Local Government Can Be Big Government Too
Religion & Liberty Online

Local Government Can Be Big Government Too

Small-government conservatives often share a regrettable trait with their big-government liberal opponents: they frame the issue almost exclusively in terms of the size and scope of the federal government.

Although conservatives sometimes expand their view and include state governments, the focus tends to miss the local governments, city and county municipalities, that can have a considerable impact on an individual’s life. But in Texas they’re beginning to take notice—and are doing something about it:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has been vocal about his opposition to what he characterizes as an overabundance of regulations implemented at the local level in his state.

During remarks at the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s 13th annual Policy Orientation in January, Abbott said that “the truth is, Texas is being California-ized with bag bans, fracking bans, tree-cutting bans…We are forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that are eroding the Texas Model.”

And as James Quintero, the director of the Center for Local Governance at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told The Daily Signal, “big government at the local level is still big government.”

For example, the city of Dallas issued a ban on plastic and paper bags, mandating that residents use reusable bags or pay a nickel for each disposable bag they use—a measure Quintero says is in violation of existing state law.

“I’m a rule of law guy,” Quintero said. “You can’t have a situation where local governments flout existing state law.”

If a city or county wants to implement a regulation or ordinance that goes against existing law, then Quintero says there should be “a robust debate at the Capitol.”

Cities are “subsidiaries” of the state, and must “respect” state laws, he said. Reasserting the “primacy” of state laws protects “core conservative principles.”

“Liberty is the principal, local control is the preference,” Quintero said. “It all comes down to the proper role of government: protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

That’s exactly right. We conservatives should stand for our principles and be agnostic about which stratum of government can best implement our goals. After all, the goal isn’t to push big government down to the local level, but to reduce governments ability to hinder flourishing, liberty, and subsidiarity.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).