As debt mounts in Democrat-run cities and crime spirals out of control, frustrated communities must decide whether it is time to make their escape.
Earlier this week, The Daily Wire told the story of some who had done so — not by moving from a liberal place to a conservative place, but by incorporating their existing neighborhood into a new town that would be governed according to the preferences of its residents.
There is nothing inherently partisan about the idea of self-determination; indeed, the process could be used to create progressive havens in conservative areas just as often as the reverse.
Yet the moves have frequently faced stiff opposition, which, at times, suggested that liberals want others to live according to their preferred policies in order to fund them, whether they like it or not.
In 1993, about 65% of Staten Island residents voted to secede from New York City and establish the “forgotten borough” as its own city, but the effort was snuffed out by Albany when the New York state assembly blocked the measure.
The San Fernando Valley has tried unsuccessfully more than once to secede from Los Angeles. The latest attempt was in 2002 when residents complained about the quality of local government.
The process of incorporating a new town or city, either carving one out of an existing municipality or incorporating an area within a county, varies wildly from state to state. In many cases, the process was established long ago and is unclear.
Sometimes the state legislature must grant a new city charter. While members of the dominant state party might not be happy about creating a new local government that might be governed by the opposite party, if they vote against approving such a measure after residents had taken a vote in favor, they encounter the decidedly undemocratic optics of denying people a right to self-determination.
Even after the vagaries of how to incorporate a town, there are the practical matters. As with a divorce, there is the issue of how to divvy up existing shared assets. Financial entanglements run deep, making it very difficult to extricate an area, especially when the parent area fights the secession.
In 2018, an area in Georgia known as Eagle’s Landing came close to pulling off a secession from Stockbridge, a city about 20 miles south of Atlanta. Residents of the gated country club community wanted to carve out a new town that included parts of south Stockbridge as well as other unincorporated parts of Henry County. The vote ultimately failed, to the relief of city officials in Stockbridge, whose tax base would have been diminished.
One secession effort involved school districts only. The city of Gardendale, Alabama, attempted to secede from the Jefferson County school system, but the effort was quashed in 2018 by a federal appeals court, which ruled city residents were racially motivated.
Others are fighting a tide going in the opposite direction, attempting to avoid being swallowed up into larger governments.
Louisville, Kentucky, merged with Jefferson County in 2003, one of the most recent examples of a city combining with its surrounding area. Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Nashville, and Lexington have also all merged with their suburbs. Memphis and Pittsburgh both tried but failed to do so.
Houston was notorious for annexing its surrounding areas, a practice that helped make the city the fourth largest in the country. Prior to the 1980s especially, Houston gobbled up so much territory that the Texas legislature responded to angry residents and passed laws cracking down on the city’s ability to do so.
Incorporation can avoid that since it’s easier to swallow up unincorporated land run by a county. In 1983, Meadows Place incorporated to avoid being annexed by Houston, becoming the smallest city in Texas with its own dedicated police department, fire station, and emergency services.
“Municipal consolidation, usually wrapped in a shiny good government package, is an idea that refuses to die,” American Enterprise Institute (AEI) scholars wrote in a 2018 paper called “Localism in America: Why We Should Tackle Our Big Challenges At The Local Level.” “In practice, however, consolidating local governments has not worked as promised, often leading to prohibitive costs, higher taxes, and reduced efficiency.”
Failed efforts to secede may have had a chilling effect, with many people not even realizing that creating a new, smaller town is even an option.
“We see what happened in New York. We see what happened in Los Angeles,” Howard Husock, one of the AEI authors, told The Daily Wire. “Those movements fizzled out.”
The success stories suggest the trouble might be worth it, however. Communities that broke away and secured their freedom have been rewarded with greater prosperity and safety, and they provide a beacon of hope for other Americans weighing the same decision.