Republicans have long preached that the best government is the one closest to the people. Based on this basic conservative principle, one might expect that they would promote the autonomy of local governments from the overreach of federal or state rules and regulations. Historically, the GOP has been an advocate for local control and has been critical of using state and federal power to overturn local government decisions.
However, Republicans in many red states have reversed their long-standing support for local control as blue state cities and counties have flexed their muscles by pursuing progressive agendas.
The Iowa GOP has joined this national trend by ignoring or overriding local control issues by legislating top-down bills that have overturned an assortment of county and municipal efforts. Republicans have overturned county-passed minimum wage increases, forced cities and counties to work with federal immigration authorities (sanctuary city bill), prevented local communities from banning plastic bags and have attempted to regulate or ban local traffic cameras.
One of the most contentious local control issues is the growing county revolt against unlimited and under-regulated concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOS). Supervisors in 89 Iowa counties have passed resolutions asking for the ability to limit factory farms in their counties. In 23 Iowa counties, they have passed resolutions calling for stronger regulations, local control and even a moratorium on factory farms.
So far, the Republican legislature has refused to allow counties to exercise any significant control or limit further CAFO construction. This growing rural rebellion over the exponential growth of CAFOs is heading for an inevitable showdown between counties and the legislature.
The latest move to supersede local control is the current Republican fireworks legislation. It’s an attempt to override local community’s decisions to limit the days, times and locations allowed to discharge fireworks. A number of Iowa cities, including Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City have bans in place.
The bill pushed by Republican Senator Jake Chapman of Adel would prevent local Iowa communities from banning the use of fireworks. Chapman’s bill would prevent cities and counties from bans and also expand the locations that fireworks can be sold. Currently, several cities limit the fireworks retail locations to specific areas within their boundaries.
Surprisingly, the 2017 bill legalizing fireworks in Iowa has been one of the most controversial laws in history. Residents of some Iowa cities and counties demanded their leaders put restrictions on the use of fireworks.
“This issue, fireworks in general, causes more calls to city councils and police departments than any other issue my members tell me about,” Palmer, a lobbyist for the Iowa League of Cities, said. “Locally, this is a big deal to constituents.”
The pushback to fireworks from residents with kids and pets has been deafening. Veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder have also been vocal in their opposition.
The growing philosophical divide between red states and blue urban areas within these states will likely to continue to create growing conflict. In Iowa it has become a battle between conservative red state rural Republican legislators vs. progressively blue urban Democrats. The recent 2018 election demonstrated the potential to expand Democratic control from urban to suburban areas. That puts suburban legislators like Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale and Charles Schneider of West Des Moines at risk if this trend continues.
Republicans ignoring large urban areas’ demands for local control put their political futures at risk. Unfortunately, with their complete control of Iowa government until at least 2020 they will likely continue to ignore urban demands.
by Rick Smith