Red State lawmakers clamp down on Blue Cities

Robert Houk • Feb 12, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Let’s say you are a left of center kind of gal or guy living in a Red State like Tennessee. How do you cope? You could join a support group for local progressives or relocate to a Blue State.

There is, however, another option that might keep you sane while living in a Red State — move to a Blue City. Just look at what’s going on in Asheville, N.C., where craft beer, hipsters and progressive ideas have put the small mountain town on the national radar.

Here in Tennessee, Nashville has become a place of refuge for weary liberals. And while the Music City might never be confused for Seattle or San Francisco, members of the Republican-led state General Assembly are nonetheless  paying close attention to what’s going on there.

They are determined to see that none of the liberalism found in the state’s Capital infests other municipalities in this state.

Lawmakers have passed laws in recent years to prevent Nashville and any other city or town from adopting local ordinances that do not conform to their narrow conservative ideology. The General Assembly has approved measures to prohibit Tennessee municipalities from setting the local minimum wage higher than that of the federal level (as a number of cities on the Left Coast have done.)

It has also passed legislation that bars Nashville and other towns and cities from passing gun ordinances that are more restrictive than state law. That means Tennesseans with carry permits can tote their guns into local parks regardless of what city officials think of the provision. 

Just last week, a Republican lawmaker sponsored a bill in the General Assembly to ban “sanctuary” cities in Tennessee. President Donald Trump has already signed an executive order threatening to withhold federal funds from cities that harbor undocumented immigrants. 

Cases of state government exercising its will over local governments is not new. In the 1990s, when Johnson City was considering passage of a ban on smoking in local restaurants, city commissioners learned that the tobacco lobby had already convinced state legislators to approve a law preventing cities and towns from doing so.

This kind of state power grab over cities is not limited to Tennessee. It goes on in most every state, and it has become even more prevalent as the divide between urban and rural communities widens in this nation. In the March edition of The Atlantic, David A. Graham writes: “With Republicans controlling the presidency, both houses of Congress and most statehouses, Democrats are turning to local ordinances as their best hope on issues ranging from gun control to the minimum wage to transgender rights.”

But state lawmakers are pushing back. Graham notes that Arizona has made sure cities in that state can’t “ban the gifts in Happy Meals, and when some of its cities cracked down on puppy mills, it barred local regulation of pet breeders, too.”

In the end, Blue Cities have little power in challenging the dictates of the legislatures in Red States. Just as they have gerrymandered seats in Congress, Republicans have been careful to draw safe districts for their members in statehouses.

That means support groups might become the only viable option for progressives in Red States.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.






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