Saturday, June 12, 2021

God help us- Ed Emery's running for Congress

It did not take long after Fourth District Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler announced she was running for U. S. Senate for the vultures to begin circling her Congressional seat.

The first vulture to land is former State Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar.

Emery made the following announcement Friday on his Facebook page:

It is not ambition that drives me but what I see as the clear abandonment at the federal level of Biblical principles, national heritage, common sense, and the values that have made America great. The contempt for the truth and the perversion of justice must not go on.

If, as a nation, we are to continue to enjoy the immeasurable blessings God has poured out from our country's earlies and miraculous beginnings there must be a return to those freedoms and eternal truths that have born us this far. 

With that as my vision I am to declaring my intention to run for the U.S. Congress – 4th District.

With a view first toward Heaven and a heart for my country and my family, I am committing to serving Missouri's 4th Congressional District if elected. V

ery soon we will provide information on how you can be involved in my campaign. In the meantime, if you'd like to be involved in the very first stages in any way, you may call or text me at (417) 540-1497.

Remembering Chad Elliot

 The wife of Zimmer Marketing marketing manager Chad Elliott, the long time host of KZRG's Morning News Watch announced this evening her husband has passed away, one day shy of their 14th wedding anniversary.

With the heaviest of heart, I have ever experienced in my life, I want to let our friends and family know the world lost an amazing man this morning.

Elliot was host of Morning News Watch from 2009 to 2018 and has worked for Zimmer Marketing for 27 years, but it was a decision Elliot made as programming director for Zimmer on May 22, 2011 that helped guide a stricken Joplin community through the tornado and its aftermath.

Elliot pulled the plug on all regular programming and all commercials on KZRG and the other Zimmer stations to provide tornado coverage around the clock.

Earlier, wearing one of his other hats, it was Elliott, along with Rob Meyer, who offered listeners their first first-hand accounts of the devastation that had been wrought by the tornado.

From a CNN report shortly after the tornado:

Immediately after Sunday’s killer tornado, Elliot said emergency crews drove to the station to provide information for broadcast. The station began telling people where to go for medical help. Or what number to dial for information about the missing. Or where they could buy gas or where there was still a Walmart standing.

Elliot said it reminded him of the family members of the victims of the September 11 attacks who held up photographs of their loved ones in hopes they were not under the rubble. Only, he said, there were no pictures in Joplin — just trembling voices.

One after another, the calls streamed in.

“We had people calling about family members who went to Walmart to pick up a few items, buy something for Sunday dinner and they just didn’t come home,” Elliot said.

The radio hosts tried to console and comfort even though they, too, had not been spared from tragedy. Elliot said seven of his 30 employees lost their homes. They still reported to work.

Parson signs bill establishing Second Amendment Preservation Act

(From Gov. Mike Parson)

Today, Governor Mike Parson signed HB 85 into law, establishing the Second Amendment Preservation Act in Missouri.

“Throughout my law enforcement career and now as Governor of the state of Missouri, I have and always will stand for the Constitution and our Second Amendment rights,” Governor Parson said. 

“This legislation today draws a line in the sand and demonstrates our commitment to reject any attempt by the federal government to circumvent the fundamental right Missourians have to keep and bear arms to protect themselves and their property.”

HB 85 prohibits state and local cooperation with federal officials that attempt to enforce any laws, rules, orders, or actions that violate the Second Amendment rights of Missourians. These protections against federal overreach are triggered if federal officials attempt to violate the state or federal constitution.

Additionally, the bill is an acknowledgment that the right to keep and bear arms is fundamental and inalienable, and that the nation's federalist constitutional structure limits the federal government's authority over states.

Under HB 85, any person or entity who knowingly deprives Missouri citizens of their right to bear arms - as protected by state and federal constitutions - will be liable for redress and monetary damages of $50,000 per occurrence. Local law enforcement’s ability to assist federal officials in other instances remains unchanged under this legislation.

“HB 85 puts those in Washington D.C. on notice that here in Missouri we support responsible, law-abiding gun owners, and that we oppose government overreach and any unlawful efforts to limit our access to firearms,” Governor Parson said.

For more information on HB 85, click here.

Vicki Hartzler joins race for U. S. Senate seat

By Rudi Keller

Vicky Hartzler made her entry into the 2022 U.S. Senate race official Thursday, kicking off her campaign at a firearms store surrounded by supporters.

(Photo by Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)  

One day before Republicans gather in Kansas City for their annual Lincoln Days meetings, Hartzler said her experience in Congress will make her the best candidate over the three men who are also seeking the nomination to replace U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.


Hartzler bragged that she, unlike the three men who have announced they will run, has actually worked with former President Donald Trump on the programs he embraced during his four years in office.

“I am one of only two members of Congress from Missouri to have voted for and supported the efforts of President Trump over 95 percent of the time,” Hartzler said.

Hartzler, who has represented Missouri’s 4th Congressional District since 2011, joins disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens, state Attorney General Eric Schmitt and St. Louis attorney Mark McCloskey in the Republican race.

Unlike her three competitors, Hartzler chose to announce her candidacy with a public event in the district rather than an appearance on Fox News.

For the crowd of about 150 that gathered on Thursday, Hartzler struck the major points Republicans have used to attack Democrats and President Joe Biden since he took office in January.

“The socialist Democrats are endangering our security, bankrupting our nation, killing our jobs, fueling inflation, harming our children, defunding our police and rewriting our history,” Hartzler said. “They are destroying the country you and I love and they must be stopped.”

Hartzler is giving up what’s considered a safe GOP Congressional seat in 2022 for the uncertainty of the Senate primary. Supporters in the crowd said they think she can beat Greitens, Schmitt and McCloskey and anyone else who enters the race.

Jackie Langston, who drove up from Johnson County, wore her county’s Republican Women’s Club badge and said her entire group is behind Hartzler. Johnson County is in the 4th District.

“I think she sees a lot of the value in women and like us, supports more freedom,” Langston said.

Langston said she would be happy to vote for any of the current primary candidates in November 2022 because “I don’t see anyone running who is an extremist.”

Tom Mendenhall, a Republican from Columbia who said he’s attended several Republican National Conventions, said he backs Hartzler because he has gotten to know her while she has represented his city in Congress.

“I think she has done a good job and I don’t think she is an opportunist,” Mendenhall said. “She’s paid her dues.”

Hartzler has been a member of the House Armed Services Committee and promised she would back a strong military, work to restart construction on the southern border wall suspended by Biden and end “woke” indoctrination of soldiers and sailors.

“I have delivered in the U.S. House and that is what I will do in the Senate,” Hartzler said.

Hartzler began her political career in the Missouri House, where she held a seat representing Cass County from 1994 to 2000.


She played a prominent role in statewide politics for the first time in 2004, when she served as spokeswoman for the Coalition to Protect Marriage in Missouri, which successfully campaigned for a state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, Hartzler was the only member of the Missouri congressional delegation to issue a public statement in support of Kim Davis, clerk of Rowan County, Ky., who refused to comply with several court orders directing her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Hartzler was elected to Congress as part of a Republican wave that swept the GOP into a House majority it did not relinquish until 2018. In that election, she defeated veteran U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, the last rural Democrat to represent Missouri in Congress.

Since her district was redrawn after the 2010 census, Hartzler has not received less than 65 percent of the vote in five re-election victories.

Hartzler and her husband, Lowell Hartzler, own farms and a farm implement business based in Cass County. During her first campaign for congress and since, environmental organizations and groups opposed to concentrated farming have highlighted the subsidy payments the farms have received from programs she voted for in the U.S. House.

Those subsidy payments shot up in 2018, 2019 and 2020, for a total of $232,570, according to federal data posted online by the Environmental Working Group. Subsidies shot up after Trump created the Market Facilitator Program to offset price declines caused by trade disputes with China and other nations.

“We found that rather than supporting small, struggling farmers, MFP money has overwhelmingly gone to farmers who are already wealthy, as well as to people who live in cities and other places far from the fields,” the Environmental Working Group stated on its webpage about the program.

Hartzler’s business interests have also been helped by pandemic loans created under relief bills she supported. Hartzler Farms received a Paycheck Protection Loan of $26,900 in 2020, and Heartland Tractor, the family implement business, received a loan of $451,200.

Questioned about the payments, Hartzler defended the policies that produced the subsidies.

“I am a farmer and people understand that is Missouri’s No. 1 industry,” Hartzler said. “It is vital we have safety net programs for farmers to stay viable so American consumers can have the lowest priced food in the world.”

The field in the Republican primary isn’t entirely set, with several other candidates considering joining Hartzler, Greitens, Schmitt and McCloskey in the race.

Rep. Jason Smith, R-Cape Girardeau, suggested Wednesday on Fox Business Channel that he will be endorsed by Trump when asked about a recent meeting in New York.

“President Trump will be very involved in the Missouri senate race and will make sure his person crosses the finish line,” Smith said. “I have no doubt that he is going to be with the right person, so we’ll see as time goes ahead.”

The likelihood of a bigger field does not deter her, Hartzler said.

“I am not so concerned about who else is in there,” she said.

She did take a swipe at the current field of opponents.

“Being in the U.S. Senate,” Hartzler said, “isn’t a learn-on-the-job experience.”

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and the legislature. He’s spent 22 of his 30 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics, most recently as the news editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Keller has won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.

Attorney General says he can't enforce Sunshine Law in governor's office because governor is his client

By Tessa Weinberg

Attorney General Eric Schmitt has determined his office cannot investigate an alleged violation of Missouri’s open records laws by the governor’s office, an interpretation of state law that has transparency advocates alarmed.

Missouri’s attorney general’s office is in charge of enforcing the Sunshine Law, which requires meetings, records, votes, actions and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public.

Besides a complaint to the attorney general, the only other remedy for Missourians who feel the Sunshine Law has been violated is to hire a private attorney and file a lawsuit.

In response to a Sunshine Law complaint by The Independent over Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s refusal to turn over the resignation letters of two cabinet members, Schmitt’s office said it could not get involved because the governor’s office is considered a client.

“Staff cannot discuss any action our office may take regarding this issue,” Assistant Attorney General James Klahr wrote in a Wednesday letter closing the complaint, later adding: “If you wish to discuss this matter further, you may wish to contact a private attorney.”

The decision came even after Schmitt’s office, and previous attorneys general, have weighed in on or launched Sunshine Law investigations into the executive branch for potential violations in the past.

The scope of the attorney general’s policy is unclear. A spokesman did not clarify if the attorney general’s office won’t take action only when a state entity is an active client or if they are always considered one since the attorney general is the state’s chief legal officer.

First Amendment attorneys and Sunshine Law experts worry the decision sets a dangerous precedent that the attorney general’s office will not investigate the executive branch or state agencies and leaves Missouri citizens with little means of recourse in open records disputes.

“The attorney general represents the governor’s office, but the attorney general represents every state agency when they get sued,” said Bernie Rhodes, a Kansas City-based attorney who specializes in First Amendment law. “So this would essentially mean that the attorney general has been neutered on any Sunshine Law matter involving any state agency, and that’s absurd.”

Without the attorney general, the burden would be on residents to enter into a costly legal challenge by hiring an attorney.

“I find that very troubling, because if a citizen of Missouri cannot go to the Missouri Attorney General to enforce the Sunshine Law… then what recourse do they have?” said Mark Pedroli, the founder of the Sunshine and Government Accountability Project. “Apparently, according to the attorney general, they have none.”

Resignation letters

The Independent filed a Sunshine Law complaint with the attorney general’s office in May after the governor’s office refused to release the resignation letters of Randall Williams, the former director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, and Drew Erdmann, the former chief operating officer for the governor’s office.

In response to open records requests, the governor’s office argued the letters were closed records in their entirety.

Resignation letters from cabinet officials and agency heads have routinely been released and made public in prior administrations.

Caroline Coulter, the deputy general counsel for the governor’s office, cited a provision of the law that permits governmental bodies to close “individually identifiable personnel records, performance ratings or records pertaining to employees or applicants for employment.”

If the attorney general’s position is that the governor’s office is a client, then “we need to understand that,” Pedroli said, “that there’s not a cop on the beat if the governor is breaking the law.”

Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, defended the office’s enforcement of the state’s open records law and pointed to a December letter Schmitt sent to the chairman of the Missouri Veterans Commission. In it, Schmitt directed the commission to immediately release a 415-page report that was the result of an independent investigation into COVID-19 outbreaks that ravaged Missouri’s veterans homes.

“As the state’s defender and enforcer of the Sunshine Law, we have not been hesitant to act on potential Sunshine Law violations,” Nuelle said.

Dave Roland, the director of litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri, a libertarian nonprofit that advocates for government transparency, said the attorney general’s office would have a legitimate conflict if it provided legal advice to the governor’s office on whether or not the resignation letters should be publicly disclosed.

Parson’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether or not the attorney general consulted on the decision to close the records. Nuelle reiterated the office would not discuss any actions taken and would not be commenting further.

“They legitimately are in kind of a difficult position,” Roland said of the attorney general’s office. “But that does not prevent them from doing their job in alternative ways.”

A break from Josh Hawley

The argument Schmitt’s office cited Wednesday is similar to one former Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office used in response to a Sunshine Law complaint filed in 2017 against former Gov. Eric Greitens for records related to his office’s social media use.

In that instance, Hawley’s office forwarded the complaint to the Cole County Prosecuting Attorney, who also has jurisdiction over the matter since the Capitol is located there. That move was absent from Wednesday’s decision to close the complaint.

Roland said the office could also enlist outside legal counsel to take on the complaint, noting the attorney general needs to be just as vigorous in enforcing transparency for the executive branch as it does for other entities, like local governments.

“I would look to see the willingness of the attorney general’s office to find someone outside the office who can address the issue as an indication of just how serious they are about enforcing the Sunshine Law vigorously,” Roland said.

In both the case over social media use and an inquiry looking into the Greitens administration’s use of an app that automatically deletes text messages, Hawley’s office pointed to a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that found the attorney general’s office can’t represent a governmental client and take enforcement action against that client in the same matter.

But Hawley’s office later reversed course and launched investigations into both issues, concluding that the attorney general’s actual clients are “first and foremost the citizens of the state.”

The investigation into Greitens’ social media use continued and was later closed under Schmitt.

Nuelle did not provide an explanation on what made the complaint at hand different from those previous instances.

More recently in 2019, at the request of Auditor Nicole Galloway, Schmitt’s office also weighed in on the Parson administration’s use of the First Amendment as an excuse to redact personal contact info when responding to records requests. Schmitt’s office found that Parson’s office should not rely on the First Amendment for blanket redactions.

Nuelle said that case is “simply not comparable.”

“The governor’s office asked for our opinion, which we provided, and they waived attorney-client privilege allowing us to publicize it,” he said.

From February 2018 through November 2020, the attorney general’s office closed 59 Sunshine Law complaints against state entities, according to data on its website. Of those, it appears the office has intervened in some cases, including sending a warning letter in one case. In another, a response was provided after intervention and in nearly half the cases the attorney general’s office alerted the governmental body of the complaint.

Transparency advocates raised questions as to the change in position and if it was fueled by political motivations.

“When your attorney general’s policies are ad hoc and politically driven, you don’t have an attorney general anymore,” said Pedroli, who noted that Schmitt was appointed to the attorney general’s office by Parson in 2018.

Issuing opinions on previous Sunshine Law issues involving the executive branch shows the AG’s office can do both, Rhodes said.

“The attorney general has evidence that he can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Rhodes said. “So for him now to claim he can’t both walk and chew gum at the same time sounds dissident.”

Jean Maneke, attorney for the Missouri Press Association, said the attorney general’s determinations about when it is and isn’t representing state entities has been a source of confusion for transparency advocates for years. The attorney general serves as the state’s chief legal officer, and often represents the state in court challenges.

What’s more, Maneke noted that state offices and departments often have their own in-house attorneys who represent their respective agencies.

Maneke said Schmitt’s decision was “a perfect example” of why Missouri needs a state office or official who can serve as an independent public records counsel outside of the attorney generals’ office, “which claims it ‘represents the state’s interests in ensuring that public meetings and records are open to the extent provided by law,’ but then ducks and stumbles when it finds itself needing to represent those interests in a situation where a public official such as the governor may be violating the law.”

Other states, like Illinois, have created positions like a Public Access Counselor, that resolves open records disputes and can issue binding opinions. Without such an office, transparency advocates said it would likely be determined by each attorney general how they handle such cases against state entities.

Ultimately, the issue of whether resignation letters can be withheld under the “personnel” exemption still needs clarity.

“We just need the attorney general to do his job,” Rhodes said.

Tessa Weinberg covers education, health care and the legislature. She previously covered the Missouri statehouse for The Kansas City Star and The Columbia Missourian, where her reporting into social media use by the governor prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. She most recently covered state government in Texas for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Chad Stebbins signing Connor Hotel books Saturday at Always Buying Books


Author Chad Stebbins will be signing copies of his books, Joplin's Connor Hotel and Tom Connor: Joplin's Millionaire Zinc King, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Always Buying Books, 5357 N. Main, Joplin.

Billy Long: Helping our nation's veterans

On this past Memorial Day, we paid tribute to the men and women who sacrificed their lives to protect our freedoms and our way of life. 

I had the honor of delivering remarks at the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in Springfield on Memorial Day where a very nice ceremony was held to commemorate those that made the ultimate sacrifice. 

At the cemetery, I spoke with a veteran that reminded me that while we honor those that died, we need to honor living Veterans too. As a member of Congress, I am able to help veterans in a variety of ways.

When most people think of Congress they naturally think about the bills we pass. We have the ability to enact laws that can have real-life implications for veterans. I always say that just because we can never fully repay the debt we owe to our Veterans it doesn't mean that we shouldn't try! And yes, Congress can work effectively together on issues when we put our minds to it. 

Take the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act for example. PAWS is a program where veterans who need a service dog can take part in training the dog. This increases the bond the veteran has with their service dog and also can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Another piece of legislation that I am proud to be a cosponsor of is the Major Richard Star Act. This bill would allow veterans who were medically retired but served less than 20 years to collect VA disability benefits as well as military retired pay. 

The military careers of these men and women were cut short and they were forced to retire, but their retirement pay is offset because of the injury they sustained. This isn’t fair to the 42,000 veterans that find themselves in this situation. As members of Congress, we came together and decided this is a wrong that needs to be made right.

Both of these bills are a great example of how we can come together in the halls of Congress to help our veterans. But legislation is not the only way a member of Congress can assist veterans. My office can also help veterans with issues they are having with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

Lisa Saylor and Sydney Ingram Johnson in my Springfield office work tirelessly with veterans from across southwest Missouri to help them cut through the red tape. My staff can assist veterans with records requests, appeals, benefits, and more. I would highly encourage any veteran that resides in Missouri’s 7th Congressional District that is having trouble with the VA to reach out to Lisa or Sydney for assistance. 

And if you don't have the good fortune of living in the best Congressional district in the United States you can reach out to your own member of Congress. If their staff isn't as experienced as mine in dealing with the V.A. they can sure call Lisa or Sydney for guidance.

Veterans gave up a tremendous amount to serve our country, and when they come home, our country needs to serve them. Congress needs to continue to work on good legislation that will benefit veterans in our communities. 

I am glad to do what I can to make a difference in the lives of veterans. It is my honor and privilege to be a champion for veterans in Congress and assist them with all of the red tape at the VA. Our veterans deserve the best, and I will continue to do everything I can to make sure that is what we give them.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

McDonald County reports second COVID-19 death in two days, eight new cases today


(From the McDonald County Health Department)

Unfortunately, we are reporting another COVID-19 death today.

Please keep this family in your thoughts and prayers.

Newton County confirms 29 COVID-19 cases in past two days

(From the Newton County Health Department)

Covid-19 Update

June 1, 2021:
12 New Cases
35 Active Cases
12 Daily Recovered Cases
June 2, 2021:
10 New Cases
38 Active Cases
7 Daily Recovered Cases

June 3, 2021:
12 New Cases
37 Active Cases
13 Daily Recovered Cases

June 9, 2021:
15 New Cases
66 Active Cases
22 Daily Recovered Cases
June 10, 2021:
14 New Cases
58 Active Cases
19 Daily Recovered Cases
Covid-19 tests conducted in Newton County for week of June 2 – June 8, 2021:

379 Total Tests
328 Negative Tests
51 Positive tests
13.50% Positivity Rate

Covid-19 Cumulative Tests for Newton County:

39,582 Total Tests
33,160 Negative Tests
6,422 Positive Tests
16.20% Positivity Rate

Newton County Vaccinations given:

17,618 Total Vaccinations
19.00% Percentage of population with one dose
16.60% Percentage of population with two doses
378 Number of doses administered in the last 7 days

Jasper County confirms 21 COVID-19 cases

 The Jasper County Health Department confirmed 21 COVID-19 cases Wednesday, indicating the pandemic has yet to run its course in a community where many do not intend to be vaccinated.

The county has recorded 9,569 cases to date and 159 deaths. Sixty-six cases are active. As of Wednesday night, 11 county residents are hospitalized.

The statistics do not include the portion of Jasper County that is located inside the Joplin city limits.