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Introduction to American (Local Politics)

Author: Emily Farris (Texas Christian University).
It can be difficult to incorporate local politics into an introductory American Politics class. Many textbooks and classes are designed to emphasize national politics and institutions. Local politics is important and relevant for students’ lives, on many issues, from taxation to education. It is worth at least a mention in an introductory class. Local politics can sometimes be our best politics.
Federalism is a common topic to introduce local politics to intro classes. Municipal governments are located at bottom of a federal system of governance. Their powers are heavily dependent on the authorization from their states. It will surprise students to learn that the Constitution does not mention local governments or their powers. This allows you to reflect on the debates between the framers about the nature of government power, and their preferences for a government that is closest to the people.
Cities Clashing with their States
Recent cases of cities battling with their state governments over policies is one way to get the discussion moving. You could talk about plastic bag bans and publicly funded abortion support, “bathroom bills”, gun control, and ride-sharing restrictions. In my Urban Politics class, I showed the video of Austin’s ride-sharing restrictions. It gives an excellent introduction to Dillon’s Rule and Home Rule. The video would also be a good choice for an Intro class. You are likely to find an example from your state that will encourage students to think about the power of local government and the relationships between federal, state, and local politics.
Heather Evans, Scott Huffmon and Chris Goodman, as well as Jack Collens, Nyron Clark, Jason McDaniel and Mirya Holman, for their ideas on how to teach Dillon’s Rule via twitter. Without them, I would not have been able to talk about Dillon’s amazing beard.

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