Decades ago the tobacco industry developed a strategy to reach state governments in order to get their agenda across. The strategy was perfected by the National Rifle Association. Now it is being used by the restaurant industry to fight wage increases and by a group of corporations in order to better fight common issues. The trend recently came to the fore after the new Texas governor, Greg Abbott, warned cities that by passing certain ordinances and regulations they were undermining the business friendly image Texas has been working towards. Pre-empting the power of local government, as this is called, is now standard practice in several states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina or New Mexico, states where Republicans control state houses. A new law in Arkansas, for example, forbids municipalities from passing ordinances protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. In New Mexico, the restaurant industry says it will support a small wage increase only if the state promises to pass laws forbidding other increases. In Washington D.C. a variation is at work where the Congress is trying to override a law legalizing marijuana which was passed by 70% of the D.C. electorate in November 2014. Given Republicans’ emphasis on local control, critics see hypocrisy in the use of these pre-empting laws. Democrats have been known to use them too, but apparently their practice is more sporadic and not as organized.
Understanding the uses and consequences of pre-empting laws defies easy explanations. That, of course doesn’t lessen their importance because if we believe in the democratic process, these laws are an instance showing us the need to know what corporate money is buying, or as in the case with Marijuana in D.C., one where the will of the people is being superseded and ignored—Both corroding, interfering and restricting the working out of what is meant to be a basic tenet of any country believing in democracy.