It has long been a central tenet of the Republican platform that greater local control of government is a good thing. Republicans have constantly championed local governments as the true representatives of the people as opposed to the “overreach of big government” in Washington. Recent actions by Republican legislatures nationwide, however, have shown this core belief to be based purely on opportunism. In a shocking bout of outright hypocrisy GOP-controlled state governments are currently engaged in an unprecedented campaign to limit the powers of local government to enact progressive laws.
The local and municipal governments that have been lauded as inherently superior for so long by Republicans are apparently only good as long as they support the maniacal schemes of the GOP and its big-money backers. And with the beliefs of Republican lawmakers increasingly lagging behind those of the nation at large, more and more local governments have enacted laws supporting liberal and progressive policies. The Republican solution: squash the powers of local government.
For example, even as cities across the nation take the initiative to provide a living wage to their workers, 15 GOP-controlled state legislatures have banned localities from raising their minimum wages above the state minimum, which is often nothing in Republican country. A dozen states have prohibited local governments from mandating paid sick leave for employees, Wisconsin has banned local limits on soda sizes, Arizona and Florida have banned towns from banning toys in fast food meals, and Utah has protected its citizens from local tyranny by prohibiting any municipality from mandating that bicycles be served in drive-thru lanes. The list goes on and on, a litany of tyrannical decisions over the authority of local governments to do what is best for their citizens.
These stifling measures emanating from GOP statehouses across the country often run directly counter to the health and freedoms of a state’s citizens. For example, Texas and Oklahoma have banned local governments from enacting restrictions on the oil drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing, in spite of its devastating environmental toll. If a town wants to protect itself from the earthquakes and polluted water caused by fracking – as the texas town of Denton voted to do last year – GOP legislators simply won’t allow it. Six states have introduced what are essentially anti-civil rights bills that ban local governments from protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination. While Republicans constantly decry federal regulation of states – and use unconstitutional methods to avoid it – the exact same process at work a rung down on the governmental ladder is apparently an example of good governance as far as they’re concerned.
Unsurprisingly for a party that is increasingly in the pocket of big business, most of these bans on bans have their origins in large corporate lobby groups. The National Rifle Association has been successful in lobbying for a prohibition on local gun bans in nearly every state capital. The National Restaurant Association has been the main backer behind the drive to prevent municipalities from raising their minimum wages. Monsanto and other agro-industrial businesses has successfully lobbied several states to ban local limitations on seeds used for agriculture. Tobacco lobbyists have rammed through laws banning local regulation of e-cigarettes in six states. Once again, the list is endless. Thus it is not ideology or political beliefs that inform Republicans views on government, but rather the whims of large corporations and the speech of their millions.
Hypocrisy has of course long been an inexorable part of Republicanism, from supporting the free market until it benefits foreigners to supporting foreign interventions until a Democrat leads them. The current crusade against local governments, however, is particularly striking because it destroys the most fundamental principle of modern conservativism: that small government is better. The fact that this sacred principle is thrown out the window at the first sign of progressive local laws is a testament to the manipulation, opportunism, hypocrisy, and corporate buyouts that today define a Republican party totally devoid not only of morality but of coherent ideology as well.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.