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Political Battle Escalates Between Cities And State Governments


While the presidential election got the most attention in the political world this year, there was also a big political story at the state level - confrontations between some liberal city governments and conservative state governments. In a moment, we'll hear how this is playing out in Arizona. First, NPR's state politics editor Brett Neely is here for the big picture. And Brett, describe what we've been seeing.

BRETT NEELY, BYLINE: Well, I've been working with a group of NPR member station reporters all year, covering the election. And almost every time I talk to them, you would hear a story from one of these reporters saying, there's this conflict in my state, and it's between the legislature and, you know, the mayor or the city council of the city. And so here's what all these instances had in common. It was always a Republican-controlled state, and it was a liberal city.

SHAPIRO: Everybody I think is familiar with one example of that happening in 2016 in North Carolina with the bathroom bill, as it was known.

NEELY: Yeah, so this all started in Charlotte where the City Council passed a bill - a pro-LGBT rights bill that allowed transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponded with their gender identity. The state legislature disagreed. They passed legislation that said that that was not within the rights of city governments to pass LGBT anti-discrimination bills.

They went even further in fact and then said that people in North Carolina had to use the bathrooms that corresponded with their birth certificate instead of their gender identity. And this became a huge political issue. There were boycotts of the state, demonstrations.

SHAPIRO: And how did that resolve?

NEELY: Well, actually just today we are seeing some resolution. The Charlotte City Council has repealed the ordinance in question, and the North Carolina legislature is about to go back into a special session a little bit later this week where they're planning to repeal the statewide law - HB2 as well.

The result of that will be basically that for LGBT North Carolinians, they'll be back in the position they were about a year ago where there are no protections in Charlotte. But on the other hand, you also won't have this state bill that has, you know, what some people found to be onerous requirements about what bathroom they used.

SHAPIRO: When you look nationally at these clashes between liberal cities and conservative states, is it just a political-ideological difference between Republican and Democratic, or is it sort of a rural-urban difference?

NEELY: It's a lot of both, in fact. In some ways, both parties have become much more ideological. They're headed in very, very different policy directions. We're seeing that very starkly right now with the incoming Trump administration. And there has always at the state level been a tension between rural and urban voters.

But what we're really seeing now is that as rural voters become much more Republican and Democratic voters are really clustered in cities, those divisions are becoming even starker. And it's affecting all kinds of laws - social issues, minimum wage, environmental laws. And in fact, there is even a law in Ohio about the regulation of puppy mills. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brett Neely is an editor with NPR's Washington Desk, where he works closely with NPR Member station reporters on political coverage and edits stories about election security and voting rights.