“The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse.” — James Madison
Many of the laws enacted each legislative session in Texas actually originate from lobbyists’ wish lists. Model bills written by a given industry representative are handed off to state legislators who paraphrase them and then introduce them as their own on the Capitol floor.
This abuse of power is achieved via the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is primarily funded by corporations, trade associations and corporate foundations. For complete details on this violation of our democratic principles, simply enter “ALEC Exposed” in your preferred browser search engine.
State politicians and special interests game the system further when the party in power over-utilizes their constitution’s supremacy clause, enabling them to overrule any local legislation that appears as a threat to given special interests, usually those for-profit interests that invest heavily into political campaigns to gain access to state representatives and ultimately influence them to affect their bottom line.
HB40 is a classic example of this abuse of power when the oil and gas industry and their cronies in Austin usurped Denton’s vote back in 2015 to prevent fracking within our city limits. Another is SB103, which prevented plastic bag bans around the state back in 2017 — an act that was considered as state “overkill” by Bennett Sandlin, the former executive director of the Texas Municipal League.
In July, the Denton Record-Chronicle reported on two bills — HB-2439 and HB-3167 — that came out of the recent state legislative session which prevented cities from adopting an ordinance that regulates building materials allowed in national building codes and requires cities to approve or disapprove property plats and plans within a shorter time frame. Why the need for such rigid control absent any citizen ground swell for such action?
Many of these bills are unfunded mandates and have a democratic-killing effect that “tear at the economic and social fabrics of big cities” — a common refrain often heard among urban mayors across Texas and America as reported in a March 2017 Texas Tribune article.
Towns and cities are forced to rewrite parts of their codes and ordinances to accommodate these state fiats, creating an added financial burden for local budgets already stretched thin. This becomes one of the unintended consequences of such self-serving legislation that has local taxpayers often picking up the tab.
Clearly there are areas that demand the state’s authority over local governments where matters clearly require a wider set of standards for the flow of commerce and restraint of criminal behavior. Rigid control, however, by the state in matters that affect only targeted communities who are better suited to address them contradicts the idea of freedom so many in Austin proudly hail.
Unless the residents of these communities stand beside their local elected officials and tell Austin to back off of their war against local home rule, we are only enhancing the corporate cronyism that already has a stranglehold on our democratic principles.
There’s a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson that says, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” Have we become lazy in fulfilling this role as citizens in the past 200 years?