Many people want to live in a place where they feel like their political opinions are represented. Others worry that they will lose out on some of their rights if they move to the wrong town.
Kansas City, Missouri is a moderately liberal city. People in the city who support reasonable property and sales taxes for the funding of public goods have elected a Democratic mayor consistently for many years, and some police reforms. However, the city could improve laws regarding LGBTQ+ rights.
But let’s explore the policies, history, and issues that make Kansas City a historically liberal city inside of a staunchly conservative state.
Kansas City Political History
Kansas City’s political history really starts with the Pendergasts in the early twentieth century. These political bosses were essentially corrupt criminals who held onto power for the Democratic party within their city using violence and bribery, which was the way things tended to be done in that era. During this period in American history, practically every important political position was determined by a crime boss of some sort.
However, this system had some benefits for Kansas City specifically. While the rest of the country was suffering under Prohibition, the Kansas City political machine refused to enforce anti-alcohol laws including the eighteenth amendment. This served as a boon for the city’s economy and for people looking to get drunk during the ongoing drug war.
Of course, this was done through a mixture of bribery and smuggling, making the City of Kansas itself a criminal organization during this period.
This open corruption continued during the great depression when Tom Pendergast used his power as mayor to institute various public works projects to be built by the city’s unemployed population using his own brand of concrete, which is textbook corrupt behavior. This was good for the people of the city but mostly served to line Pendergast’s pockets.
This continued until the machine was brought down by a combination of reform from in the city and Tom Pendergast finally being imprisoned for tax fraud. This ended the era in which Kansas City was one of the country’s largest and most influential gangs, but didn’t end the city’s Democratic allegiances.
This continued even as Missouri has shifted from being a swing state to being a Republican stronghold in the last twenty years or so. This has led to some friction in recent years, especially during the COVID crisis, when Kansas City enacted mask mandates and the state Attorney General sued in response.
Kansas City Policies
Considering Kansas City’s history, it seems like a given to expect it to have fairly strong liberal policies, and this expectation would mostly be met. The city has strong anti-discrimination legislation and has voted blue for president for about a hundred years with no signs of stopping.
That being said, the city’s political presence remains reminiscent of the city’s criminal past, with racist killings still occurring to this day and many political protestors being arrested on false pretenses. This has led to multiple lawsuits against the city’s police department over the last couple of years, some of which the city has ended up settling.
Even the city’s mayor has complained about the police, which he claims holds more power in the city than he does. Whether this is actually true or a deflection of blame for the city’s behavior, it is certainly not the kind of arrangement that most liberals want to live with.
As for LGBTQ+ issues, the city’s record is mixed. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the city has robust anti-discrimination laws and an LGBTQ+ liaison in the executive office, but lacks key protections such as Transgender-inclusive health benefits and programs to support LGBTQ+ youth.
It’s also difficult to tell whether or not the city is actually dangerous for certain groups of people as the Kansas City Police Department has not reported the city’s hate crime statistics to the FBI since 2019. Considering that the city has a history of violence towards its own citizens, this is somewhat concerning.
This makes the city’s policy’s a mixed bag when it comes to liberalism. While the city is certainly progressive compared to the rest of the state, it falls short in a few key ways.
Finally, the city has some rent controls, such as laws forbidding landlords from raising rent in retaliation and in the middle of a lease. However, the city lacks a limit on the amount that rent can be increased or a limit on the number of times rent can be increased in a given year.
This makes Kansas City a fairly moderate city when it comes to rent control, although it does have more safeguards in place to protect renters than most cities do.
But policies don’t always tell the whole story about a city’s political leanings. Within Jackson County, 59.8% of voters are Democrats, while 37.9 are Republicans. This probably undercounts the percentage of Democrats within Kansas City, as the surrounding areas tend to be much redder than Kansas City itself.
This is evidenced by the fact that despite the presence of Kansas City, the city’s metro area leans slightly republican in many elections. As is the trend in most cities, while the city itself is liberal, the suburbs are increasingly more conservative over time.
Many people consider taxes to be a left/right division. On a national level, this might be inaccurate as both political parties tend to raise taxes for most people no matter what they say. On a local level, however, this can be a marker of political ideals.
Along with taxes levied by the state of Missouri, people living in Kansas City end up paying a 1% or so property tax and a sales tax that can be anything from 8.4% to a little over 10%. This is a high sales tax, even among large American cities, and is partially the result of different special tax districts within the city levying taxes for specific causes.
These include school districts as well as other municipal projects, so they are largely put to good use. However, it can still be a pain to find that something that costs $5 in one part of the city costs $5.04 in another, and people trying to carefully track their finances may chafe under this system.
The current mayor of Kansas City is Democrat Quinton Lucas. Lucas is the city’s third black mayor in the last thirty years and a consistent liberal in most of his views. As mentioned earlier, over the course of the pandemic he instituted mask mandates and his police department arrested protestors.
Especially in response to the city’s mask mandates, there have been several attempts to have Lucas recalled by conservatives in the city, but none of them have stuck.
The city’s longtime congressional representative is Emmanuel Cleaver, formerly the city’s mayor. Cleaver has been the Missouri 5th District’s representative since 2005. He has voted with the Democratic party a little over 95% of the time, making him a democrat through and through.
A city’s elected officials are a good weathervane when trying to figure out that city’s politics, and this city seems to be liberal enough that it pretty much always puts democrats in office.
Should Liberals Move to Kansas City?
Kansas City is probably one of the better places in Missouri for liberals to live. Compared to the surrounding area, the voices of liberal Kansas Citians are heard and represented within city, state, and national governments. They will also have access to the improved roads, schools, and other municipal services funded by the city’s taxes.
That being said, the city isn’t perfect. People looking for a place to go to be safe from police violence will not find it here, nor will they find a city that has protections for LGBTQ+ youths. People for whom these things are important should probably find a different city to live in, at least until this one gets its act together.
The city’s location in Missouri adds other complications as well, as the state is liable to pass restrictive laws that make life for liberals more difficult, especially as it becomes redder and redder. This becomes even worse in Kansas City, Kansas, for which most of the same statistics apply as Kansas City Missouri except that it is located in one of the reddest states in the country.
Should Conservatives Move to Kansas City?
While this city is majority liberal, it would be wrong to call it hostile towards conservative people. There is a significant section of conservatives within the city proper, and many of the surrounding suburbs are highly conservative. This makes it possible for people of any political leanings to find a place within the Kansas City area.
However, people looking to avoid high sales tax rates should avoid moving to this city, as its sales tax (which changes based on what part of the city you’re in) is expensive and difficult to keep track of. While property taxes aren’t nearly as egregious, that high sales tax can certainly be a deal breaker for some people.
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