Ross Benes on Nebraska and Rural Conservatism
The legislature is one of several examples of our history of being independent which is why I think it was such an important story to tell of Nebraska becoming like baptized into Republican orthodoxy. Because seeing that shift. That it wasn't always that way. We founded Arbor day in this state, we settle a lot of refugees per capita, we increased minimum wage, and Medicaid through ballot measures recently. We do stuff like that.
- Ross Benes
A full transcript is available at www.democracyparadox.com.
Red states and blue states. Republicans and Democrats. Rural and urban. Polarization. It is a term often heard about American politics. Most states find their politics lean heavily toward one party or the other. And Nebraska is no different. It is a very conservative state so it makes sense for it to elect Republicans.
But not too long ago Democrats competed for state offices. In fact, Nebraska had at least one Democratic Senator from 1977 until 2012. It’s really only been the last ten years where Democrats could not compete in the state.
Of course, the Democrats it elected were about as conservative as many Republicans. But Nebraska also has a history of progressive reforms. In fact, it was often rural America who championed many of the progressive ideas in the early twentieth century.
This realization has caused me to go through a variety of different counterfactuals. Like why are rural Americans conservative and urban Americans liberal? Is there a scenario where this is reversed? I’m not looking to rewrite history. I just want to understand how politics change over time. And maybe where it is going next. Because history shows some of the things we take for granted have not always been that way.
My guest Ross Benes grew up in Nebraska before moving to New York City. He has the kind of expat perspective that has given so many writers both clarity and insight. His recent book is Rural Rebellion: How Nebraska Became a Republican Stronghold.
Ross and I, we discuss why Democrats no longer compete in Nebraska. But I don’t want anyone to think Nebraska has to elect Democrats to prove their commitment to democracy. That’s not the point. Nebraska is one of many states with very little genuine competition between parties for statewide office. My concern is effective governance needs a range of perspectives to succeed. And this problem is not unique to Nebraska nor are many liberal states immune.