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Republicans are taking over stuff run by Black people because the GOP hates democracy

An unwarranted Texas takeover of schools in Black-and-brown-led Houston is the latest in a growing Republican war on democratic elections.

When a state takeover of public schools in Houston — America’s fourth-largest city, and the biggest in Texas — was announced last week by state education officials under Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, the national media mostly treated it as a local story not worthy of much coverage in a nation now transfixed by the potential arrest of POTUS 45.

But what’s going down in Houston should be a much bigger deal, for two reasons.

First of all, the move is outrageous. Despite facing the same struggles as most large urban school districts around poverty and disinvestment, topped by the double whammy of COVID-19 and the natural disaster of Hurricane Harvey, Houston schools have been improving under metrics set by the state. Even the one “failing high school” cited by the Texas Education Agency for its takeover — which will allow the GOP administration to supersede the elected school board and appoint its own superintendent — has raised its grade to a passing C.

No wonder most local leaders in the Gulf Coast metropolis think this move by Abbott’s minions has little to do with what’s best for Houston’s 195,000 public schoolkids — 62% Latino and 22% Black — and everything to do with the grown-up politics of punishing a city now run by people of color who vote mostly Democratic, as well as giving Team Abbott a new venue to wage the GOP’s war on what they call “woke education.”

“I think the public has not yet understood how massive the design is in the war against minority culture and especially African Americans and Latinos,“ Bishop James Dixon, a Houston pastor who heads the local NAACP chapter, told U.S. News & World Report. “I don’t think we understand how intricate the playbook is that’s being worked on by these operatives.”

Dixon is speaking to the second, and arguably even more important, reason why America should be paying much closer attention to events deep in the heart of Texas. The Houston school takeover didn’t take place in a vacuum. Instead, it’s just the latest example of what’s becoming a defining trait of today’s Republican Party, and at the core of why people are tagging the GOP as an anti-democracy movement.

Increasingly, Republicans are using their control of statehouses in red America to simply override election results in blue-dot localities that they don’t like, but especially when the ballot box winners are the choice of Black and brown voters. In Houston, where seven of Houston’s nine elected school trustees are African American or Latino, the Abbott administration’s moves against the school district accelerated around the same time that the city’s Harris County also elected 19 judges who are Black, female, and Democratic.

But nationwide, this isn’t even the worst example of predominantly white Republicans establishing a new “cancel culture” against Black and brown democracy. That would be in Jackson, Miss., where what critics call “a Jim Crow bill” would take at least some of the judicial system in the Black-majority capital city, and control of the police, away from elected officials and put it into the hands of the heavily GOP statehouse. Although the latest version of the bill has been moderated — perhaps under the sunlight of bad publicity — the measure is still opposed by officials like Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who calls it “plantation politics.”

Many of these Republican power plays are targeting the wave of so-called progressive prosecutors who’ve been elected in a number of predominantly Democratic cities and counties since the mid-2010s. In Florida, for example, GOP governor and possible 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has removed one elected Democratic prosecutor in Tampa in a spat over abortion law enforcement and is now threatening to take down Orlando’s progressive prosecutor in the wake of a high-profile triple murder.

Similarly, the Republican-led Pennsylvania House impeached Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner over policy — no misconduct was alleged — less than a year after city voters had overwhelmingly reelected him. And in Missouri, the state attorney general, Andrew Bailey, a white Republican, is mounting an effort to have St. Louis District Attorney Kim Gardner — a black Democrat who, like Philly’s Krasner, is a progressive at odds with a powerful police union — removed from office, claiming that high-profile crimes mean she is “neglecting her duties.”

The contagion has even spread to the federal government, where some Democrats, led by President Joe Biden, surrendered to fears of being called “soft on crime” and signed onto a Washington, D.C. crime bill that tossed out a new criminal code that the capital city’s majority-Black city council had approved almost unanimously before the measure was targeted by a GOP misinformation campaign.

» READ MORE: America needs to confront its ‘Mussolini moment’ | Will Bunch Newsletter

The substance of these moves is awful, and so is the symbolism. To see Mississippi’s majority-white lawmakers working to deny agency to Jackson’s Black citizens in the very city where NAACP leader Medgar Evers was murdered by a white supremacist in 1963 for his audacious fight for African American voting rights is both heartbreaking and infuriating.

That leading Republicans like Abbott, DeSantis, and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, and their minions, don’t care about how bad this looks tells you a lot about where the so-called conservative movement stands at the moment.

For much of American history, the ultimate goal of their movement — white, patriarchal rule, at any cost — was maintained through a combination of populist mob rule and disenfranchisement of women until 1920 and Black voters until 1965. Plan B since that latter year’s enactment of the Voting Rights Act has included less blatant forms of voter suppression — from strict ID laws to felon disenfranchisement — but even that hasn’t prevented the white-dominated GOP from becoming a national minority party, still believing in its entitlement but lacking the numbers.

In 2023, there is nothing subtle about the antidemocratic and arguably fascist bent of this effort. Much attention has understandably been focused on the most blatant manifestation — Donald Trump’s attempted coup on Jan. 6, 2021, and his supporters’ arguments that state lawmakers can overrule the popular vote in awarding presidential electors. But the essence of their authoritarianism is taking root in the arena where Republicans have the most leverage: The power of GOP legislatures to strip home rule from the blue cities in their jurisdictions.

The concept isn’t entirely new; for example, Pennsylvania’s mostly Republican government in the early 2000s used a financial crisis to assume control of Philadelphia’s struggling public schools for 17 years. Today’s maneuvers are usually more about ideology — especially when “anti-wokeism” in schools is the hottest button on the political right — than money, and are couched in the rhetoric of concern trolls. Republicans are only acting forcefully, they claim, because they really care about urban crime or lower student test scores.

It’s not just that this isn’t how democracy works. The history of Republican school takeovers is also more a tale of patronage — not just in jobs but in lucrative contracts for their ed-tech grifter friends — than academic improvement. There are ways that a GOP legislature could show actual concern for the brown and Black schoolchildren of Houston — such as increasing funding (currently $3,000 less per pupil than the national average) and raising teacher pay.

But helping the children isn’t really the point here, just as curbing crime isn’t really the point in going after DAs like Krasner or Gardner. The great Medgar Evers must be spinning in his grave right now because what’s happening in Jackson and in Houston is all about race, power, and the oppressive social control that he died fighting. And the worst part is that the antidemocratic thrust of the Republican Party has only just begun.

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