The left is focused on using city governments to transform America, pushing its agenda through local policies, laws, rules and regulations. Their effort could bring us more dysfunctional cities like Detroit.
Progressives have discovered that it's easier to control local elections than statewide or congressional races. Of our 50 largest cities, 40 are liberal, as documented in a new UCLA/MIT study. There's a lot of power to be gained. Those 40 cities have a population of 43 million people, more than the combined populations of 24 states.
Just a few years ago, city councils focused on good streets, police and fire protection, efficient delivery of water, sewerage and garbage service, and public parks. Now local bodies often act like a mini-Congress or a mini-United Nations, as activists use them to launch aggressive liberal agendas and social engineering.
Today's local leaders shift the attention of governing bodies to gun control, "sanctuary" for illegals, oppression of traditional values, environmental mandates, liberal drug-use policies, and decrees such as a $15-an-hour minimum wage, all dominated by government worker unions with supersized benefits.
Liberals are pushing the envelope and trying to talk your town's mayor and others into following their lead. Rather than serving communities, the agenda is to transform communities in the same sense that President Obama aims to transform the country.
Meantime, basic services, such as roads and public safety, often suffer, taking a back seat to social agendas.
The push of left-leaning agendas is no longer limited to places such as San Francisco, New York, Washington, Chicago and Boston. Other places like Austin, Texas; Seattle; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver; and Minneapolis are becoming the laboratories of the liberal left.
Once they capture city halls and school boards, the left has government resources to provide them with organization, funding and people. The right is disadvantaged if it gears up only to tackle big government on the federal or state level. Citizens often assume that local leaders are unlike the Washington crowd, especially since so many local elections are labeled as nonpartisan.
There are plenty of examples of what's happening:
• Former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns claims to have backing from more than 1,000 current and former mayors.
• More than 120 cities and counties have adopted local minimum-wage laws above the federal $7.25 an hour and above their state's minimum wage. This sparks legal fights when local leaders try to meddle with interstate commerce by trying to dictate supersized wages for national chain stores or for franchisees affiliated with national chains, such as in Seattle and in Washington, D.C. Some states work to cut this off. Oklahoma enacted a state law prohibiting localities from setting their own minimum wage. Eventually, though, it's the marketplace that will test these local efforts to separate earnings from productivity.
• Gay and atheist activists have promoted intolerance of traditional-values groups such as the Boy Scouts, working to ban them from using public property in scores of communities.
• One list counts 138 cities that have declared themselves "sanctuary" cities where laws against illegal immigration will not be enforced. Yet the Obama administration persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of total federal control, decreeing that states cannot enforce immigration laws contrary to federal policies (as distinct from federal statutes).
• Other cities claim to legalize or decriminalize marijuana despite the federal law that outlaws pot (and a clear Supreme Court decision that federal law prevails over state or local laws on "medicinal" or "recreational" use of marijuana). The key is again that the Obama administration won't enforce federal law.
The left is dealing with contradictions. On other topics, liberals promote the notion of local control. Yet they rarely join conservatives to promote the 10th Amendment's language that powers not granted to the federal government are reserved to the people and to the states (which includes local governments).
As America deals with the left's latest effort to dominate local governments, we need to make two principles clear:
First, whether it's Detroit or anyplace else, local decisions must bring natural consequences. No bailouts, no rescues. No protection from free-enterprise cities that outcompete authoritarian cities.
Second, a local authoritarian government is not superior to a federal authoritarian government.
Many local leaders are adept at politicking for federal money. Over $600 billion a year flows from the federal treasury to local and state governments for grants and projects. That's more than enough already.
• Ernest Istook is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. Listen online to his daily talk-radio show at KZLSam.com, noon to 3 p.m. ET. Get his free email newsletter by signing up at eepurl.com/JPojD.