Is the Mississippi River the Middle of the Region or the Edge? Cultural Distinctions between Missouri and Illinois Andrew J. Theising
The St. Louis metropolitan area has long berated itself for being too passive, too reflective, too slow-and sometimes a region stuck in (or on) its past. To be certain, this criticism is rooted in truth. The St. Louis region changes at a glacier's pace, but this does not have to be a detrimental factor-a point to be revisited at the conclusion of this essay. The criticism also speaks to one of the most significant political issues in the metropolitan region: the Mississippi River and the state line it represents. Its power is subtle, but it is probably the single-greatest challenge to St. Louis acting in a regional way. Though St. Louis possesses several dynamic regional organizations like FOCUS St. Louis, Bi-State Development Agency (Metro), the Regional Chamber and Growth Association, and East-West Gateway Council of Governments, which would all substantiate the argument that the river is the middle of the region, in the attitude of many the river is the edge, not the middle. Missouri and Illinois represent different power structures, different capacities, different expectations, and different demands. At a fundamental level, Missouri and Illinois are very different places. This difference is readily explained by the work of the late scholar Daniel Elazar. In his landmark work American Federalism: The View from the States (1966), Elazar defined a typology for studying the specific political cultures that dominated the states of the union. Though dated, Elazar's work offers a clear understanding of why the bi-state region is what it is-and with a bit more analysis, points to a direction for change.
About State Political Culture
State political culture can be defined as the norms and behaviors of populations living in various jurisdictions, directly influencing the institutions of government, the rules by which those institution s operate, the selection of those serving in leadership roles, and the expectations and demands placed on those leaders and institutions. Elazar describes three specific dynamics: the set of perceptions of what politics is and what can be expected, the kinds of people who become active in various ways, and the actual way in which the "art of government" is practiced by all.2 Former United States Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase wrote that the term "state"-as used in the United States Constitution-referred not just to government, but rather to "the combined idea…of people, territory, and governmen t."3 The strength of Chase's definition is that "states" are more than just jurisdiction, they are social, physical, and institutional-and so any discussion of state political culture should respect the multidimensional aspects of states themselves.