Wow, how many times have I said that over the past quarter century?
Actually, it’s easier to count the number of times I’ve been heeded by our solons at the State House. It’s somewhere around zero.
Through most of its history, South Carolina basically didn’t have much in the way of local government, especially on the county level. Our system of government was set up to serve the slaveholding class of big landowners, who didn’t cotton to bases of power other than their own. Consequently, rather than have separately elected county government, county legislative delegations ran things on that level. Today, 41 years after the Home Rule Act, we still have vestiges of that in the Richland County Recreation Commission, and those counties where the legislators still name school board members.
Supposedly, we empowered local governments with passage of the Home Rule Act of 1975, but lawmakers have remained jealous of their prerogatives on the local level, and continue to lord it over the governments closest to the people — that is, the governments that ought to know best the needs and values of their own communities. Remember several years back when lawmakers tried to keep Columbia and other municipalities from banning smoking in public accommodations? They only backed down when the Supreme Court made them.
Here’s where I could go off on another screed about subsidiarity, but I won’t. Or maybe just a bit…
I will state the basic idea: Governmental decisions should be made by the smallest, least centralized level that is competent to handle the matter at hand.
So… if the people of a given community want to allow anyone who says he or she is of a certain gender use the restroom consistent with that identity, that person should be allowed to do so.
And if communities that care deeply about marine life want to ban plastic grocery bags, they should be allowed to do so.
Lee Bright thinks otherwise. He’s wrong.
Speaker Jay Lucas, whom I respect a lot more than I do Lee Bright, is also wrong on this point — although his position is more defensible. He has a plant in his district that makes such plastic bags, and it employs a lot of his constituents.
You might not think that’s a defensible position, but I disagree. It’s an essential feature of representative democracy that all voters should be empowered to elect representatives who stand up for their interest (although one always hopes that the larger public interest should prevail).
It’s not inherently wrong for a lawmaker to stand up for jobs in his district. That doesn’t mean the other 169 have to go along with him.
No, the problem isn’t that the speaker is protecting jobs; it’s that he’s telling people who live in communities other than his how they should arrange their local affairs.
One could of course argue that under the principle of subsidiarity, balancing the economy vs. the environment is more properly a state rather than a local matter. And that makes some sense.
But I tend to see this more as a part of a long and disturbing trend in South Carolina.