Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Effects of Centralized Government Authority on Black and Latino Political Empowerment

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Effects of Centralized Government Authority on Black and Latino Political Empowerment

Article excerpt

How is black and Latino representation affected by state takeovers of local government? This question is part of a larger discussion in American politics concerning decentralized and centralized government authority. In the U.S. federal system, centralization and decentralization can take different forms. However, government centralization has generally meant the concentration of governance authority at the municipal, state, or national level (Meier 2013).

The scholarship on government centralization and decentralization has generally argued in favor of decentralized arrangements as a way to enhance democratic participation (Dye 1990; Rivlin 1992). Scholars have also focused on how political participation and empowerment among racial minorities increase as a result of decentralized arrangements and are harmed by centralization (Chambers 2006; Fung 2004).

Yet the focus on decentralization for the purposes of increasing political empowerment among racial minorities presents a puzzle. At times, the state has prevented racial minorities from achieving political power; and at other times, it has helped in the process of political empowerment. Scholars have shown how federal and state disenfranchisement laws and mortgage and housing policies, among other things, contributed to the political and economic marginalization of racialized communities (Pinderhughes 1987; Reed 1999). However, research also shows that racial minorities have relied on centralized authority to protect and advance racial equality and disrupt the policies and practices of local government officials who have intentionally and unintentionally prevented racial minorities from achieving political power (Greenstone and Peterson 1973). As Dawson (2001, 26) points out, African Americans have generally supported a strong centralized state because of the "federal government's relative support in protecting black claims for property rights and human rights against public and private expropriators in the states and local communities."

Although scholars have dedicated attention to understanding the role of government intervention in addressing barriers to political participation among historically marginalized populations, the scholarship has focused on federal intervention in states and localities. We know less about how state-level intervention at the local level affects racialized communities.

Historically, on issues of race, states and localities have unified in their opposition to federal intervention (Lowndes 2008). However, by the 1970s, the increasing presence of state governments in local affairs began to change the relationship between states and localities. Support from federal grants in the 1960s increased the capacity of state governments, which allowed state governments to expand their governmental authority (Hanson 1998; Manna 2006). In addition, under Presidents Nixon and Reagan, the era of "New Federalism" shifted significant governance authority from the federal to state governments (Reagan 1972). As state governments became stronger, they expanded their role in local affairs and by the 1980s, began to centralize authority over several policy areas, particularly public education (McDermott 2011).

As states increase their presence in local affairs, what are the political implications for communities of color? Because racial minorities have had a complex history in the struggle between local autonomy and centralized authority, when does state centralization lead to increased political empowerment for racial minorities? Conversely, when does centralized authority negatively affect political empowerment among racial minorities? To answer these questions, this article will focus on state takeovers of local school districts as a form of centralization.

In the United States, local governments have traditionally had the responsibility of governing the local public schools (Tyack 1974). However, by the 1970s, state governments became increasingly involved in the local public schools and by the 1980s, governors and state legislatures began to use state takeovers as a policy option to address concerns with local school districts (Burns 2003; Wong and Shen 2003). …

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