Warren Chisum has withdrawn his request for an attorney general’s opinion on the issue of whether public or private entities that receive state funds can use those funds to pay a registered lobbyist. As Chisum drafted the question, his inquiry included even the question of whether an entity that receives state funds could rent office space from a lobbyist. The request was apparently aimed at counties, cities, and school districts that support trade associations like the Texas Association of Counties, the Texas Municipal League, and the Texas Association of School Boards. In a posting on August 29 (“Chisum Puts Abbot on Hot Spot”), I suggested that Chisum’s request was designed to stop these groups from opposing efforts by the Republican leadership to eviscerate local control through imposition of stricter restrictions on revenue raising and appraisal increases.

I heard about this today from one of the organizations that I mentioned above. The attorney general’s office confirmed that the opinion request had been withdrawn — on August 31. Almost two weeks have passed. It is possible that I think I am the first person to know this story but am really the last, so if someone out there has already reported it, I apologize in advance.

Peggy Venable, a well known fiscal conservative activist, posted a response to my original item. Here is what she had to say:

Paul, you just don’t get it. We voters elect our city council and school board members as well as our county commissioners, legislators and congressional members to represent us. We should not be funding lobbyists to work for or against taxpayer interests. When Thomas Jefferson wrote, “To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical,” he likely had no idea the practice would become commonplace. For Texas local governments, lobbying appears to be a growth industry which needs to be stopped.

We at Americans for Prosperity looked at the legislative agendas of the top taxpayer-funded lobby groups: the Texas Association of Counties, the Texas Municipal League and the Texas Association of School Boards. These organizations — along with local governments — spend millions lobbying the legislature, and their legislative agendas clash with voter views. Here is the analysis: http://www.americansforprosperity.org/index.php?id=3024&state=tx.
I have joined other taxpayers and sued the Texas Association of Counties for violating the law in taking county dollars and lobbying. We will win that case, and if appealed, it will likely go to the Texas Supreme Court. Taxpayers expect our government officials to represent our views and our interests. Elected officials should not hire lobbyists with our tax dollars who then lobby against the very taxpayers who are paying them. If they can’t keep up with what is going on in Austin, the answer isn’t hiring lobbyists.

Etched on the side of the Zavala State Archives and Library Building, visible from the State Capitol, are words from the first Constitution of the State of Texas, written in 1845: “All political power is inherent in the people and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their benefit.” Now, over 160 years later, and only a few hundred yards away, that power is being usurped. Let’s hope Attorney General Abbott’s decision can help return that authority to the people.

I was going to respond to Ms. Venable that I know my Jefferson too, and cite his well known aphorism that the government that governs best is the government closest to the people — but, alas, after searching my quotation books and online sources, I could find no evidence that Jefferson said or wrote it. Nevertheless, an antipathy to the Hamiltonian idea of a strong central government was fundamental to his philosophy.

I agree with Ms. Venable that “We voters elect our city council and school board members as well as our county commissioners, legislators, and congressional members to represent us.” Fine. Either you believe in representative democracy or you don’t. If you do, then you should accept that the representatives of the people at the local level know what their constituents want and need. The Rick Perrys and Peggy Venables and Grover Norquists want the Legislature to impose its will on local government. That’s why local governments have resorted to hiring lobbyists. This is the new face of conservatism, and it’s an ugly one. I support a more traditional brand of conservatism — the principle of local control. Do we want ideologues imposing the political fashions of the day on local officials? I don’t. The government that governs best that is the one that closest to the people. Even if Jefferson didn’t say it.