Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Not many people want to run for elected positions in this county … Texas deals with voting maps and databases … Tulsa improves on equality markers.
As Amazon prepares for the opening of their new headquarters in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, locals are worried about the potential rise in housing costs and homelessness, as happened in Seattle when the tech giant established itself there. But Amazon officials say this time will be different, because they can more adequately plan for growth. Jay Carney, a senior vice president for the company, told the Washington Post that when Amazon was first getting off the ground in Seattle, they could not have predicted the creation of 45,000 jobs with average salaries at more than $150,000 per year. “In Virginia we’re not going to have the same experience...because we know where we’re headed,” Carney said. Locals like Lainie Singerman are unconvinced however. “I’ve been saving for my down payment for years, but everything I look at is expensive,” Singerman said. “Since Amazon decided to locate in Crystal City, everything seemed to get even more expensive right away. I’m afraid I’ll be priced out.” The company has already posted its first job listings for the new headquarters, and is expected to begin their move in June. [Washington Post; Seattle Times]
LOCAL ELECTIONS | A dozen cities in Bexar County, Texas, which includes San Antonio, have canceled their city council elections because the candidates are running unopposed. The mayor of Hill Country Village, Gabriel Durand-Hollis, can’t remember the last time he actually had to run for office. “I was in a contested election...I believe it was in 2003. Or maybe 2004. I’d have to check,” he said. Bexar County isn’t alone. Many communities only have one candidate as an option on the ballot for local elections, if they can get somebody to run for these positions at all. Adam Myers, a political science professor at Providence College, says there is a decreasing willingness of citizens to serve in local government, even at the state level. "One of the big issues in state legislative races all over the country is uncontested seats," he said. "Roughly 35 percent of state legislative contests in the country are uncontested each year, so that's a very high percentage." The problem is even worse further down the ballot, when it comes to school board, city council, and other local positions. [KSAT San Antonio; NPR]
VOTING MAP | A federal court last week heard arguments to decide whether the state of Texas will be allowed to create new voting maps after the initial ones were found to be racially discriminatory. If the court rules against Texas, the state will not be allowed to redraw its congressional boundaries without federal or court supervision before the 2020 Census. A spokesperson for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that requiring supervision would be an unnecessary and drastic remedy. But Nina Perales, the lead attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said that "without federal supervision, Texas will just continue to discriminate as it has been.” Earlier in the week, Texas state officials reached a settlement with several civil rights groups that will stop the state’s efforts to purge noncitizens from their voter registry. In a move that sparked public outcry, the state had questioned the citizenship of over 100,000 voters, but most were found to be naturalized citizens. [FOX 7 Texas; Texas Tribune]
EQUALITY | A new report from Tulsa, Oklahoma shows improvements to the city’s equality markers, including public health, education, economic opportunity. The report compares access to these markers along racial lines to determine how the city is making progress. Notably, the city’s score for police use of force with racial minorities improved; last year, the same area of the report prompted outrage from local residents, and brought about public hearings over when police use force during interactions with the black community. Mayor G.T. Bynum is still reviewing the report, but is pleased with the initial outcome.“We see an improvement in our overall score year over year, so that is good news,” he said. “Now, is it as much of an improvement as I would like to see us make? No. And that is one of the great frustrations of this job that I have had to get acquainted with, is nothing moves as fast as I want it to move.” [Tulsa World; KTUL]
LAWNCARE | A Maryland appeals court ruled that counties are allowed to ban pesticides from being used on public and private lawns, reversing a lower court decision that said the ban was unconstitutional. Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, submitted an amicus brief in support of the ban. After the court ruling, he said, “This is an important win for the local organic land management movement sweeping the country, as local elected officials embrace practices that protect the health of people and the environment.” Though not in the courts, Florida also addressed lawncare last week, as the state legislature passed a bill to legalize fruit and vegetable gardening in front lawns. [Washington Post; Bethesda Magazine]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.