I used to work, at a couple layers of remove, for a man who believed, deeply, in bipartisanship. All of our problems could be solved, he contended, if we could just sit down at the Table of Brotherhood, square in the middle of the Marketplace of Ideas, and reason together over our shared situation. He’s an old man now, and I doubt he’s changed his mind at all, although maybe it’s dawned on him that, as scores of others have pointed out, that we no longer have two parties dealing in good faith, but OMG we’ve been over this so many times I’m already bored.
Anyway, I thought of him when I read this story in Washington Monthly, which is about how the Biden administration is sending money intended for cities directly to the cities themselves, not going through the usual block-grant process, in place since the Nixon administration. Why? Because that’s how red-state governors like to punish blue cities:
When Hurricane Harvey struck Houston in 2017, city lawmakers expected the state to pass along the more than $1 billion Congress had appropriated for emergency aid. Instead, they received nothing: The entire package was doled out to largely white, inland communities less affected by the storm. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner accused Abbott of a “money grab.” The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development later found that the stunt put Texas in violation of the Civil Rights Act. “Let me just tell you, that remains a sore spot,” Turner recently told me.
Of course, until fairly recently, the block-grant system worked passably well. I don’t want to over quote from what is a very readable story (for such a nerdy one), but this stood out to me:
Then, as now, tensions existed between urban and rural interests over spending and other decisions. For instance, politicians representing cities wanted funding for projects like mass transit, whereas those from more rural areas wanted money spent on roads. But back in the 1970s—indeed, for most of U.S. history—disagreements between rural and urban interests weren’t necessarily partisan in nature. Rural lawmakers (depending on the state) were as likely to be Democrats as Republicans, and spending battles typically involved bipartisan dealmaking—for instance, urban Democrats aligning with suburban lawmakers, who were largely Republicans, to get money for metro-wide bus service.
Only in the past 20 years, as the parties sorted more starkly geographically—with metro areas becoming overwhelmingly blue, and rural and exurban areas becoming overwhelmingly Republican—have the battles over the funding of local communities become reliably partisan and ideological. In 2011, for example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, the Ron DeSantis of that era, signed legislation preempting the ability of local governments to mandate that private businesses in their jurisdictions offer paid sick leave, as Milwaukee had done. Soon after that, 15 more states passed similar statutes. In 2012, Barack Obama took 69 percent of the vote in cities with more than 500,000 residents while winning just 22 percent of total counties, the lowest share in history. Meanwhile, the Republican Party was methodically consolidating power over state governments: Between 2010 and 2013, the number of states with a Republican ruling trifecta jumped from nine to 25, their largest state lawmaking majority since the 1920s. Governors and attorneys general launched an endless barrage of lawsuits against Obama’s government.
This, more than anything else, is what drives me nuts about today’s GOP: They still contend that they are the party of the smallest government, the most local government, until they aren’t. When Washtenaw County, home of Ann Arbor, proposed banning or otherwise discouraging the use of plastic grocery bags — the kind that end of blowing in the breeze and getting tangled in tree branches, not the sturdier multi-use ones I tote to Kroger — the Michigan legislature passed a law forbidding such local ordinances, because Meijer and other representatives of Big Grocery kicked about it. Here’s the story on what’s happening in Texas:
Over (Gov. Greg Abbott’s) two-plus terms, he and his GOP-controlled legislature have overridden the ability of local governments in Texas to, among other things, mandate paid sick leave, require COVID-19 vaccines for workers, expand voting options, and regulate oil and gas drilling within their own borders.
You can’t sit down in the marketplace of ideas with people like that. You can only burn them to the ground. Fortunately, they’re doing a pretty good job of lighting their own fires.
But they’re still dangerous. In the cheering over Janet Protasiewicz’ victory, one dark detail was overlooked, and thanks to my cheesehead friend for pointing it out. North shore Milwaukee voters elected a Republican to the state senate, giving them a supermajority there, and guess what?
The Wisconsin Constitution allows lawmakers to remove state officials “for corrupt conduct in office, or for crimes and misdemeanors,” but Knodl has said he would consider launching impeachment proceedings for criminal justice officials “who have failed” at their jobs.
Knodl said he would support invoking the that power against Janet Protasiewicz, the Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge who won a race for a vacant seat on the state Supreme Court. Knodl did not immediately say he would consider voting in favor of impeaching Protasiewicz if she is elected.
State law allows a two-thirds majority in the state Senate to hold impeachment trials for state officials accused of corruption or crimes and misdemeanors if a majority of Assembly members vote to introduce impeachment articles, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau.
Yes, we could see an impeachment of a justice who hasn’t even assumed her office yet.
So that’s where we are. I’m reminded of a line from the Doors: They got the guns but we got the numbers. Let’s just hope we don’t have to call upon Shakespeare by the end of this: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, Or close the wall up with our English dead. I’d rather be a modest-living expat in some European capital than have to fight for my own country.