A pillar of American conservatism is the reduction of the power of centralized government, and a return of power to local levels, because it is in local government where the voice of the people makes the most difference.
Therefore, Republicans typically support — at least in theory — measures to reduce the authority of executive agencies over local entities like counties, cities, school districts, etc.
When the U.S. Department of Education started pushing Common Core, conservatives were furious that local schools were being dictated policy by the federal government.
In fact, the USDoE dangles goodies in front of local schools in exchange for enacting federal policies all the time. President Ronald Reagan called for dismantling the department completely. Its abolition has been a rallying cry for many Republicans ever since.
In February, Congressman Thomas Massie of Kentucky introduced legislation to eliminate the department.
When the State of Texas tries to micromanage local schools, conservatives in Austin call for “local control” to allow communities, parents, and elected school board members to make those decisions.
“Local control” is a talking point you will find on many Republican campaign websites. You will hear them discuss it on the floors of the House and Senate. You will hear it at Tea Party and other activist events.
Republicans can sermonize about local control all day long.
But then there are times when they pass laws that strip power from localities and give it to the state. And every time they do it, Democrats are quick to attack them as hypocrites.
But it’s not just the Democrats on the attack. Friday, an Austin-based publication put out an article decrying Governor Greg Abbott’s “target on the individuality of cities,” calling it “anti-Texan.”
Here are some examples cited by Democrats and the press:
- Republicans want to strip cities’ abilities to ban plastic bags. Bills this session failed, but one court has already ruled against the bans, possibly accomplishing the same goal.
- Republicans have stripped cities of their abilities to regulate ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.
- Republicans prevented cities from adopting local restrictions on gun rights. Last session, several Democrat-led efforts to allow big cities to ban open carry were killed.
- Republicans are debating ways to prevent local taxing entities from excessively raising rates without voter approval. Abbott called for this bill in the coming special session.
What we haven’t seen much of in the press is a concise layout of the conservative argument for these policies. So we thought it only fair to present it and let readers decide where they stand, equipped with arguments from both sides. Here it is:
- A city in Texas is a subdivision of the State of Texas, and receives its charter from the state. In other words, the state creates cities; the cities do not create the state. Therefore, the state is sovereign.
- The proper role of any government is to protect the individual liberties of the people, including the right of a business owner to use whatever bag he or she chooses, or the right of a vehicle owner to be compensated for getting people across town in his or her car. Therefore, when a subdivision of the state (like a city) tries to restrict these rights, it is the duty of the state to overrule those restrictions.
Former-Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Republican candidate for Lt. Governor in 2014 once said, “The greatest threat to liberty is a city council.”
So in 2015, Rep. Matt Rinaldi filed a bill to overturn all city bans on plastic bags. The bill was killed, but in 2016 he filed an amicus curiae brief in a court deciding the fate of Laredo’s ban. He gave the following statement:
“Cities need to understand that the Legislature can and will step in when authority delegated to them by the sovereign state of Texas has been abused to restrict liberty and constrain the free flow of commerce.”
Article 11, Section 5 of the State Constitution says, “no [city] charter or any ordinance passed under said charter shall contain any provision inconsistent with the Constitution of the State, or of the general laws enacted by the Legislature of this State.”
Lobbyists for cities cite a Supreme Court case, Forwood v City of Taylor, which ruled that the Constitution gives localities broad powers to regulate themselves. But the ruling also clearly confirmed the state has the authority to tell cities what they cannot do.
“The result is that now it is necessary to look to the acts of the legislature not for grants of power to such cities but only for limitations on their powers.”
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