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When Republicans Oppose Local Control

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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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  1. Steve Anderson
    Steve Anderson

    When you take away a city’s power to regulate citizens, your giving that power to the individual. This is increasing local control.

    1. James Scott Trimm
  2. Bren Moss
    Bren Moss

    Power only to the People who are the Government! No more regulations! No more
    Big Government!

  3. Robert R. McBride
    Robert R. McBride

    Individual responsibility and local control are being regulated and legislated out of existence in Texas.

  4. James Scott Trimm
    James Scott Trimm

    The city is a creation of the state as is the federal government . The state is sovereign over both. Don’t confuse local control for local freedom.

  5. Amanda Smith
    Amanda Smith

    No entity should have power over the individual. The individual should be the most sovereign within all levels of government unless that individual violates another’s freedom.

    1. Pansy Fernandez
      Pansy Fernandez

      So explain what things a City should not have control over! Will it be ok if your neighbors trash their places with tall grass, weeds, junk vehicles and let their dogs run all over the neighborhood? These are the problems we have in our small town and the reason some don’t want to move here!

    2. Amanda Smith
      Amanda Smith

      In a free society, local governments should only protect private property rights and manage deeds. People can also seek private arbitrators to deal with domestic disputes. We do not need a centralized force to be civil with each other. The neighbor’s dogs crossing your property lines is a violation against your rights. Weeds that are too high can’t hurt you unless they are kept too dry or are harboring dangerous pests that contaminate your yard.

  6. Lynn Dawson Gaston
    Lynn Dawson Gaston

    Just a question here, but from what I’m gathering from comments above is that NO responsibility should be imposed upon a city property owner in upholding city ordinances? No laws or order at all?

  7. Ross Kecseg
    Ross Kecseg

    The more limits on government, the better.

  8. Jim Fletcher
    Jim Fletcher

    Local Control is typically manifested as Local Tyranny that tramples personal liberty and private property rights.

  9. Joshua Machiavello
    Joshua Machiavello

    James Scott Trimm’s comment is spot-on: municipalities are the creatures of the State. The State government has a responsibility to safeguard the rights of Texans from encroachment by municipalities.

  10. Lujean Sullenger
  11. Wanda Westfall
    Wanda Westfall

    The new animal abuse law in Texas will give a person more jail time for animal abuse, vague in terms, than to kill a person…..sad That animals are more highly regarded than human life

    1. Bren Moss
      Bren Moss

      Wanda: I don’t want to be disrespectful, however, animals are to be cared for, not abused. The punishment should fit the crime for either human or
      animal. People who abuse, need to be punished to the max! I love our
      new law as it shows Texans love and respect animals!

    2. Wanda Westfall
      Wanda Westfall

      Bren Moss It is the fact that the law is very broad; does not have anything about farmers and ranchers being able to do away with the animals that people “drop off” that run wild and kill ………in fact it is a very badly written bill and very vague………when a person protecting his livestock could go to jail for twenty years something is wrong with the system……………I am not for torturing, abusing, starving etc any animal……..the bill should have been thought out better as to wording and other items in it clarified;

  12. Zachary Maxwell
    Zachary Maxwell

    I think people need to figure out which entity is sovereign and which entity is a creacher of the State (hint). Tyranny exists at every level of government. We have checks for a reason.

  13. Rosemarie

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an extremely long comment
    but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say superb blog!

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