Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Ken Ivory and the Back of the Bus Tour

By Bob Ferris
“Our system does not work if you have a back-of-the-bus class of states,” Utah State Rep. Ken Ivory (R) quoted in Environment and Energy News 
I am trying to process the above comparison by the infamous Ken Ivory (1,2,3,4) which is difficult to do completely, because he has not made it clear whether he was talking for those who have repeatedly elected him to state office in Utah or for the Koch Brother-backed Federalism in Action that now employs him after his stint at the similar, one-percenter-backed American Lands Council.

Rep. Ken Ivory (left) with another elected official who is pushing to get rid of federal lands.
At stake here is who other than Mr. Ivory should bear the blame for this incredibly insensitive and decidedly racism statement.  I am thinking that when Paul McCarty and Stevie Wonder sang “Ebony and Ivory” it was obviously not this “Ivory” they had in mind.  But setting aside the well-deserved outrage that should follow this inappropriate analogy, is it even remotely accurate?

Rosa Parks on the bus.
The reference is of course to the late Rosa Parks who was black and had the courage to fight segregation in the separate and unequal South.  She was a serially suppressed citizen who was afforded economic opportunities, an education system and access to representation that were all very much worse than those enjoyed by her white counter-parts.   And none of this was enhanced by her being a woman.   As much as I try, it is really hard to see parallels between Rosa’s tragic story and the stories of those states with significant federal public lands, but it is always worth a look.


Right off the bat we can dismiss those notions of political inequality as there is no back-of-the-bus per se when we look at federal representation.  All states regardless of the amount of federal lands they contain get two senators and the same amount of representatives determined by population size as all the other states.  In short, there is no federal lands penalty here.  And if you think that states with a high percentage of federal lands have less representation because they have on average smaller state populations that simply is not the case as the correlation coefficient (R) for these two factors is -0.01053 or laughingly nonexistent as the graph below shows that R-values for sample sizes of 50 need to be above 0.29 to indicate a correlation.

Economic factors and public lands would be something else to examine.  If there was some sort of back-of-the-bus phenomenon at work here you would expect that there would be a negative correlation between the percentage of public lands and the gross domestic product (GDP) of those states.  But when you look at the GDPs of all 50 states and their percentage of public lands (state and federal lands) the analyses yields an R-value of 0.010207.  So that dog does not hunt either.

So maybe the back-of-the-bus-ness Mr. Ivory refers to is about education?  Perhaps those folks in states with this heavy “burden” of public lands are generally less educated or somehow blocked from higher education because of these public lands?  When you look at percentages of public lands and percentages of citizens within those states with 4-year degrees the R-value of that analysis is -0.00691.  And before you say what about Nevada which has a lot of public lands and is far down the scale in terms of college graduates, please remember that those in Nevada are doing better than West Virginia and Mississippi which have even lower college graduation levels as well as rock-bottom percentages of public lands.

The lack of correlation between these various factors and therefore any logical support for Ivory’s specious public lands back-of-the-bus characterization is not surprising given the wonderful variability and diversity of our states.  On many levels Ivory’s claim is as silly as believing that all of the “We are the World” singers have the same father and should be greeted with the same disdain.  

If there is a civil rights back-of-the-bus type argument for these states with public lands it is that they are far too often represented by those who would rather do the bidding of billionaires than do what is right and best for their constituents or their country. And trying to take away lands owned in trust by 320 million Americans and make them available to richest using imagery associated with this brave black woman strikes me as extremely reprehensible.  Mr. Ivory should be loudly and repeatedly called to task for this along with his arguably too rich backers.

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Note: Anyone can complete these same analyses.  I used these data sets for those purposes:  Public Land per State, State GDPs (2015), State Educational Attainment (2011) and State Population Rankings (2015).