Part I (50-41) and an explanation of the scoring is here.
Part II (40-31) is here.
Part III (30-21) is here.
Part IV (20-11) is here.
Which unflinchingly liberal state do I consider the best in the nation? It's time to find out!
10. California: 33.2 Points
And boom, just like that, the favorite falls way short. In the initial discussion, we threw out a bunch of potential states but it always came back to The Golden State. It's the most populous state. It has four monster cities. I've been a lot of places in the U.S. (though not the Grand Canyon) and the best views I've seen are on the road to Lake Tahoe and Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe. It ties for the highest score in the yes/no questions, helped out by its protection of choice and civil unions. There was no doubt that California would be number one. But then we get to that problem of a big state and what goes on outside of those urban and suburban areas. California has the 7th highest unemployment rate in the country and it ranks 39th in poverty level. It's ranked only 16th in median income, which leaves it as the lowest in that category of the top 15 (only Kansas ranks in the top 16 in median income but not in the top 16 overall). If you've ever been to the desert near Palm Springs on the way from L.A. to Phoenix or to the area north of, say, Sonoma County that feels like Oregon South, you know that there's more to the state than just the area between San Diego and San Francisco (cow smell notwithstanding in even that area). A great state it is, but not quite great enough overall.
9. Washington: 35.5 Points
Washington is the land of Grunge, Twin Peaks, Nintendo, and most of Ken Griffey, Jr.'s career. In other words, it was my idea of heaven when I was in ninth grade. Indeed, Seattle is a great city with easily the most beautiful skyline in the country, but the rest of Washington is pretty much trees and Idaho West, right? Washington scores highly with points in every category except for firearm registration and, other than a moderatly high unemployment rate and percentage of mobile homes (Pullman, I'm looking at you), the Evergreen State scores in the top 15 or so across the board. If you get to Seattle (go during the summer!), the must-do is the underground tour.
8. New Hampshire: 35.6 Points
The Granite State barely beats out Washington, even with no pro sports and no desire by me to live there. That would be because New Hampshire has wealthy residents (6th highest median income and 2nd lowest poverty level) and top ten rankings in college degrees and infant mortality rate. Maybe the weirdest thing about the state is that its the home state of Adam Sandler, Sarah Silverman, and Seth Meyers. Because when you think Jewish comedians, you think New Hampshire!
7. Minnesota: 36.5 Points
You don't think of Minnesota as anything but cold, but it's also pretty cool, as the state has produced Prince, Bob Dylan, the Coen brothers, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 (it started as a local show in the Twin Cities). Minnesotans also need to get big points for their love of voting. The national voter turnout this year was 61.2% and Minnesota hit 77.9%. The Land of 10,000 Lakes actually has 11,842, so they have barely fewer lakes than there are people who watch the Timberwolves on a nightly basis. In terms of the scores, Minnesota has only the 32nd lowest unemployment rate, but it ranks in the top ten in every other category. I guess I sleep on everything about Minnesota besides Justin Morneau and Adrian Peterson.
6. New York: 36.9 Points
The Empire State is one of the healthiest and best-educated states with safe roads and more permanent housing. Its economy is not particularly strong, ranking very similarly to states like Washington, Pennsylvania, and even Georgia. Basically, New York only ranks above Minnesota because it's more liberal. But, you can't knock the state for being this high. New York City is, without a doubt, the greatest city in the world. Even if they have the Yankees, the Big Apple is the international symbol for the prosperity and promise of America. Still, we now see the biggest gap between any two states as we move into the best five in the nation.
5. Hawaii: 41 Points
And 4.1 points later, we move from the very good states to the truly great ones. Aloha from the, well, Aloha State. Full Disclosure One: I pegged this one around number ten and didn't think it would do this well. Full Disclosure Two: I've been to Hawaii (Kaua'i and Honolulu) and while it is as gorgeous as you might imagine (or more), I wasn't impressed with it as a state. Kaua'i seemed pretty poor (there are feral chickens roaming the island) and Honolulu impressed me as a Miami that is much more expensive to get to. True, the USS Arizona Memorial legitimately ranks with Auschwitz as the most haunting places I've ever visited and the pervasive Polynesian culture adds a great foreign feel. Plus, there are not many places where you can play golf and pull lychee nuts off the trees for a snack as you go. Other than ranking 22nd in traffic fatalities, Hawaii puts up huge numbers. It has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, the 4th highest median income, the lowest percentage of mobile homes, the 5th lowest poverty level, and the 8th highest rate of people with college degrees. Numbers like that are not what you'd expect from one of the "freak states", but Hawaii is surprisingly more than just coffee, pineapples, and a great place to visit.
4. New Jersey: 41.3 Points
New Jersey is the butt of a lot of jokes because of all of the factories along the Turnpike, but what may make New Jersey great is exactly the fact that everyone sees those factories. The Garden State benefits from its central location that allows it to have suburbs of New York and Philly and easy access to Baltimore and D.C. It's only knock score-wise is the rank of 22nd in unemployment rate, but even with that, New Jersey is clearly the second wealthiest state in the country. It has the second highest median income, the most millionaires, and the 4th lowest poverty level. It ranks in the top five in six of the eight categories, with doctors per 100,000 residents (8th) being the only other lower ranking. Yeah, believe it. New Jersey is a better state overall than New York.
3. Connecticut: 41.6 Points
And so is New York's other prominent neighbor in the Northeast Corridor. Connecticut, with no pro sports team and nothing spectacular, ranks in the top three in six of the eight categories, missing out on only unemployment rate (31st) and infant mortality rate (12th). Connecticut is one of only two states that allows same-sex marriage and it also protects choice. There may be nothing that stands out about the Constitution State -- it's just great overall.
2. Maryland: 42.1 Points
So, for all of my talk of dark horses and California as the no-doubt favorite, I couldn't imagine Maryland being ranked so high. I mean, how can any state with Essex be considered great? Deep down though, I knew that the #1 and #2 states would most likely be in the top three with California, because they have very strong numbers to recommend them. It's easy to get too close to your home to see its qualities. Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country. Period. It has the highest median income and the lowest poverty level. It's unemployment rate, while ranked only 13th, is still the second lowest in the top ten behind Hawaii. It has the 4th highest percentage of college degrees. Baltimore's issues with infant mortality drives the state's ranking down, but bills protecting civil unions and choice help overcome that. I've lived in Baltimore and traveled the state extensively, so I find it easy to recognize some of the Old Line State's flaws (especially because I'm now snobbily isolated from them in Montgomery County), but I know I'm lucky to live here.
So that brings us to... (drumroll)
1. Massachusetts: 43.7 Points
What do you want? It has the 5th highest median income, the highest percentage of college graduates (by 11% over the next highest, Colorado), the 4th lowest infant mortality rate, the highest availability of doctors, the 9th lowest poverty level, the lowest relative number of traffic fatalities, and the second lowest percentage of mobile homes. In other words as Boston's most famous son would put it, Massachusetts must be early to bed and early to rise, because it is healthy, wealthy, and wise. It has an unemployment rate that ranks right in the middle of the pack, but it is the other state that allows same-sex marriage. The Red Sox have won two of the last five World Series, the Patriots have won three of the last seven Super Bowls, and the Celtics won the NBA Championship last year. From the mixture of history and modernity in Boston (don't miss the extremely popular cannolis from Mike's Pastry in the North End) to the cliffs of Cape Cod to the foliage in Western Mass, it's a beautiful state. I almost disqualified Massachusetts because I was afraid that its nickname, the Bay State, was named for cheesy action director Michael Bay. Not the case! So the wicked good (not Michael) Bay State, which began the American Revolution, brings my state rankings to a close.
Let me know if you have a different #1 state in the comments (or a post if you're Steve or Elisha). Otherwise, we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.