But there are those who will say bigger government NEVER makes sense. Don’t go off in a huff, though, if you’re one of them. Take a deep breath, let the blood pressure drop a notch or two, and consider the words of Governor Guy B. Park who told the legislature in his second (and last) biennial message on January 6, 1937:
When the boundaries of our counties were fixed by the Constitution of 1875 (editor’s note—that was the Constitution in effect in 1937), time and distance were the principal consideration. The boundaries were probably determined on the basis of how long it would take a resident to ride his horse from his home to the county seat, transact his business and get back in time to milk the cows. As a matter of practical economy and common sense, it would be the better part of wisdom to materially increase the size, thereby reducing the number of counties. Should that be done, the local county government would be as close to the people in point of time as they were in 1875. In order to accomplish this, an amendment to the Constitution would be necessary, and I recommend that you adopt a resolution submitting such an amendment to the people of the state.
Governors could make such suggestions in the days when the Constitution forbade them from seeking re-election. And members of the legislature then, as now—particularly those from some of the counties likely to be affected—knew they would be greeted by pitchfork-carrying constituents if they went home after voting for such an idea.
Here we are, eighty-one years after Park’s speech and 157 years after Worth County became the last county created in our state, and we have twenty-five counties populated by fewer than ten-thousand people and six more who are just barely at ten-thousand. That’s more than one-fourth of our counties, a lot of them in the sparsely-populated northern counties. Seven counties have fewer than FIVE thousand residents. Worth County struggles to stay above two-thousand.
It’s been almost sixteen decades since Missouri honored some kind of hero or notable citizen or family member of an early settler by naming a county for them. But we’ve had plenty of heroes since then, plenty of famous people who are better known than the people whose names adorn many of our counties. Who was Dade after all? Or Holt or Knox or Sullivan or Schuyler or, well, Worth?
Naturally, combining small counties or changing their names will generate a lot of hostility. We’re a pretty territorial species.
But that doesn’t mean that Guy B. Park didn’t have a good point that has only gotten better.
(We wrote at some length about this more than two years ago when a longtime friend passed along a propose map of new counties. If you go back to Dec. 19, 2015, you’ll find that proposal along with some of the same musings in this column. But maybe it is an idea worth bringing up more frequently than once every eighty-one years.)