When the Sons of Liberty stormed ships docked in Boston to throw taxed tea into the harbor, they had a simple animating principle guiding their actions: no taxation without representation. Decades later, similar resistance to an unrepresentative and far away government propelled Texans to fight the Mexican dictator Santa Ana. In both cases, the core idea was the same—you ought to be able to vote for those who tax and regulate you.
Yet today, that principle is being denied to citizens all over Texas. Take Shana Elliot and Larry Kalke. They live about half a mile outside of College Station. Since they live outside of the city, they don’t have a vote in city elections, and they don’t receive city services. But because they live in what is known as College Station’s “extraterritorial jurisdiction,” College Station exercises significant authority over what they can do on their property. If they so much as want to fix a pothole in their driveway, they have to go to College Station city hall, pay for a permit, and hope that College Station grants permission.
Simply put, this is regulation without representation.
So how can a city regulate outside of its borders? It turns out that it’s a weird relic of mid-20th Century Texas history.
Prior to 2018, Texas cities could forcibly annex surrounding areas whether the people there wanted to be part of the city or not. As a result, in the middle of the 20th Century, cities along the Gulf Coast went on an annexing spree, gobbling up land—and tax revenue—as fast as they could.
In order to make this process less chaotic, the Texas Legislature gave cities a buffer outside their city limits (an ETJ) where they could put laws in place in advance of annexation without providing city services—or voting rights.
While these vote-free zones were always constitutionally suspect, they were at least designed to be temporary. The city, hypothetically at least, would soon move to annex the area.
But today, involuntary annexation is illegal. And in some places, property owners have spent years in an ETJ—subject to regulation by people they can’t vote for. That means people are permanently left with being regulated without representation.
That’s not just wrong, it’s unconstitutional. And that’s why TPPF is representing Shana and Larry in an attempt to enforce the basic Texas constitutional guarantee: that every Texan only be regulated by cities that are by and for the people being regulated.
As John Adams wrote in April of 1776, “there is no good government but what is Republican.” Why did Adams believe this? Because the ability for the people to assert their authority over those wielding power can only be found at the ballot box. This authority makes elected officials think twice before passing onerous regulations and seeking exactions from the people who vote for them.
Our forefathers fought for that right before; it’s time for us to fight for it again—this time in court.