005): 730–60.

28. Ibid.

29. Scholars of state legislatures have started to think about the consequences of career path for some aspects of state legislative organization. Although it is not our main purpose here, our results speak indirectly to that literature. Most notably, Squire builds an account, focusing on California, of the ways in which career opportunity structures in state legislatures shape institutional design. Squire, Peverill, “Member Career Opportunities and the Internal Organization of Legislatures,” Journal of Politics 50 no. 3 (August 1988): 726–44; “A Theory of Legislative Institutionalization and the California Assembly,” Journal of Politics 54, no. 4 (November 1992): 1026–54. Squire's focus is on whether these legislatures develop seniority systems; when legislators plan to stay, as in New York, legislators establish seniority systems; when legislators have places to advance, as in California, they do not establish such seniority systems.

30. The Book of the States counted seven; Pound counted nine; Kurtz (1990) thought there were eight. The Book of the States (Lexington, KY: Council of State Governments, 1980), 82; Pound, William, “State Legislative Careers,” in Changing Patterns in State Legislative Careers, ed. Moncrief, Gary F. and Thompson, Joel A. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991), 18; Kurtz, Karl T., “The Changing State Legislatures,” in Leveraging State Government Relations, ed. Pedersen, Wesley (Washington, DC: Public Affairs Council, 1990).

31. Kousser, Thad, Term Limits and the Dismantling of State Legislative Professionalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 1416; Squire, Peverill and Hamm, Keith E., 101 Chambers: Congress, State Legislatures, and the Future of Legislative Studies (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2005), 8081.

32. Kurtz, “Changing State Legislatures.”

33. King, James D., “Changes in Professionalism in U.S. State Legislatures,” Legislative Studies Quarterly 25, no. 2 (2000): 327–43.

34. Squire and Hamm, 101 Chambers, 78.

35. Jewell, Malcolm E., The State Legislature (New York: Random House, 1969), 34. See also Hyneman, Charles S., “Tenure and Turnover of Legislative Personnel,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 195 (1938): 2131.

36. Jewell, Malcolm E., Greene, Lee S., and Grant, Daniel R., The States and the Metropolis (University: University of Alabama Press, 1968), 74.

37. Campbell, Representative Democracy, 199; Thompson, Margaret Susan and Silbey, Joel H., “Research on 19th Century Legislatures: Present Contours and Future Directions,” Legislative Studies Quarterly 9 (1984): 319–50.

38. Campbell, Representative Democracy, 81, 88.

39. Wright and Schaffner, “The Influence of Party”; Aldrich, John H. and Battista, James S. Coleman, 2002. “Conditional Party Government in the States,” American Journal of Political Science 46, no. 1 (2002): 164–72.

40. Hamm, Keith E. and Hedlund, Ronald D.. “Political Parties as Vehicles for Organizing U.S. State Legislative Committees,” Legislative Studies Quarterly 21, no. 3(1996): 383408.

41. Patterson, Samuel, “Dimensions of Voting Behavior in a One-Party State,” Public Opinion Quarterly 26, no. 2 (Summer, 1962): 200; Aldrich, John H., “Presidential Address: Southern Parties in State and Nation,” The Journal of Politics 62, no. 3 (2000): 643–70; Wright and Schaffner, “The Influence of Party.”

42. That is, parties in these states had little autonomy from organizations like unions, little staying power, little hierarchy: they controlled neither nominations for public office nor material resources needed for campaigns. Mayhew, David, Placing Parties in American Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), 1920.

43. Key, Southern Politics, 9, 346, 355.

44. Key employs varying standards for measuring the Black Belt across states, but generally he defines the Black Belt as counties that are 40% or more black.

45. Dahl, RobertA Preface to Democratic Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), 465.

46. Alabama data are from 1880, 1900, 1919, 1939, 1961, 1981, and 1997. To draw our bill samples, we first combed through every bill introduced into the legislature in a given year to develop the universe of bills about local government introduced into these legislatures. From these universes, we drew our random samples.

47. We also traveled to the largest cities in each of these states; we worked in their archives and in their clerks' offices to collect city documents and city council minutes. We read local newspapers as well.

48. There were no big-city bills introduced into the Texas legislature in the early years considered in this paper.

49. There is only one instance in our sample where a bill that was supported unanimously by the big-city delegation failed to pass, but this bill failed for procedural reasons. In Illinois in 1941, one bill affecting Chicago enjoyed unanimous support from all members who were voting that day, but it did not pass, since only 62 of the 153 members of the legislature are present for the vote. We found no discussion or complaints about this bill in city council minutes or in The Chicago Tribune, even though both sources had extensive commentary on other state legislative matters.

50. Detroit is not unique, of course. We found strikingly similar, regular patterns, for example, in our reading of Boston papers and council minutes of local “outrage” over “interference” when the state legislature acted on matters where local politicians escalated the conflict. Indeed, Thomas N. Hart, the Republican mayor of Boston, asserted in his 1901 annual address that “whenever and wherever we fail to satisfy the reasonable requirements of the city, the Commonwealth is pretty sure to be called upon for interference, and generally responds.” Boston City Council, 1901 Minutes, 2. In places like San Francisco and Seattle, with generous home-rule provisions, we found less expressed anxiety about interactions with the state. Home rule, of course, granted fewer opportunities to carry out local politics in the state arena.

51. Detroit Common Council, 1902 Minutes, 2.

52. Detroit Free Press, February 17, 1901, 4.

53. Detroit Free Press, March 23, 1901, 1; March 24, 1901, 1.

54. Detroit Evening News, February 20, 1901, 1.

55. Detroit Evening News, May 3, 1901, 1.

56. Detroit Free Press, March 25, 1901, 2.

57. Detroit Evening News, May 3, 1901, 3.

58. Ibid.

59. Detroit Free Press, February 15, 1901.

60. Detroit Free Press, February 16, 1901, 1.

61. Allard, Scott W., Burns, Nancy, and Gamm, Gerald, “Representing Urban Interests,” Studies in American Political Development 12, no. 2 (1998): 267302.

62. McGoldrick, Joseph D., Law and Practice of Municipal Home Rule, 1916–1930 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1933), 2; see also Schiesl, Martin J., The Politics of Efficiency: Municipal Administration and Reform in America, 1880–1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977).

63. We exclude bills originally introduced in the Senate from this calculation.

64. Our typology draws on Bednar's framework. We examined whether each of the types of bills was more or less likely to survive committee scrutiny and make it to a floor vote. We found that the distribution of the five types of bills was the same at introduction as it was at passage. Bednar, Jenna, “Credit Assignment and Federal Encroachment,” Supreme Court Economic Review 15 (2007):285308).

65. Percentages add to over 100 percent because some bills fit into multiple categories.

66. Ranney, Austin, Illinois Politics (New York: New York University Press, 1960).

67. Hyneman, Charles S. and Morgan, J.D., “Cumulative Voting in Illinois,” Illinois Law Review 32 (1937): 1231, 19.

68. Ranney, Illinois Politics.

69. Derge, “Metropolitan and Out-State Alignments,” 1064–65.

70. See, for example, the work of Hamm, Harmel, and Thompson on cohesion in Texas and South Carolina in the 1960s and 1970s. Hamm, Keith E., Harmel, Robert, and Thompson, Robert J., “Impacts of Districting Change on Voting Cohesion and Representation,” Journal of Politics 43, no. 2 (May 1981): 544–55.

71. See Keefe, William J., “Parties, Partisanship, and Public Policy in the Pennsylvania Legislature,” American Political Science Review 48 (1954): 450–64; Jewell, Malcolm E., “Party Voting in American State Legislatures,” American Political Science Review 49 (1955): 773–91; Meltz, David B., “Legislative Party Cohesion: A Model of the Bargaining Process in State Legislatures,” The Journal of Politics 35 (1973): 647–81.

72. Note that we used 1896 returns to measure party differences in 1880. We have been unable to locate county-level returns prior to 1896.

73. That is, a proportionately larger nonwhite population in the city indicates that it needs to protect its racial interests, which it does in part by presenting a united front. The effect we might find here is, we believe, representative of two distinct racial effects. The first effect, dominant in the years prior to the civil rights movement, is unification on the part of white legislators worried about the threat posed to their white constituents by a large African American population. The second effect is the unification of African American legislators in efforts to serve the distinct needs of their nonwhite constituents.

74. Homogeneous racial composition in the city refers to less than 10 percent black population; homogeneous immigrant composition is less than 20 percent immigrant. State immigrant measure is percent of state population.

75. After Baker v. Carr (1962), states were required to address malapportionment in their legislatures and to distribute seats evenly across the state population. As a result, urban delegations in state legislatures grew and rural delegations shrunk.

76. Carey, John, Niemi, Richard G., and Powell, Lynda W., Term Limits in the State Legislatures (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000). Data on legislative pay for 1941–1997 come from the Council of State Governments' Book of the States and from the Michigan Official Directory and Legislative Manual for 1881–1921 (1895 data are used for 1881). Our measure of the state's per capita income comes from the U.S. Bureau of the Census's Statistical Abstract for 1921–1997 and from Easterlin (1957) for earlier years. Easterlin, Richard M., “State Income Estimates,” in Population Redistribution and Economic Growth: United States, 1870–1950, vol.1 (Philadelphia, PA: The American Philosophical Society, 1957). We incorporated per diem pay and pay to defray living expenses into our measure. Initially, we used a more continuous version of this measure, but use this threshold measure for ease of interpretation. We also considered a measure of actual days in session. Although this measure is correlated with our measure of legislator pay at 0.60, it had a systematic coefficient of 0 in all of our models.

77. Browning, Rufus P., Marshall, Dale Rogers, and Tabb, David H., Protest is Not Enough (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

78. Kantor, The Dependent City, 10.

79. The sample size declines considerably between Table 5 and Table 6 because only a minority of bills makes it to a floor vote. In the early years of the sample, many cities did not yet have suburbs, so the sample size is even smaller for urban-suburban vote splits.

80. We estimated bivariate regressions of the percentage of rural support on united big-city delegations, and the percentage of suburban support on united big-city delegations. The coefficients in all of these cases were nearly identical, and they were always statistically significant.

81. We also find a remarkable lack of division when looking at party breakdowns in voting. In state legislatures where members have partisan identification, the median party difference in voting is 2 percent. The difference in party support is 50 percent or greater for only 8 percent of big-city bills and 6 percent of general bills about localities.

82. We estimated more elaborate multivariate models as well. The results were the same, and so we report these simpler statistics here.

83. Of course, keep in mind that we expect one out of twenty of these robustness tests to be significant due simply to random chance.

84. Allard, Burns, and Gamm, “Representing Urban Interests.”

85. This result is exactly as Kingdon (Congressmen's Voting Decisions) would have predicted.

86. When the sample is limited to nonunanimous votes, the p-value for the estimate of unity's effect is .08 for the urban-suburban vote split and .13 for the urban-rural vote split.

87. Of course, the smaller magnitudes—relative to Table 6—for the models examining near unanimity are to be expected. When votes are nearly unanimous, there is less room for variation between urban and nonurban votes, so the impact of unity will by necessity be smaller. In contrast, the estimates for more contentious votes are not similarly constrained.

88. Specifically, we reviewed bill descriptions and identified bills that seemed especially important and especially trivial for a subsample: bills from 1901 to 1997 from California, Illinois, Michigan, and Montana. We flagged thirty bills that were especially important and twenty-seven bills that were remarkably trivial. Important bills included legislation “to abolish the Chicago Transit Board and to establish the Board of Directors of the Regional Transportation Authority as the governing body of the Chicago Transit Authority” in Illinois in 1981 and “to submit to the electors of Wayne County the question of detaching certain territory and organizing a new county therefrom” in Michigan in 1881. Trivial bills included legislation that proposed to “appropriate $15,000 for a national encampment” of the Veterans of Foreign Wars to be held in Detroit, Michigan, in 1941 and to “provide for the erection of a shaft to the memory of Nathanial Pope,” in Lincoln Park, Chicago, in Illinois in 1921. Remarkably, the outcomes for these trivial and important bills were not notably different. Sixty-two percent of the very important bills came to vote on the floor; 60 percent of the trivial bills made it to a vote. The trivial bills passed with 98 percent support; the important bills passed with 86 percent support. For the very important bills, the average absolute difference between urban and rural votes was 8 percent, and the average absolute difference between urban and suburban votes was 9 percent. For the very trivial bills, the urban-rural and urban-suburban divides in voting averaged 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

89. “Young Goes for Broke with Save-The-City Plan,” Detroit Free Press, March 23, 1981, A1; “Bigwigs Plead City's Tax-Hike Case,” Detroit Free Press, May 27, 1981, A3.

90. Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Michigan, 1981, 1346.

91. Jewell, The State Legislature, 33. Later, Hamm, Harmel, and Thompson offered evidence consistent with Jewell's argument: at least in South Carolina and Texas, and at least in the 1960s and 1970s, “additional ethnic representation, as well as additional minority party representation … may lead to a significant decline in delegation cohesion.” “Impacts of Districting Change,” 555.

92. Derge, “Metropolitan and Out-State Alignments,” 1062.

93. Ibid., 1065.

94. Baker, The Reapportionment Revolution, 29.

This paper is part of a larger project on state-local relations funded by the National Science Foundation, SBR-9709544, and by the Henry Simmons Frieze Collegiate Chair at the University of Michigan. For locating and coding state legislative journals, we are grateful to Scott Allard, Neda Barzideh, Kelly Bowman, Chetan Gulati, Cindy Kam, Deborah Meizlish, Jon Onyiriuka, Adam Shapiro, Eric Snider, Dustin Tingley, and Aaron Wicks. For their heroic work in the archives and offices of the cities we consider here, we are grateful to Amelia Gavin, Arkadi Gerney, Seth Goldstein, Alana Hackshaw, Michael Minta, Tasha Philpot, and Ismail White. For collecting newspaper articles, we are grateful to Jeffrey Blank, Heather Irish, Nicholas Jorgenson, and Lisa Kuebler. We have received tremendously good advice from Jenna Bednar, Jake Bowers, Dan Carpenter, Sean Ehrlich, Rob Franzese, Liz Gerber, Rick Hall, and all of the participants in the University of Michigan Seminar on American Political Development and American Political Institutions. All of the errors, of course, are our own.

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