Lawsuit Against Project Veritas May Shed New Light on Right-Wing Group’s Internal Operations

Originally published in The Intercept on July 23, 2018.
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A Michigan judge issued a ruling late last week granting the American Federation of Teachers the right to discovery in an ongoing legal battle with Project Veritas, the sting group launched by conservative provocateur James O’Keefe.

The escalating fight, which is being played out in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, began last September, when the teachers union filed a lawsuit accusing Project Veritas of infiltrating and illegally gathering proprietary information from its Michigan affiliate.

Project Veritas, a right-wing activist group known for releasing undercover video exposés of liberal organizations like ACORN and Planned Parenthood, has taken a special interest in targeting teacher unions over the last eight years. The group has been accused of routinely doctoring its videos, and last year it was caught trying to feed a false story about Roy Moore, then a U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, to the Washington Post. The discovery in the Michigan case may shed new light on its internal operations.

According to the September complaint, which was filed in state court, Marisa Jorge, a political operative for Project Veritas, presented herself as a University of Michigan student named Marissa Perez who was interested in becoming a teacher. She applied for a summer internship with AFT Michigan and was hired in May 2017. For the next three months, she allegedly gathered a wide range of confidential information on the teachers union. The lawsuit claims that on multiple occasions Jorge was found alone in other employees’ offices, accessing information she, as an intern, had no right to see. In other cases, she requested to attend bargaining sessions, was given access to internal databases, and secretly recorded conversations, according to the complaint.

A Michigan judge responded to the lawsuit by issuing a restraining orderagainst Project Veritas in September, barring the group from publishing or disclosing any materials it may have collected from the union. The next month, following a motion by Project Veritas, the case was moved from state to federal court. In December, U.S. District Judge Linda Parker lifted the restraining order. Parker said the AFT had not sufficiently demonstrated it would be harmed by what Project Veritas had collected. In her decision she wrote that “a preliminary injunction most certainly will infringe upon Defendants’ First Amendment right.”

The union went back to court in early May to try once more to prevent Project Veritas from releasing any documents or videos it had obtained from its Michigan affiliate. Parker denied the AFT’s second request, again citing First Amendment concerns.

Project Veritas began releasing information from AFT Michigan immediately thereafter. In its first post, headlined “BREAKING: Alleged Child Molester Paid Off in Union Negotiation by Michigan American Federation of Teachers,” Project Veritas boasted of releasing documents and undercover footage “which reveals that the union protected a teacher after accusations of sexual misconduct with a seven- or eight-year-old girl arose.”

AFT president Randi Weingarten and  AFT Michigan President David Hecker released a joint statement following the video’s release, calling it a “heavily spliced” smear tactic intended to undermine educators and their unions.

“In this particular case, following accusations of a teacher’s misconduct with a child of a woman he was dating years before, the union and district officials worked together to separate a teacher from service and make sure students were protected,” Weingarten and Hecker stated. “To this day, the teacher denies the accusations, and no charges have been filed. AFT Michigan continues to prioritize the well-being of students and the promise of high-quality public education in Michigan.”

Parker’s new ruling, issued on Thursday, allows the AFT to amend its legal complaint to include information about the video Project Veritas released in May. It also paves the way for the union to begin requesting information through the discovery process.

“It’s going to get interesting now because we have the opportunity to dig pretty deep into Project Veritas and their activities,” AFT Michigan attorney Mark Cousens told The Intercept. “We can discover not only how they work, but what they did in Michigan.” Cousens said the union, through discovery, might request information on Jorge’s relationship to Project Veritas, background on Jorge, and what materials she may have taken while working as an intern.

Weingarten said in a statement that her union is “committed to holding Project Veritas accountable for its unlawful misrepresentations, infiltrations, and splicing and dicing of unlawfully obtained material to smear teachers and public schools.” Weingarten pledged to “move forward in our efforts to bring to light the deceptive, unscrupulous distortion tactics Project Veritas is known for.”

Marco Bruno, a spokesperson for Project Veritas, dismissed the decision. He told The Intercept that the AFT “is winning only the highest award for delusional self-congratulations. Contrary to its claims, AFT’s reckless efforts throughout this lawsuit to censor a Veritas publication failed repeatedly. As far as the case goes, they have won nothing, and their latest pleadings are as weak as their previous complaint. AFT is wasting union members’ dues on a frivolous lawsuit that it has no chance of winning.”

Project Veritas has long targeted teacher unions. In 2010, O’Keefe, the group’s founder, infiltrated a New Jersey Education Association leadership conference and produced a project called “Teachers Union Gone Wild.” His group produced another video last summer that purported to show a New Jersey teacher offering journalists cocaine at a union convention. After that video was released, O’Keefe went on the radio to say his teacher union exposés are not finished. “I don’t ever, ever expect the institutions to hold people accountable, so it’s up to exposures,” O’Keefe said, promising that “we have more coming out.”

And indeed, they did. In May, on top of its AFT Michigan work, Project Veritas released two more undercover videos of New Jersey union officials discussing how to protect teachers accused of abuse, which subsequently led to the suspension of two union presidents. New Jersey Democrats, including state Senate president Steve Sweeney and Gov. Phil Murphy, have since called for investigations into the union’s behavior.

The NJEA released a statement in response to the videos, saying it “does not, in any instance, condone the abuse or mistreatment of children or the failure to properly report allegations of abuse.” The union also announced it would be commissioning an independent review of its local affiliates to ensure that staff and leaders “understan[d] and clearly communicat[e] the responsibility of all school employees to report any suspected abuse of children.”

While the NJEA charged Project Veritas with being a political group “with a long history of releasing deceptively edited videos that later prove to have been dishonest and misleading,” Sweeney did not back down. “They can attack the videos and who did the videos all they want,” he told NJ Advance Mediareferring to the union“But those words were real, those actions were real, and they need to be dealt with.”

Also in May, Project Veritas released another video, showing teachers union officials in Ohio discussing how they would defend educators who abused students. State union officials called the videos doctored and edited to fit the organization’s agenda.

O’Keefe hinted at more videos in the future. Following the Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio videos, Project Veritas promised to release “more undercover videos of teachers unions from ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY in the coming days and weeks.”

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Maryland’ GOP Governor Recently Opposed Trump on Immigration, But His Record Tells A Different Story

Originally published in The Intercept on July 12, 2018.
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Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan made national headlines in June when he recalled his state’s National Guard unit of four soldiers from the southern U.S. border. The only GOP governor to call back troops in protest of President Donald Trump’s child separation policy, he has touted the move as a sign of his commitment to stand up to a remarkably unpopular president.

The governor, who is up for re-election this year, has reveled in his reputation as a moderate Republican, and currently boasts a 69 percent approval rating among Maryland residents who, just two years ago, overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton. But in a year in which Democrats, leaning into opposition to Trump, are expected to have the upper hand come November, Hogan’s re-election is all but guaranteed. Maryland politics can be volatile: When Hogan was elected in 2014, his Democratic opponent was leading by 13 points at this stage of the race. And immigrant rights groups say his recent grandstanding with the National Guard is an exception to a long and hostile record on immigration, one that includes calling for greater cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and restricting the entry of Syrian refugees into the state.

“Unfortunately, Gov. Hogan has not been a good friend of the Latino and immigrant community,” said Gustavo Torres, the president of CASA in Action, a group that advocates on behalf of immigrants on the electoral level. “He’s been extremely quiet in moments when we needed real leadership, and other times he has attacked immigrants using the same talking points about criminals and danger the president relies on.”

The state has a sizable immigrant population. In 2015, nearly 1 million foreign-born individuals lived in Maryland, comprising about 15 percent of the state’s population. According to the American Immigration Council, nearly 42 percent of Maryland’s building maintenance workers and groundskeepers are immigrants, as are a quarter of all state health care workers.

Ben Jealous, the Democratic nominee in the gubernatorial race and former NAACP president, has been a vocal immigrant advocate in the state. In 2013, the Baltimore Sun named Jealous “Marylander of the Year,” in part for his work helping to pass the state’s DREAM Act, which grants in-state college tuition to undocumented students. On his campaign website, Jealous has pledged to work with the legislature to pass a sanctuary state bill, make Maryland welcoming for refugees, defend DREAMers, and champion a pathway to citizenship on the federal level. He was arrested at a White House immigration protest last year.

Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 in Maryland, and the party is hoping to mobilize anti-Trump voters, seizing on the national momentum for a “blue wave” election. With two-thirds of Americans opposed to Trump’s immigration policies, immigration may well be a motivating issue for Maryland voters come November. According to a poll released in mid-June, the No. 1 issue for nearly half of Maryland Democrats is removing Trump from office. Jealous’s political strategy is to try and link a popular governor to an unpopular president.

“Donald Trump’s policies are extreme and racist, and it’s even more important that we have governors with courage and experience to move us forward no matter what happens in Washington,” Jealous told The Intercept.

As Josh Kurtz, an editor at Maryland Matters, put it, Hogan may have more difficulty “inoculating himself from President Trump and the Republican Congress” on immigration, given that it’s an emotionally salient issue that’s easier for average voters to understand. “If this issue remains so raw in the months ahead — and it could — swing voters, unreliable Democratic voters and new voters could all be reminded of the things they don’t like about the GOP,” wrote Kurtz.

Most voters have not been paying attention to the details of Hogan’s immigration record, so whether or not immigration plays a major role in the election will depend on how much Jealous decides to focus on it, said Daniel Schlozman, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s not impossible for immigration to be a major issue,” he said. “It just requires taking a record in bits and pieces and figuring out how to tell the voters what it means.”

Hogan’s re-election campaign website does not make any mention of immigration or immigrant communities. Amelia Chasse, a Hogan spokesperson, told The Intercept that the governor has “consistently called on Congress and the federal administration to work in a bipartisan manner to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and has repeatedly stood up to the Trump administration on immigration related issues that could impact Maryland.” Chasse cited Hogan’s removal of the National Guard troops last month and his opposition to the president rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as examples, both of which put the governor in line with most centrist Republicans. Chasse also pointed to the governor’s marriage to Yumi Hogan, a first-generation American who emigrated from South Korea.

Jealous has not yet taken Hogan to task on immigration, but Jerusalem Demsas, Jealous’s campaign spokesperson, indicated that the issue might become central to the campaign. “From his time as President of the NAACP to when he co-chaired the successful effort to pass the Maryland DREAM Act, Ben has stood up for immigrant families,” Demsas wrote in an email. “He will be no different during this campaign and when he is governor.”

Hogan, who was first elected in 2014, has tried to strike a delicate balance on immigration issues. As a Republican governor in a strong blue state, he’s tried to both distance himself from Trump and skirt the heated battles many of his red-state counterparts have leaned into; Hogan often reminds his constituents that immigration is an issue largely under the federal government’s purview.

That hasn’t stopped him from weighing in on a number of issues at the intersection of immigration and state policy, however. On the 2014 campaign trail, for example, he came out in opposition to Maryland’s policy of allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. He acknowledged he’d be unlikely to repeal it as governor, given the veto-proof Democratic majority in the Maryland legislature.

Upon taking office in January 2015, Hogan instructed the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center to provide ICE agents with 48 hours’ notice before an undocumented immigrant targeted for deportation was set to be released, so that feds could assume custody and try to remove them from the country. Hogan defended this move, saying he was merely complying with the Obama administration’s policy. The Washington Post editorial board praised Hogan’s stance as “common sense” and “responsible.”

But Hogan’s predecessor, Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, had bucked the Obama administration on a similar, more extreme policy in 2014, instructing the Baltimore jail not to automatically cooperate with ICE’s request to hold immigrants beyond their scheduled release from custody — what is commonly known as a detainer request. Other cities and states, including New York City and Connecticut, took similar measures at the time.

Later on in Hogan’s first year, over the objection of activists and faith leaders, he told the federal government that more Syrian refugees would not be welcome in Maryland. Hogan cited “safety and security” concerns. (He was joined by governors in 29 other states, most of them Republican, who demanded an end to Syrian refugee resettlement.) When then-Secretary of State John Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson sent Hogan a joint letter to reassure him that the vetting process was exhaustive and comprehensive, Hogan dismissed it, saying his position on Syrian refugees is “not going to change.”

Asked to comment on the issue, Chasse pointed out that the governor asked for more stringent vetting procedures, but that “the state has no authority over refugee resettlements.”

Immigrant rights activists say things deteriorated even further after Trump was elected.

First came Trump’s travel ban on refugees and citizens of Muslim-majority countries in January 2017. “Hogan was very quiet, very silent. He didn’t take any lead at all on responding to the attacks against Muslims,” said Torres of CASA in Action. While people all over the country poured into airports and the streets to protest the president’s executive order, Marylanders were upset by their Republican governor’s silence. Hundreds protested outside his home in Annapolis in February demanding he speak up and denounce the travel ban. Hogan dismissed the pressure, saying he’s “focused on solving Maryland problems” and that he doesn’t see protesting Trump’s policies as “his role.”

A month later, as activists in the state began to ramp up efforts to protect immigrant communities from the Trump administration, Hogan came out to say that efforts to limit cooperation with ICE were “absurd” and that he would do all in his power to kill the legislature’s attempt to pass a so-called sanctuary bill.

Hogan was referring to the Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act of 2017, which would have curtailed state law enforcement agencies from disclosing nonpublic records to ICE, and barred state officials from asking crime victims or suspects about their immigration status. The measure was broadly supported by the state’s Latino, Asian, and black caucuses, as well as a host of progressive advocacy groups. “Maryland is different from most states in that we allow undocumented residents to obtain driver’s licenses,” testified the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Victor Ramirez, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “We must assure those residents that their information is safe and will not be used for immigration purposes.”

Hogan made his opposition to the bill clear, vowing to veto it immediately should it land on his desk. When the Maryland House of Delegates passed a version of the Trust Act, Hogan released a statement calling it an “outrageously irresponsible bill” that will “endanger” Maryland citizens.

To gin up opposition to the Trust Act, Hogan pointed to a recent scandal in the Maryland suburb of Rockville involving two undocumented immigrants. On March 17, 2017, two male students were arrested for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl in the bathroom. Both students were undocumented, and one was already in deportation proceedings. Montgomery County, where Rockville is located, had implemented sanctuary policies for immigrants in 2014, and Hogan quickly cited the students facing rape charges as a reason for why the legislature should avoid bringing similar policies statewide. (The Montgomery County policy stated that officials would not honor ICE detainer requests without adequate probable cause.) U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also cited the Rockville rape charges as reason to block any sort of sanctuary bill.

But the case fell through. The rape charges were dropped less than two months after the state’s attorney investigated the allegations. “The Hogan administration immediately accused the progressive immigrant policies in Montgomery County as being the cause for the crime, when in reality the teenagers were not guilty,” said Torres. The scandal was enough to help kill the Trust Act, which ended up floundering in the Senate.

Hogan sent out a fundraising letter shortly thereafter asking conservatives for help fighting “a far left agenda and the worst instincts of an increasingly liberal and out-of-touch state legislature.” As evidence of that, Hogan blasted Democrats for “focusing their efforts on trying to make our state a safe haven for criminals here illegally.” He went further, saying “we cannot allow Maryland to become a sanctuary state. Our local law enforcement should be doing more — not less — to make sure criminals here illegally are turned over to federal immigration officials. The rule of law must come first and we will do whatever we can to stop any so-called ‘sanctuary bills’ that would limit how jails and police could assist federal authorities.”

When it comes to limiting law enforcement and corrections entanglement with immigration enforcement, “Governor Hogan has had a largely obstructionist track record,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland said in a statement. In addition to his stated desire to reject refugees from Syria, the civil liberties group pointed to Hogan’s vocal opposition to the Trust Act, which “would have implemented a range of reasonable safeguards for Maryland’s immigrant communities,” including ensuring that state and local policies do not run afoul of Fourth Amendment protections, and stopping Maryland from contributing to any Trump Muslim registry.

Immigrant advocates have also blasted Hogan for his silence on Trump’s decision to end temporary protected status, or TPS, a form of relief that allows citizens of countries undergoing turmoil or recovering from natural disasters to stay in the United States. Most TPS recipients hail from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, and over 20,000 live in Maryland. The cancelation of TPS means citizens of those countries will lose their protected status by September 2019. The chair of Maryland’s Democratic Party, Kathleen Matthews, issued a statement at the start of 2018 calling on the governor to “use the bully pulpit” he has to fight for TPS immigrants in his state.

“Many of these people have lived here for more than 20 years,” said Torres. “The president is canceling this extraordinary program, and Gov. Hogan has been very quiet. This is going to have a huge impact on our economy.” Chasse, Hogan’s spokesperson, did not specifically address the concern about TPS.

“I think a lot of people assume that Larry Hogan is good on a host of issues, when he really has been missing in action,” said Jay Hutchins, the executive director of the Maryland Working Families Party. “Everything is moving so quickly and ramping up, and we’re losing a lot of ground. There’s just absence of real leadership.”

According to recent polls, Maryland voters are not necessarily swayed by Hogan’s law-and-order immigration rhetoric. A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released in March found that 75 percent of Maryland residents said they thought having local police more actively identify undocumented immigrants for potential deportation would likely deter immigrants from informing police of crime. Seventy-one percent said immigration enforcement should be left mainly to the feds.

Some advocates, like Torres of CASA in Action, go so far as to argue that Hogan’s tendency to frame immigration issues largely in terms of crime and safety could come back to bite him in November, like it did for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie in Virginia last November.

“The same thing happened in Virginia. The Republican candidate used the same language and it backfired,” Torres said. “I think that will happen here in Maryland. People are going to vote against someone who is so weak for our community.”

Teachers File New Labor Charge Against Cesar Chavez Charter Network and TenSquare, a Consulting Firm

Originally published in Washington City Paper on July 6, 2018.
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An ongoing legal battle between unionized teachers at Chavez Prep Middle School in Northwest D.C. and their charter school escalated today. The union filed a new unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, this time naming TenSquare Group, a charter school consulting firm, a joint-employer of the school. This is the fourthcharge the union has filed against the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School network since August, but the first time TenSquare has also been named liable.

In its latest complaint, the union alleges that the charter network and TenSquare have illegally changed the school’s calendar for the 2018-19 school year in ways that affect terms of employment, have bargained in bad-faith (referred to as “surface bargaining”), and have walked out of a bargaining session before its scheduled end time, “thereby disregarding their bargaining obligation under the [National Labor Relations] Act.”

Chavez Prep became the first unionized charter school in the city when a majority of its staff voted to unionize in June 2017. The union filed its first charge with the NLRB two months later, and in March, the NLRB issued its first complaint against the school, finding that the charter network violated federal labor law, both by making unilateral changes to the working conditions at Chavez Prep instead of allowing teachers to bargain over them, and by issuing rules across all four of its schools “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of rights” guaranteed under the National Labor Relations Act.

A trial before an administrative law judge to address all the union allegations found meritorious is scheduled for July 24.

Jennie Tomlinson, the school librarian at Chavez Prep who sits on her union’s bargaining team, told City Paper that “over the many bargaining sessions held over the past year, it’s just become really obvious to us that TenSquare is calling the shots here.” Tomlinson is headed into her sixth year working at Chavez Prep.

The school has dismissed the earlier allegations. In March, school CEO Emily Silbersteintold City Paper that “complaining to the NLRB” is a “common tactic in the AFT’s playbook as the union seeks to expand its membership in charter schools.”

In May, City Paper published an investigation into TenSquare, a consulting firm that has largely operated under the radar but has landed lucrative “school improvement” contracts with D.C. charter schools. The Cesar Chavez charter network signed a five-year $5.8 million contract with TenSquare in 2017.

In late April, Chavez Prep teachers staged two outdoor demonstrations to protest their charter’s TenSquare contract. The educators objected to their school paying the company $138,000 every month while also claiming to be unable to afford filling vacant teacher positions.

Following the protests, Silberstein and Rick Torres, the charter’s board chair, emailed the school’s staff to defend their TenSquare partnership. “To continue working in this high stakes environment, we must show immediate and dramatic improvement,” they wrote. “…TenSquare’s proven plan of support focuses on directly improving school performance while simultaneously building infrastructure and systems to ensure that Chavez can sustain improvements on our own into the future. The TenSquare team of 13 that is supporting Chavez is a group of expert practitioners – specialists in curriculum, instruction, data analysis, operations, talent management and other areas where Chavez must improve.” Silberstein and Torres credited TenSquare for helping them implement a number of changes over the past year, including re-negotiating inefficient vendor contracts and reducing excess leased space.

Josh Kern, a TenSquare partner and founder of the company did not return City Paper’s request for comment on the union’s new charge. Neither did Raymond Pascucci, the attorney representing Chavez Prep in contract negotiations. City Paper will update this post should we hear back.

Silberstein, the school’s CEO, who is also listed as an employee on TenSquare’s website, told CityPaper that the union’s latest complaint, like the others, “distorts the nature of negotiations at Chavez Prep.” With regards to the union’s changed-calendar allegation, she says: “We have discussed the calendar for the upcoming school year at the last two bargaining sessions, where management has explained the importance of designing a schedule that maximizes attendance by our scholars and our staff. Our calendar largely follows DC Public Schools, because many of our scholars have family members there, and Prince George’s County Public Schools, where many Chavez employees live and enroll their own children. When we’re out of sync with those systems, attendance and learning suffer. We will continue to negotiate with the union over the calendar, but absent an agreement, we will continue to follow the principles that have determined Chavez Prep’s calendar in recent years. The union is seeking to minimize the number of days its members work, and we are trying to maximize the number of days our scholars learn.”

As for the joint-employer issue, Silberstein says Chavez Prep teachers are “solely employed” by Chavez Schools. “Our legal and management consultants are acting in these contract negotiations as advisors and agents for our network’s board,” Silberstein adds, “just as Chavez Prep’s teachers and staff are being advised and represented by outside counsel from the American Federation of Teachers.”

The question of what constitutes a “joint-employer” is one of the most hotly contested questions in labor law. Companies have historically only been considered joint employers if they exercised “direct and immediate” control over workers. But in August 2015, the National Labor Relations Board issued a decision that expanded legal liability for companies that franchise and contract out services, putting businesses more squarely on the hook for how their contractors treat their workers. In its Browning-Ferris decision the NLRB found Browning-Ferris Industries to be a joint employer of the workers hired to staff its recycling center because Browning-Ferris “exercised control over terms and conditions of employment indirectly through an intermediary.”

In December 2017, the now-Republican-controlled federal labor board overturned the decision in a 3-2 vote, returning the joint-employer standard to what it had formerly been before Browning-Ferris. But in an unexpected turn of events, that decision was then vacated two months later when the agency’s inspector general found that one of the Republican NLRB members should have recused himself from the December vote due to a conflict of interest. If he had recused himself, the vote would have been 2-2, and the Obama-era joint-employer standard would have survived. In other words, the Browning-Ferris standard remains the law. Last month the NLRB announced it now plans to address the joint-employer debate through the rule-making process, rather than through the courts.

A spokesperson for the union representing the Chavez Prep teachers told City Paper that none of this really matters for their purposes, because TenSquare should be held legally responsible no matter which joint-employer standard is used.

“Because they exert direct influence over the school, we would argue TenSquare is a joint employer under both the Obama-era Browning Ferris standard, as well as more restrictive standards supported by Republican NLRB members,” the union spokesperson said.

It is unclear what effect the charge filed today will have on the matter set for trial on July 24.

After Janus, The Country’s Largest Public-Sector Union Takes Stock of Its Movement

Originally published in The Intercept on July 5, 2018.
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The annual meeting of the National Education Association, the country’s largest public-sector union, held in Minnesota this week was much more high stakes than in years past. Typically, the convention is a chance for educators to vote on bread-and-butter issues like budget priorities and advocacy target areas. But the 8,000 or so students, retired teachers, and NEA delegates who descended on the Minneapolis Convention Center had more existential questions on their minds. In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that dealt a crippling blow to public-sector unions, they debated strategies to expand their membership, keep union members apprised of their rights, and recover from the impending financial loss that is sure to happen in a post-Janus world.

In Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a 5-4 Supreme Court majority ruled last week that despite laws requiring public-sector unions to represent all workers in a workplace, fees charged to non-members to support the costs of collective bargaining violate the First Amendment. For more than four decades, the Court has held it constitutional for unions to collect money from non-members to support the costs of negotiating contracts on their behalf. Janus overturned that precedent, meaning that employees can now enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining without having to pay for it. Labor unions are bracing for substantial revenue loss.

Now, the choice before teachers is paying either hundreds of dollars in annual membership dues, or nothing at all. The NEA, which represents a little over 3 million members, is forecasting a loss of 370,000 members over the next two years. Approximately 88,000 educators have been non-members paying NEA agency fees, and the union anticipates at least several hundred thousand current members will also rescind their union cards.

“Janus was nothing more than a pretext for the Koch brothers and all their funded-friends to push for union members to drop out,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García told The Intercept. “With Janus, they don’t care about the [agency] fee payers, they care about reducing our resources and our actual members.” She pointed to the multi-million dollar effort recently launched by a Koch-backed group to persuade dues-paying members to opt-out.

In light of these realities, the NEA approved a two-year budget at its convention that scales back union expenditures by $50 million. Union leadership maintains that this scaleback will not impact the organization’s political activities. “We’re looking at getting economies of scale as best we can,” explained Jim Testerman, the senior director at the NEA’s Center for Organizing. “How many more meetings can we do digitally, can we cut back on food, travel, are there different ways to approach the work. We also didn’t replace 40 staff who retired in January.”

While some states where NEA wields the most influence, like California, New York, and New Jersey, have required non-members to pay agency fees, the recent wave of teacher strikes that exploded across the nation in states like West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma occurred in right-to-work states — which purport to protect workers from being required to join unions, but make collective bargaining more challenging and don’t require agency fees. Conservatives point to the walkouts as proof that agency fees aren’t really necessary. But workers in right-to-work states say they understand their efforts are aided by the national unions, which will certainly take a financial hit from Janus.

Back in the 1980s, when Eskelsen García was a 6th grade teacher, she served as bargaining chair for her union in Utah, a non-collective bargaining state. “There’s still a lot you can do without anyone’s permission,” she said. Just as superintendents and school board members largely supported the teachers who went on strike in red states this year, Eskelsen García said many administrators have shown willingness to bargain with unions even when not compelled to by state statute.

Indeed, at the NEA convention, despite the looming financial threats, the thousands of attendees were palpably emboldened by the teacher walkouts, collective actions that gave them a renewed and clearer sense of their own power. Though the protests were not union-initiated — beginning spontaneously with the grassroots — Testerman, of the NEA’s Center for Organizing, said his union is working to marry “the organic and the organized” as actions erupt. “It’s something we got better with over time, and Arizona was a good example,” he told The Intercept. “You don’t want the union to take it over, but having some organized entity who can get you permits and porta-potties and things like that can help you get even more done.” According to Testerman, Arizona’s NEA affiliate has seen an 8 percent increase in its membership since last year. “I don’t think the walkouts are over,” he added, noting that the future of the movement will depend on what happens in upcoming legislative sessions.

Delegates Reject Proposal to Open Union Membership to Supporters

One of the most contentious items considered at the NEA convention was a proposed constitutional amendment to create a new category of union membership, open to “any person who demonstrates support in advancing the cause of public education” and “advocates for the mission, vision and core values of the Association.”

The idea was formed last year in the wake of Betsy DeVos’s nomination to lead the Department of Education, Eskelsen García explained, when parents and community members flooded the NEA with questions on how they could speak out in opposition to DeVos and better support public education. Then, in the midst of the teacher strikes, the NEA president said, the outpouring support from non-educators proved crucial in building a broad political coalition for the walkouts. Under the proposal, so-called “community ally” members would pay minimal union dues but would be ineligible to vote on union matters or hold governance positions. The biggest opportunity this membership category would create, supporters explained, would be to make it possible for community allies to contribute to the NEA’s political action committee; only NEA members can legally contribute to the PAC, and given the expected decline in membership, this change would have given the PAC an additional stream of funds. The proposal also would have enabled the union to contact supportive members of the public directly. “We’re organizers in our bones,” Eskelsen García told The Intercept. “Why not organize them?”

The proposal triggered heated debate on Tuesday afternoon. Some members voiced concerns about opening up the union to outside political influence. “Selling stockholder shares in our union is a dangerous one,” warned a delegate from Michigan. “When you purchase stock, you expect a return on your investment.” Marshall Thompson, a delegate from Minnesota, called the idea half-baked. “Does my union card mean something or not?” he asked. “Bill Gates should not be able to buy one.”

NEA leadership defended the proposal, explaining that four other major unions, including AFCSME, have a similar membership category for the public, and all but 14 of the NEA’s state affiliates do too. For example, the Pennsylvania NEA affiliate has a “Partners for Public Education” membership category. Plus, NEA leaders added, community allies would have the same $5,000 political contribution limits to the PAC as do regular members. Tripp Jeffers, a delegate from North Carolina, spoke in favor of the amendment, saying a version of it already works well in his state. “We get by with a little help from our friends,” he quipped. Joe Thomas, the president of the Arizona Education Association, also defended the amendment, reminding the audience that the parents and community members who walked alongside educators during Arizona’s six-day teacher strike were instrumental in helping the union rebut the political narrative that their action was solely about teacher wages.

That was not enough to convince the 8,000 delegates, though. The measure was narrowly defeated on Wednesday, with just over 60 percent of delegates voting in favor. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority to pass.

Reauthorization and Affirmative Consent

Janus has also sparked a legal and political debate over whether dues-paying members need to proactively reauthorize their union membership. The majority opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, states that “neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.” Conservatives have latched onto this “affirmative consent” idea to say that all those represented by a union, members and agency-fee payers alike, should have to affirmatively opt-in.

But labor groups have taken an alternative reading. At the NEA convention, the union’s general counsel Alice O’Brien told the crowd of delegates that Janus “does not mean that unions have to re-sign existing members. Janus is about fee payers,” she said. “Nothing in Janus supports an employer [who] insists a union must submit new proof that existing voluntary members want to remain members.”

Eskelsen García told The Intercept that the NEA has already received reports of school districts and school boards asking unions to submit new proof of membership. “But Janus doesn’t require that, and part of our mission right now is we have to make sure that our folks across the country understand that Janus was very specific in saying you can’t require a non-member to pay fees,” she said. “It doesn’t require re-signing up members, but we anticipated there would be a lot of misinformation from the Koch brothers and others. We’ll get this straightened out.”

The question over re-commitments first arose three years ago, when the Supreme Court heard the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, an anti-public sector union case considered to be the predecessor of Janus. (Friedrichs also challenged public-sector agency fees, but Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death in 2016 resulted in a 4-4 decision that left the fees alive until Janus was brought before the court.) Despite the teacher union’s position that re-commitments are not legally necessary, both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers have been working since then on getting re-commitments from all their members. The AFT reports that out of 800,000 members in 18 states with agency fees, more than 500,000 members have pledged membership renewals since January.

“The re-commit campaigns have really been an organizing strategy to go out and talk to our members about what these Supreme Court cases mean, and the value of belonging and acting collectively,” Testerman told The Intercept. “If members don’t know who the union is and what the union stands for, they are not likely to remain a member and we’re not taking anything for granted.” He said the NEA has seen a growth in membership for the last three years in a row, at an average of 0.5 percent per year.

But the tactics some union affiliates have taken to secure member re-commitments have stirred controversy, and they may be legally vulnerable in the post-Janus world.

In Minnesota, for example, the 86,000-member statewide teachers union asked educators to fill out membership renewal forms for the 2017-18 school year, authorizing the union to deduct dues. The forms included a fine-print disclosure that said “this authorization shall remain in effect and shall be automatically renewed from year to year, irrespective of my membership in the union, unless I revoke it by submitting written notice to both my employer and the local union during the seven-day period that begins on September 24 and ends on September 30. (emphasis added)”

The general counsel for the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank, said the Minnesota teachers union was “betting that most teachers will just sign the card without reading it, or understanding what it means—and just keep paying.”

Los Angeles teachers took a similar approach. In its recommitment campaign, the United Teachers of Los Angeles asked members to sign membership forms with fine print that said, “This agreement shall be automatically renewed from year to year unless I revoke it in writing during the window period, irrespective of my membership in UTLA.” The legal language was first reported by Mike Antonucci, who runs the Education Intelligence Agency, a union watchdog site. “So a teacher who takes an administrative position, or leaves teaching altogether, and is then ineligible to be a UTLA member, will still be on the hook for dues payments until the next window comes around,” Antonucci surmised.

Both the Minnesota and Los Angeles re-commitment forms are constitutional under Janus’s “opt-in” requirement, said Charlotte Garden, a professor at Seattle University Law School. She added that she “also expect[s] the National Right to Work Foundation or other anti-union groups to challenge them in court, arguing they aren’t solicitous enough of objectors.” Garden said those types of challenges will “bring into conflict” two beliefs held by conservative members of the Supreme Court: that unions “must take various affirmative steps to facilitate the rights of objectors they represent” and that “employees should be held to the contracts they sign.”

Some conservative-backed litigation is already coming down the pipe.

Eight NEA state affiliates, including some in New York, Maryland, California, and Washington, are currently targets of class action lawsuits seeking to recover agency fees previously paid to the teacher unions before Janus. “The lawsuit we filed is a refund of the fees that were illegally retracted,” said John Bursch, the lawyer who filed the class action on behalf of California teachers. Alice O’Brien, the NEA’s general counsel, reminded delegates at the convention that whomever replaces Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement just hours after siding with the majority in Janus, could help decide whether unions must pay back agency fees or not.

Another case, filed in February 2017, takes square aim at union opt-out rules. In Yohn v. California Teachers AssociationRyan Yohn and seven other California educators objected not only to paying agency fees but also to bureaucratic hurdles employees must go through if they want to opt-out of union membership. The teachers argue workers should have to affirmatively opt-in to a union, not opt-out. “We’re not free-riders, we’re forced riders,”one plaintiff told Education Week in February. The case is being brought by the Center for Individual Rights, the same libertarian law firm that brought the Friedrichs suit.

Sharon Block, the executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, told The Intercept that she has no doubt that conservative groups will aim to push the limits of the Supreme Court’s holding in Janus for cases like Yohn. “I’m afraid that Janus has opened up additional fronts in the war these groups are waging on public-sector unions and the labor movement more generally,” she said. “We will see litigation for years.”

Union-Friendly Legislation in the Wake of Janus

In anticipation of a Supreme Court decision striking down agency fees, unions have been lobbying state legislators for the last few years to support new bills that could help labor strengthen its position. Specifically, labor organizations have pushed for new measures that would more easily allow union representatives to make the case for membership to new public-sector employees and to limit the services unions have to provide to non-members.

Last year in California, the legislature passed two such bills: one that allows public-sector unions to give presentations to new employees during their job orientations, and another that restricts what government employers can say to their staff about the pros and cons of joining a union. Two bills are pending now that would give labor groups an opportunity to weigh in on a worker’s intent to cancel their union dues.

Maryland legislators passed a bill this spring requiring new teachers to meet with a union representative within 30 days of their hiring or by their first pay period. It became law in April without the signature of Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed a more expansive bill in May that gives unions a number of new protections, including the right to meet with new employees for at least a half hour within 30 days of being hired and a guarantee that public employers will provide the union with exclusive representation contact information for all new employees.

In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in April signed what he called “the Janus bill,” which in addition to providing unions with contact information for all new public-sector workers, also makes clear that unions are not required to provide non-members with the full range of union services. For example, non-members facing disciplinary charges will now have to obtain their own attorneys, whereas the union covers legal representation for dues-paying members. Last week, immediately following the Janus decision, Cuomo issued an executive order to protect public employee contact information from those who may try to target them in union opt-out campaigns. It was mostly a symbolic gesture, since the state already has similar privacy protections on the books.

Aside from these bills, Sharon Block of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and Benjamin Sachs, a Harvard Law School professor and editor-in-chief of the On Labor blog, put forth another legislative proposal to help unions cope after Janus. “The simplest, and the most effective, move would be for states to change, quite subtly, the accounting system for union dues,” they wrote last week in Vox. While unionized public-sector workers currently earn about 17 percent more than their non-unionized counterparts on average, the now-unconstitutional agency fees have comprised about 2 percent of that wage premium. Under the system reviewed by the Supreme Court, employers paid this 2 percent to workers, and workers then had to pay that money back to the union as an agency fee. “But if public employers simply paid the 2 percent directly to the unions — giving the same 15 percent raise to employees but not channeling the extra 2 percent through employee paychecks,” Block and Sachs wrote, “then there would be no possible claim that employees were being compelled to do anything, and thus no constitutional problem.”

“We’re up against something pretty scary,” Lily Eskelsen García said this week in Minneapolis, speaking before thousands of delegates. “Janus is the latest attack on our union, but this ain’t our first rodeo… We don’t get scared, we get ready.”

Supreme Court’s Janus Decision Opens A “Pandora’s Box” For Public-Sector Unions

Originally published in The Intercept on June 28, 2018.
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Six years after Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito first signaled his interest in striking down agency fees on First Amendment grounds, he authored a crushing blow to public-sector unions in a giddy 5-4 opinion issued Wednesday.

Janus v. AFSCME resolved whether agency fees, also known as “fair-share fees,” can be collected from public-sector employees who do not wish to be members of a union. Under the law, a public-sector union has to represent all workers in a workplace, irrespective of whether they opt to be union members. Charging agency fees has historically enabled unions to avoid the free rider-problem — without them, employees could enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining without paying the dues required to support union activities.

This week, the Supreme Court affirmed that no agency fee or any other form of payment can be deducted from an employee, “nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.” The decision has immediate ramifications for the nearly 7 million state and local government workers represented by a union, of which 58 percent are women and 33 percent are African-American, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, and Latino. There are 17.3 million public-sector workers across the nation.

For more than 40 years, the Supreme Court has held that there’s a constitutional difference between a union’s political activities and its collective bargaining work. Compelling workers to fund the former would infringe on their freedom of speech, the court ruled in 1977 in a unanimous decision known as Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. But, the justices determined in Abood, requiring agency fees to support collective bargaining work was constitutional. Now the court has taken a knife to that distinction.

Many expected this outcome two years ago, when the court heard Friedrichs v. California Teachers Associationa case in which 10 public school teachers challenged the constitutionality of their mandatory agency fees on First Amendment grounds. While the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the teachers’ position, the Supreme Court seemed inclined to side with the challengers. But when Justice Antonin Scalia unexpectedly died in February of 2016, the court ended up issuing a 4-4 decision, preserving the 9th Circuit’s ruling. On Wednesday, the conservative members of the court got a second bite at the apple.

Writing for the majority, Alito was extremely dismissive of AFSCME’s argument that labor organizations will be less effective if agency fees are struck down. To support its case, Alito pointed to the 28 states that currently have laws on the books prohibiting agency fees as proof that those fees are not essential to avoid conflict between competing labor advocacy groups — something both U.S. employers and American labor law discourage.  Even without agency fees, Alito argues, workers in 28 states enjoy exclusive representation.

“Whatever may have been the case 41 years ago when Abood was decided, it is thus now undeniable that ‘labor peace’ can readily be achieved through less restrictive means than the assessment of agency fees,” the majority opinion reads.

When it comes to the free-rider problem, the court was similarly dismissive, citing the arguments raised by unions as “insufficient to overcome First Amendment objections” and not representing a compelling state interest to begin with.

In the dissent, authored by Justice Elena Kagan and joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor, Kagan writes that the majority “fails to reckon with how economically rational actors behave.” She argues that the majority ignores the basic fact that public-sector unions must represent all workers in a workplace, in contrast to private groups that can choose to represent only those who actively opt-in. Kagan also notes that the “Court today wreaks havoc on entrenched legislative and contractual arrangements,” rendering thousands of city, county, and state contracts across the country illegitimate. In other words, previously existing collective bargaining agreements in the public sector will now need to be re-negotiated, many of them all at once. New York City, for example, currently has agency fees in 144 contracts with 97 different public-sector unions. “[The majority dismantles these agreements] with no real clue of what will happen next — of how its action will alter public-sector labor relations,” the dissent states. “It does so even though the government services affected — policing, firefighting, teaching, transportation, sanitation (and more) — affect the quality of life of tens of millions of Americans.”

Conservatives immediately cheered the decision.

“The Supreme Court has freed millions of American workers from manipulation by union bosses that misrepresent their interests,” said Tim Huelskamp, president and CEO of the right-wing Heartland Institute, in a statement. “On the heels of this decision, every state should move quickly to certify that no American worker is ever compelled to give their hard-earned money to support self-serving union bosses.”

The plaintiffs in Janus and the cases that helped lay the legal foundation for it were supported by a web of conservative legal advocacy groups and right-wing foundations, including the Center for Individual Rights and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

In a statement released after the Janus decision, Lee Saunders, president of AFSCME, declared that “despite this unprecedented and nefarious attack” the “American labor movement lives on, and we’re going to be there every day, fighting hard for all working people, our freedoms and for our country.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, echoed the dissenting judges, calling the Janus decision “a warping and weaponing of the First Amendment, absent any evidence or reason, to hurt working people.”

While unions are resolving publicly to fight back, they have also begun to prepare for the worst. The National Education Association, for example, which is the nation’s largest public-sector union, is forecasting a loss of 307,000 members over the next two years, and is planning to reduce its expenditures by $50 million during that period. There are currently 3 million members in the NEA.

Progressive economists say that Americans should expect to see economic inequality increase as public-sector unions adjust to a post-Janus world. According to the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, “[a]s union membership has fallen over the last few decades, the share of income going to the top 10 percent has steadily increased.” When union membership peaked at 33.4 percent in 1945, the share of income going to the top 10 percent was 32.6 percent. By 2011, when union membership was down to 11.1 percent, the share of income going to the top 10 percent reached 48 percent. The gap is even more stark when it comes to wealth: In 2017, the top 1 percent of American households owned 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, a higher share than at any point since 1962. The top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined. EPI attributes these trends to the lack of bargaining power that non-union workers have to negotiate their wages, among other factors that have made wealth distribution more unequal.

The Janus decision, though long expected, begets a new period of uncertainty in American labor relations. As The Intercept previously reportedsome labor activists, like those in the International Union of Operating Engineers, argue that Janus may have some unintended consequences that empower unions. If, as per Janus, collective bargaining is speech, then it is subject to powerful First Amendment protections. The majority may have inadvertently opened up the floodgates for countless new union-led lawsuits against governments that try to restrict their speech, by, for example, limiting the scope of their contract negotiations to predefined topics. Dismantling Abood, they say, could open “a tremendous Pandora’s box.”

Has the New America Foundation Lost its Way?

Originally published in Washingtonian‘s July 2018 issue.
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Anne-Marie Slaughter looked exhausted.

It was late summer 2017, and for the past week her Washington think tank had been at the center of a national media scandal, beginning with an embarrassing New York Times story about her firing of a certain employee. Slaughter, the president and CEO of New America, had been vacationing in Italy when the news broke. Now she was back, about to confront her bewildered organization at an all-staff meeting and to try to do some damage control.

The ousted staffer, Barry Lynn, was a critic of big tech companies and headed Open Markets, a New America program on corporate power and monopolies. Earlier in the summer, he had gone out of his way to praise the European Union for fining Google $2.7 billion for antitrust violations.

The chairman of Google’s parent company at the time, Eric Schmidt—who, along with his foundation and Google, had by that point donated nearly $20 million to New America—was not pleased, Lynn told the Times, and called Slaughter to say so. Lynn was informed that his actions had endangered the institution, and he was ultimately fired.

The debacle raised all sorts of questions about New America’s coziness with corporate funders, and as staffers gathered in the conference room—across the lobby from the “Eric Schmidt Ideas Lab”—they were impatient for answers. Many worried that the think tank’s intellectual integrity had been compromised, and they feared for their reputations. What would happen the next time someone’s work ran crosswise with the interests of a big donor?

Instead of stanching the anxiety, Slaughter stoked it. According to a recording of the meeting, she said that while she recognized that the standard in journalism was never to show sources what you were writing, New America’s “norm can’t be that. We’re an organization that develops relationships with funders. And you know, these are not just black boxes; they’re people. Google is a person, the Ford Foundation—these are people. . . . And particularly when they give you money, which is really a nice thing . . . basic courtesy I think requires—if you know something really bad, you say, ‘Here’s a heads-up.’ ”

Things spiraled from there. Slaughter insisted that Lynn left not because he had criticized Google but because of the non-collegial way he’d handled himself. Many couldn’t believe the contradictory responses they were hearing. “The whole spectacle left me feeling really sick to my stomach,” recalls an employee who later left the organization. “It became clear they were going to respond to this ordeal with a whole lot of bureaucratic whitewashing.”

Founded at the height of the Nasdaq boom, New America was meant to be an antidote to other Washington think tanks—a young, nimble provocateur that would dispense with convention and birth fresh ideas. Nearly two decades later, the organization, which now employs more than 250 people, is casting about for relevance in a hyper-partisan era, according to interviews with more than three dozen current and former staffers, many of whom wanted anonymity for fear of retribution in the tight-knit DC policymaking community. In a way, it’s a symbol of an entire Washington industry—policymaking—that’s under pressure to fund itself without making ideological or ethical sacrifices. If the Open Markets episode became a public-relations debacle, it also alienated a swath of the organization and exposed how much New America has outgrown its earliest ambitions.

* * *

In Washington’s ideas marketplace, New America was disruptive long before that word became a cliché. In 1999, Ted Halstead, an ambitious 30-year-old who’d already founded an environmental think tank in California, convinced media titan Bill Moyers to back a new kind of research institute. Halstead’s pitch: Washington’s think tanks were known for being captured by their donors, hobbled by bureaucracy, and too partisan—what this town needed was a policy shop that would occupy, as Halstead liked to call it, “the radical center.”

Halstead and his cofounders saw New America as an amalgam of bipartisan, nonpartisan, and post-partisan. They had a penchant for economic populism and a distrust of the status quo. “The whole point of it was to have a welcoming place for intellectual misfits, with the theory that sometimes misfits know what they’re talking about,” says Phil Longman, a longtime employee.

New America established different policy centers as well as a “fellows” program for relatively unknown twenty- and thirtysomethings who would plant their ideas in the mainstream press—a launching pad for the next generation of public intellectuals. Jonathan Chait, a prominent liberal writer for New York magazine, started there at age 26. Other early fellows included Jedediah Purdy, today a Duke law professor, and Jacob Hacker, now a political theorist at Yale.

The founders were just as insistent that their organization’s infrastructure be innovative, fashioning it after the New Economy businesses of the era: agile, decentralized, and aggressively lean. Program directors raised their own funds and paid a fraction of their budget to the larger organization. The vibe was entrepreneurial, says Ray Boshara, who joined in the early 2000s and later became a vice president: “Every other organization I had worked for had all these centralized functions. New America had this idea where we can hire all these people who can do their own thing.”

Within a few years, the think tank’s fellows were regularly appearing on the nation’s most elite op-ed pages, liberal and conservative alike, while its policy experts pushed out new ideas such as child savings accounts. Donors, meanwhile, were clamoring to become patrons of the iconoclastic upstart. Here again, New America differentiated itself by corralling money from a new source: Silicon Valley.

Up to that point, tech entrepreneurs out west had largely shied away from DC and its messy politics. “But the government is no longer ignoring us, so we have to get organized,” Eric Schmidt, then CEO of the software firm Novell, explained at the time. In joining New America’s board of directors, Schmidt told the New York Times he didn’t necessarily expect the think tank to champion Silicon Valley’s agenda. As he put it, “The ideas that come out may well include some I might not agree with.”

After Ted Halstead stepped down in 2007, New America tapped Steve Coll, a former managing editor of the Washington Post, to succeed him. The choice adhered to the organization’s taste for the unconventional: No other think tank in town had a working journalist at its helm.

The winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, Coll made New America an even more attractive place for writers and news outlets to affiliate with. But a few of its original ideals began to get obscured during his tenure.

In its earlier days, while New America did accept a small percentage of donations from corporations and their foundations, its leaders were generally leery of getting too friendly with businesses. “Walmart tried to give me a million dollars, and we ended up saying no,” Boshara recalls. “It was intriguing because we’d have access to data we otherwise wouldn’t, but I remember talking to Ted about how it might compromise our brand and independence.” Coll projected a similar reticence. “As I remember it, the consensus was that we should remain wary of corporations,” he says.

After 2009, however, the think tank began landing US government contracts, including millions of dollars’ worth of work from the State Department and the US Agency for International Development to help develop covert wireless networks for dissidents in Iran, Syria, Libya, and Cuba. Given that the organization had long prided itself on not being another Beltway bandit feeding off federal agencies, this shift disturbed some who worried that it signaled mission drift.

“I think government dollars automatically change the character of an institution,” says the Atlantic’s Steve Clemons, one of New America’s first employees. “I was opposed completely, entirely, 9,000 percent. It dumbs down institutions, whether people want to believe it does or not.”

By 2012, New America’s nonpartisan identity would come under strain, too. That year, an internal civil war broke out over Fix the Debt, a high-profile campaign that took a hard-line position on deficit reduction, calling for cuts to Medicare and Social Security.

The campaign’s co-chairs were a bipartisan duo: Democrat Erskine Bowles, a chief of staff in the Clinton White House, and former US senator Alan Simpson, a Republican. In one sense, it was the fullest expression of the think tank living out its dream as a home for ideas of all stripes. One day you might have a staffer from New America’s economic-growth program, which advocated for more federal infrastructure investment, up on Capitol Hill making a pitch about major public financing. The next day, a representative of Fix the Debt might say, “We can’t afford to do anything.”

But in reality, the big tent created complications. Fix the Debt was an enormous publicity generator for New America and was among its biggest moneymakers. The majority of its funders, though, were Republicans, including Wall Street tycoon Pete Peterson. And that caused liberals in the organization to blanch at its association with the right. Board member Bernard Schwartz, a major liberal donor who backed both the economic-growth program and nearly all of the fellows program, became so uncomfortable that he cut ties with the think tank. Eventually, Fix the Debt and its parent program parted ways with New America, too. “Competing pots of money and the political fashions of the day created an incoherent organization,” says one former staffer.

As much as the think tank professed to champion the “radical center,” in practice the mantra had shown its limits.

* * *

When Slaughter became CEO in 2013, the mood inside New America turned jubilant. A former State Department official under Hillary Clinton, she had earned a national following after her buzzy 2012 Atlantic cover story about work/life balance, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Staffers were also excited that Slaughter—a former Princeton dean—arrived with serious academic credentials.

But she inherited some serious organizational dysfunction. Building up the organization’s administrative capacity hadn’t been a priority, even as New America had expanded. Ironing out the infrastructural kinks would be her big test.

One of Slaughter’s first orders of business was moving New America from its modest downtown headquarters to a building a block from the White House. The space had all the amenities of a DC power player: a wrap-around roof deck with views of the Mall, trendy teal accents, and sleek design. The upgrade of 20,000 square feet raised some eyebrows internally, but Slaughter stressed that the extra space was essential. “It embodies who we are and where we want to go and inspires us to get there,” she declared.

Soon, like other think tanks in town, the institution would confront new ethics challenges. Five months into Slaughter’s tenure, a New America policy analyst published a blog post criticizing a partnership between Comcast and an online-education website. Despite objections from New America program directors, according to an e-mail, Slaughter allowed a senior VP at Comcast to write a defensive and self-congratulatory response in the think tank’s weekly newsletter. “That was one of the first portraits many of us had of Anne-Marie’s reflexes and instincts when she’s put in a position that requires confronting corporate power in some way,” says a former staffer. Fuzz Hogan, New America’s spokesman, says the organization “failed to get comment from the subject of a story [Comcast] so the editorial team determined a piece in response [by Comcast] was the most effective and engaging solution.”

Employees would get another portrait the next year when a New America fellow named Steve LeVine was reporting an exposé on Sakti3, a battery company. Its CEO called Slaughter to broach the idea of funding New America but also voiced concerns about LeVine’s reporting. Afterward, Slaughter went to LeVine’s editor to relay the CEO’s objections. As word of the conversation spread, staff felt that a line had been crossed. Slaughter apologized to LeVine for interfering with the story.

Slaughter’s political alliances also became news, in silly as well as serious ways. In 2015, four months after Donald Trump decided to run for President, Slaughter and a colleague met Ivanka Trump at an event in DC. After chatting, Trump asked the women for their shoe sizes so she could send each a pair of boots from her fashion line. They obliged, and when the boots showed up in the mail, Slaughter and her colleague took them home.

A year later, just before the election, WikiLeaks released e-mails revealing that Slaughter had been collaborating informally with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The e-mail traffic showed Slaughter trying to persuade New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that the uproar around Clinton’s private e-mail use was overblown and that “everyone” Slaughter knew at State also used private e-mail.

“Tom, I’m not working directly with Hillary’s folks; I can’t, given my position as head of New America. So this reach-out is on my own initiative,” she had written. Friedman told her Clinton’s e-mail situation still didn’t “sit right” with him. Slaughter forwarded their entire exchange to three senior Clinton campaign advisers. “Fyi from Tom F—not great, but useful to know,” she wrote.

Embarrassing as the so-called “Ivanka boots” episode was, at least the tarnish of that faux pas was internal—more of an inside joke. The WikiLeaks incident, though, mortified a number of staffers. It’s not verboten for a think-tank CEO to advocate for a political candidate, but New America had long prided itself on its nonpartisan stance.

As it was, stories were circulating that their boss was gunning for a post in a Clinton White House and grooming their think tank for Hillary’s presidency. Since Slaughter took over, more than a dozen former Obama administration appointees have joined the ranks. A couple, including Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s top domestic-policy adviser, are among New America’s VPs.

New America “used to be a more accepting place of challenging ideas outside the mainstream,” says a right-leaning researcher who left in 2017. “Whatever tolerance existed is absolutely no longer there. It’s not even about being conservative, but it’s about whether you’re allowed to be outside of this increasingly narrow Obama-coalition thing.”

“We’re not a government in waiting,” says Peter Bergen, a VP. “It’s a big differentiator for us and continues to be.”

Phil Longman, who worked at New America for 18 years until last summer when he departed with Lynn, says you could see the organization watering down its unorthodox brand through its annual retreats. They used to be “freeform” gatherings attended by staff and board members, “punctuated by highly competitive rounds of touch football and also a fair amount of drinking,” he says. “But starting about ten years ago, these fellows retreats gave way to highly formal, scripted sessions in which fellows, if they were allowed to talk at all, were asked to put on dog-and-pony shows for would-be donors. The most original and iconoclastic thinkers were generally left off the program because, well, their ideas were ‘unfundable.’ Eventually, if you weren’t ‘fundable,’ you were gone.”

***

Over time, a level of anxiety developed in some corners of the organization, clouding the excitement that had marked Slaughter’s hiring. In particular, some worried about the organization’s financial footing.

For one thing, New America had beefed up its administrative teams, adding staff in fundraising and other areas and expanding the organization’s central bureaucracy, a turnaround from its lean beginnings. The number of staffers earning more than $100,000 in reportable compensation jumped from 29 in 2014 to 49 by 2016, according to tax filings. Slaughter earned $535,000 in 2015, her salary increasing 27 percent a year later to $677,000. (The president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank with comparable revenues, took home $242,000 in 2016.)

There was also the cost of the upscale new DC headquarters. According to financial audits, New America reported rent expenses of $1.3 million in 2014, the last full year it was in its old building, while rent expenses for the new space amounted to $3.3 million in 2016.

Program directors were being asked to hand over more money toward fixed costs. “The culture has really shifted in major ways over the last five years, from a place where the center supports the programs to one where the programs support the center,” says Sascha Meinrath, a former New America vice president who led its tech-policy program from 2008 to 2014.

While some level of administrative growth is necessary to manage an expanding organization, many have had trouble accepting what they see as outsize ambitions. At the all-staff meeting last September, one employee asked Slaughter if it was a mistake to relocate to the new building. “It’s not putting pressure on our fundraising, and we had to move,” she responded.

It turns out some of the fear may not necessarily have been unfounded. According to internal budget documents, as the organization laid out its 2017 budget, it was seeing red. Revenues had been jumping, from $14 million in 2008 to $38 million by 2016, according to its public tax filings. But so had expenses. Going into 2017, New America was privately forecasting that expenses would badly exceed revenue, leading to a projected drop of $11 million in net assets. Not helping matters was that the organization has no endowment.

Slaughter and her team downplay the concerns, stressing that New America ended up reducing its central-functions budget and exceeding its fundraising goal in 2017. “Nearly doubling revenues means a lot of people have confidence in you,” Slaughter told me this past winter. “It means foundations and individuals are investing in you, so to me that’s the most important metric.”

But it’s not hard to see how anyone in this position wouldn’t have been keen to alienate a big donor.

***

The souring between Slaughter and Barry Lynn began in mid-2016. Lynn’s Open Markets program, which studied tech giants such as Amazon and Facebook, was organizing a conference where Democratic senator Elizabeth Warren would deliver a keynote on the drawbacks of corporate concentration. Slaughter and the think tank’s chief fundraiser, Meredith Hanley, grew increasingly alarmed by the prospect.

“Just THINK how you are imperiling funding for others,” Slaughter e-mailed Lynn days beforehand, emphasizing that they were “in the process of trying to expand our relationship with Google.” New America had recently increased its donations from big business; 12 percent of revenues came from corporations in 2016, up from 5 percent in 2014.

Slaughter demanded in an e-mail that Lynn provide her with talking points to explain to Google why New America hadn’t given it more notice about the conference. Lynn wrote back that the event had been announced publicly and that it had never been standard practice to alert companies about forthcoming events or articles.

That episode ended in a détente. But then Slaughter lost patience with Lynn for good last summer after the EU nailed Google on antitrust violations and Lynn issued his laudatory statement. The release caught the attention of Politico, which cranked out a story noting the strange-bedfellows situation—New America cheering the punishment of a company whose former chairman, Schmidt, was New America’s chairman emeritus.

According to e-mails, Slaughter informed Lynn he was being fired for his “repeated violations of our institutional norms and values concerning notice and cooperation when things that one program does affects other programs.” In other words, not giving a sufficient heads-up to colleagues about what his program was doing. Slaughter said she’d give Lynn two months to quietly spin off his Open Markets program, along with its eight full-time employees: “We will also agree on a common narrative on why this is happening that involves no disparagement by us of you or by you of us.”

But Lynn wasn’t having any of it—he went to the Times with the story, and the drama spilled into public view.

***

By the time Slaughter returned from her trip to Italy and convened her staff meeting, many employees were not only bewildered—they were embarrassed by their organization’s bumbling, defiant response.

“This story is false,” Slaughter had tweeted the morning the article was published. Several hours later, she tweeted that the “facts are largely right” but the “interpretation is wrong.” After getting blasted on social media for the vague and tone-deaf responses, she issued a full statement two days later, asserting that Lynn had not been fired because of pressure from Google and apologizing for using Trumpian rhetoric to discredit the Times.

Slaughter also pointed to a forthcoming book by one of its then fellows, Franklin Foer. World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech argues that Silicon Valley poses a threat to civil society.

The invocation took Foer by surprise. A few months earlier, as he’d been preparing for the book’s release, he’d sensed the think tank was backing away from it. First, he says, the organization informed him that his New York book event would no longer be primarily hosted by New America and that the viewpoints represented on the panel would need to be “balanced.” Foer had attended many other New America book events and knew “balance” was not a typical requirement for what are mainly celebratory events for fellows. Still, he agreed to the conditions.

“But after the fact,” he says, “I learned that the development officer, Meredith [Hanley], had a meeting where she freaked out about the prospect of my book causing blowback for New America from Google and was putting pressure on the fellows program to try to somehow dampen their association with it.”

Then came the Open Markets brouhaha, and suddenly, Foer says, “after running away from my book, they started to run towards it in an effort to launder their reputation.” (Foer now sits on the board of the Open Markets Institute, Lynn’s splinter organization.) A spokesman for New America says, “The people who did attend the meeting Frank heard about secondhand have a different recollection, but the fact is we like Frank, we like his work, we funded the writing of his book, and we promoted it heavily. We believe it is critical to the conversation.”

It’s not as if New America was alone in its interactions with corporations. Brookings and others have been called out in recent years for alleged coziness with funders. For its part, New America has said it doesn’t allow donors to influence its work. “We have never had an instance of a funder shaping what we do,” Slaughter told her staff in September.

That month, the think tank’s board hired a management consultant named Jon Huggett to interview nearly 40 people affiliated with the organization. He found that most employees he spoke to felt confident about the organization’s intellectual independence and that Lynn’s departure wasn’t seen as due to funder pressure. “Barry behaved rationally, for himself,” said one. In the end, Slaughter retained the backing of the board—one of its co-chairs at the time suggested in a letter to staff that Lynn had used New America as a scapegoat to advance his own interests.

The organization also conducted a separate, internal review around its funding and transparency practices. As a result of both efforts, it is now disclosing dollar amounts and funding purposes for each of its donors, not just who gives. These changes have earned the think tank praise and higher scores from transparency watchdogs.

Less clear is whether staffers owe donors advance warning about work they might not like. According to Kevin Carey, the VP who led the internal committee, the organization chose not to adopt an official policy on the matter. For some, this left questions around Lynn’s firing still open to interpretation, as well as ambiguity over whether higher-ups could interfere with their work directly or indirectly through a culture of self-censorship. Eventually, several fellows left.

Huggett, the consultant, meanwhile, found that the crisis opened other wounds and that general morale had been clobbered. He told the board he “heard more reasons to back New America from two funders than [from] 30 staff.” Few could speak of a shared mission, and others raised concerns about rising costs and dysfunctional company culture. “We are reactive and opportunistic,” a staffer told Huggett. One founder said: “Money, not mission, drives New America.”

***

So how do you redefine a nonpartisan think tank in a hyper-partisan age? James Fallows, a longtime board member, says New America is working to figure that out: “You can’t just split the difference between sensible Democratic positions and sensible Republican ones anymore, as you still could do in many areas in the 1990s. The room for finding common ground in Washington has been cut away.”

Whereas it used to play up its distinctiveness, the organization looks more like a follower these days. Its leaders are working on expanding its influence beyond Washington with on-the-ground partners in local communities and “what works” research and events—a popular, apolitical movement embraced by other policy institutes and foundations over the last five years.

Some still feel anxious about the think tank’s finances and future. The organization has had four CFOs in the past five years, and there was an abrupt leadership shake-up on the board last November. While New America has had continued success raising restricted funds for program-specific initiatives, like most nonprofits it has a harder time raising unrestricted dollars. In 2016, an internal committee was tasked with reviewing the organization’s finances, out of recognition, they said, that winning more program grants does not necessarily leave enough money to cover the organization’s fixed costs. Their recommendations to the board included growing more policy programs as well as increasing New America’s corporate-donor pipeline by 30 to 40 prospects annually. (In 2017, 8 percent of funding came from big business.) While the committee noted that the organization was staying afloat thus far by increasing board support and netting big gifts, this was “not a long-term strategy.”

New America’s leadership chalks up the criticism and institutional snags to the inevitable growing pains of expansion. It’s “going through the natural life cycle of any organization,” says Bergen. Think about it as you might a college evolving into a university with a collection of professional schools, Fallows suggests: “A bigger organization just means more complexity of everything.”

Right-sizing may depend on a degree of openness that some believe has been missing. New America has a “social compact” stating that it encourages “fearless feedback” and “frank conversations”—but the management consultant heard varying comments including “I raise concerns and am branded as a trouble maker” and “We do stifle internal critics: Sometimes we fire them.” Moreover, despite New America’s stated values around transparency, when the think tank negotiates severance packages, it includes non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements—something few people can afford not to sign.

The organization says it has been working on implementing recommendations put forth by the consultant, including writing clearer policies around collegiality. Huggett also suggested that New America establish a committee on “reputation and risk” and make clearer to donors that it will maintain editorial independence, both of which it has done. When asked about the institution’s expectation for notifying funders with a heads-up about things that might upset them, a practice Barry Lynn violated, Slaughter insists there was never a rule around that. “The thing I will say is I love Barry’s work. I’ve cited it and I believe in it,” she adds. “By far the worst part of everything that happened is we lost that work.”

New America has grown in size and scale under Slaughter. One of her goals was to help Washington be more in touch with solutions-oriented enterprises outside the Beltway, and she has positioned New America to try to support innovators in cities and states and connect them to one another. Last year, the think tank welcomed its first class of public-interest technology fellows with data-science expertise, launched a master’s program in global security with Arizona State University, and opened New America Indianapolis, one in a series of local initiatives. Slaughter says she’s proud of helping diversify the organization and of building “a living, breathing network . . . composed of partners and projects and institutions and people all around the country.”

Slaughter has committed to at least five years with the organization, and her half-decade anniversary is coming up this fall. Whether she stays or moves on, the head of the think tank founded to innovate will have to tackle some old-fashioned problems. As one employee interviewed by the management consultant put it: “My biggest hope for New America is to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up.”

When a Suburb Tries to Densify, Forget ‘Minnesota Nice’

Originally published in CityLab on June 21, 2018.
—–

In late April, some residents of Normandale Lake Estates, an apartment complex in Bloomington, Minnesota, just outside of Minneapolis, received a letter informing them that their leases were being terminated and they’d have to move out by June 1. New owners had recently bought the building and planned to upgrade the units. Existing tenants were told they could prequalify to return, but many suspect the new rents will be higher than they can afford. In the meantime, they’re scrambling to find new places to live.

For some of the displaced Bloomington renters, this isn’t the first time they’ve been forced out of their homes. A little over two years ago, in the nearby suburb of Richfield, new owners purchased an apartment complex called Crossroads at Penn. They renamed it Concierge, renovated the units, and priced out hundreds of families. Some of those Crossroads tenants, like Lisa Jones, who relies on a federal housing voucher for herself and her two grandchildren, and Linda Soderstrom, also on federal housing subsidy, moved from Richfield to the Normandale Lake Estates. Now they’ve been pushed out once more.

“The lack of humanity is deep,” Soderstrom told The Star-Tribune. “It’s really deep.”

After the Crossroads takeover in late 2015, housing activists and community groups across the metropolitan region began meeting regularly to strategize how they could confront the challenges of rising rents and displacement. Soon the Suburban Hennepin Housing Coalition was born—comprised of nearly two dozen community and faith-based groups. Their mission centered on the “the three P’s”—preservation of affordable housing, production of affordable housing, and protection of tenants.

Much of the attention around affordable housing in the U.S. has tended to focus on cities like New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle—densely built urban areas where land for new housing is in short supply. But most Americans live in suburbs, many of which are seeing rapidly increasing poverty and racial diversityHere, the need for affordable housing can be just as acute, but the dynamics of the issue are distinct from the urban version—and, often, more complex.

On the outskirts of the Twin Cities, the housing crisis includes some familiar ingredients—anxieties about race and poverty, debates about density and “neighborhood character.” But here there are also deep divisions between various pro-housing advocacy organizations, as well as big differences between suburbs, depending on their relative affluence.

Hope Melton, a retired urban planner, has lived in the wealthy suburb of Edina for nearly 40 years. Last fall, she invited some neighbors to meet in her living room, to kickstart a conversation about steep local housing prices. They’ve been meeting and growing their group ever since.

“Fifteen or twenty years ago, the affordable housing crisis was mainly hitting poor people,” Melton told CityLab. “Now it’s affecting a much wider swath of people. We’ve really been attracting a lot of seniors in Edina, the older generation is really stepping up.”

Although the Twin Cities have historically been one of the nation’s most affordable places to live, the region has a markedly low rental vacancy rate, meaning there’s high demand for new units and steady pressure on rents. Activists fear that “flipping” affordable units into luxury market-rate apartments will become increasingly common prospects for investors, especially those from out-of-state.

Anne Mavity, the executive director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership, says the region is not building new affordable units at the rate at which presently affordable units are disappearing. Market-rate units that were constructed 35 years ago are generally reasonably priced today simply because they’re and older and not fancy. The term-of-art for these types of units is “NOAH” or “naturally-occurring affordable housing.”

“We’re losing NOAH at a rapid pace,” Mavity said. “And every time a sale happens, the price of the unit is going to go up, the rents will go up. We are increasingly attractive to national investors, and that is not good for our residents.”

To combat some of these trends, the Suburban Hennepin Housing Coalition has been organizing around several key policy areas, namely to add new affordable housing stock, and help tenants fight displacement. In March, for example, the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park passed a first-of-its-kind ordinance requiring new property owners to give low-income tenants 90 days notice to find a new place to live if they’re being priced out, and to pay for tenants’ moving expenses. A similar rule was just introduced to the Bloomington City Council this month, according to the city’s program manager, Bryan Hartman.

Nelima Sitati-Munene, executive director of the African Career Education & Resource, Inc. (ACER), a group focused on organizing the African immigrant community in Minnesota and a member of the Suburban Hennepin Housing Coalition, says they’ve been pushing municipal leaders to no longer “view the landlord as the only stakeholder” in their cities. In her suburb of Brooklyn Park, activists recently succeeded in getting rental affordability requirements included in new multi-family housing developments.

Sitati-Munene says organizing around suburban governments has been both a challenge and opportunity. “The reality is this affordable housing crisis is a new phenomenon for a lot of people,” she said. “And a lot of suburban city councilmembers are part-time. A lot of leaders have been really surprised to learn what’s going on, to hear people’s personal stories.”

Still, the fundamental tensions associated with affordable housing debates in other parts of the country persist here: Many suburbanites are vehemently opposed to changes in local development patterns, especially when the word “density” comes up.

“That’s a very polarizing issue,” said Ricardo Perez, a community developer at the Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County, when I asked him about increasing housing density as a strategy to boost affordability. “I personally leave it to the policy experts to have those conversations amongst themselves. My main focus is on community and to serve those families who are being affected directly by these issues.”

Aaron Berc, a housing organizer with Jewish Community Action and another Suburban Hennepin Housing Coalition leader, was similarly noncommittal on the question of density. “We’re not going to support a project because it’s dense. We’ll support a dense project because it’s affordable,” he said. “Certainly we need more housing—our city needs to go grow. But I would say we need housing that is affordable for the community more than we need more housing.”

These questions around development and density are hardly theoretical abstractions. In March, the city of Minneapolis released a draft comprehensive plan which included a new proposal to upzone neighborhoods so that single-family-homes could be more easily converted into fourplexes, an idea with the strong backing of Minneapolis’s new mayor, Jacob Frey. “Affordable housing is a right,” he tweeted in March. “Addressing our supply—and shortage—is going to be a key part of realizing that right.”

Some groups, like the Defend Glendale Public Housing Coalition, have already come out in strong opposition to the fourplex idea; they argue that relying on market-based solutions will inevitably make things worse for low-income people and increase displacement. The city is accepting public comment on the draft proposal through the end of July.

In Edina, efforts to add more housing have also met stiff resistance. The City Council recently rejected a proposal for a new seven-story building, which would have included 20 percent of its 135 units as affordable. In October the Edina City Council rejected another proposed high-rise condo buildingthis one of 173 new units, with twenty percent of them designated as affordable.

There’s no doubt that height and density are the two issues that have focused people’s minds as we address development, redevelopment and affordable housing,” says Melton. “How would I characterize the conversation? Chaotic, emotional, uninformed.”

The dynamics get more complicated, Melton says, as residents wrestle with complex issues of race and class through the politics of Midwestern cultural norms. “‘Minnesota Nice’ plays into this very much,” she said. “People don’t raise their voice, nobody wants to talk about race, nobody wants to talk about their responsibility historically for what’s happened to people that they don’t want to have in their community.”

Instead, Melton says, her neighbors will “say they don’t want ‘urban’ things, that they don’t want all the noise and diversity and crowding and traffic and all that,” she says. “Those things they regard as negative, and they moved to Edina to escape it.”

Bruce McCarthy, the president of the Lake Cornelia Neighborhood Association in Edina, has said he is “very pro-development” but that “we just want to see it a certain kind of way.” He’s urged his city council to focus on its new comprehensive plan before it approves any new project that requires amending building size requirements.

Yet even among housing activists who might otherwise be on the same side, the issue of racial integration and fair housing can be charged. In 2014, two of the Twin City’s most racially diverse suburbs, Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, filed a federal fair housing complaint against the state, alleging that policymakers had illegally concentrated subsidized housing and poverty in their cities, in defiance of a state law that requires affluent communities to provide their “fair share” of affordable housing. The re-adoption of a “fair system” is a way of ensuring that more subsidized units end up in higher-income areas. The Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing (MICAH), a faith-based housing organization, partnered with the cities on the complaint.

Sue Watlov Phillips, executive director of MICAH, says the Metropolitan Council, a regional government agency charged with enforcing the “fair share” law (among many other municipal duties) has been resistant to their complaint, though HUD is continuing to investigate their grievances.

“We’re not saying anyone needs to move or be forced to move, but we’re saying we want to make sure if you want to move out to another place, you should have affordable housing and opportunity in every community,” she said. “We went from being one of the most integrated metros in the country to one of the most segregated, and a lot of it was because we have designated our resources and policies so housing could only be developed in certain areas.”

But Sitati-Munene of Brooklyn Park’s ACER opposes the fair housing complaint: Her group insists that the working-class suburbs of Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center need much more subsidized housing construction, not less.

Despite disagreements over strategy, placement, and scale, the fact that groups in in the Twin Cities metro are even wrestling with these issues puts them ahead of the curve nationally when it comes to organizing the suburbs. And activists acknowledge that the housing issues they’re confronting are not unique to their region.

“After the foreclosure crisis people lost their homes and more people have started to rent,” says Sitati-Munene“Rental markets are flooded, and prices are going up. If other suburbs aren’t dealing with affordable housing issues now, it’s coming.”

Apprenticeships, A Favorite of Trump Administration, Carry Major Potential for Foster Youth

Originally published in The Chronicle of Social Change and InvestigateWest on June 20, 2018.
——

This year Washington became the first state in the nation to pass legislation specifically designed to help foster youth access apprenticeship opportunities, which offer a steady path to full-time employment in a highly skilled trade.

Research shows that foster youth are likely to earn even less than other low-income youth living around them. Bill sponsor Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, declared his intent to expand opportunities for children facing “immense obstacles or lack the support of their families.”

The legislation, SB 6274, offers financial assistance to foster youth, former foster youth and homeless youth for up to six years or until the person turns 26. It lowers the eligibility age from 16 to 13 and is expected to nearly double the number of eligible students.

Washington’s new law comes on the heels of President Donald Trump signing an executive order in June 2017 to increase the number of apprenticeships in the United States. The president called for doubling annual funding to $200 million, an expansion that would be paid for by reducing support for other job training programs deemed ineffective.

“Federally funded education and workforce development programs that do not work must be improved or eliminated so that taxpayer dollars can be channeled to more effective uses,” according to Trump’s executive order.

The order, noting that 350,000 manufacturing jobs were open, told the Labor Department to draw up regulations promoting apprenticeship programs by unions, trade and industry groups, and for-profit and nonprofit companies. It also sets up a task force to advise the president and calls for recognition for employers with good apprenticeship programs.

The order does not specifically mention the need to involve foster youth in apprenticeships, although it does seek to promote them for high school students, Job Corps participants, prisoners and those who were previously in prison, veterans and members of the armed forces.

While the president’s directive set no targets for exactly how many new apprenticeships there should be, labor experts from both sides of the aisle applauded the “earn-and-learn” expansion as needed and long overdue.

Apprenticeship programs begin with a mix of on-the-job training and class instruction, during which time the apprentice earns a wage. Industries where apprenticeships are common include information technology, construction and carpentry, plumbing, and various health professions. The executive order seeks to promote apprenticeships in “critical industry sectors,” such as manufacturing, construction, cybersecurity and health care.

Over the course of an apprenticeship, which can last several years, participants gradually take on more complex parts of a trade, and eventually receive a certificate of completion.

Supporters point to studies that suggest individuals who complete apprenticeships earn a starting wage of more than $60,000 per year, and that nearly 90 percent of participants lock down employment when their apprenticeship ends. With millions of job vacancies across the country, and a national survey of CEOs reporting that most executives struggle to find qualified workers, the potential of apprenticeships offers some a rare glimmer of hope.

Foster youth represent one population in particular that could really stand to benefit from these new economic opportunities. Some 23,000 young men and women turn 18 or 21 and “age out” of the foster care system every year. The statistics are grim. According to the National Foster Youth Initiative, foster youth have a less than 3 percent chance of earning a college degree, and only half who age out of the system will have some form of gainful employment by age 24.

But how can foster youth take advantage of expanded apprenticeships? What could help make such opportunities more accessible to them?

According to Mike Pergamit, a labor economist with The Urban Institute whose research focuses on vulnerable youth, experts “still don’t really know what works” when it comes to designing effective youth employment programs. The picture looks even worse when it comes to foster youth. Pergamit says “there haven’t really been many evaluations” of employment programs targeting youth in foster care.

That said, Pergamit maintains there’s reason to think apprenticeships could be particularly beneficial to foster youth since they they’re typically longer-length opportunities that come with high levels of mentorship. Stability and support, he says, can make all the difference.

One challenge for policymakers who might want to help target apprenticeships is that many foster youth have no desire to self-identify as someone with ties to the foster care system. One strategy for dealing with this stigma issue is to pursue strong data partnerships with government agencies.

In Washington, for example, the Washington Student Achievement Council has partnered with the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to better target resources and information toward foster youth looking to go to college or join the workforce.

“In secure ways DSHS sends us who is in foster care at the time at which they can maybe access the services so we know who they are,” said Becky Thompson, the director of student financial assistance at the Washington Student Achievement Council. “But it also requires a lot of outreach, so we provide training to social workers about resources that are available, since sometimes they can act as more of a trusted adviser.”

Some states also have foster care liaisons working in their public school districts; these liaisons can work with program providers to help students learn about what’s available and how to take advantage of supports.

Other barriers that could impede foster youth from accessing apprenticeship opportunities include a lack of stable housing; a lack of reliable transportation to get to work; and lack of driver’s licenses, which can be a prerequisite for even getting hired.

Krishna Richardson-Daniels, the founding director of A Bridge Forward, a nonprofit in Renton, Washington, focused on youth aging out of the foster care system, says her group works to provide young people with subsidized ORCA cards so they can get to work and school. But some foster youth live in areas that lack high-quality public transit.

Obtaining a driver’s license, Richardson-Daniels says, can be one of the biggest and most poorly understood barriers for foster youth.

“Driver’s education is now privatized and not offered in the public school system, and those programs can cost anywhere from $300 to 500,” she said, noting there really aren’t many foster families willing to support those costs and few nonprofit groups have the bandwidth to take it on.

“Seattle is the fastest-growing city, we have some of the largest construction projects going on, but you cannot actually work in construction without having a driver’s license,” she explained. Construction is a field with a long history of providing apprenticeship opportunities.
A coalition of foster youth advocates has launched a national campaign called “Going Places” to try to tackle this driver’s license problem.

Aside from these barriers, given that apprenticeships are broadly understood to be something of a rigorous pre-employment opportunity, many people fail to realize how much work typically goes into preparing young people for apprenticeships. So-called “pre-apprenticeship” programs have become a popular strategy; these are short-term opportunities designed to help acclimate specific groups so they can enter and thrive in their apprenticeship program later on.

One promising pre-apprenticeship model designed to help disadvantaged youth (including but not exclusively foster youth) was developed by the District 1199C Training & Upgrading Fund in Philadelphia. The pre-apprenticeship program runs for six weeks and includes an opportunity to ensure all participants secure driver’s licenses.

Advocates say thoughtful, concerted outreach will be necessary to help older foster youth access apprenticeships, perhaps even more so than other disadvantaged populations, given the chaos they face if they age out of the system at 18 or 21. Experts suggest beginning targeted outreach in high school, several years before foster youth are set to age out.

“This is a unique population that might have some barriers that need additional support, and so having some very early outreach happening with high school counseling can be very effective,” Thompson said.

Another barrier can be whether the employers themselves are prepared to work with foster youth. One strategy is for policymakers to encourage employers to get trained in the so-called Trauma Informed Approach, a professional development model which can help bosses better understand what their foster youth apprentices are dealing with, and how best to support them.

“Trauma is a big difference between foster youth and other disadvantaged youth,” said economist Pergamit. “Many (foster) youth have had various trauma, growing up in tough neighborhoods and witnessing all kinds of things, but foster youth by definition were the victim of some sort of abuse or neglect, and once they enter the foster system they’ve had even more disruption and turbulence beyond that.”

Representatives from the Labor Department did not return multiple requests for comment.

Edwin Dirth contributed to this report.

Backed by Obama Alums, A Law-And-Order Candidate Aims To Topple Progressive Leaders in Baltimore

Originally published in The Intercept on June 20, 2018

.——

Robbyn Lewis’s appointment to the Maryland General Assembly in late 2016 was met with excitement. The first black woman to ever hold office in Maryland’s 46th Legislative District, she said her life’s work in public health and transit advocacy prepared her to meet the needs of those in south and southeast Baltimore.

Her appointment was recommended by the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee, but now she is running in her first election. Next Tuesday, Maryland voters will head to the polls for the Democratic primary (early voting began on June 14), and Lewis, 54, is facing a formidable challenge from Nate Loewentheil, an alumnus of the Obama administration whose campaign has been fueled largely by donors outside the city. Loewentheil has centered his campaign on Baltimore’s high levels of crime, even though state delegates have little control over implementing crime prevention programs.

Lewis is running to hold her seat on a slate with the two other incumbents from District 46 — Brooke Lierman and Luke Clippinger — as well as the district’s state senator, Bill Ferguson, who is running for re-election unopposed. Lierman and Clippinger are running for their second and third times, respectively, and Lewis — who has served the shortest stint in office — is considered the most vulnerable candidate on “Team46.” (There are six candidates running for House delegate seats, three of whom will be elected to represent the district.) On Tuesday, the Baltimore Sun endorsed the Team46 candidates.

Lewis was born in Gary, Indiana, at the height of the civil rights movement, and she says her experiences since then have shaped her path toward public office. Her parents were among the first beneficiaries of the Fair Housing Act; the landmark 1968 legislation that prohibited discrimination in the sale or rental of property enabled them to buy a house in a completely white Chicago neighborhood. She went on to attend the University of Chicago for college and obtained her master’s degree from Columbia University. She later served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger and moved to Baltimore in the late 1990s, when she got a job coordinating research at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Over the last two decades, Lewis has led a movement to plant over 100 new trees in her community and founded a grassroots political PAC to mobilize infrastructure investment in Baltimore. She told The Intercept she’s humbled to be able to bring those experiences with her to the state legislature, one of the most progressive in the country.

Loewentheil, a 32-year-old graduate of Yale University and Yale Law School, has only recently returned to the city. He was born in Baltimore and attended the Park School, a liberal private school in town, but lived in the Baltimore County suburbs for much of his youth. In 1991, Loewentheil’s father told the Baltimore Sun they were moving out of Baltimore due to safety concerns.

After law school, Loewentheil went straight to work for the Obama administration, serving as a policy adviser on the National Economic Council. Later, he took over a federal task force on Baltimore which was formed in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody. It sought to coordinate and mobilize over a dozen federal agencies to help Baltimore tap new sources of funding and address systemic challenges, such as lead exposure and unemployment.

Loewentheil “spent the last weeks in the administration working closely with political, business, and civic leadership, and it was a reminder of all the great things I loved about the city,” he said of the task force.

He has leaned heavily on his connections to the Obama administration to run his campaign, both as a selling point for his candidacy and as leveraged power through his Obama alumni network. Jeffrey Zients, Obama’s lead economic policy adviser, held a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., for Loewentheil’s campaign and personally wrote him a $6,000 check. The candidate’s Yale alumni network has also stepped in to help him unseat Lewis. Even Bob Borosage, co-director of the progressive Campaign for America’s Future, kicked him some money.

All told, Loewentheil has amassed a remarkable amount of financial support for his campaign: over $430,000 according to the latest campaign finance reports. He spent $109,738 between May 16 and June 10. Lewis, by contrast, has raised a little over $110,000 throughout her campaign and spent $2,546 in that same period.

“I would say the amount he’s raised and the amount he’s spending in a state delegate race is beyond unprecedented,” Ferguson, the state senator running in the 46th District, told The Intercept. “I can’t imagine there has been anything close to this anywhere else in Maryland history.” Ferguson acknowledged that “fundraising is part of politics” but noted “the breadth of non-Maryland dollars that are being funneled into the campaign is striking.” According to campaign finance reports, a majority of Loewentheil’s funds have come from outside the state. More than $9,000 came from Palantir, the San Francisco-based data surveillance which Peter Thiel co-founded and now chairs.

Loewentheil is part of a wave of former Obama appointees who are flooding into the lower levels of politics and reaping praise for doing so. Earlier this month, USA Today ran a story headlined, “Surge of Obama alumni running for office in wake of President Trump’s election.” The piece reported that more than 65 former Obama officials are currently campaigning, aided by the resources and prowess of the Obama Alumni Association. A picture of Loewentheil knocking doors featured prominently in the article.

“Obama was a community organizer, and I think that’s shaped my approach to the campaign,” Loewentheil told The Intercept. “I just spent literally every day knocking doors, you just go out and talk to folks, that’s what politics means. I’ve been influenced by [Obama’s] experience and story which really permeated the White House.”

His support from the Obama network is overwhelming, but not absolute. Broderick Johnson, a Baltimore native who served as Obama’s Cabinet secretary, assistant to the president, and chair of the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force, recently endorsed Team46 over Loewentheil. “While serving as President Obama’s Cabinet Secretary, I helped direct much needed attention and resources from across our Administration to Baltimore City,” Johnson said in a statement. “Those efforts were done in collaboration with the city’s great leaders. … Those leaders who are closest to the ground, like the members of Team46, need no introduction to the city or to the State’s leaders in Annapolis. Team46 has created partnerships and leveraged resources necessary to bring equity in Baltimore’s public schools, to support greater job creation, to fund transit to connect citizens to those jobs, and to build a Baltimore where everyone counts.”

Baltimore has indeed struggled to curb crime, which has spiked over the last three years. The city saw 341 homicides in 2017, 318 in 2016, and 344in 2015. The average rate for the prior four years was 214, and the city hadn’t seen 300-plus murders in one year since the 1990s.

Loewentheil has singled out this issue, accusing his opponents of not doing enough to improve public safety and lamenting how crime prevention programs have historically been run. Many of his proposals involve injecting state funds into Baltimore — which state delegates can indeed help do — but it is local officials (like the mayor, state’s attorney, and police commissioner) who ultimately oversee policy and program implementation.

“I think win or lose, I’ve forced our current delegation to take the issue of gun violence more seriously,” he told The Intercept. In reality, the district’s current representatives have worked on a number of public safety initiatives.

“It is incredibly misleading and disingenuous to suggest that state legislators representing the 46th District have been anything but fierce advocates for creating safe communities,” said Ferguson, the state senator.

Throughout the campaign, Team46 has highlighted a series of their ownlegislative accomplishments on improving public safety. For example, Maryland’s governor signed the Maryland Violence Intervention and Prevention Program into law earlier this year. The new law, which Lierman authored and Clippinger and Lewis co-sponsored, sets aside $5 million for the next fiscal year to fund violence reduction strategies through competitive grants to local governments and nonprofit groups. The Huffington Post reported that only five other states have such a program, which is “designed to give a financial injection to evidence-based services that address the root causes of gun violence.”

Lewis, for her part, said her public health background equips her to address those root challenges. “As an African-American, I will never stop telling the truth about the root causes of our challenges in this city,” she told The Intercept. “The root causes of crime in this city are the long-term policies that drove racial segregation, disinvestment in communities, and criminalization of black skin. A single-minded focus on the outcome of those policies is disingenuous. I’m a public health professional; my training is in identifying sources of illness and addressing them.”

On social media, residents have charged Loewentheil with running a fear-based campaign, pandering to white voters in his district. Nearly half of District 46 is white, making it one of the whitest legislative zones in the city.

One video Loewentheils’s campaign released this past spring featured a white man that the candidate identified as his personal friend, his campaign treasurer, and a lifelong Baltimore resident. The man, Guy Tawney, talked about how he’s “not certain” if he’d be comfortable raising a family in Baltimore, given all the crime and violence he’s witnessed and experienced. “And that’s why I support Nate’s campaign,” Tawney concluded. “I know Nate is going to improve public safety in our city.”

On his campaign website, Loewentheil claims that if elected, he “will fight to get the Baltimore Police Department back to basics, like beat policing that gets more cops walking the streets.” His “plan for public safety,” released late last month, outlines a number of other police reform ideas that fall far outside the authority of a House delegate, such as getting the police department to adopt “predictive policing.”

Loewentheil has also penned a number of op-eds emphasizing the image of Baltimore as an unsafe, crime-ridden city. In the Washington Post, he opened with stark imagery of violence: “Baltimore is experiencing the worst wave of violent crime of any city in the United States. One day last month, in only 24 hours, six people were murdered. It’s as if mortal dice are rolled every day across the city’s streets. Stray bullets have injured a girl as young as 3 and a woman as old as 90.”

Lewis told The Intercept that Loewentheil’s campaign affects her personally. “To hear messages that because we don’t have a crime-free city, the people in leadership like it that way, or don’t care, that’s very personal for me,” she said. “It’s really strange to be a black person and have a white person accuse you of being indifferent to crime. It’s a way of saying that you like crime, you tolerate crime. It’s a dog whistle, it’s a way of triggering fear in a certain population of this district, and a way of subliminally suggesting that the first African-American representative won’t keep you safe because she’s African-American.”

Loewentheil has also repeatedly vocalized his support for mandatory minimum sentences, declaring in an op-ed last summer that he supported a newly proposed mandatory minimum in Baltimore that would have imposed jail sentences on first-time offenders caught carrying a gun within 100 yards of places like churches, schools, and parks. The proposed measure, which was vociferously opposed by activists in the community, waseventually weakened after public protest. Loewentheil later lamented that a similar state-level push for a new mandatory minimum “was unfortunately rejected.”

In outlining his support for new minimums, he has broken with a growing bipartisan consensus that has emerged around the idea that such policies are ineffective and expensive crime deterrents, as well as racially discriminatory. He has also praised Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, for his “commitment to addressing crime in Baltimore.” Hogan has sponsored legislation that would lengthen mandatory minimum sentences, limit access to parole, and try more juveniles as adults.

In the spring, the members of Team46 all voted for SB101, an omnibus crime bill that included, among other things, a new mandatory minimum for twice-convicted violent offenders. The bill passed overwhelmingly in both chambers. The delegates maintain they oppose mandatory minimums but say that they voted “yes” because the package included provisions they otherwise support, such as allowing certain offenders to have their records expunged and protecting in-prison drug treatment.

Loewentheil praised one of the incumbent delegates, Lierman — calling her “a very talented politician” — but asserted that the current delegation is just unable to get the job done in Annapolis. He pointed to Dea Thomas, another African-American woman running in the race with whom he has allied himself as another alternative. “My plan is for both of us to win,” he said. Thomas has raised just $68,000 dollars, according to campaign finance records. She ran for a city council seat two years ago and lost by a wide margin. Thomas did not return The Intercept’s request for an interview.

The race could go either way, but Lewis hopes that her record of service in Baltimore will bring her over the top.

“No one else has been a community organizer like I have, no one else has started a political action committee in service of bringing mass transit infrastructure but me — I’ve been here long enough to accomplish those things,” she said. “I stand on my record of service, my demonstrated care, and compassion. If the best you can do is throw mud, go for it, and we’ll let the people decide.”

Arkansas’ Medication Abortion Ban Was Hit With a Temporary Restraining Order. Here’s What’s Next.

Originally published in Rewire News on June 20th, 2018.
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A federal judge on Monday granted a brief reprieve from an Arkansas law that dramatically restricts abortion access in the state by effectively banning medication abortion.

The first-of-its-kind statute would limit abortion access at all but one Arkansas health center. The law had been in effect since May 29, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined Planned Parenthood’s request to hear the case. The plaintiffs filed for emergency relief following the high court’s dismissal, and U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker agreed to grant them a two-week restraining order, which will expire at 5 p.m. on July 2.

But the battle to stop the law is far from over.

This fight began in the spring of 2015, when the GOP-majority Arkansas legislature passed Act 577, requiring physicians who prescribe drugs for non-surgical abortions to secure contracts with a second doctor who has hospital-admitting privileges. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association have both said there is “no medical basis” for such requirements, and abortion providers, especially those in conservative states, typically struggle to find hospitals willing to partner with them.

The law was set to take effect at the start of 2016, but on December 28, 2015, Planned Parenthood sued to block it. A temporary restraining order was issued on December 31 of that year, and three months later, Judge Baker issued a preliminary injunction as Planned Parenthood Great Plains continued with their lawsuit against the state.

An Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals panel in July 2017 lifted Baker’s injunction, asserting she would need to more concretely show how Arkansas women would be harmed by the admitting privileges law. A year earlier the Supreme Court overturned a package of abortion restrictions that included requirements for admitting privileges. The justices determined the rules posed an unconstitutional burden on Texan women seeking to end their pregnancies.

Planned Parenthood says that if the law were to take effect, its two abortion facilities in Little Rock and Fayetteville would no longer be able to provide medication abortion. Neither of those facilities provide surgical abortions.

The health care provider requested the Eighth Circuit’s full bench of judges review the panel’s July ruling, but in late September, the appellate court declined the request. The Eighth Circuit is one of the most conservative appellate courts in the country; two years earlier its judges recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court “re-evaluate its jurisprudence” on abortion, urging for greater state power over reproductive health.

The next step for the plaintiffs was petitioning the Supreme Court to review the Eighth Circuit’s decision. The appellate court agreed to keep the preliminary injunction in place in the meantime, which meant the law has not been enforced all year. But at the end of May, the Supreme Court finally responded to Planned Parenthood’s petition and declined to intervene. This set the law into immediate effect.

Planned Parenthood quickly filed for a temporary restraining order, a request which was finally granted this week. In a press statement, Planned Parenthood said that beginning on May 29, “health center staff were forced to immediately call patients to inform them they would no longer be able to access their medication abortion.”

Some patients, according to Planned Parenthood, were already en route to their appointments, and others were “left scrambling to alter their work and child care schedules, and to secure additional funds required to undergo the state-mandated counseling process over again for a surgical abortion or to travel out of state, further delaying care.”

Emily Miller, director of communications for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, told Rewire.News that the next steps are not clear, though at least until July 2, when the temporary restraining order lifts, providers will again be able to provide medication abortion.

“We’re approaching it like we have a temporary restraining order that will run for fourteen days, and then we’ll focus on our next step which is the preliminary injunction,” Miller explained. “But we don’t know exactly what course the state will choose to take.” The state might try to skip the preliminary injunction step and go straight to a full hearing. Miller says if that does happen, the two-week restraining order could be extended.

Ever since the Eighth Circuit demanded the plaintiffs more clearly show how the admitting privileges law would affect patients, Planned Parenthood has worked to collect and document that information, Miller said.

Last month, research was released that sought to systematically evaluate the availability of abortion care and distance from all major U.S. cities. The study’s objective was to describe abortion facilities and services available in the country from the perspective of a potential patient searching online, and to find out which cities are farthest from available abortion care.

Alice Cartwright, project director at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health and co-author of the study, told Rewire.News that their research is exactly the kind of data plaintiffs could refer to if they returned to court.

“We found that abortion access is better in the northeast and western part of the country and one reason is they were more likely to have a higher proportion of clinics that were only providing medication abortion,” said Cartwright.

The organization’s research team worked to determine the number of cities with at least 50,000 people where patients would have to travel 100 miles or more to reach the closest abortion provider. As of spring 2017, they found 27 such cities in the US. Cartwright says if this Arkansas law were to take effect the number of cities could increase much more.

The rate of medication abortion has increased in popularity since the Food and Drug Administration first approved Mifeprex in 2000. The procedure typically involves using both Mifeprex—often referred to as “the abortion pill”—and a second drug, misoprostol. With access to surgical abortion diminishing at a rapid clip, medication abortion is recognized as a safe, much-needed health care alternative, especially for those living in rural and medically underserved parts of the US.