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Counties Need More Independence

To handle the nation’s divisions better, we should increase the powers of counties to create policies that best fit their own constituents.

The nation is divided, and not just between states, but also between counties. When we look at a county map, we see mostly red, and when we look at a population map, we see a majority of blue.

These counties compete for influence in state and federal legislatures, clamoring for a significant voice in the centralized policies placed over them all. Tensions increase. Division flourishes. And people are removed further from the policymakers that affect their everyday lives. 

The solution is actually quite simple—allow counties to be chartered and act like mini-states. The first state to allow this was California when Los Angeles became a charter county in 1912.

Since then, 13 other counties in California have become chartered. Some counties in other states have joined. 

But the number of chartered counties remains small relative to the number of counties in the nation. In California, there are 58 counties, meaning 44 of them are merely arms of the state.

Prior to 1912, that is all a county could be, a local arm of the state. This holds true for many counties today, in which all county laws and some official appointments are still handled by state actors.

Many states allow individual cities to be a part of multiple counties and allow other subdivisions to exist beneath and parallel to counties, like townships, villages, towns and so forth. Some states do not even have county governments, reducing counties to mere regional divisions.

The end result? Weak counties with little identity. The county only applies to a part of the city or a part of the village or township. In practice, many counties are insignificant. When people become disillusioned by the prevailing political landscape of their state, there is nowhere to go besides their city or locality, which holds minimal responsibilities.

In the case of major policy issues like health crises, all the policies are handled by the state, which often runs into friction with wide swaths of its electorate. 

But in a charter county, and a proper administrative division framework where cities are attached to and below one country, a strong layer of federalism is created—a middle-ground between the local insight of cities and the resources of states.

The COVID-19 pandemic provides a good example. Many cities and states followed a health policy that discriminated against churchgoers and other key conservative populations while permitting, even encouraging, protesting. This inflamed national division. It’s my conviction that chartered counties would’ve done better.

A conservative county, for instance, could have allowed church attendance, while liberal counties could have restricted church attendance while permitting protesting. Outdoor dining could have been required for liberal counties while full indoor dining could have been allowed for conservative counties.

Policies could’ve been tailored to the needs and wants of individual communities.

The key to keeping America strong is allowing this local individuality. 

Of course, there have to be state- or nation-wide laws. But where possible, duties should be relegated to counties, allowing community needs to be addressed and giving citizens more power in the daily effects of politics. When communities have more power, when the polarizing stakes of centralized state or federal seats are reduced, national unity follows.

If we are to live by our motto, "E Pluribus Unum,” we must remember that it applies not just to race, religion, gender and ethnicity. It applies to the states, to our cities, and yes, to our counties as well.

When we deny the political powers a county could have, we erode one more layer of federalism, one more institution linking people to political power, one more institution giving the individual a voice.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


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