April 5, 2023


How Biden Is Using Federal Power to Liberate Localities  : The president's quiet effort to free municipalities from the despotism of GOP governors. (Will Norris, April 4, 2023, Washington Monthly)

The penchant of state-level Republicans for squashing municipal policies they don't like has been made easier by the way the federal government has traditionally funded programs to help localities: by routing the money through the states. When Hurricane Harvey struck Houston in 2017, city lawmakers expected the state to pass along the more than $1 billion Congress had appropriated for emergency aid. Instead, they received nothing: The entire package was doled out to largely white, inland communities less affected by the storm. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner accused Abbott of a "money grab." The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development later found that the stunt put Texas in violation of the Civil Rights Act. "Let me just tell you, that remains a sore spot," Turner recently told me. His ire was further piqued when the Texas Department of Transportation announced in February 2021 that it would expand a highway that cuts through the city without changes requested by the mayor and other Houston lawmakers. The planned expansion would displace nearly 1,100 homes, 340 businesses, five churches, and two schools.

In the 21st century, the arrival of an educated, multiracial workforce in places like Houston has collided with the disproportionate power Republicans have accrued at the state level to create a novel political phenomenon: Increasingly blue metro areas are finding themselves up against increasingly red state governments--and losing. If demographics are destiny, governors facing an in-migration pattern that worryingly resembles the long-term marginalization of their conservative politics are exploiting the legal and fiscal preeminence states have over localities in new and extreme ways. "Don't California My Texas" has become Abbott's trademarked mantra. In February, Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene captured the mood when she suggested that red states should block new arrivals from blue states from voting for a period of five years. Governors like Abbott and DeSantis, with the backing of a conservative Supreme Court supermajority determined to buttress the power of states, are steamrolling the will of cities to govern in ways their voters think best.

But that dynamic is not going unchallenged at the national level. One of the least noticed but most profound changes in Washington over the past two years has been a concerted effort by Joe Biden's administration and Democrats in Congress to liberate localities from the overweening power of state governments--a change the Washington Monthly called for in January 2021.

Posted by at April 5, 2023 12:00 AM