Harbeer Sandhu
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“Local Control” in Last Night’s #HouDecide Debate

“Local Control” in Last Night’s #HouDecide Debate
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After the debate between Houston mayoral candidates last night, some knucklehead tweeted that all the candidates were “communists.” When the range of candidates is standing before you — from the Tea Party’s Bill King and Steve Costello to centrists such as Adrian Garcia and Marty McVey to Progressives like Sylvester Turner and Chris Bell — calling them “all communists” is laughably ignorant, but when it comes to “local control” of city workers’ pensions, all the candidates seem to favor wresting control from the state legislature in Austin as a way to keep the city budget under control, going forward.

“Local control” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in politics. In general, the right wing favors local control. Local control (in the form of “states’ rights”) was the argument used to defend the institution of slavery from those pesky unionist abolitionists. It’s been used more recently in the opposition to both Obamacare and gay marriage — the idea that states should be able to decide how they meet out such benefits. It’s used by creationists who resist federal education standards because they don’t want their children to be taught about evolution, by anti-choice activists, and even by Second Amendment supporters forming militias to stand off against the oppressive federal government and the “New World Order” that they fear will centralize all power into the one world government of their nightmares.

It is because the right wing is usually so averse to centralized power and stereotypically so much in favor of local control that I was shocked to hear all the Republican candidates in the debate last night punt two issues back to U.S. Congress and Texas state legislature — marijuana and the minimum wage.

“That’s something that needs to be handled by the legislature,” Ben Hall said about decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession.

And he’s right — to be made legal, both the Federal Drug Administration and the Texas state legislature would have to change their rulings on marijuana — but in the meantime, the mayor of Houston (and/or the District Attorney of Harris County) could unilaterally make small amounts of marijuana de facto legal as a matter of policy by declaring marijuana enforcement a low priority for HPD, as mayors and governors of other cities and states have done.

Same thing with the minimum wage. While it’s true that the federal minimum wage is mandated by the US Congress, all cities in the US that are as large or larger than Houston require a minimum wage higher than the federally mandated $7.25 you’ll find in Houston. Los Angeles requires employers to pay $15.37; New York, San Francisco, and Seattle require a minimum of $15.00 (as well as city-mandated health care for workers), and Chicago requires employers to pay a minimum of $13.00/hr.

If these “small government” Republicans want to appear so brash and brazen in their resistance to federally-imposed standards when it comes to issues such as taxation, reproductive rights, education, and guns, why are they so willing to acquiesce or kowtow or punt their beloved local control and defer to the Big Bad Feds when it comes to the minimum wage and people’s freedom to engage in the victimless “crime” of marijuana consumption? #HouDecide

  • Ashley Suzanne Lu

    Thanks for verbalizing what was a vague curiosity for me… on those 2 issues, I noticed a certain relief when Bill King invoked federal responsibility. With such quick answers required, it was the debate version of getting off on a technicality.