In 2010, then Gov. Rick Perry was, in the words of his book, “Fed up!” Perry was exasperated by what he perceived as the overreach of the federal government, and decided to write a paperback tirade on that topic and others near and dear to his heart. In the preface, Perry invoked a famous line by Thomas Jefferson, noting “I believe that government is best when it is closest to the people.”
Perry’s successor has a different view, to say the least.
Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott called a 20-item, 30-day special session of the Legislature, to begin July 18. (That amount of material in that short of a time is analogous to drinking from a fire hose.) Abbott put red-meat culture war issues on the call like the voucerization of public schools and the bathroom bill in a pathetic attempt to stave off a primary challenge from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. But he also asked for a gaggle of bills that would eliminate or curtail local authority to conduct a plethora of actions, including raise their own property taxes, prohibit distracted driving and even regulate trees.
Abbott apparently believes that the state should control every echelon and component of business inside the state. In March, Abbott argued wistfully for a law that would preempt every county and city regulation in the state, deriding what he called a misguided attempt by cities to actually govern by creating the “United States of Municipalities,” whatever that means. Republican and Democratic legislators alike were aghast.
It’s hard to believe Perry and Abbott were political contemporaries and compatriots. After all, isn’t Mayor Steve Adler closer to Austin than Abbott? Even Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston is a lifelong Houstonian who only left town for three years to attend law school at Harvard. Patrick, on the other hand, is a carpetbagger from Maryland.
One of the most controversial issues in which degradation of local control occurred the past session was Senate Bill 4, the Arizona-style “Show Me Your Papers” law, which attempts to deputize local police departments into de facto branches of ICE. It was passed over the very loud objections of police chiefs, police unions and local officials.
The grand irony from Abbott’s holy war against cities is that, when Abbott was Attorney General, he made a name for himself suing the federal government for what he said was excessive coercion. Abbott famously quipped “I go to the office, I sue the federal government and I go home.”
With Austin, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio (and Houston soon to follow), among others, now suing the state over the law, perhaps Adler or Turner need to appropriate that line.
Like so many other issues, the simple truth is merely that the Texas Republican Party and its leadership are a venal racket devoid of any core principles. They crow about local control when it suits them, and ruthlessly decimate the powers of cities to write their own destinies when it suits them too.
Perry did not actually care about protecting the people, and Abbott does not really have an ideological viewpoint that cities are malevolent. They only care about pushing forward their agenda — and in recent months, as I have said repeatedly in this column, that is to isolate, persecute and hurt the folks who are different — all else be damned.
Horwitz is a second-year law student from Houston. He is senior columnist.