Republicans Increasingly Rely on Preemption to Fight Local Control

The guy who has come to be known as a “moderate Republican” just did this:

Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Monday signed legislation blocking next year’s special election vote on whether to raise Cleveland’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, according to his office.

Senate Bill 331 prohibits communities in the state from raising the minimum wage beyond the state’s minimum wage rate, currently set at $8.10 per hour.

This is what is known as “preemption,” and it’s something we should all be getting familiar with. We’ve seen similar examples from Republican governors and state legislators to preempt local laws about things like LGBT rights, fracking and paid sick leave. But the strategy goes back to when the tobacco companies used it as a way to overthrow locally-supported smoking ordinances. Tina Wells, from the Phillip Morris Company, described it like this back in 1994:

By introducing pre-emptive statewide legislation we can shift the battle away from the community level back to the state legislatures where we are on stronger ground.

Preemption is one of the tactics Zachary Roth identified that Republicans have embraced to avoid losing – even when they are outnumbered. He explains why it is a tool favored by the corporate world to defend their interests.

Corporate lobbyists can usually use their influence to stymie or water down serious attempts at regulation coming from Washington and state capitals. But in cities and towns, it’s often a different story.

Because urban areas – even in solidly red states – are becoming much more liberal, they are passing ordinances that are opposed by corporations and/or offend the cultural sensitivities of conservatives. Republicans are increasingly using preemption to stop that from happening by having state legislators and governors pass laws prohibiting ordinances they don’t like (see: North Carolina’s HB2, which was a reaction to an attempt by the city of Charlotte to protect LGBT residents). Gov. Kasich just did the same thing to preempt any effort to raise the minimum wage in Ohio.

This is how we are likely to see the developing tension between urban and suburban/rural America play out – especially in red states. It is fascinating, given that it flips the script for conservatives. Most of us remember that in the 60’s and 70’s, Republicans became increasingly enamored with the fight for local control. That was primarily because they didn’t like what was coming from federal legislation and Supreme Court rulings. With their own cities becoming more diverse, young and liberal, they are now relying on preemption as a way to fight against local control.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.