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5 Ways to Fight Local Government Overreach

July 2, 2024

The Goldwater Institute last week defeated illegal “prevailing wage” mandates in Phoenix and Tucson—meaning Arizonans will be free to work on public projects in the state’s two largest cities without being stifled by ill-conceived regulations and bureaucratic red tape.

It’s the latest victory in Goldwater’s long history of taking on local government overreach in Arizona. Here are just five highlights:

Popping the “Balloondoggle”

Goldwater sued Pima County, Ariz., after officials reached a shady backroom deal to fork over a $15 million taxpayer-funded subsidy to a space balloon tourism company—and we won!

Under the deal, the county would spend $15 million to build facilities for World View’s exclusive use—then let the company buy the buildings for a mere $10 after 20 years of ridiculously low lease payments. But an Arizona appellate court sided with Goldwater, declaring in 2022 that the agreement violated the Arizona Constitution’s “Gift Clause” ban on taxpayer-funded subsidies to private entities.

In crony scheme after crony scheme, local governments across the country are handing out taxpayer dollars like candy—but Goldwater is providing America with a blueprint for how to beat the government giveaways.

The Nation’s Strongest Protections for Property Rights

Local governments often try to tell landowners what they can and can’t do with their own property. But in 2006, Goldwater passed our Property Ownership Fairness Act in Arizona to smashing success, ensuring property owners are fairly compensated when government regulations forbid them from using their land as they best see fit.

Thanks to Prop 207, hundreds of property owners have filed more than $100 million in claims for compensation—as Arizonans enjoy the strongest protections for property rights in the nation.

Restrictions Based on Perceptions?

Following a three-year-long “David-vs.-Goliath legal battle, Goldwater secured tattoo shop owners Tom and Elizabeth Preston’s right to earn a living.

In 2007, the Prestons were looking to open up a new shop in Tempe, Ariz. They obtained the right permit, signed a lease, and invested tens of thousands of dollars into the space—only for the permit to be revoked, with the mayor and other officials citing the “negative perception” of the tattoo business.

Ultimately, a state court required the city to reinstate the permit, and the Prestons were able to open their shop—a standout success among Goldwater’s countless victories for the right to earn a living over arbitrary government mandates. 

Defending Free Expression in Tea Party T-Shirts

In 2010, Goldwater stood up for free speech—and won—after Maricopa County, Ariz., elections officials infringed on voters’ First Amendment rights.

Scottsdale resident Mark Reed wanted to vote at his polling place while wearing a T-shirt that generally referenced the phrase “tea party”—but officials had declared that all clothing with any political messages is banned at polling places on Election Day, not just clothing with messages that attempt to influence voters. Goldwater argued in court that this ban violated constitutionally protected free speech, and a federal judge agreed.

Local governments frequently trample on their citizens’ First Amendment rights—but Goldwater is constantly holding government accountable so that Arizonans—and all Americans—can express themselves freely.

Striking Down Super Bowl Censorship

In 2023, with America’s eyes trained on Phoenix for the biggest sporting event of the year, the Goldwater Institute showed the nation how to defend the First Amendment, stand up to big government, and win a victory against the multi-billion-dollar machine that is the National Football League (NFL).

As Phoenix prepared to host Super Bowl festivities, the city forced residents and businesses in almost all of the downtown area to beg the NFL for permission to put up signs and banners. Goldwater took the city to court, and a judge ruled against the city’s attempt to let the NFL censor its own citizens.

Super Bowl host cities regularly silence their citizens for the big game, but never before has a legal challenge to Super Bowl censorship gained traction. Now the NFL and city governments across the country know there’s a line: trampling citizens’ constitutional rights.

While national and statewide elections usually garner the most attention, it’s often local government that has the largest impact on people’s day-to-day lives. Goldwater is there to fight local government overreach—and defend individual liberty—every step of the way.

Mark Holder is a Ronald Reagan Fellow at the Goldwater Institute.



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