Attacking the citiesBy
With Congress gridlocked and a majority of state legislatures controlled by right-wing interests, cities have become laboratories of democracy for progressive policies like a higher minimum wage, LGBTQ protections, or parental leave.
In response, corporate interests and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have increasingly been turning to state “preemption” measures—some of them unprecedentedly aggressive—to override an array of progressive policy gains at the city or county level.
“2015 saw more efforts to undermine local control on more issues than any year in history,” said Mark Pertschuk, director of the watchdog group Preemption Watch.
Last year, state legislatures in at least 29 states introduced bills to block local control over a range of issues, from the minimum wage, to LGBTQ rights, to immigration, according to Preemption Watch. Seventeen states considered more than one preemption bill.
This is part of a long-term strategy to consolidate conservative gains made in state legislatures since the 2010 census, with a general hostility to home rule. Having control of over half of state legislatures and governorships, Republicans mean to keep it.
The Institute for Southern Studies this week examines attacks against cities in other southern states where all but six of the 20 fastest-growing metro areas lie:
Texas is also home to some of the South’s fastest-growing cities, with the four metro areas around Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio making up over 80 percent of the state’s overall growth between 2010 and 2015. Those cities have also sparred with state lawmakers in recent years over nondiscrimination ordinances and so-called “sanctuary city” policies, most recently in Dallas.
Florida cities have experienced significant growth as well, with the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area growing by over 450,000 people between 2010 and 2015. During this time, state lawmakers have targeted policies in Miami-Dade and neighboring Borward counties, imposing a 2013 statewide ban on local living wage ordinances and attempting to ban “sanctuary city” policies, an effort that was ultimately defeated.
The rapid growth of cities is also having an impact in less populous states like Arkansas, where state officials are battling Fayetteville over local protections for the LGBT community. The city is the second-largest metro area in Arkansas, and its population has grown by over 60 percent between 2000 and 2014.
Voters there approved a referendum last year expanding nondiscrimination protections to LGBT people, but the Arkansas attorney general has challenged the move in state court for violating Act 137, a law passed last year to pre-empt local authority to expand nondiscrimination protections. A lower court ruled in favor of Fayetteville but the case is getting appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The Democrat moving into the White House next January will have little or no power over what happens in state capitols. These fights have to be fought at the local level. Which means that as much as we get caught up in presidential politics every four years, those un-sexy state House and Senate races (and governor’s races) matter a lot more to your everyday life, as citizens from Flint to Charlotte to Denton, Texas have found out. Plus, control of state legislatures after the 2020 elections and census will (in most states) determine the configuration of the U.S. House for the next decade. Please get involved in those local races. Asking for a friend in a state under siege.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)