In a Biden-DeSantis Race, All Politics Will Be Local.

AuthorGlastris, Paul
PositionRon DeSantis, 2024 United States presidential election

In June 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation blocking local governments from requiring that gas stations in their jurisdictions provide electric vehicle charging stations. It was a classic DeSantis move, like his effort to ban certain books from school libraries: aggressively use state power to overturn decisions by local officials that he doesn't like.

Six months later, Joe Biden threw those local officials a lifeline. The $1 trillion infrastructure bill he signed includes billions of dollars in grants for municipalities to build EV charging stations--and, in a major break with past federal practice, it routes those funds directly to local governments, rather than through state departments of transportation. Wayne Messam, the Democratic mayor of Miramar, Florida, is planning to apply for one of those grants. "DeSantis claims that Florida is the free state, but every time you turn around, he's telling us what we cannot do," Messam recently told Washington Monthly editor Will Norris. "Yet you have a Biden administration that has worked hand-in-hand with mayors across this country... I just think that it's just a difference between the two parties."

This policy duel between Biden and DeSantis over EV charging stations has garnered zero press attention (aside from Norris's story about it in the current issue). But it will almost certainly become national news, especially if the two men wind up facing each other in the 2024 presidential race, because it perfectly highlights both their governing philosophies and the place where the tectonic plates of American politics are colliding: local government.

Rhetorically, conservatives love to defend localities against an overweening state. Open any of the loftier right-wing political journals and you'll find essays, complete with their own nomenclature--"subsidiarity," "little platoons"--praising the virtues of localism. In practice, conservative politicians have spent the past decade using state power to crush local initiatives. That's because the more populous municipalities in GOPcontrolled states have become bluer, and attacking their progressive policies plays well with voters in the increasingly red rural, small-town, and exurban parts of those states. In addition to DeSantis's actions, Republican governors in Texas, Georgia, and elsewhere have overridden municipal efforts to mandate paid sick leave, protect LGBTQ rights, expand voter options, and regulate oil and gas drilling...

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