What’s the state of free speech in America?Sanford Ungar, who teaches about it at Harvard and Georgetown, has a simple, depressing answer.
“It’s a mess,” he says.
It’s not just the problems on college campuses where high-profile speakers haven’t been allowed to talk. It’s not just what happened in Charlottesville, where a counterprotester was run over and killed. It’s not just President Trump’s insistent call for the firings or suspensions of NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence.
An insidious problem also is developing in dozens of states where legislatures are considering — and sometimes approving — new laws that restrict free speech.
“They are criminalizing things that are pretty routine,” Ungar told me. “Much of the activism of the Vietnam and civil rights era would be completely illegal” under the new laws.
The lunch-counter sit-ins that were a staple of civil rights protests in the ’60s would, under some new legislation, be punishable because they “disrupt commerce.” And the demonstrations that brought thousands into the streets of major cities to protest the Vietnam War would be a crime because they blocked traffic.
Twenty-seven states have considered such legislation, he said. Twelve bills have become law, and many others remain under consideration.
Some of the bills sound perfectly acceptable at first because their purported aim is tranquility.
But here’s the problem: Meaningful protest isn’t always as mild as milk. The new laws have little tolerance for the tumultuous reality of dissent.
In Iowa, for example, the legislature considered a bill to punish protesters who block highway traffic with up to five years in prison.
In North Dakota, the governor signed a bill that would punish masked individuals in any public forum who are trying to conceal their identity.
In Arizona, the state Senate approved a bill that would add “rioting” to organized crime statutes, making participation in a protest that turns into a riot a possible criminal racketeering offense.
Florida even considered a bill that, in some cases, would exempt drivers from liability if they struck a protester.
Traci Yoder, National Lawyers Guild director of research and education, predicts that whether this wave of bills ends up passing or not, the effect may be the same — to tamp down dissent.
“Few people would be as willing to protest if they thought they could easily be arrested, fined, imprisoned or even killed,” Yoder wrote. And most regular citizens aren’t keeping track of the details, she said, but may know that the penalties have been vastly toughened.
It amounts to a nationwide movement to chill speech.
And while it might be convenient to blame it on Trump’s hard-line views on law enforcement, much of this movement predates the Trump administration. A substantial amount of the proposed legislation stems from protests over the Dakota Access pipeline and from the Black Lives Matter movement.
While countering this trend won’t be easy, Ungar is making a start with the Free Speech Project, based at Georgetown, with funding from the university and the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. (The former president of Goucher College in Baltimore, Ungar is a journalist, a former host of “All Things Considered,” and the author of an acclaimed book on the Pentagon Papers.)
One element is a Free Speech Tracker, which has more than 50 entries for troubling incidents or legislation around the country. That’s likely to grow dramatically over the next few months, he said.
A journalistic reality is part of the problem: There are far fewer state-government reporters around the nation than there were a decade ago. A Pew Research study showed a 35 percent decline from 2003 to 2014; it’s undoubtedly worse now.
That means that some state legislatures are freer to act at will without the watchdog function — and the public reaction to it — that once was routine.
At the root of these laws, Ungar believes, is a false narrative: “Spoiled students and liberal faculty shutting down speech because they don’t want to hear and confront the truth.” And, at the same time, the idea that protests of various kinds are “getting out of hand.”
So conservative lawmakers are stepping in to, in their view, fix it.
It’s not so simple, he says, and the stereotypes translate quickly into a political diatribe about free speech in which nobody wins.
His effort will not only keep track of what’s happening — useful in itself — but find ways to promote civil discussion across political divisions.
Protecting this basic American right sounds like it should be simple enough, but it’s often a minefield. (Or, at the moment, a football field.)
“Everybody believes in free speech,” Ungar notes, “until you get to the topic on which they don’t.”
The nonprofit Bay Journal is set to lose about a third of its funding after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it’s terminating a six-year grant it awarded the magazine just two years ago.
The EPA notice came without warning in a “very terse” email Wednesday that attributed the decision to a “shift in priorities,” said managing editor Timothy Wheeler in a phone interview Friday.
The termination is effective February 2018, when the journal was supposed to receive an annual installment of $325,000 to help support a staff of 11 and 100,000 free print and online subscriptions.
“It doesn’t completely defund us, but it does knock us back, there’s no question about that,” said Wheeler. “If we can’t replace that money, we’re going to have to make cuts. It’s a rather big drop.
“It’s not as if we didn’t realize we were vulnerable. We had been working to reduce our share coming from federal funds even before this. But we had no reason to suspect that a grant that had already been approved would be yanked like this.”
In a statement, journal editor Karl Blankenship called it an “unprecedented decision” in the history of the nonprofit monthly magazine, whose mission since 1991 has been to cover the Chesapeake Bay watershed, particularly pollution, water quality, habitat and fishery issues.
“For 27 years,” Blankenship said, “the Bay Journal has been an important source of news and information for those who care deeply about the Chesapeake.”
The EPA has funded the journal since it began. EPA funding comes through the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership of federal, state and local governments, and academic, conservation and citizens groups, all dedicated to restoring the bay.
President Donald Trump wants to zero out federal funds for the CBP in a stated effort to shrink government bloat. His chosen EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, had voiced support for cleanup efforts during his confirmation hearings earlier this year, but since then has come under fire from conservation groups for failing to live up to those words.
At the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation, president William Baker said the funding cut shows Pruitt’s “true anti-environmental colors” in a “transparent attempt to shut down the free exchange of scientifically validated bay information.”
The bay watershed is the largest on the continent, stretching over portions of six states and the District of Columbia.
The bay deteriorated over decades of pollution and overfishing, and the EPA has been at the forefront of efforts to restore it, pushing bay states into a so-called pollution diet in 2010 that recent scientific surveys indicate are starting to work.
The Bay Journal also receives funds from the Campbell Foundation for the Environment, the Town Creek Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chesapeake Bay Office, the Chesapeake Bay Trust and individual donations.
At a time when Democrats are locked out of power from the White House, both chambers of Congress, the majority of governor’s offices and three-fifths of the country’s state houses, their ideas at least have one reliable outlet. Democrats still control most of the country’s biggest cities.
Even that power center, though, is increasingly under attack.
In the last few years, Republican-controlled state legislatures have intensified the use of what are known as pre-emption laws, to block towns and cities from adopting measures favored by the left. The states aren’t merely overruling local laws; they’ve walled off whole new realms where local governments aren’t allowed to govern at all.
The pattern has worsened a different kind of partisan war beyond Washington, where the political divide cuts not just across the aisle, but across different levels of government. As standoffs between red states and blue cities grow more rancorous, the tactics of pre-emption laws have become personal and punitive: Several states are now threatening to withhold resources from communities that defy them and to hold their elected officials legally and financially liable.
“There are all sorts of legitimate ways we can divide power,” said Nestor Davidson, a law professor at Fordham. But if local officials risk personal fines, lawsuits and lost wealth for their communities over policy disagreements, he said, that changes the rules of the game. “That has the potential to change what it means to be a government official, to change what it means to elect people.”
States have banned local ordinances on minimum wage increases, paid sick days and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. They’ve banned “sanctuary cities.” They’ve even banned a number of bans (it’s now illegal for Michigan cities to ban plastic bags, for Texas towns to ban fracking).
A law passed in Arizona last year threatens to withhold shared state revenuefrom local governments that adopt ordinances in conflict with state policy. Texas’ new sanctuary city law imposes civil fines as high as $25,500 a day on local governments and officials who block cooperation with federal immigration requests. And it threatens officials who flout the law with removal from office and misdemeanor charges.
Texas’ four largest cities are now suing the state in response. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, has been a vocal advocate for state laws that he says are necessary to protect individual liberty from local government overreach. When cities overstep their bounds, he said this year, they “should have to pay a price for it.”
These new pre-emption laws echo 19th-century “ripper bills,” legal scholars say, state laws that ripped control from cities over their finances, utilities, police forces and local charters. The backlash against them helped spur the movement for local control in the United States. Now home rule is under a “troubling nationwide assault,” warn municipal lawyers and law professors, including Mr. Davidson, in an amicus brief supporting another legal fight, in Cleveland.
There, Ohio passed a law blocking a longstanding requirement that city construction contracts hire some local workers. Cleveland, in other words, was trying to ensure that local projects created local jobs, alleviating local poverty.
Both state legislators and municipal groups agree that pre-emption laws have proliferated in the last few years in number and in the breadth of issues they touch. They disagree on who started the fight: states in stripping municipal power, or cities in seizing new roles that weren’t theirs to begin with.
“It is about power, and I think it’s about wielding power at any cost. That’s it,” said Andrew Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, Fla., who formed a national group to fight pre-emption laws this year. Now that Republicans control both legislative chambers in 32 states and the governor’s office on top of that in 25, he said, their slogans lionizing local government ring hollow. “They only mean that,” Mr. Gillum said, “to the extent that they’re in control.”
The contrast between what’s happening in cities and the decentralized philosophy Republicans have championed from Washington is striking. The supremacy of local control is central to Republican plans for undoing Obamacare, rolling back regulations and leaving the federal minimum wage unchanged (wages, the party said in its platform last year, should be handled at the state and local level).
As House Speaker Paul Ryan has put it: “Government closest to the people governs best.”
That government, many local legislators clarify now, is the state.
“We’re the United States of America. We are not the United Towns of Florida. We’re not the United Counties of Florida,” said Randy Fine, a Republican state representative there who sponsored a bill this year that would have broadly blocked local laws regulating “businesses, professions and occupations.”
He said: “The state is the nexus of government in this country. The states created the federal government, and the states created local government.”
The timing and language of many pre-emptions, though, suggest that while they’re cast as broad state standards, they’re often aimed at specific cities.
North Carolina’s so-called bathroom bill sought to squash a local ordinance in Charlotte adding gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination policy. The repeal passed by the state this year still bars local communities from adopting such protections until at least 2020.
St. Louis this year passed an ordinance banning employer and housing discrimination against women who use contraception or have abortions. Gov. Eric Greitens of Missouri, a Republican, called the state legislature back into special session in June in part to undo that law (it would turn St. Louis, he said, into an “abortion sanctuary city”).
In Texas, Mr. Abbott has called a special session for this month. On the agenda: proposals that would block cities from regulating trees on private land, restricting cellphone use in cars, and allowing transgender residents to use the bathroom matching their identity.
“It’s like quick-fire,” said Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which tracks pre-emption bills. “Once it passes some place, other legislatures go, ‘Oh, we could just pre-empt all of this.’ ”
Lori Riverstone-Newell, a political scientist at Illinois State University, traces modern escalation of pre-emptions to the 1980s — when the tobacco industry began to back state laws barring antismoking ordinances.
In the 1990s, the National Rifle Association followed the same state strategy with gun-control laws. More recently, the industry-backed American Legislative Exchange Council, which advocates free-market state policies, has promoted model state legislation preventing local governments from adopting what it considers a patchwork of regulatory burdens on businesses.
But where opponents point to industry influence at state houses, backers of pre-emption make a similar argument: Environmental and labor lobbies are pushing local bag taxes or minimum wages, they say, not voters engaged in some pure form of local democracy.
“It’s not illegal, but we should also not think it’s organic,” said Jon Russell, a councilman in Culpeper, Va., who leads a group of local-government officials within the American Legislative Exchange Council. “I’ve been a city councilman for almost 10 years, and I can tell you those kinds of issues are not organic. You don’t have a group of ladies sitting around in their living room wringing their hands about plastic bags or about fracking.”
He also accuses Democrats of their own hypocrisy: When blue states raise the minimum wage statewide, Democrats cheer those laws as progress.
The new punitive nature of pre-emptions, though, has escalated the fight beyond the usual partisan bickering. “It’s intended to send a chilling effect,” said Mr. Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor.
In Florida, local officials who run afoul of the state’s pre-emption on gun control are personally liable in court. Mr. Gillum and other city commissioners were sued by gun-rights groups over an old ordinance the city never repealed — but that no longer had effect — making it illegal to shoot guns in public parks. An appellate court rejected the lawsuit, but Mr. Gillum and other local officials had to defend themselves without public money (they were able to get pro bono legal help).
“It is intended to put everyone across this state and across this country where these efforts are taking place on notice: Don’t come near it,” Mr. Gillum said of issues like gun control and immigration. “And if you do, we’ll come after you personally, we’ll come after your government, we’ll come after the very survivability of your community by cutting off resources to you.”
[This article is by Steven Brill, whose biography is more interesting than the squib on this excerpt from Sunday’s Washington Post. Most pertinent new information is that over the course of about three years in the early 2000’s, Brill flipped from being a strong supporter of charter schools in NY City (in part because of his observations of the Harlem Academy) and opponent of teachers’ unions to supporting reforms of public education and cooperation with the teachers unions. Details in a short bio in Wikipedia.]
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
By Steven Brill June 30 at 7:46 PM
[Steven Brill is the author of “America’s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, And The Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System.” He has received consulting fees for work on a consumer information and ombudsman program for New York-based Oscar Health Insurance. ]
If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cannot salvage his party’s effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, there is still a way forward if he and his Democratic colleagues truly want to fix Obamacare. All they have to do is be willing to compromise — and to acknowledge some history.
The failure of the Republicans to agree, so far, on an alternative to Obamacare should not be surprising — because Obamacare was, in fact, the long-standing Republican alternative to the more radical health-care reforms, such as a single-payer system, that Democrats have proposed since the Truman era. What President Barack Obama and his party pushed through Congress in 2010 was more conservative — and more pro-private sector — than what Richard M. Nixonproposed in the 1970s, or what Republican Gov. Mitt Romneyimplemented in Massachusetts in 2006. Put simply, Obama dared Republicans to take yes for an answer. In a polarized America, they still said no.
Obamacare did little to deal with the problem of health-care costs. There would be no cost-control interference with the only-in-America profits of drug companies, medical device makers or hospitals. Instead, the law subsidized Americans who could not otherwise afford health insurance, allowing them to become paying customers in the same overpriced private-sector system.
True, there would be a provision aimed at making the insurance pool big enough to keep costs lower than they would be if people could just buy insurance when they got sick. Everyone would have to buy insurance (with subsidies where necessary) or pay a penalty. But that big-government mandate was first suggested by the conservative Heritage Foundation in 1989 under the banner of a classic conservative principle: “individual responsibility.” Romneycare included the same mandate.
Obamacare performed a great public service by giving more Americans access to health care. But by not addressing costs, it preordained the problem that McConnell and the Republicans have said they are trying tofixthis year: rising insurance premiums and some insurers fleeing the market because their costs are too high.
However, the Republicans’ answer would fix nothing related to health-care costs, while eliminating access to care for millions of poor people in order to cut taxes for the wealthy. They have proposed lowering premiums not by reining in costs, but by allowing insurers to sell shoddy insurance that pays for less health care. That will not work in any event, because the healthiest people would buy the cheaper products, leaving those who need full protection in a less healthy insurance pool facing sky-high prices. (“Consumer choice” may sound like an unassailable virtue, but in insurance it can be self-defeating.)
So, here are nine ways that Democrats and Republicans could come together — if they really wanted to — to fix Obamacare by truly tackling the problem of high premiums caused by high costs.
1. The Republicans were right that a 3-to-1 ratio — heavily lobbied for by the Democrats’ friends at AARP — between the rates charged for older people and those for the youngest adults does not match the relative actuarial costs of insuring the two groups and discourages the young from enrolling. The ratio should be moved to 5 to 1, as was originally contemplated by those drafting Obamacare until AARP got to them.
2. However, much more generous subsidies should then be given to older Americans to make insurance more affordable to them.
3. Those increased subsidies could be paid for by newcontrols on the price of prescription drugs, either by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices or by other mechanisms used by every other developed country, where prices are 30 to 60 percent lower than here. Taking just 15 percent off the price of prescription drugs would produce more than $600 billion in health-care savings over the next decade, which would lower private premiums while saving taxpayers billions on Medicare costs.
4. As an additional lure to get younger, healthier people into the insurance pool, insurance companies should be allowed to offer them an introductory 50 percent off for their first year of coverage.
5. Five percent of Obamacare’s 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices (which was suspended in 2015 and should be reinstated) should be used for a massive marketing program aimed at enticing younger people into the pool. The ad campaign should also tout the mandate to buy insurance (which must be kept) as, in the Heritage Foundation’s words, a matter of “individual responsibility.” The more young people who enroll, the lower the premiums will be for everyone.
6.Medicare should finally be allowed to fully implement competitive bidding for medical equipment and devices. Believe it or not, Congress has restricted Medicare’s ability even to negotiate the price of diabetes test strips to selected “pilot project” regions. Competitive bidding could save the government at least $50 billion over the next decade, which could be used to increase premium support for older Obamacare enrollees.
7. Antitrust reform needs to be part of the new package, too. Hospitals are merging with abandon. Every study says that although they say they are doing it to save money by consolidating services, prices always go up instead. How are insurers supposed to keep premiums under control if they can negotiate with only one hospital system that controls all the area’s hospital beds and most of the doctors and clinics?
8. The experiments in bundled payments (as opposed to paying for every episode of care) for knee and hip replacements or cardiac surgery, which Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has sharply curtailed, need to be restored and intensified.
9. Finally, tort reform should be included. Abuse of malpractice suits is not as costly as Republicans claim, but it is a real issue because it provides a reason — and an excuse — for hospitals to over-treat and over-test. If tort reform shaved just half of one percent off of health-care costs, that would yield close to $200 billion over a decade. Democrats need to stand up to their trial lawyer patrons on this one.
The residents of Colorado Springs undertook a radical experiment in government. Here’s what they got.
Colorado Springs has always leaned hard onitsreputation for natural beauty. An hour’s drive south of Denver, it sits at the base of the Rocky Mountains’ southern range and features two of the state’s top tourist destinations: the ancient sandstone rock formations known as Garden of the Gods, and Pikes Peak, the 14,000-foot summit visible from nearly every street corner. It’s also a staunchly Republican city—headquarters of the politically active Christian group Focus on the Family (Colorado Springs is nicknamed “the Evangelical Vatican”) and the fourth most conservative city in America, according to a recent study. It’s a right-wing counterweight to liberal Boulder, just a couple of hours north, along the Front Range.
It was its jut-jawed conservatism that not that long ago made the city’s local government a brief national fixation. During the recession, like nearly every other city in America, Colorado Springs’ revenue—heavily dependent on sales tax—plunged. Faced with massive shortfalls, the city’s leaders began slashing. Gone were weekend bus service and nine buses.
Out went some police officers along with three of the department’s helicopters, which were auctioned online. Trash cans vanished from city parks, because when you cut 75 percent of the parks’ budget, one of the things you lose is someone to empty the garbage. For a city that was founded when a wealthy industrialist planted 10,000 trees on a shadeless prairie, the suddenly sparse watering of the city’s grassy lawns was a profound and dire statement of retreat.
To fill a $28 million budget hole, Colorado Springs’ political leaders—who until that point might have been described by most voters as fiscal conservatives—proposed tripling property taxes. Nearly two-thirds of voters said no. In response, city officials (some would say almost petulantly) turned off one out of every three street lights. That’s when people started paying attention to a city that seemed to be conducting a real-time experiment in fiscal self-starvation. But that was just the prelude. The city wasn’t content simply to reject a tax increase. Voters wanted something genuinely different, so a little more than a year later, they elected a real estate entrepreneur as mayor who promised a radical break from politics as usual.
For a city, like the country at large, that was hurting economically, Steve Bach seemed like a man with an answer. What he promised sounded radically simple: Wasteful government is the root of the pain, and if you just run government like the best businesses, the pain will go away. Easy. Because he had never held office and because he actually had been a successful entrepreneur, people were inclined to believe he really could reinvent the way a city was governed.
The city’s experiment was fascinating because it offered a chance to observe some of the most extreme conservative principles in action in a real-world laboratory. Producers from “60 Minutes” flew out to talk withthe town’s leaders. The New York Timesfound a woman in a dark trailer park pawning her flat screen TV to buy a shotgun for protection. “This American Life” did a segment portraying Springs citizens as the ultimate anti-tax zealots, willing to pay $125 in a new “Adopt a Streetlight” program to illuminate their own neighborhoods, but not willing to spend the same to do so for the entire city. “I’ll take care of mine” was the gist of what one council member heard from a resident when she confronted him with this fact.
That’s where Colorado Springs was frozen in the consciousness of the country—a city determined to redefine the role of government, led by a sharp-elbowed businessman who didn’t care whom he offended along the way (not unlike a certain president). But it has been five years since “This American Life” packed up its mics. A lot has changed in that time, not least of which is that the local economy, which nearly drowned the city like a concrete block tied around its balance sheet, is buoyant once again. Sales tax revenue has made the books plump with surplus. Enough to turn those famous streetlights back on. Seven years after the experiment began, the verdict is in—and it’s not at all what its architects planned.
One of the lessons: There’s a real cost to saving money.
Take the streetlights. Turning them off had saved the city about $1.25 million. What had not made the national news stories was what had happened while those lights were off. Copper thieves, emboldened by the opportunity to work without fear of electrocution, had worked overtime scavenging wire. Some, the City Council learned, had even dressed up as utility workers and pried open the boxes at the base of streetlights in broad daylight. Keeping the lights off might have saved some money in the short term, but the cost to fix what had been stolen ran to some $5 million.
“Sometimes the best-laid plans don’t work out the way you’d hope,” says Merv Bennett, who served on the City Council at the time and asked officials at the utilities about whether the savings were real.
There has been a lot of this kind of reckoning over the past half-decade. From crisis came a desire for disruption. From disruption came, well, too much disruption. And from that came a full-circle return to professional politicians. Including one—a beloved mayor and respected bureaucrat who was short-listed to replace James Comey as FBI director—who is so persuasive he has gotten Colorado Springs residents to do something the outside world assumed they were not capable of: Five years after its moment in the spotlight, revenue is so high that the same voters who refused to keep the lights on have overwhelmingly approved ballot measures allowing the city to not only keep some of its extra tax money, but impose new taxes as well.
In the process, many residents of Colorado Springs, but especially the men and women most committed to making the city thrive, have learned a few other lessons:
That perpetual chaos can be exhausting.
That the value of the status quo rises with the budget’s bottom line.
And that it helps when the people responsible for running the city are actually talking with one another.
All it took was a few years running an experiment that everyone involved seems happy is over.
Like many revolutions, the one in Colorado Springs began with a manifesto.
It was an email that was intended to be private, sent from Steve Bartolin, then CEO of luxury hotel The Broadmoor, to the mayor and City Council. The Broadmoor is a city unto itself—a century-old resort whose three golf courses, 779 rooms and skating rink sprawl over 3,000 acres around a lake in the foothills on the city’s western boundary. In a tourist-dependent region with an unusually large reliance on sales taxes, The Broadmoor is an economic powerhouse. In 2009, at the height of the impasse over the worsening budget, Bartolin had made a comparison between Colorado Springs’ budget and the budget of his resort. Observations like the fact that the city had a computer department with 81 people, while The Broadmoor employed only nine. The email didn’t stay private for long. It quickly went viral, was published in full in the newspaper, and so energized the business community that it inspired a dozen locals to start their own shadow council, which they called the City Committee. One of the members of the committee was Bach, a private real-estate broker who had gotten his first corporate job by the audacious move of cold-calling—collect—the CEO of Procter & Gamble. Soon, the committee members prevailed upon Bach to run for mayor, to bring their principles to City Hall.
Bach’s mantra on the campaign trail was one that voters nationwide would recognize from last year’s presidential cycle: Run the government more like a business. He said he was intent on“transforming city government so it works for everyone—and without tax increases.” In fact, he wanted to do away with the personal property tax for businesses and expedite how long it takes developers to get permits, all in service of promoting job growth, which he later vowed would hit 6,000 a year. Bach considered himself an outsider fighting the city’s “regulatory agency mind-set.”
“The only difference I can see between me and Donald Trump,” he told Politico Magazine recently, “is that I don’t tweet.”
In 2011, Bach was swept into City Hall with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Not only did he win, but he arrived in office with powers no mayor of Colorado Springs had ever wielded. A ballot amendment approved by voters a year earlier had taken power away from the City Council and given it to the mayor. Now that mayor happened to be someone who felt that political compromise was a dirty word. Shortly after the election, two top council members asked Bach to give them a detailed weekly report just as the previous city manager had done. He said no. The mayor wouldn’t answer to anyone. The council, he indicated, would answer to him. And he showed that by taking on a major deal, the council was negotiating to rid itself of the local hospital.
Leaders at Memorial Health claimed the hospital was hemorrhaging money in the recession. But to Bach, the hospital was an incredible asset that was just being mismanaged—an argument he buttressed by pointing out that it was sitting on some $300 million in free cash. The council wanted to lease the hospital to a team of local leaders led by Memorial Health’s CEO for about $15 million over 20 years. Bach called it a giveaway. He demanded that the council open up the process to other bidders. Eventually, that process led to a very different financial arrangement with the massive University of Colorado Health System: a 40-year lease that, counting capital improvements, came out to nearly $2 billion. You don’t have to have an MBA to appreciate the benefits of Bach’s deal.
“I was really angry when I got on council and found out they just wanted to hand over the hospital,” Merv Bennett says. “Steve kept us from going down a terrible path.”
Bach also turned out to be right on another deal he said City Council had mismanaged before he was elected. The council had approved a generous contract to a physicist from the nearby U.S. Air Force Academy to develop and implement what he said would be a $20 million, coal-scrubbing technology on the city’s downtown power plant. “Just a terrible deal,” Bach says.
The city had pitched it as a way of making a profit—when the technology was licensed to other plants, Colorado Springs would share in the rewards. But the city was also on the hook to pay for the research and development it required, and costs quickly spiraled. Just last month, the business shut down without having made a single additional sale. The cost: some $150 million over budget. As with the hospital deal, in which the council chose to go with a local rather than open the bidding to all comers, Bach raked officials for their shortsighted provincialism that he and others felt wasn’t befitting America’s 40th-most populous city.
“This town is so easily scammed,” says John Hazlehurst, himself a former council member and now a columnist with the Colorado Springs Business Journal. “Why? Because we’re hicks. It’s really that simple.”
But there was a cost for all that head-butting in City Hall. Although the economy continued to improve, and although Bach’s outsourcing of jobs had done enough to repair the parks budget so that trees were being watered and the lights were back on, some business leaders were skittish about moving to town or expanding.
For those who opposed Bach, the political newcomer was doing damage by firing longstanding department heads without consulting anyone beforehand. Jan Martin, then the council’s pro-tem president, said she heard of Bach’s firing of the city’s police chief by word of mouth, rather than from Bach himself. “He was draining the city of all of this accumulated knowledge,” she says. Hazlehurst, watching from the sidelines, is more succinct. “Bach’s dysfunction and [the] council’s dysfunction were intimately related,” he says. “It was just a rookie government.”
There was a price to pay for Bach’s imperiousness and lack of diplomacy, and this is something about which he and his critics agree to some extent. Job creation, which had been a pillar of Bach’s campaign, never got up the steam that he had promised and, by his own admission, lagged other similarly sized cities in the region like Albuquerque, Omaha and Oklahoma City. He never managed to get the business tax repealed. And his signature plan to boost tourism with a multipronged project of museums and an outdoor stadium ran into headwinds from a council that said it wasn’t sufficiently involved in the planning.
By 2015, the final year of his term, Bach was no longer talking to any member of City Council, save for Bennett. Both sides were fighting proxy battles in the middle of council meetings, quibbling over the sorts of things—moving money from one government account to another to pay bills—that would normally be routine. People outside the council chambers were paying attention, and they didn’t care for what they were seeing—the city that was supposed to run like a business was actually scaring companies. The business leaders who had once supported him had even started their own, newer version of the City Committee—called Colorado Springs Forward—and were looking for a different candidate to back.
Mike Juran, CEO of a midsized company that “puts displays in anything that’s not a laptop or a phone,” had a choice to make in the last year of Bach’s administration. He believed his company, Altia, was poised for big growth—thanks to an automobile industry that wanted to put more gadgets in their cars. Juran wanted to stay put, but he wondered whether he would have trouble attracting young software engineers to Colorado Springs. “The city was in a weird funk and getting a bad national reputation,” he says. Juran knew that if any of his potential recruits googled the city, they would see that it had gone dark, a wildfire had recently destroyed 300 homes, and the city was home to disgraced pastorTed Haggard. Much of this had nothing to do with Bach’s administration, but Juran also knew that Bach’s belt-tightening had hidden effects that were going to erode the city’s quality of life. Colorado Springs had spent years putting off enormous infrastructure problems that would one day come due—one, an issue with stormwater, was so bad it would soon be the focus of a lawsuit from the Environmental Protection Agency. Juran began looking into offices in Denver or Silicon Valley.
Bach had made a campaign promise to serve only one term. But the promise wasn’t necessary—by 2015, he, along with everyone else, knew the then-71-year-old’s chances for reelection were close to zero. Even the business leaders who had helped get him elected knew Bach wasn’t the man for the job anymore. What was needed was a steady hand, and Colorado Springs ended up getting exactly what it needed.
“Finally,” Juran says, “we had grown up and decided we wanted to be a real city.”
If every election is a referendum on the politician who came before, John Suthers was as clear a renunciation of Steve Bach as could be found. Far from a political outsider, Suthers had spent his life working inside government, from student body president of his high school (“No others than Suthers”), to local district attorney, to head of the Department of Corrections, to state attorney and all the way up to attorney general of Colorado, where he served for 10 years.
“When Suthers came in it was as if Michael Jordan had joined your pickup basketball team,” says columnist Hazlehurst. “He’s a consummate politician. … He knows what he’s doing.”
Suthers was a Republican like Bach, and he shared Bach’s belief in keeping government budgets on a leash. But unlike Bach, he wasn’t going to try to strangle the city with it. Suthers believed there was a fundamental difference between business and government—no matter how strong the mayor’s office is, there are still a bunch of other elected officials who need a say. So Suthers’ first goal after getting elected was, he says, to improve his relationship with the City Council. He did that by scheduling two monthly catered lunch meetings, acquiescing to many of their requests for staff and resources and, in the minds of many, treating them like partners rather than combatants. “My predecessor sent over a budget on the day it was due and said, ‘Take it or leave it,’” Suthers says. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. … I didn’t wait until [the last minute] to tell [the council] what I was thinking.”
Suthers’ collaborative approach also led to something that might have been unthinkable in the dark, budget-strapped days of 2010.
Colorado Springs’ reputation as a Republican stronghold might seem overblown to a visitor walking downtown. Just minutes from the pricey liberal arts school Colorado College is a kombucha shop, a store that sells hour-and-a-half stays in sensory deprivation tanks, and a book seller that gives prominent shelf space to the latest Noam Chomsky and is owned by Richard Skorman, the current City Council president. Yet despite those superficial signs of changing demographics, Donald Trump still beatHillary Clinton by more than 22 points in Colorado Springs’ El Paso County. Even with that small-government mind-set still relatively intact, three times in his first two years as mayor, Suthers has gone to voters either proposing a new tax or asking to keep extra tax revenue. By overwhelming margins, he has now persuaded the supposedly anti-tax zealots of Colorado Springs to commit $250 million to new roads, $2 million to new park trails and as much as $12 million for new stormwater projects. “The ballot items were enormous statements of confidence,” says Chamber of Commerce Director Dirk Draper. “They showed that while the community is fiscally conservative, it’s not radically so. If you can find someone to explain it to where it makes sense, voters will allow it.”
Today, Suthers can point to a whole host of data points that suggest Colorado Springs has more than recovered. “We’re on a roll, big-time,” he says. The city’s unemployment is a vanishingly low 2.7 percent. Some 16,000 jobs have been created in the past 24 months—a pace that exceeds Bach’s lofty goals. Flights at the airport have increased nearly 50 percent from a year ago. And large projects have either opened recently—such as a National Cybersecurity Center that takes advantage of the defense ecosystem built up around the Air Force Academy—or will soon, like the U.S. Olympic Museumslated for 2018, a natural offshoot of the fact that Colorado Springs has been home to the U.S. Olympic Training Center for nearly 40 years.
The city’s experience as a political petri dish might not have produced any easy answers. But at least for Suthers, it has produced a verdict on the run-the-government-as-a-business mantra. “Some personalities in the business world don’t suffer fools very much,” he says. “You’ve got to suffer a lot of fools in politics.”
This is the larger lesson of Colorado Springs’ experiment: Ideas matter, but so do relationships. Colorado Springs remains fiscally conservative; on this score, there’s more agreement than not between elected officials and their constituents. But ideological consensus isn’t enough to overcome a lack of surrogates willing to advocate your policies when, even with the strongest mayor system, it’s not entirely up to you.
At a recent charity roast, the 180-degree change in attitude among the city’s political class was on full display. The emcee joked that while Suthers had agreed to come and endure good-natured jokes about his comb-over, the previous year Bach had been invited and offered a different response. “It was two words,” he said, “and the second one was ‘you.’”
Despite Bach’s sandpapery reputation, many who used to spar with him are willing to give the former mayor credit today. Suthers says Bach’s extreme focus on the budget helped right the city financially, and his efforts helped set the stage for a revival of the airport. But most of all, what the leaders of Colorado Springs seem most thankful for is that one man’s turmoil begat another man’s harmony.
“Steve was the ultimate change agent, and they usually have a short shelf life,” Bennett says. “If it weren’t for the lights going out, we might not have had Steve. And if it weren’t for Steve, we might not have John.”
[This could have been posted on our companion blog “Wake Me When We’re Great Again,” [I know, but it was more original when I started it], but I decided more than the politics of the moment, the irritating (to The Donald) investigative reporter David Fahrenthold has again found a somewhat obscure little corner of the Trump Empire that illuminates a whole lot about the way the President of the Free World operates.
Think I’ll Photoshop my own Time magazine cover and will use it for my avatar or icon or whatever we call those little labels in Facebook or Twitter — or WordPress for that matter.]
The Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold breaks down a fake TIME magazine cover that is displayed in at least two of President Trump’s golf resorts. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post) This article has been updated.
The framed copy of Time magazine was hung up in at least five of President Trump’s clubs, from South Florida to Scotland. Filling the entire cover was a photo of Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump: The ‘Apprentice’ is a television smash!” the big headline said. Above the Time nameplate, there was another headline in all caps: “TRUMP IS HITTING ON ALL FRONTS . . . EVEN TV!”
This cover — dated March 1, 2009 — looks like an impressive memento from Trump’s pre-presidential career. To club members eating lunch, or golfers waiting for a pro-shop purchase, it seemed to be a signal that Trump had always been a man who mattered. Even when he was just a reality TV star, Trump was the kind of star who got a cover story in Time.
But that wasn’t true.
The Time cover is a fake.
There was no March 1, 2009, issue of Time magazine. And there was no issue at all in 2009 that had Trump on the cover.
In fact, the cover on display at Trump’s clubs,observed recently by a reporter visiting one of the properties, contains several small but telling mistakes. Its red border is skinnier than that of a genuine Time cover, and, unlike the real thing, there is no thin white border next to the red. The Trump cover’s secondary headlines are stacked on the right side — on a real Time cover, they would go across the top.
And it has two exclamation points. Time headlines don’t yell.
“I can confirm that this is not a real TIME cover,” Kerri Chyka, a spokeswoman for Time Inc., wrote in an email to The Washington Post.
The real Time cover, left, and the fake Donald Trump cover. (Left: Time. Right: Angel Valentin for The Washington Post)
At 5 p.m. Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Time said that the magazine had asked the Trump Organization to remove the phony cover from the walls where it was on display.
So how did Trump — who spent an entire campaign and much of his presidency accusing the mainstream media of producing “fake news” — wind up decorating his properties with a literalpiece of phony journalism?
The Trump Organization did not respond to questions this week about who made the cover and why it was displayed at Trump clubs. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to say whether Trump had known that the cover wasn’t real.
“We couldn’t comment on the decor at Trump Golf clubs one way or another,” Sanders wrote in an email.
The cover seems to fit a broader pattern for Trump, who has often boasted of his appearances on Time’s cover and adorned his Trump Tower office with images of himself from magazines and newspapers. Trump has made claims about himself — about his charitable giving, his business success, even the size of the crowd at his inauguration — that are not supported by the facts.
In this case, Trump’s golf clubs might seem like places where he wouldn’t need to stretch the truth. Reality is flattering enough. The clubs are monuments to Trump’s success — they bear his name and are filled with his images.But, still, his staff added an extra trophy that was phony.
It is not clear who created this fake Time cover — or why.
Its date might be a clue: March 1, 2009, was the season debut of Trump’s show “The Celebrity Apprentice.” But a transcript of that show offers no answers. In that episode, various B-list celebrities competed to sell cupcakes, and Trump fired comedian Andrew Dice Clay for poor performance. Nobody mentioned Time magazine.
While it’s not difficult to mock up a fake cover using graphic-design software, whoever made this one sought out real Time headlines, to add to the fake.
There are secondary headlines on the Trump cover that tout stories on President Barack Obama, climate change and the financial crisis. Two of those are taken from a real March 2, 2009, issue of Time, which featured actress Kate Winslet on the cover. But the issue makes no mention of Trump.
Another possible clue to the fake cover’s origins: The fake bar code on the bottom right. An identical bar code shows up online in a graphic-design tutorial posted in 2010, in which a Peruvian designer laid out how to make a fake Time cover — complete with this bar code, for extra realism. The graphic designer did not immediately respond to questions from The Post.
The Post found that the fake cover had been hung in at least four of Trump’s 17 golf clubs.
The clubhouse at the Trump National Doral Golf Club outside Miami. (Angel Valentin for The Washington Post)
At Trump’s resort in Doral, Fla., outside Miami, the fake image hangs in two prominent spots.
In the pro shop, it shares a wall with 11 other framed magazine pages — all of them highlighting Trump, another member of the Trump family or a Trump golf course.
Among the covers with Trump’s face on them, the Time cover looks like one of the most impressive. The others are old — such as a 1984 cover of GQ — or from less-prominent titles, such as Fairways + Greens magazine and TV Guide Canada. Those two publications are out of print.
A copy of the fake cover also hangs in Champions, the Doral resort’s sports bar. It faces a framed cover of Fortune magazine from 2004, showing Trump’s face with the headline “Trumped.” That one is real.
Magazine covers hang on a wall at the Trump National Doral golf shop. (Angel Valentin for The Washington Post)
In Virginia, the phony Time cover hangs on the wall of the members’ dining room at the Trump golf course in suburban Loudoun County, near Washington. Trump has visited that club more frequently since moving into the White House. In early June, the president ate lunch in that dining room with football star Peyton Manning and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
A photo taken during their lunch shows that Trump’s chair faced the fake Time cover.
At the same club, Trump’s staff put up a historical marker declaring that there had been a Civil War battle on the site — and that the adjacent Potomac River became a “River of Blood.” Historians say this battle never happened. The marker was first reported by the New York Times.
In addition, the fake cover was hung up near the entrance of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., according to a photo taken in July 2016 by Scott Keeler, a photographer at the Tampa Bay Times. Keeler posted it Tuesday on Twitter.
The Time cover also appears to have been hung up at Trump’s golf resort in Doonbeg, in western Ireland. Trump bought the club in 2014. Photos posted on TripAdvisor show it on the wall of a dining room. But when a reporter visited the club this past weekend, it was gone.
A bartender later found it in the manager’s office. Officials at the clubcould not explainwhy it had been moved.
And at Trump’s Turnberry club in Scotland, employees said they recognized the cover. It had been added after Trump bought the course in 2014, said the employees, who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment to the media. One employee said the fake cover had previously hung in the resort’s pub, called the Duel in the Sun after a famous golf match played at Turnberry in 1977.
But, she said, the cover was taken down a few weeks ago.
“We used to have a Time magazine cover up — aye, it was there for ages and ages, as long as I’ve been here. I know the one you’re on about,” the employee said. “But they came and took it down a while back.”
In its place, the club had hung up an old-timey photo of the course.
Club officials did not respond to queries about why it was taken down. The employee said it was part of a general reduction in photos of Trump.
“We certainly have been hearing more grumbling about all the stuff like that up on the walls since his election,” the employee said. “From Americans, mostly, funny enough. That’s why we all assumed they started taking some of his photos off the walls.”
“But it was just a guess. I don’t actually have a scooby,” the employee added, using an expression that means, “I don’t have a clue.”
The Post also looked for the fake cover at two Trump courses in the United States that are open to the public, in the Bronx and in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. It was not on display at either. The rest of Trump’s courses are members-only, making it difficult to get inside to look at the decor.
The image does not appear to be among the many framed magazine covers that adorn Trump’s old office in Trump Tower, based on photos of the office.
One thing that is clear, from the president’s past statements, is that he views the cover of Time as a significant honor.
Trump has bragged that he’s been on more Time covers than anyone. “I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine,” he said during a January speech at CIA headquarters.
That is wrong. Richard Nixon has appeared on far more than Trump.
In a 2016 interview, when Trump was a candidate, he offered a mental tally of how many times he had appeared on the magazine’s cover.
“I think I was on the cover of Time magazine twice in my life and like six times in the last number of months. So you tell me, which is more important, real estate or politics, okay?” Trump said. “I have six for politics, and I have two for real estate or whatever they put me on for.”
But that count was wrong.
According to Time magazine’s tally, Trump had been on the cover only once before he got into politics. That was in January 1989.
Francisco Alvarado in Doral, Nash Riggins in Turnberry, Yvonne Gordon in Doonbeg, Philip Bump in New York, Rob Kuznia in Rancho Palos Verdes and Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.
David A. Fahrenthold is a reporter covering the Trump family and their business interests. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered Congress, the federal bureaucracy, the environment, and the D.C. police.