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Cities' Rights Are 'Under Attack' In The Local Control Fight At The Legislature

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/Texas Standard
The Houston skyline,

From Texas Standard:

A week after the Fourth of July, independence is still on the minds of Texans. But two-and-a-half centuries after the U.S. became a nation, Texas lawmakers, rather than a king, are the despot in some eyes.


Local control has always been an important issue for small-government Republicans. But the special session of the legislature nears, Texas lawmakers are filing a variety of bills that deal with city-based issues. Lisa Falkenberg, a metro columnist at the Houston Chronicle, says this is a charge led by state officials.

“If you’re Texas, you’re supposed to hate Washington, but you’re supposed to tolerate the government in Austin, because they didn’t quite meddle in your affairs so much,” Falkenberg says. “But what we’ve seen is really a change in attitude led by Governor Greg Abbott, of course a Republican, from a party that has long sought smaller government, and really sought to protect local control.”

She says that while she’s not pushing for a city-secession movement, protecting local independence is an important cause.

“Now I’m not saying that Houston should secede from Austin," she says "but I was saying that it is unfortunate, after studying Texas law and the Constitution, that there’s really nothing that cities have the right to do to push back against the powers-that-be in Austin trying to get a firmer control over the way that we run our own communities locally."

Officials looking to overturn city regulations defend the move as a way to ensure that local governments don’t step on personal liberty, but Falkenberg calls the idea that laws like citywide plastic bag guidelines put freedom at risk “bogus.”

“Cities and towns are very different in a state as big as Texas, where Austin, the capital, could be 500 miles away if you’re in El Paso,” she says. “People in the country don’t like [plastic bags] because they’re suffocating cattle. People in the city don’t like them because they’re clogging bayous.”

The way the landscape varies among communities in a state the size of Texas is precisely the reason local governance is so important, Falkenberg says. And while secession may be overkill, Falkenberg wants communities to work to maintain their autonomy in the face of increased state regulation.

“I’m not saying that we should secede, I’m saying that cities really need to take actions and use rhetoric and inform their citizens about what’s happening,” Falkenberg says. “That we do deserve a certain level of independence. Not a document that’s drawn up, and we’re going to leave the state, but I’m saying an independent mind and spirit is something that we need to preserve, and it’s under attack right now, and people need to know.”


Written by Lila Weatherly.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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