EDITORIAL: Calling Texas special session is ‘assault’ on local governance

We commend the blunt candor of the mayors of McAllen and Mission, who last week were reacting to the subjects that Gov. Greg Abbott outlined when he called for a special legislative session next month.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling called the topics that Abbott wants lawmakers to address “an assault on cities.”

Mission Mayor Norbeto “Beto” Salinas asked a simple, but penetrating question: Why are state leaders “making life so difficult for us?”

On Wednesday, Abbott outlined 20 different items that he wants lawmakers to address during a special session that begins on July 18. Just one of those items — the continuation of a handful of state agencies, including the one that hands out medical licenses — can be deemed an emergency since inaction by the Texas Legislature would mean those agencies would cease operating on

Sept. 1.

Of the remaining 19 legislative items that Abbott wants addressed, at least 13 would have the state dictating policy to local governments — or remove policies that cities have already adopted.

While each of these items may be highly popular for the conservative wing of Abbott’s Republican Party, the sheer notion that Abbott wants lawmakers to address these items flies in the face of conservative philosophy.

In what has been a mantra and a guiding principle for conservatives since the days of Ronald Reagan, local control is the best type of governance.

Ironically, as Mayor Darling pointed out, part of Abbott’s appeal to voters and a key reason he is now governor is that he made a national name for himself as Texas attorney general by repeatedly suing the Obama Administration for federal overreach into state issues.

“I guess federal to state (overreach) is different than state to city,” Darling said last week.

A governing philosophy of local control has served Republicans well. George W. Bush rode that sentiment to the

White House.

So one has to wonder why Republican leaders like Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are so willing to upend a fundamental party philosophy.

We believe that it indicates a nuanced, but profound shift in state leadership from governing to the raw exercise of power.

Republican control of the executive, the legislative and judicial branch of state government is not enough; that control must be exerted on municipal governments as well, locales that often are Democratic strongholds such as virtually every municipality in the Rio Grande Valley.

And while we recognize that is how the political game is played, we must raise our concerns when governing philosophies become secondary considerations to political power.

That’s because governing philosophies are an extension of constitutional philosophies.

So when Texas cities implement bans on fracking within its city limits or when voters in Texas cities implement ordinances that keep Uber or Lyft from doing business without certain consumer protections, that is a healthy democracy in action.

To have the Texas Legislature supersede the will of local government and the will of local voters, as they did in each of these cases, seems fundamentally wrong for our democratic traditions.

Perhaps most bothersome about the menu of items deemed so significant as to call lawmakers back to Austin for 30 days is the exclusion of one item: governmental transparency.

Open government advocates lamented in the final days of the regular session about the stinging defeat of several measures aimed at enhancing the public’s right to know about government functions.

We believe that the transparency of government is far more important than the state’s incursion into local affairs — and that Gov. Abbott missed a significant opportunity when he failed to call for lawmakers to address open government legislation.