Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Men accused in Michigan governor kidnapping also discussed kidnapping Virginia governor … Anchorage mayor resigns after admitting texting relationship with news anchor … Court-packing efforts at the state level.
Members of anti-government paramilitary groups accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also discussed kidnapping Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, an FBI agent said during a court hearing on Tuesday. “They discussed possible targets, taking a sitting governor, specifically issues with the governor of Michigan and Virginia based on the lockdown orders,” FBI Special Agent Richard Trask said. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said that the plot has made clear there “has been a disturbing increase in anti-government rhetoric and the re-emergence of groups that embrace extremist ideologies." In a statement, Northam's spokesperson, Alena Yarmosky, put the blame for the plot on the president. “Here’s the reality: President Trump called upon his supporters to “LIBERATE VIRGINIA” in April—just like Michigan,” Yarmosky said, referencing a series of tweets Trump sent in April calling for the “liberation” of states that were under coronavirus lockdown measures. “In fact, the President regularly encourages violence against those who disagree with him. The rhetoric coming out of this White House has serious and potentially deadly consequences. It must stop,” Yarmosky said. [NPR; Associated Press]
BALLOT DROP BOXES | California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra have sent cease-and-desist letters to the state Republican Party after the organization installed more than 50 unauthorized ballot drop boxes in cities across the state. Many of these boxes have labels like “Official Ballot Drop off Box,” which California state officials say is intended to “mislead voters and erode the public trust.” The California Republican Party has argued that their actions are legal because they are a form of “ballot harvesting,” a practice where a third party collects and delivers ballots to election officials. Both Padilla and Becerra said that the boxes with fake official signage “are not permitted by state law” and that it is “illegal to tamper with a citizen’s vote.” [New York Times; NPR]
ANCHORAGE MAYOR | Ethan Berkowitz, the mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, resigned on Tuesday, the day after he admitted to engaging in a “consensual, inappropriate messaging relationship” with a local news anchor. “It is with profound sadness and humility that I resign as Mayor of the Municipality of Anchorage. My resignation results from unacceptable personal conduct that has compromised my ability to perform my duties with the focus and trust that is required," said Berkowitz, who is married, in a statement. The news of the texting relationship came to light when the anchor accused Berkowitz of posting nude photos of himself to an underage girls website, unsubstantiated allegations he called “slanderous” and false. The Anchorage Police Department and FBI investigated the allegations and found no evidence there was any substance to them. A threatening voice mail message by the news anchor, Maria Athens, released by the mayor's office contained threats against his life and anti-Semitic references. Athens was arrested on Friday after allegedly getting into a physical altercation with her former boss, who said she is no longer with the company. [Anchorage Daily News; New York Times; The Hill]
COURT-PACKING | While discussions swirl about whether or not Joe Biden could increase the size of the U.S. Supreme Court if he wins the election, one recent study found that lawmakers in 11 states have attempted to expand their state supreme courts in recent years—a practice sometimes derided as “court-packing.” Most efforts were led by Republicans, including the two that succeeded. Those were in Arizona, which expanded the court from five justices to seven, and Georgia, which expanded the court from seven justices to nine. “The norm against court packing might be more vulnerable than some have thought — at least as it concerns the state courts,” said Marin Levy, a law professor at Duke University and the study’s author. “If court packing and unpacking were considered strictly verboten, one would not expect to see over twenty different bills to pack and unpack the highest court in 11 different states.” [Washington Post]
CHOCTAW TRIBE | More than 10% of the 10,000 members of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians have been sickened by the coronavirus, and 81 of them have died. The Choctaw are the state’s only federally recognized tribe. Neshoba County, Mississippi, where most tribe members live, had the highest death rate from coronavirus per capita in the state through last month. Though Choctaw tribal members make up only 18% of county residents, they make up more than half of the county’s cases and 64% of the deaths. Mary Harrison, interim health director for the Choctaw Health Center, said the loss is difficult for the community. “We aren’t just losing family members or an aunt or uncle, we are losing parts of our culture. We’ve lost dressmakers, we’ve lost artists, elders who are very fluid in our language—so when you think about an individual we’ve lost, these are important people in our community,” she said. [New York Times]
Editor's note: This story was updated after publication to include Ethan Berkowitz's resignation.
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.