Stateline - Conservative state lawmakers who rail against federal mandates often find themselves using the same weapon in dealing with their own cities and counties. Mayor Ken Moore and the elected aldermen of Franklin, Tennessee, unanimously approved a resolution last Tuesday warning against overbearing central government. That may not be a surprise, since Franklin is a conservative, reliably Republican city. What is surprising is that the target of Franklin’s concern wasn’t the Obama administration or the federal government. Instead, it was the central government half an hour up the road in Nashville: the Republican-led Tennessee General Assembly.
The resolution included a list of 14 bills the mayor and aldermen opposed. On the list was legislation to substantially reduce local zoning and planning powers, as well as narrower bills to limit local regulation of signs, to ban localities from requiring residential sprinkler systems and to end local regulation of fireworks. Taken together, local officials are worried that these bills will preempt powers they consider an essential part of their jobs. “All the mayors in our region,” says Moore, a Republican, “are quite concerned about this potential gutting of our ability to do what’s in the best interest of our communities.”
Many of these state lawmakers have accused the federal government of adopting an imperious, one-size-fits-all mentality and of subverting the rightful powers of states. At the same time, many high-profile debates in the Tennessee Capitol over the last two years — on topics such as local wage rules and local non-discrimination rules, among others — have centered on the state trying to limit the power of localities to make decisions for themselves.
To some critics, that’s a sign of hypocrisy. What conservative supporters of these laws argue, though, is that localities sometimes use their power in ways that are inconsistent with values the state holds dear, such as defending property rights and reducing government regulation. Their case is that the only way the legislature can enact its vision for government is to use the power it has, not delegate it to others. Most of the legislation in Tennessee hasn’t passed yet and some of it seems unlikely to pass soon. Still, in Tennessee and elsewhere, it’s clear that for conservative lawmakers local control is just one principle, a principle that sometimes is superseded by others.