Politicians for Local Control, Except When They're Not
A Commentary By Froma Harrop
The people of Denton, Texas, recently voted to ban fracking within the city limits. They were tired of the noise, lights and fumes caused by the 277 gas wells, some placed right next to housing developments. A blowout in 2013 covered homes in clouds of benzene. Some had to be evacuated.
One can hardly blame the citizens for trying to regulate industrial activity in a populated area unless one is the governor of Texas. Greg Abbott has denounced the vote and decisions by other local governments to regulate junkyards and ban litter-prone plastic bags as an affront to the "Texan model," often defined as letting businesses do pretty much as they please.
The party in power at one level of government is understandably tempted to push around a lower level. Liberals do it. Conservatives do it. The difference is that conservatives profess to deplore such interference. Sadly, support for local control often evaporates when such principles run up against the interests of moneyed backers.
Listen to Gov. Abbott talking to the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Local governments risk turning the "Texas miracle" into the "California nightmare," he said. "Large cities that represent about 75 percent of the population in (Texas) are doing this to us."
Large cities representing 75 percent of the population sounds like a whole lot of Texans. Makes you wonder who "us" is. Perhaps a state-run program to re-indoctrinate the peasants might be in order.
Similar battles are playing out in other places. Athens, Ohio, voted to ban fracking, but the Ohio Supreme Court just ruled that local governments can't do that. They are clashing with the state's "executive authority" on oil and gas drilling.
Conservatives running the Florida and Louisiana state governments are fighting local plans to raise minimum wages. The restaurants don't want to.
"The state legislature is the best place to determine wage and hour law," a spokesman for the National Restaurant Association told The New York Times, "This is not the kind of policy that should be determined jurisdiction by jurisdiction."
Actually, the local jurisdiction is one of the better places to set a minimum wage. The cost of living in New York City is much higher than it is across the state in Buffalo, and so might the minimum wage be. Seattle might want to try out a $15-an-hour minimum wage, while less rich parts of Washington stick with the state minimum of $9.47 an hour, itself well above the national minimum of $7.25.
A number of cities across the country, as well as three counties in California, have approved fracking bans. Even Fort Collins in energy-rich Colorado has done so. But Texas, as those tourist ads said, is "like a whole other country" when it comes to showing deference to energy producers and purveyors of plastic bags.
At least the governor thinks so. He seems to see the locals' efforts to set rules for their communities as evidence of creeping collectivism.
This prompted the following retort in a Dallas Morning News editorial: "Allowing Austin to make single-size decisions for local governments instead of allowing them to tailor unique solutions sounds an awful lot like central state planning to us."
Some conservatives are reportedly hopping mad over the state's efforts to curb the right of their local governments to control their own destiny. Tea party folks, in particular, are known for hostility toward crony capitalism -- the alliance of big business and government officials.
Abbott's allies in turn accuse them of being closet socialists working in the interests of Russia. How ironic. The way the locals can show that they're not tools of Russia, the fracking forces say, is by acting like serfs.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.
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