For some who sometimes advocate more local power on key decisions, the position is mostly instrumental. That is to say, they don’t have any firm philosophical commitment to decisions being made more locally, they simply believe that more local governments are more likely to endorse their preferred policy outcome.
If the political situation changes, and they can achieve their policy goals through a less local approach, these people don’t hesitate to abandon their prior rhetoric about local control and embrace a more centralized approach.
For these people, local control is a means to achieve their ends, not an end in itself.
Other people do have a philosophical commitment to the idea of local control. But this is rarely absolute. Sometimes this is practical — a committed state’s rights advocate might nonetheless concede that the military makes the most sense as a national program, for example.
This can also be a matter of principle.
Rep. Manny Steele addressed the issue at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast a few weeks ago.
“That gets into an area that is what I consider a moral issue, not a state issue,” Steele said when asked about same-sex marriage. “I don’t deviate from my moral issues.”
He’s not alone, and not just on the right, in framing things that way. Many people say they believe in state’s rights — but that certain fundamental moral issues override the principle of local control. Local control is a principle, but not necessarily the highest principle.
The problem is that not everyone who follows this philosophy agrees what is a fundamental moral issue to be decided universally and what is a less important question that should be left up to more local governments.
Take gun control. Sen. Tim Johnson made news yesterday by saying “he favors solutions tailored to a state-by-state approach to regulating firearms… Johnson said firearms issues in South Dakota are not likely to be the same issues as those in New York and New Jersey. Johnson said he is looking for ‘common sense, not one size fits all.’”
This drew a sharp retort from state Rep. Steve Hickey on Twitter:
Here we’ve got Johnson, who has been skeptical of some gun control measures in the past, advocating a state’s rights approach on the issue. Hickey says the issue is so important it shouldn’t be decided nationally.
It may be becoming obvious that there can be some overlap between this moral/local dichotomy and the instrumental approach, with the philosophy simply a cloak over the instrumental. But some people do have a genuine commitment to local control — the test is whether they’ll advocate for it even when it seems likely to produce results they don’t like.