In today’s polarized America, even the places where we choose to live are being driven and influenced by political and social considerations. A migration is going on, blue states to red states, spurred on by the COVID-29 pandemic.
A private Facebook page, with 8,000 subscribers, is entitled Conservatives Moving to Texas. One person who’s made the move is Kirby Wilbur, longtime talk show host on KVI Radio, and former Republican state chairman, now happily resettled in McMinnville, Texas.
“I feel at times like I’m in refugee resettlement,” Wilbur said in a recent phone call. He was back in Seattle not long ago and hosted a meeting on attractions of the Lone Star state. Texas is appealing to him for more reasonable home prices, a sunnier climate, and such conservative policies as restricting abortion and rejecting masks and mandates.
Retired from broadcasting, Wilbur has reclaimed his real estate license, joined Conservative Move.org, which helps people in blue (Democratic) states sell their homes, and purchase new digs in red (Republican) states. “We feel more comfortable here,” he said, having been “tired of the cold” as well as “the taxes, the crime, the homelessness” of the Puget Sound region.
In the opposite camp is Daniel Sparler, former arts editor at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and later a popular teacher at Northwest School. Some years ago, he took off from “woebegone, deeply bigoted and impoverished” Arkansas as a teenage runaway, later came back and settled in Seattle.
“To me, Seattle was the antithesis of small town Arkansas in just about every regard, culturally, politically, socially: The soft summer weather was icing on the proverbial cake, no debilitating heat and humidity, no mosquitos,” Sparler said in an email. “Newly made friends took me hiking and camping in the Olympics and Cascades.”
The trend has since accelerated. The national brokerage firm, Redfin, forecast last year: “A recent Redfin survey confirms that a substantial number of homebuyers won’t move to a place where laws conflict with their political views. For example, 1 in 7 recent movers surveyed said they would refuse to live in a place where abortion is fully legal.”
A caveat here: Liberal cities in red states are growing. Housing prices in Austin, Texas, have surged. Voters in greater Atlanta were crucial to election of two Democrats who flipped control of the U.S. Senate. The electorate in Maricopa County (Phoenix) turned Arizona from a red state to a battleground “purple” state.
Seattle is in a curious position and has been for some time. The Emerald City basked in magazines’ ranking as America’s “most livable city” during the 1970s and 1980s, complete with transplanted Washington, D.C., writer Michael Kinsley featured in rain gear on the cover of Newsweek. A Fortune magazine piece on environmentalists’ battles with the timber industry even ranked Weyerhaeuser as ”the best of the bastards.”
The Emerald City has boomed big time in the 21st Century, its population up by more than 100,000 in the century’s first decade. The joke is, with the demise of the Soviet Union, we are presently home to three entities bent on world dominion – Microsoft, Starbucks, and Amazon.com The down side to our technology economy — an acute housing shortage and rapid disappearance of the funkiness of the Emerald City.
During a project where we drove the U.S.-Canada border, a P-I photographer and I found case after case where families’ ambitious offspring had migrated west to the Puget Sound area. We drank beers with a fellow in London, Ontario, who was bound for a technology job in Redmond.
Of late, in a wider context, the nation seems to have been sorting itself out. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has invited tax-stressed businesses in California to relocate. He’s had some success. One out of ten newly minted Texans is arriving from California, according to the Texas Real Estate Research Center at Texas A & M University.
Fisher Investments, with 1,800 employees one of Clark County’s largest employers, announced in March, it was relocating headquarters from Camas, Washington to Plano, Texas following the recent Washington State Supreme Court ruling that upheld the state’s new capital gains tax on high income earners. It now has 1,200 employees in Plano. Ken Fisher, the firm’s chairman and founder, now lives in Dallas.
The sorting out is reflected in voting patterns across America. The country has 3,143 counties. In 2004, just 6 percent had blow-out landslides with either George W. Bush or John Kerry receiving more than 80 percent of the vote. The landslides figure in 2020 was 20 percent.
In words of University of Virginia election expert Larry Sabato, “Trump’s blowouts were concentrated in white, rural counties in the greater South, Interior West, and Great Plains, while Biden’s were in a smattering of big cities, college towns, and smaller counties with large percentages of heavily Democratic non-white voters.” Worthy of note: The influx of technology workers may be – slowly – changing Texas. Five of the state’s largest counties gave majorities to Biden in 2020.
An amusing National Public Radio broadcast noted recently: “Put another way, Biden won 85 percent of counties with a Whole Foods and only 32 percent of counties with a Cracker Barrel.” Top-heavy Democratic voting in King County was key to reelection of Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, who carried King County by a 400,000-vote margin while challenger Tiffany Smiley captured 70 percent of the vote in such rural places as Stevens County in Eastern Washington.
A total of more than 500,000 residents exited California, the nation’s most populous state, between April of 2020 and July of 2022. Three out of 100 people living in the Golden State at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020 left the state. California lost a seat in Congress to Texas after the 2020 Census.
Gov. Spencer Cox of fast-growing Utah recently said: “We would love for people to stay in California instead of coming as refugees to Utah. Why? Housing prices. UCLA economist Paul Ong, speaking to the Cal Matters website, explained: “While salaries in other regions and states are lower, the cost of housing is even lower.”
The exodus didn’t begin with COVID-19. In the 2008 presidential primary, candidate Barack Obama spoke to a rally in Bend, Oregon. He was introduced by Myrlie Evers Williams, widow of slain Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Evers Williams had migrated to Claremont, California. In retirement, she moved to Bend. She brought members of her bridge club to the Obama rally.
By contrast, Mark Fuhrman, controversial Los Angeles police detective in the O.J. Simpson trial, settled in Sandpoint, Idaho, a vastly more conservative state than Oregon. Fuhrman became a forensic and crime scene expert for Fox News, has authored three books, and became radio talk show host on KGA in Spokane.
The Wilburs are most happy in Texas. Kirby has used his Facebook page to rave about the weather, at a time when the Northwest was chilly and cold. Soon after moving, he delighted in a Republican dinner at which Gov. Abbott spoke to more than 400 people.
Sparler is feeling the discomforts of a transformed Seattle. “Some of my bonds have loosened and frayed,” he writes, “and many of the city’s charms have faded, or maybe it’s just that my glasses have lost their unrealistically rosy tint. Although tempted by warmer, if not greener, pastures – Hilo, Valencia, Melbourne – I’m still here for at least the next couple of years.”