The Republican Party acts like it’s dedicated to individualism and local control — arguing loudly that mask and vaccine mandates are a violation of personal liberty and local choice.
But at the state level, GOP elected officials zealously legislate to centralize power, and kill local autonomy and individual choice. The Texas GOP-led Legislature continued this trend in September, passing two representative bills — SB 1, a slate of new voting restrictions, and SB 8, a frightening new form of anti-abortion law.
In his study titled “Takeover,” political scientist Domingo Morel reveals how since the 1990s, state legislatures have routinely taken over school boards in cities where Black political power grew out of the Civil Rights movement. These takeovers haven’t improved city schools or educational outcomes, but they have been successful at weakening Black political power, handicapping local participation and improving electoral control of party elites.
Today GOP led-legislatures have taken takeovers viral, applying the strategy to destabilize the political participation of various minorities, southwest Latinos, Native Americans and immigrants, and to entities other than school boards. In an April Washington Post column, Morel points to the Flint, Mich., water system. Since the 2020 election, state GOP representatives are taking over election systems and usurping rights and constitutional protections.
We are familiar with legislative campaigns to limit participation and local autonomy: The Voter ID and similar laws passed by 36 states from mid to teen 2000s; Jim Crow laws that emerged in the late 1880s, spread across southern states, froze participation and voided constitutional rights for almost a century.
Texas SB 1 is the latest in the multistate campaign to spread new voting limits legislation “surgically tailored” to limit access to minority and Democratic-leaning voters in response to robust minority participation in 2020 elections and the “big lie.” In July, the Brennan Center reported that 18 states have already enacted 30 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote. Among its many provisions, SB 1 prohibits voting methods popular in Harris County (Houston) — a minority-majority city — from using voting methods that were popular in 2020. No more 24-hour or drive-through voting even though 127,000 people in Harris County drove through to vote. SB 1 also assigns criminal penalties against election workers who violate new protections for partisan poll watchers and against voter advocates and organizers who help voters apply for or complete absentee ballots.
SB 8 is like a delta variant. It voids a constitutional right and it is diabolical in form. SB 8 prohibits abortions after six weeks. U.S. law provides a constitutional right to abortion per Planned Parenthood v. Casey until viability (about 24 weeks). And SB 8 sports a new form that might be immune to judicial review. SB 8 removes the state from enforcement of the law and instead deputizes individual Texans to enforce the law. Any Texan can now sue an abortion provider or anyone who “knowingly aids and abets the performance or inducement of an abortion.” If a suit is successful, the filer can claim $10,000. SB 8 has already in fact overturned the right to abortion in Texas. Abortion providers have closed out of a fear of being sued. Texans have to travel an average of 248 miles to leave the state. Poor women and families now have decreased access to health care and family planning options.
SB 8 style laws will certainly spread. The Supreme Court refused to reject the law before it went into effect on Sept. 1.
We need a national democratic mandate. Here, an urgent, unyielding campaign to protect voting and constitutional rights may be the only effective vaccine.