States and Localities the Changing Dynamic

The Dynamic of Local, State and Federal Governance

American governance has been based in Constitutional ideology since

the founding of our nation. Woven within the myriad premises which have

defined this ideology and the document giving it foundation is an ongoing

debate concerning the balance of governmental oversight and relative

individual or community autonomy. One of the core philosophical divides in

the founding of our nation concerns the issue over federal authority and

state or local rights, with our Founding Fathers, modern elected public

officials and the general population debating this point strenuously and in

perpetuity. There is, indeed, a deeply ideological root to all of this,

which denotes that the 'grand experiment' which is America if founded on

hard-won compromise between two divergent positions on this matter. The

result is centuries of consideration toward the resolution, or at least the

accommodation, of this compromise. At issue in this discussion is one of

the clarifying legislative endeavors concerning this issue, and one which

does appear to choose a specific side in the debate. The Home Rule

Enabling Act is one which directly addresses one of the subordinate

questions to the larger debate over federal versus state and local rights.

This discussion will focus on the implications and applications of the Home

Rule Enabling Act as it associates to the broader question of the

relationship between federal and local governance, leading us to conclude

that while the latter is a subordinate to the former, we have gradually

moved in the direction of affording more and more broadly implicated rights

to the latter.

The whole of this discussion centers on the notion that the local

governance is the unit most closely attached to the specific needs, demands

and desires of the public who elected it. In a sense, therefore, the

locality is the venue wherein individuals, groups and leaders may work

closely together to effect meaningful policy and, where needed, change.

However, for a great many years of our history, in fact leading well past

the middle of the 20th century, the legislative position on the flexibility

and freedom of this level of governance would be extremely limited. Prior

to the establishment of official legislation denoting the existence of

implied powers, it was understood only that the local government would be

entitled to act on only those powers explicitly afforded it by the

denotation of federal constitution, law or legislation. Naturally, this

was a circumstance that would result in no small degree of conflict,

resentment and impracticality. For the local government, the degree of its

ability to respond to community needs and popular demand would be extremely

limited by the condition of being beholden to federal policy and

leadership. Naturally, the distance which this would create between local

publics and the laws and policies governing or serving them would promote

something of a disenfranchisement. The ultimate outcome of such a

condition would therefore be the obstruction of individual rights, which

would be clearly less represented in the body of the broader governing

system. Its detachment and lack of proximity to the countless local

publics over which it presided would render early a federal government with

far too much authority with which to deprive individual and local rights.

Our research addresses this as a condition which was inherently

problematic and contrary to rationality. As Price (2008) argues, "it

would be the height of folly for people to establish governments that

deprive rights. But accordingly, the state expressly confers the authority

for a community to exercise a right to self governance." (2) Indeed, even

at the juncture before it had become more assumptive to argue on behalf of

the application of implied powers for local government, it had been the

case that local communities had been at least officially awarded the right

to select and execute effective local representation. And as to the

research question guiding this discussion, it is well understood that local

governance is technically authorized by the power of federal government,

and therefore, is to be seen as something of a step-child. Even further

removed in its explicit relationship to the federal seat of power than are

the state governments that might, in this analogy, be considered biological

offspring, the local government had historically accepted its role as

something of a public liaison to policies outside of a community or


Many other localities, however, had struggled with this condition,

recognizing there within a condition of governance which severely

handcuffed the ability of local officials to channel the will of the people

or to shape policy according to real and immediate civic demands. The

response would be the beginning of a process in 1969 which would, by the

early 1980s, evolve into an assumptive and necessary aspect of the

hierarchical chain of governance and authority. Establishing what would

become a clear and groundbreaking precedent, "in 1969 an amendment to the

State Constitution was approved by Maine voters and in 1970 the Maine

Legislature passed the Home Rule Enabling Act, and since that time Maine's

cities and towns can not only exercise those powers expressly granted or

necessarily implied but also 'any power or function, which the Legislature

has power to confer upon it, which is not expressly denied or denied by

clear implication.'" (Starn, 1) This precedent would have a remarkably

liberating effect on the way that localities could begin to shape policy

and provision. Increasingly, cities and towns could act according to the

relationship between population, public office and geographical implication

instead of reporting to an array of standards crafted from a nationalist

perspective. More and more, the development of Americas localities would

begin to take on their own cultural mores, ideological prerogatives and

geographically-specific demands with a freedom not even represented in the

relationship between the public and its remote federal governance. One of

the principles argued by President Reagan, who presided over the

formalization of this approach to federal liberalization toward local

governance, according to Price, would be the idea that America should be

defined by the culturally diverse and autonomous faces of our local

communities and outstanding cities.

This change would, of course, produce the positive economic outcomes

inherent to more sensitive and focused policy approaches. One of the more

important developments which would unfold here from would be a greater

standardization of independent state actions concerning commercial

interactivity. Federal restrictions upon interstate commerce, the

philosophy implied, were similarly detached, insensitive and impractical to

the needs of a growing economy. Therefore, a greater liberalization toward

self-governance within the broader system of the United States would be

reflected in the heightened emphasis on interstate compacts. Such economic

arrangements could be brokered betwixt states with the ability to craft

processes and policies absent of federal intervention. "Unlike federal

actions that impose unilateral, rigid mandates, compacts afford states the

opportunity to develop dynamic, self regulatory systems over which the

party states can maintain control through a coordinated legislative and

administrative process." (Post, 1) This, again, allows for those public

officials elected in more precise regional contexts to attend to the

demands apparent within a more concentrated economic setting such as a

state or locality. The variables which separate the needs of so many

states and localities-whether economically, geographically, culturally,

racially or even in terms of age-cannot be addressed by the overarching

authority of the federal government, which lacks both the intimate

understanding and the sense of personal accountability which are requisite

to responding to popular need and demand.

Today, we may say that we have a reached a fairly high point of

integrative self-governance, where federal, state and local authorities

exist in a hierarchical but non-entangled dynamic which retains the

sensitivity of local responsiveness. According to Zimmerman (2007), who

traces the history of this trajectory to the middle of the 19th century,

"continuing resentment of legislative interference resulted in theā€¦