Local Government in Texas

Introduction

Voters in Texas have leaned conservative throughout the state’s history, albeit with a bit of a progressive streak. Even as the nature of the Republican and Democratic parties have changed, the basic ideology of Texas voters has been fairly reliable.

One major change, though, has been the geographic distribution of liberals and conservatives. In recent elections, urban areas have grown increasingly liberal as rural areas have grown more conservative. This has created an interesting conflict with respect to the nature of local governments in Texas. Conservative lawmakers have historically supported the concept of local control, letting local governments – especially cities – conduct their business as they please, relying on local voters to keep regulatory overreach in check.

More liberal urban voters, though, have shown a higher level of comfort with government regulation and authority that conservative voters generally oppose. Austin, arguably the most liberal of Texas cities, has enacted ordinances banning grocery stores from offering plastic bags to customers, placing red-light cameras at intersections to automatically ticket drivers who fail to come to a complete stop before making a right turn - even requiring apartment properties to participate in voluntary federal low-income housing programs

The San Antonio City Council, meanwhile, refused to allow Chick-fil-A restaurants in the city’s airport because of the company’s financial support of organizations like the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which city leaders felt were insufficiently supportive of gay and lesbian issues.

picture of chick fila
Figure 6.1 Chick-fil-A restaurant located at the Tech Ridge shopping center in Austin, Texas. Image credit: Wild Bill, License: CC BY SA

In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed a number of bills to reign in local government policies it deemed out of control. Red-light cameras were banned statewide. A “Save Chick-fil-A bill” prohibiting cities from refusing to do business with companies that partner with religious groups was enacted. A bill prohibiting new partnerships between cities and abortion providers was also signed into law. As the demographics and politics of Texas change, how will future legislators expand or contract the powers of local governments?

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