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Republicans Support Local Control--Except When They Don't

In theory, Republicans believe that power should be located at the lowest possible level, and certainly not with the big bad federal government. Except when they don't like the consequences of this theory. Most big cities are very blue, even in deep red states. For example, most Texas counties are deep red, except for those containing Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, San Antonio, and some poor counties near the Mexican border with large Latino populations. The conflict between blue cities and red states is becoming increasingly bitter, with states overruling cities, stripping them of power, taking over election offices, and otherwise limiting local independence. In other words, Republicans like the idea of local control—except when they disagree with what the locals are doing.

The Local Solutions Support Center, an organization focused on helping cities deal with "abusive state preemption," has logged almost 700 state bills this year designed to limit what cities and counties can do. So much for supporting local control. Thus far, 92 have passed. For example, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signed a law empowering the state attorney general to pursue election-related crimes and also requiring cities and counties to suspend local ordinances if someone sues alleging that they are preempted by state law. DeSantis has also removed two local prosecutors, one of whom said he wasn't going to charge people seeking abortions or gender-affirming care.

More clashes are expected soon. Gov.-elect Jeff Landry (R-LA) has promised to confront his state's largest city, New Orleans, on several issues. Among other things, he is going to withhold funding for the city's water infrastructure unless the local DA agrees to prosecute women who are seeking an abortion. So red states are fine with using their power to go after blue cities they have power over, but you can imagine what would happen if Joe Biden were to announce that he is cutting off infrastructure money for Louisiana until it stops prosecuting women for seeking an abortion. The red states would howl to the moon. They think it is fine for one level of government to blackmail lower levels—as long as they are the blackmailers and not the blackmailees.

One area that is especially contentious is election management. Many red state legislatures want to make it as hard as possible to vote (e.g., 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Election Day only and no absentee ballots). Many blue cities and counties want to have weeks of early in-person voting and an absentee ballot for any eligible voter who requests one. Many big cities have large numbers of minorities, whereas rural counties do not, so there is a racial component as well, with white state legislatures trying to restrict what Black mayors, county executives, and local election officials can do.

Another area of conflict is education, which has always been a local affair in the U.S. Traditionally, the boards of the 17,000 school districts in the U.S. ran the schools in their districts without state or federal interference. But now many states, led by Florida, are banning books and passing laws about what teachers can talk about in class, like Florida's "Don't say gay" law.

But there is more. When the Nashville Metropolitan Council voted against bidding for the 2024 Republican National Convention, the state defunded its convention center, took control of its airport, and cut the council in half. In Missouri, the state passed a law requiring cities to spend 25% of their budgets on the police, even if some cities don't think that is needed. State legislatures have also banned city ordinances relating to tobacco, guns, plastic straws, and other things the state legislators don't want regulated. So much for all the talk about home rule. (V)

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