If the political narratives of this legislative session were filtered through Twitter you could safely bet that the words “local control” would be trending. It has rural Republicans to urban Democrats, environmentalists and members of the business community buzzing in chorus over the barrage of attacks being levied on local jurisdictions.
Now, one group, Local Control Texas (LCT), has been formed to capitalize (pun intended) off of the discontent felt across the state. The featured phrase of their website slyly pleads, “Don’t let the State Legislature be the City Council of Texas!”
What has been framed by Governor Abbott and other Republicans as eliminating a “patchwork quilt” of regulations, is in stark contrast to their defense of states’ rights as laboratories of democracy when fighting against federal mandates. In a letter to Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas legislature LCT said, “Local governments are also closest to Texans and the most immediately responsive to their perspectives and needs…this is why Texas has a variety of distinct solutions to quality of life concerns, each solution reflecting the unique character of that community. We urge you to keep state government out of the way of these solutions.”
Any Texan who has had the pleasure of traveling beyond their region of the state is well aware of how incredibly diverse Texas is and this should not be lost on anyone who campaigned from end to end in a statewide election.
The editorial board of the San Antonio Express News agreed writing that one particularly egregious bill by freshmen Senator Don Huffines, “essentially renders the term local control into nothingness,” adding that, “Such micromanagement is not a Texas value — or so we’ve heard judging from all those lawsuits filed against the federal government to stop this or that regulation.”
The battle to retain local control, or in this case the battle to usurp it, can be seen as a natural evolution (if you believe in that sort of thing) of GOP attacks on Democrats through redistricting. Once the majority party had squeezed every last district they could out of the new maps (with trepidations from the Justice Department and social justice advocates) it was time to look elsewhere for ways to “crush the Democrats.”
A few decades ago, when it was the GOP that found itself lost in the electoral desert, they started recruiting candidates to run for school board, then the state house and eventually overtook every statewide office. Now, it turns out that Democrats have a majority of the local political power in most of the state’s largest cities and counties and it appears the GOP is willing to use their centralized power to complicate the act of governing even if it presents what has been called “a crisis of political philosophy.”
It also turnout that when you make decrees from Austin it affects the entire state. It equally impedes on conservative and Republican local officials, of which there are a greater number dispersed across the state (Democrat’s power is concentrated in the high population urban centers). Now, you have the recipe to cook up a diverse coalition to fight back against politicians whose ideas have until this point, been limited to various tax cuts.
Republican mayor of Fort Worth told the New York Times, “there are times when we have to pass ordinances for the health and safety of our people. We’re here every day, and they’re in Austin once every two years.” Echoing that sentiment Democratic mayor of Austin Steve Adler said at a press conference, “The people who live in cities want to be able to solve their problems their own way.”
It is understandable, at least, why some GOP members would try to pivot away from being a single issue party of tax cuts — debt, crumbling infrastructure and failing schools to name a few. Those happen to be non-partisan priorities, and they can’t be paid for with tax cuts. As the Houston Chronicle’s Peggy Fikac reported, “[Republican] Sen. Kevin Eltife points out repeatedly, publicly and with rhetorical flair that the state has a list of long-neglected problems whose solutions would mean more to Texans than even a couple of hundred more dollars in their pockets from tax relief.” It’s prudent to point out that while Eltife represents a largely rural East Texas district, his perspective is advised by his service as a former councilmember and mayor of Tyler.
Furthermore, research provided by Forward Texas reveals that tax cuts do not always provide the effect of “tax relief,” because the obligation to provide necessary services remains while the burden to pay for them falls to local jurisdictions. It’s essentially passing the buck, without well, actually passing the buck.
The issues on which the mantra of local control has been espoused range from bans on plastic bags and fracking in city limits, to bans on discrimination for LGBT individuals and concerns over property rights, payday lending, conservation, workers rights and distracted driving
The Texas Association of Business joined several progressive groups when it voted unanimously to oppose 2 GOP bills that would undermine anti-LGBT discrimination ordinances passed at the local level. TAB President Chris Wallace said, “We are a very conservative business association as the state chamber…But we’re proud we have these partners at the table with us because we’re all working together to make sure we keep Texas open for business, and that we are seen as a place that welcomes all people and not one that excludes any groups of people.”
Keen observers who have watched as the the business and religious fundamentalists wings of the GOP struggle for the soul of their party will not be surprised. In fact, we should expect more wide ranging criticism as state lawmakers extend their legislative tentacles deep into the purview of municipal and county governments.
Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.