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Conservative Convergence in Edge Counties: Implications for Public Administration

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By David Hamilton
June 2, 2017

The political culture of rapidly growing Edge County’s creates a significant barrier to the field of public administration. As increasing numbers arrive, they appear to amplify the existing conservative culture imbedded in their social DNA. This increases constraining influences on public policy and taxation at a time that coincides with increased demands on their resources based on added population. The simultaneous public push and political pull forms a debilitating dichotomy with significant impact upon public administration’s capacity to manage growth.

This article is focused on the findings of a case study of two Edge Counties, Anoka located within the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minnesota MSA and Pasco County, found in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida MSA. Although they were located at separate polarities of the country and had experienced divergent narratives of growth, they had a striking political similarity; they were both dominated by a single party and political philosophy. Ongoing research of this theme within other Edge Counties will be discussed in future articles.

Suburban Edge Counties are formerly rural areas which tend to hold conservative values. But aside from their differences and varied backgrounds, newcomers and locals blend to enhance the existing political philosophy based upon low thresholds of government intrusion and taxation. A pervasive conservative convergence was revealed within the comments and observations of numerous survey participants that deepen with the arrival of additional residents.

Anoka County was established in 1858 with its namesake of Anoka as its county seat. In 1950, it was a rural county with an established economic base comprised of timber harvesting, market gardening and dairy farms with a population of 35,579. But during the 1950s, it began to grow into a suburban Edge County located to the immediate north of the core metropolitan counties of Ramsey (St. Paul) and Hennepin (Minneapolis/Bloomington). Anoka County’s population in 2010 was 330,844, an increase of 35.79 percent from 1990. Of the 280 Edge Counties identified nationally, its velocity of growth was one of the lowest below the mean percentage increase of 73.64 percent. However, its actual numeric population increase of 87,203 was above the numeric mean of 64,134. Today, growth continues predicting a population of 407,710 by the year 2020

Pasco County was created in 1887 with Dade City as its county seat. It was also a rural county with an agriculture economy based on citrus production and cattle ranching and a population which reached 20,529 in 1950. In subsequent years, it has transitioned into a suburban Edge County located to the immediate north of the metropolitan counties of Hillsborough (Tampa) and Pinellas (St. Petersburg/Clearwater). Pasco County’s population increased by 65.30 percent between 1990 and 2010 at a rate slightly below the mean percentage increase of all Edge Counties but its actual numeric population increase of 186,566 was significantly above the numeric mean of 64,134. Current assumptions envision a total population of 842,141 residents by 2040.

Comments of those surveyed within each of these counties confirmed a theme of their past blending with their growing new populations to create a unique conservative culture. “Anoka County had a reputation as a bit of a redneck county. It was working class, a conservative county. It was an emerging time, ushering in the coming of growth that has been ongoing ever since.” Other comments disclosed the unpretentious nature of Anoka; “you took off your tie and put on a sweatshirt. There were lots of open spaces, low-income homes, and truck farming.” Newcomers were expected to adapt to the existing social environment. “If you didn’t fit into Anoka County, it wasn’t that friendly. There were a lot of close relationships.” Pasco County was described in a similar manner. “It was pretty small back then with a population of under 100,000 people and still rural. People from the north, working-class people like myself, were discovering Pasco County.” Others confirmed the social background of the newcomers; “lots of blue-collar people were coming down buying properties.”

Over time, as growth continued, this hybrid social structure resulted in a deepening conservative control of the elected leadership within each of the counties. What emerged was a powerful political philosophy dominated by its overt or covert association with the conservative wing of the Republican Party. One respondent described it as a geographical phenomenon. “Politically, as you go out from the core urban counties, the politics becomes more Republican like the Tea Party.”  Another comment confirmed the conservative evolution of politics within Anoka County stating, “the conservative Republicans have taken over.” In Pasco County, political allegiance is open based on Florida’s partisan ballot. “It’s a one party system. All of the commissioners are Republicans.”

Unfortunately, this deepening conservative approach applies a reversing pattern to the forward focus required by expanding Edge Counties. “We have always been a fiscally responsible county. But sometimes I think we cut off our nose to spite it. The current board is lowering levies and not looking at how it impacts services. Rather it is focused on cuts with expectations of no impact to services.”

Author: Dr. David Hamilton is a strategic leader experienced in managing county and city governments. He recently completed his DPA at Hamline University focused on the administrative challenges created by rapid-growth in Edge Counties, located on the periphery of metropolitan regions. He heads his own consulting firm guiding local governments in community visioning, strategic planning and capacity building and serves as the current President of the Suncoast Chapter of ASPA. Contact: [email protected]

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