Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Trump considers commuting the sentence of incarcerated former Illinois governor … Baltimore mayor signs executive order for immigrant protection … Missouri bans county-level livestock regulations.
Conservative journalists, represented by the MacIver Institute for Public Policy, are suing Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, over what they say are tactics to block them from covering his administration. The lawsuit states that writers employed by MacIver, which covers state government and politics, were not extended invitations to certain press conferences and hearings that other journalists were allowed into. "A free and vibrant press is critical to democracy, and to ensuring the people of Wisconsin are informed and engaged on what’s happening in their state. We hope to quickly resolve this issue, not just so that our journalists can go about their important work but to ensure no future governor engages in the same unconstitutional practices,” said Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute. Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said that the allegations are “deeply troubling,” but he wasn’t sure if not extending invitations to press conferences amounted to a violation of the law. “It certainly is not in keeping with the state’s proud tradition of open government. If Tony Evers has what it takes to lead state government, he ought to be able to withstand the inclusion and presence of reporters from a conservative news outlet,” Lueders said. MacIver journalists have been at certain events attended by Evers, including a July budget signing. Evers’ administration therefore denied discrimination, but did not dispute the claim that MacIver was left off lists for certain events. “Our administration provides many opportunities for both reporters and the public to attend open events with the governor. Gov. Evers is committed to openness and transparency in state government, and he believes strongly that a fair and unbiased press corps is essential to our democracy,” said spokesperson Melissa Baldauff. Robert Dreschel, a journalism professor at UW-Madison, said that it didn’t seem that Evers was following any particular standards on which media were allowed to cover certain events. "That's very troublesome. They have to be able to give some kind of reasons beyond just saying 'Not you.' Otherwise you do raise legitimate First Amendment questions,” he said. [Wisconsin State Journal; FOX 6; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
ILLINOIS GOVERNOR | Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is incarcerated for trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he became president—but that may change if President Trump decides to commute his 14 year sentence. Trump is reportedly “strongly considering” the move, and said he thought that Blagojevich was “treated unbelievably unfairly.” Blagojevich and Trump are personally connected, as before his imprisonment, Blagojevich participated in a season of “Celebrity Apprentice,” one of the reality shows hosted by Trump. This is not the first time Trump has suggested the commutation; he also brought it up in May 2018, and filed official paperwork for it in June 2018, but never saw the deal through. Democrats and Republican lawmakers alike have called the commutation hypocritical, given Trump’s promises to “drain the swamp” of corrupt establishment politicians. The seven Republican U.S. representatives from Illinois last year wrote a letter urging the president not to commute the sentence, saying such a move would "send a damaging message on your efforts to root out public corruption in our government." One columnist for the conservative paper, The Federalist, urged the president to consider the feelings of Illinois residents who have watched four out of their last seven governors go to jail, saying “if Washington DC is a swamp of corruption, then Springfield (the Illinois capital) is a festering landfill. Don’t rip this win from Illinois taxpayers.” [Crain’s Chicago Business; Patch.com]
PROTECTING IMMIGRANTS | Baltimore Mayor Jack Young signed an executive order directing city agencies to protect immigrants and setting aside funding for legal representation for people facing deportation. “This Executive Order clarifies existing anti-discrimination policies and local law enforcement practices in Baltimore and makes clear that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated,” Young said. Specifically, the order ends any city cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Elizabeth Alex, the senior director of CASA, a local immigration advocacy group. “[This makes] sure that there is no wiggle room for any city agency, for any dollar of city tax money to be used in collaboration with ICE,” said Alex. The order also prevents employers from asking applicants about their immigration status at any point of the hiring process. “So, when an employer asks an individual their immigration status—which they shouldn’t do—that resident can actually file a complaint based on discrimination with the Office of Civil Rights,” said Catalina Rodriguez Lima, the city’s director of immigration affairs. The city spending board this week also approved $150,000 for lawyers to represent people who face deportation. [CBS Baltimore; Baltimore Sun]
LIVESTOCK REGULATIONS | A new law is set to go into effect in Missouri next week that will eliminate the ability of county commissions and health boards from enacting rules that are more restrictive than state law. The law is focused particularly on the regulation of CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations, which were previously regulated at the county level. “We’ve now opened the doors that will allow Missouri to lead the way in meeting a growing world food demand and ensure we keep more agriculture production in our state, strengthening Missouri’s number one industry,” said Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican. State Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, a Republican, wrote the bill to institute uniform statewide standards. “The county health boards were created to worry about measles and mumps and outbreaks of salmonella. I don’t think they were ever designed to regulate animal agriculture, and they’ve kind of morphed into regulating everything,” he said. There is debate though, as to whether the legislation wipes out existing regulations, or just applies to future ones. The Howard County Board of Health, for example, already prohibits CAFOs from leaving animal waste within 1,000 feet of any occupied home—but the state sets a much shorter limit of 50 feet. Steve Jeffery, an attorney for multiple anti-CAFO groups, said that there will likely be lawsuits to enforce the law on exiting regulations. “The magic words [to apply retroactively] are nowhere in [the bill]. The only way to determine if it’s gonna be retroactive or not is for someone to bring a lawsuit involving the bill,” he said. [Moberly Monitor-Index; Missourian]
EXTORTION | Two former Boston city employees, the director of tourism and the chief of intergovernmental affairs, were convicted of conspiracy in an extortion scheme that prosecutors said involved pressuring the founders of a local music festival to hire union workers as stagehands. Both men resigned following the convictions, and now face a maximum of twenty years in prison. Mayor Marty Walsh said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the employees’ conduct. “I have made clear from the beginning that there is only one way to do things in my Administration and that is the right way. I have always believed that their hearts were in the right place. We have taken several measures at the City of Boston to ensure that every employee has the right tools and training to perform at the highest ethical standards, which has always been my expectation,” he said. Walsh was once himself a union leader who maintains close ties with organized labor. “This is not about union or non union labor. This case is about government officials abusing their authority,” said Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling. [Boston.com; Boston Globe; CBS Boston]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.