This commentary was originally featured in the Tyler Morning Telegraph on March 26, 2018.
Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Because of Texans who fought for freedom during the last legislative session, forced annexation has been significantly curtailed to the benefit of future generations. But that doesn’t apply to everyone in Texas, as the Tyler Morning Telegraph’s July 28, 2017, article (“Senate’s new tactic: carving out rural areas from reform bills”) pointed out. And it should.
Until recently, cities in Texas could annex persons and property with impunity. By their own admission, these annexations happened because of cities’ desire for money and control.
This meant that families that deliberately decided to live outside city limits were forced by city officials they did not elect to become city residents subject to regulations, taxes and debt obligations—all without a vote.
For a state that holds to the principle of no taxation without representation dearly, that practice was frankly un-Texan.
Thankfully, that changed on Dec. 1 of last year, when the Texas Annexation Right to Vote Act came into effect. The new law requires cities annexing areas in large counties to first obtain consent through a petition or election. Texans rightly cheered this change because it allows property owners a chance to choose their government and protects property rights. It signals that Texas is moving to a new model: annexation with representation.
But the victory remains incomplete. In order to garner passage, the new law is limited to only certain places. Cities in smaller counties — defined as having a population less than 500,000 — can still forcibly annex.
Fortunately, a last-minute amendment to the law provides communities in smaller counties, like Smith County, a path toward protection from forced annexation.
First, at least 10 percent of registered voters in a county must sign a petition to their county commissioners court requesting an election to classify the county as a “tier 2 county,” in which forced annexation is prohibited. Next, a majority must approve classifying as a tier 2 county at the election.
Texans in smaller counties should take advantage of this two-step process, because all of the arguments against forced annexation in large counties should apply with equal force in smaller counties.
But they shouldn’t have to.
We cannot ignore the fundamental injustice of forced annexation. No city has a “right” to annexation, no matter the population of the area. Like all governments, cities derive their authority from the people who formed them to secure life and liberty. No city should force annexation onto people residing outside its limits without first getting their consent.
Let’s remember — the liberty of a family in a smaller county does not count for less than the liberty of a family in a large county.
Ultimately, the Texas Legislature should eliminate the distinction between large and small counties, and prohibit forced annexation everywhere in Texas. Annexation with representation should be the common right of all Texans, not just those who live in a large county.
In the meantime, it is the duty of ordinary Texans in the smaller counties to proactively protect themselves and their neighbors from forced annexation. We can never take our freedoms for granted; they must be fought for. Let’s continue the fight.