Why Do These Rightwing States Keep Overruling Local Control? Could It Be The Fascism?
Just puzzling this over, and it really feels like it might be the fascism.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced last Friday that it would appoint conservators to take over the Austin Independent School District. Supposedly, the state education agency hadda do it because the Austin district had "systemic issues" in providing services to students in special education classes.
Two weeks ago, the agency also appointed a "board of managers" to take over the schools in Houston, shitcanning the superintendent and the elected school board. In that case, the move was prompted by what TEA said was years of low academic achievement in the majority-minority district.
Several civil rights groups, including the NAACP of Texas, the ACLU of Texas, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice, sued in federal court last week , arguing that in taking over Houston's schools, the state had violated what's still left of the Voting Rights Act by overruling the rights of voters of color, who kind of chose the leadership they wanted for the schools.
“The state takeover is not about public education but about political control of an almost entirely Black and brown student body in one of the country’s most diverse cities,” Ashley Harris, an attorney at the ACLU of Texas, said in a news release announcing the complaint.
The complaint says that the TEA could hold “indefinite power” over Houston ISD without any structures in place for voters to hold the agency and its appointed board members accountable.
Well yes, that does seem to be the point .
Texas: The One-Star, One-Party State
As for the takeover of Austin schools, state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D) said in a press release that, as the parent of a son who's in special education, she's aware of the district's problems with special education, but added that the district — and voters — were already addressing the matter, with the election of four new board members in November, and the district's hiring of a new interim superintendent. She wrote,
They have briefed me on their plans to turn around the special education department in AISD. I believe that we were finally on track to do right by our kids.
I am dismayed by [TEA Commissioner Mike] Morath’s decision to install a conservatorship in our school district at this time.
Pointing out that the federal Department of Education has had the TEA itself under oversight since 2018 for "its failings regarding special education," Hinojosa said she hadn't heard from Morath "how or why the TEA is better equipped to address our pressing challenges." She said that the Austin district's problems were mostly due to understaffing, a teacher shortage exacerbated by the state shortchanging AISD's special education program "by close to $80 million annually." She added that the district's challenges "will not be solved by consolidating power in the hands of Governor [Greg] Abbott's appointed commissioner."
As the Texas Tribune explains, the Education Department found in its 2018 investigation that Texas
had been effectively denying students with disabilities the tools and services they need in order to learn, in violation of federal law. In 2020, the federal government found that the TEA had not done enough to serve all special education students.
“It's shocking — with both Houston and AISD — that the commissioner, who has failed in the area of special ed, would take over Austin ISD for special education reasons when he is greatly to blame,” said David DeMatthews, an associate professor at the University of Texas Austin's College of Education.
You know, we can't help but think there's some sort of trend here. Remember back during the pandemic, when Abbott used his emergency powers as governor to ban Texas cities and counties from mandating face masks, and vaccines? And now the school systems in two of the state's biggest — and most Democratic-leaning — cities are under state control. For their own good, of course.
Not that the pandemic was the first such instance of Texas overruling local voters; way back in 2014, the state's oil-bidniss regulator announced she would railroad right past the voters of Denton, Texas, after they voted to ban fracking in their fair community. You could probably find earlier examples, too. Once Greg Abbott was elected governor — even before he was sworn in — he pledged to put a stop to such "California style regulations that cities are imposing on people." for freedom.
One Florida Man, One Vote
Still, much of the current fuckery with local level democracy got rolling during the pandemic, as state legislators sought to curb county public health offices or school districts from mask orders and even infection tracking. We're really going to be screwed when the next airborne viral pandemic hits. But we'll be "free"!
The pandemic gave Gov. Ron DeSantis an excuse to go after Florida school districts, taking extreme measures to prevent them from mandating masks. Since then, he's been getting his grimy hands all over various parts of government that aren't really part of the state executive branch. He fired four members of the Broward County school board and replaced them with loyalists, creating a new, unelected conservative majority on the school board for one of the state's most Democratic metro areas. Thirty DeSantis-endorsed candidates won school board elections in 2022, and he's already targeted 14 more seats for 2024, a number expected to grow.
In 2022, DeSantis fired Hillsborough County's elected prosecutor Andrew Warren for saying he wouldn't pursue criminal charges in abortion cases, because prosecutorial discretion is for loyalists, loser. (Warren is still pursuing a lawsuit to be reinstated .) DeSantis has to run everything, including the curricula of state colleges, which must be rescued from their own wokeness.
Come Tennessee What Democrats Made Republicans Do
Oh, let's do more! In March, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill slashing the size of Nashville's City Council from 40 members to 20 members, just an hour after the state Senate passed it, because it was so important to teach Nashville voters a lesson for electing too many Democrats. Tennessee Republicans were mad at the Nashville council for blocking an effort to hold the 2024 Republican National Convention in Nashville. The city is suing, arguing that the move violates the state constitution, and that the change will create chaos ahead of Nashville's City Council elections set for August. The bill only gives the city until May 1 to draw new district lines.
And of course today, the Republican supermajority in the state House is almost certain to expel three Democrats who committed the unspeakable crime of taking the dais without being recognized, in support of Nashville students who were protesting in favor of gun control. Many of the same Republicans chose not to expel a Republican state representative in 2019 after three women accused him of sexually assaulting them in the 1980s, when they were minors and he was their high school basketball coach.
Wisconsin: Nice Supreme Court You Got Here. For Now.
In Wisconsin, Democrats are rightly celebrating Tuesday's election of Janet Protasiewicz to the state supreme court, giving the court a liberal majority that's likely to protect abortion rights and undo the Republican gerrymander that gives the GOP huge majorities in the state Legislature in a basically evenly split populace. But even before the balloons and confetti were cleared away from the victory party, Republicans were already discussing what a great idea it would be to impeach Protasiewicz, simply because they can.
You see, kids, the same special election that put Protasiewicz on the court also filled a vacant seat in the state Senate. That seat in the Milwaukee exurbs was won, narrowly, by Republican Dan Knodl, giving Republicans a supermajority in the Senate. Near the end of the campaign, Knodl said that if he won, he would support impeaching Protasiewicz from her current job as a circuit judge in Milwaukee County.
So hey, now that she'll be on the state's highest court, there's speculation that Republicans might just get busy impeaching Protasiewicz and other statewide Democratic officeholders now that they have the power to do it. Knodl, who's moving up from the state Assembly after his victory Tuesday, was among the Wisconsin Rs who called on Mike Pence to not certify the 2020 election. He's got a solid record of not being overly concerned about voters' wishes.
Georgia, Where The Lights Went Out
Finally — although we're sure we could list examples all day — there's Georgia, where the state Legislature sent to Gov. Brian Kemp a bill to create a commission with the power to remove local elected prosecutors. It's a transparent effort to crack down on Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for the sin of maybe holding Donald Trump responsible after he tried to reverse the 2020 election results in Georgia. But the bill was also driven by Republican anger at another local DA, Deborah Gonzalez, who said she wouldn't make a priority of prosecuting low-level marijuana charges.
As Yr Wonkette's Evan Hurst explained at the time, all this state usurpation of local voters' choices is fairly easy to explain. Having managed to win power, whether through gerrymandering, voter suppression, more rural than urban votes, or various combinations of those, Republicans in state legislatures
resent that the more liberal residents of big cities elect officials who aren't right-wing hacks. This was a big issue during the COVID-19 pandemic when Kemp regularly fought local officials over sensible COVID-19 policies. We're not going to insult your intelligence by pointing out how Republicans used to go on about "local control." That was just their excuse to get their Jim Crow on without federal intervention.
White rightwing nominally "Christian" nationalists can see that they won't win over voters by persuasion, so they're going all in on negating the political power of anyone who gets in the way. At a national level, that's why you still have Republicans talking about a federal ban on abortion rights, because even after the Dobbs decision, those damn blue states are still letting women have control over their bodies.
Oh yes, on that note, a bit more late democracy-breaking news: Yesterday, Idaho Gov. Brad Little quietly signed into law that "abortion trafficking" bill aimed at criminalizing adults (including family members other than parents) who help minors travel to free states to get abortions, or who help them get abortion pills.
Your papers, please?
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