Connecting state and local government leaders
As violence in the Middle East rages on, governors are making sure constituents—and the world—know where they stand on the conflict. Plus, more news to use from around the country in this week's State and Local Roundup.
You're reading Route Fifty's State and Local Roundup. To get the week’s news to use from around the country, you can subscribe here to get this update in your inbox every Saturday.
It’s Saturday, Oct. 21, and we’d like to welcome you to the weekly State and Local Roundup. There’s plenty to keep tabs on, with Massachusetts running out of space for migrants, California's assault weapons ban overturned and childcare facilities running behind on inspections.
But first we turn to the conflict in Israel and, specifically, how the country’s governors have responded to the violence there.
With the world watching the war in the Middle East, governors have stepped out onto the global stage to make sure people both at home and abroad know where they stand and how they think the federal government should respond.
At least two governors have visited Israel following the deadliest attack in Israeli history, an attack by Hamas that killed 1,400 people. One governor is arranging free state-paid trips for Americans who want to leave the area. And almost all governors have weighed in on the role of the federal government in response to the attacks.
Militants from Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group, attacked Israeli residents living in areas around the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, reigniting hostilities in one of the world’s most troubled hotspots. Israel retaliated by cutting off food, water and electricity to the Gaza Strip, home to 2 million Palestinians. It has also launched air strikes that, according to Palestinian authorities, have killed nearly 3,800 people. With tensions escalating, President Joe Biden visited Israel briefly this week to signal support for Israel. Biden delivered a prime time address from the Oval Office on Thursday to make the case for increased aid to Israel and to Ukraine, which is trying to fend off an invasion from Russia.
“I know the conflicts can seem far away, and it’s natural to ask: Why does this matter to America?” Biden said. “So let me share with you why making sure Israel and Ukraine succeed is vital for America's national security. You know, history has taught us that when terrorists don't pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction.”
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, made a separate journey to Israel on Wednesday. The purpose, she said, was to make a symbolic gesture to show the state’s support of Israel. She visited a shelter where 400 people had evacuated from a kibbutz along the Gaza border where dozens of people were killed. She later traveled to a hard-hit area along the border itself.
“There is a deep, direct connection between New York State and Israel that has always been there, a bond steeled over decades,” Hochul told The New York Times. “And it’s easy to go when the sun is shining and everything is fine…. The community feels, in Israel and in New York, that my going during these times will be the most significant symbol of their importance to us than anything else we could do.
During Hochul’s trip to Israel, she learned that her 87-year-old father had died in Florida. The governor, who is Catholic, left a note at the Western Wall in Jerusalem indicating she was praying for the people of Israel and for her father.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced this week that he would visit Israel, a last-minute addition to a trip he’s making to China to discuss climate change. The governor’s office did not provide details about his agenda while in Israel, but said he would be delivering medical supplies. Newsom said he would be “meeting with those impacted by the horrific terrorist attacks and offering California’s support.” And on Friday, the California governor met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waded into the conflict with a plan to provide free trips to Americans who wanted to leave Israel, using state emergency funds. It’s meant as an alternative to federally chartered flights, which fleeing passengers eventually have to pay for because of federal law. U.S. airlines have suspended flights in and out of Tel Aviv for the rest of the month, although foreign carriers are still operating in the region.
DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, filmed a video of himself on the tarmac at Tampa International Airport touting the fact that a Florida-chartered flight brought back 260 U.S. citizens. “There was a devoid [sic] of leadership, so we stepped up and led,” he said.
The chartering of flights also recalls DeSantis’ previous effort to gain national attention by sending a group of Venezuelan asylum seekers unannounced to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts last year.
“The flights are yet another issue where DeSantis is seeking to present a contrast in leadership between himself, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump and President Joe Biden as the presidential election approaches,” wrote Alex Daugherty in Politico. “It’s an especially charged political moment, considering that Jewish voters have particularly large populations in some Democratic strongholds—and in Florida.”
On Friday, DeSantis' office said the governor plans to call a special session of the Florida legislature to increase state sanctions on Iran in response to the attacks in Israel. “I can confirm that the strongest sanctions against Iran by any state in the nation, as proposed by Governor DeSantis, will be part of an upcoming special session,” DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said, according to The News Service of Florida.
The Florida governor also coordinated a letter sent by 19 Republican governors to Biden last week—before the president’s visit to Israel or his prime time address Thursday—blaming his administration for not backing Israel as fully as they would have liked.
“Your administration’s initial response—including a call for a ceasefire—created dangerous confusion that has only further emboldened state-sponsors of terror and their henchmen to continue attacking Israel. Unfortunately, this type of international chaos and violence is a direct result of your administration’s appeasement-first foreign policy,” wrote the Republican governors.
The group faulted Biden for three main reasons: not providing enough “transparency” about U.S. efforts to return Americans held hostage by Hamas, “holding Israel to an impossible national security standard to which we as Americans would never submit,” and the administration’s “appeasement and empowerment of Iran,” which the governors blamed for funding terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
They specifically asked Biden to freeze the transfer of $6 billion in Iranian money from South Korea back to Iran. South Korea paid the money to buy Iranian oil, but it remained in banks there because of U.S. sanctions on Iran under former President Donald Trump. The Biden administration orchestrated a move to get the money back to Iran in exchange for freeing five U.S. prisoners there. But after the Hamas attacks, the U.S. and Qatar indicated they would withhold the money again.
“After your administration relaxed billions of dollars in sanctions, it negotiated a ransom payment that has provided Iran with additional means and confidence to reallocate funds to support terrorism,” the governors wrote. “You must also immediately cut off foreign aid to Hamas- or Hezbollah-controlled territories. If we’re serious about not negotiating with terrorists, we must also stop allowing U.S. tax dollars to fall into their hands.”
The governors of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming joined DeSantis in signing the letter. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is also seeking the Republican nomination for president.
A few days later, 17 different governors—15 Democrats and two Republicans—sent a separate letter to congressional leaders praising Biden for his response to the crisis and his support of Israel.
The bipartisan group asked the leaders to confirm Biden’s nominees for ambassadorships to Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman and Kuwait. They also pushed for the Senate to move forward on military nominations and promotions that are currently being blocked by U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, because of his abortion-related concerns.
“Each of us has taken action in our respective states to increase security in Jewish communities and at Jewish houses of worship,” they added. “Given these concerns, and the rise of antisemitism across the country, Congress should ensure funding for states and local governments to support activities and programs to ensure resources to safeguard houses of worship and religious-affiliated groups are available to combat antisemitism at home.”
The governors of New York, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah and Vermont signed the letter.
Did someone forward this email to you? Sign up here.
Keep reading as there’s more news to use below, and make sure to come back here for the week’s highlights. If you don’t already and would prefer to get it in your inbox, you can subscribe to this newsletter here. We’ll see you next week.
News to Use
Trends, Common Challenges, Cool Ideas, FYIs, and Notable Events
- ELECTIONS: Landry’s red wave to victory. Louisiana’s Republican attorney general Jeff Landry won the Louisiana gubernatorial election outright in the first round of voting last weekend, claiming the last governorship in the Deep South currently held by a Democrat. Landry easily bested a crowded field, claiming 52% of the vote in the statewide primary. But turnout for the election was a paltry 36%, down from nearly 46% four years ago. Other conservatives running for statewide office benefited from the meager participation as well, beating out more moderate Republicans and advancing to the Nov. 18 runoffs, which they are heavily favored to win.
- GUN CONTROL: Federal judge strikes down California’s assault weapons ban. A federal judge on Thursday overturned California's three-decade-old ban on assault weapons, ruling that the state's attempts to prohibit sales of semiautomatic guns violates the constitutional right to bear arms. U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego conceded that weapons like AR-15 rifles are commonly used by criminals, but said the guns are also owned by people who obey the law and feel they need firearms to protect themselves. "The state of California posits that its 'assault weapon' ban, the law challenged here, promotes an important public interest of disarming some mass shooters even though it makes criminals of law-abiding residents who insist on acquiring these firearms for self-defense," Benitez wrote. "Nevertheless, more than that is required to uphold a ban." Gov. Gavin Newsom reacted in a statement saying that "Californians’ elected representatives decided almost 35 years ago that weapons of war have no place in our communities. Today, Judge Benitez decided that he knows better, public safety be damned.” The California attorney general has filed a notice of appeal.
- VOTING: Election integrity champion sets up shop in Dallas. Texas’ Heider Garcia, a prominent Texas election official, is set to become Dallas County’s next elections chief. Garcia attracted national attention for his willingness to engage with Tarrant County residents who had concerns and accusations about the integrity of local elections. Election officials across the country praised Garcia’s approach to voter concerns about the security of the county’s voting systems, which won him the trust of many members of the public, including former critics. He resigned his position as elections administrator in Tarrant County last spring after clashing with an incoming county executive who promoted election conspiracy theories. Garcia then took a job with the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, where he helped develop best practices for election officials across the country as a senior subject matter expert on elections and elections technology. He starts with Dallas County Dec. 20.
- EMERGENCY SHELTER: Massachusetts expects to run out shelter space by Nov. 1. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey announced this week that the commonwealth will run out of emergency homeless shelter spots by the end of October. As of Oct. 16, newly arrived migrant families and longtime Massachusetts residents accounted for the nearly 23,000 individuals and 7,000 families in shelters, about half of whom are children. While not ending the right-to-shelter law, Healey said the state would no longer be able to guarantee placement and will turn to a triage system that prioritizes families with high needs—such as health or safety risks.
- CHILDCARE: Licensed facilities behind on inspections. One-tenth of licensed childcare facilities are overdue for an inspection, according to data compiled by USAFacts from over 148,000 childcare facilities across 41 states. That amounts to around 10,000 facilities across the 23 states that require annual inspections. Of those, approximately 4% haven’t been inspected in two years or longer. State laws dictate how often inspections must be conducted. Tennessee has the shortest time between inspections, requiring quarterly checkups. New York, on the other hand, requires 50% of its facilities to be inspected each year—roughly one inspection every two years. California allows the longest time to pass between inspections, requiring only that they occur at least once every three years. Regardless of their laws, some states are more successful than others at inspecting facilities on time. Eighteen of the 41 states in the study were able to inspect 90% or more of their facilities within their designated time frame.
- DOWNTOWN: Underused federal buildings slowing DC recovery. Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser says restoring downtown may depend on rethinking how to use federal buildings that are particularly hard to repurpose. With federal employees making up one-third of downtown workers, the federal government’s plans for building consolidation and personnel management is vital for the District’s post-pandemic recovery. The sheer size and security features of some of these aging, underused buildings would make it hard to repurpose them for retail or housing even if they were empty. Even with President Joe Biden's 17-month push for more in-office work, Bowser lamented that sprawling federal office complexes remain underused as the city awaits more concrete federal action. “I look out of my office at [the Department of] Treasury every single day and I can see the level of activity or inactivity at work,” Bowser said in an interview with Bloomberg. “What do you do with a building like that?”
- RENTALS: Construction boom catching up with demand for apartments. An unprecedented surge in the nationwide construction of new housing—mostly apartments—may finally be making a dent in fast-rising rents that have been making life harder for tenants. More than 1.65 million housing units were under construction last year, the highest annual number since federal record-keeping started in 1969. This year, the number was even higher—almost 1.7 million in September. Industry watchers caution that the pandemic building boom will likely level off. Nationwide, the number of building permits issued in 2023 is down compared with a peak in late 2021 and early 2022. Even as the numbers remain high in some states, building permits are considered a leading indicator of housing demand.
- BORDER: Texas installs razor wire along border with New Mexico. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s National Guard to build a barrier in some parts along the Texas-New Mexico state line to deter migrants who cross from Mexico into New Mexico from heading to nearby El Paso, Texas. The Texas National Guard strung concertina wire along 18 miles of the border in an area close to Sunland Park, New Mexico, which shares a border with El Paso. Abbott has also installed a floating barrier in a 1,000-foot stretch of Rio Grande on the U.S. and Mexico border. In an ongoing lawsuit over the river barricade, Abbott argues that the state did not need permission from the federal government to install buoys.
- MIGRANT HOUSING: Protesters attack Chicago city council member. Alderwoman Julia Ramirez and her aide were battered during a Thursday morning protest of plans for a massive tent to house some of the nearly 3,800 migrants now living at police stations and O’Hare International Airport. Mayor Brandon Johnson first unveiled the plan to build the massive tents—which could shelter, feed and care for as many as 1,000 migrants in a single location—more than a month ago, triggering intense criticism from some of his closest allies. Ramirez said she attended the protest to try to clarify her involvement with the plan and discuss how the community should move forward now that the plan seems to be a done deal. After a few conversations with protesters, Ramirez said she realized that most “did not want to engage in a peaceful dialogue with me” and attempted to leave before being attacked. “It was truly a disappointing experience,” she said.
- JUDICIAL REFORMS: Federal courts look to block ‘judge shopping’ by state AGs. A federal judicial rule-making panel on Tuesday agreed to examine whether to curtail "judge shopping" by state attorneys general and activists who file lawsuits challenging government policies in courthouses where a single, sympathetic judge hears most cases. Members of the U.S. Judicial Conference's Advisory Committee on Civil Rules grappled with whether it could or should craft nationwide rules to ensure such cases are randomly assigned a judge, as Senate Democrats have urged it to do. Calls for reform have come from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School and the American Bar Association in response to lawsuits filed in so-called single-judge divisions. The tactic gained national attention after U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former Republican President Donald Trump in the single-judge division of Amarillo, Texas, suspended approval of the abortion pill mifepristone in April.
Government in Numbers
The number of illegally parked vehicles blocking bus-only lanes and bus stops during a 70-day trial along three bus routes in Philadelphia. Based on data from video cameras mounted on windshields of buses, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority found that on two of the routes over half of bus stops are obstructed at some point during the day, an average of 4,000 weekly violations. “This study provides us with data that clearly illustrates the high frequency of these violations and how we can use cutting-edge technology to combat these problems,” said SEPTA CEO and General Manager Leslie S. Richards. “Reducing these violations will improve safety for our customers, pedestrians, and motorists, along with making our bus service more efficient and reliable.”
What They’re Saying
“Biology is real. Chromosomes are real. Only women can give birth.”
In an executive order “to eliminate woke, anti-woman words from state government,” Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a Republican, banned what she calls “nonsense terms,” such as pregnant person, human milk and womxn, in official government documents. “The Left is using nonsense words like "pregnant people" to erase women and girls—and more importantly, our voices and our experiences,” she posted on X.