Politics & Issues | St. Louis Public Radio

Politics & Issues

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the noon hour Wednesday. This story will be updated after the show. St. Louis Public Radio will offer live coverage of the impeachment inquiry hearings from NPR during much of Wednesday. During that special coverage, however, listeners can still stream “St. Louis on the Air” by clicking the drop down on the site-wide player on our homepage and selecting "KWMU-1 Regularly Scheduled Programs."

For two years, Jeff Jensen has been the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, serving as the St. Louis area’s top federal law enforcement officer. Jensen’s office handles everything from racketeering cases to civil forfeiture — and, under Jensen, has made violent crime in St. Louis a particular focus. 

State Rep. Becky Ruth, R-Festus
Tim Bommel I House Communications

State Rep. Becky Ruth joins St. Louis Public Radio’s Julie O’Donoghue and Jason Rosenbaum on the latest episode of Politically Speaking.

Ruth represents a portion of eastern Jefferson County, which includes the cities of Festus, Herculaneum, Pevely and Hematite. The Festus Republican is the first woman to ever lead the House Transportation Committee.

President of the Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed and current members of the Board of Freeholders listen as former Alderman Terry Kennedy welcomes the group.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard wants the newly created Board of Freeholders to tackle something that’s vexed policymakers for decades — education.

It’s a topic that’s undoubtedly played a role in how race and class divide St. Louis. And the 26th Ward Democrat contends the board should take up an opportunity that past governmental consolidation plans missed.

Colorful photos hang on the walls at HCI Alternatives in Collinsville. The marijuana dispensary is set up like a typical doctor's office.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest episode of Politically Speaking, St. Louis Public Radio’s Julie O’Donoghue, Jason Rosenbaum and Jaclyn Driscoll review some of the week’s biggest stories in state and local politics.

One of the big topics on the show is the first meeting of the Board of Freeholders, which can propose consolidating services in St. Louis and St. Louis County — or even combining city and county governments.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar listens to U.S. Attorney General  Sessions' remarks. (03/31/17)
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County is headed to mediation with a police officer who was awarded a huge jury verdict in a discrimination case.

A jury found that Sgt. Keith Wildhaber was denied promotions for being gay — and was retaliated against when he lodged formal complaints. He was awarded nearly $20 million.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said he needs a lot more money to run his office properly.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell wants at least $1.4 million more in next year’s budget than the county executive has recommended his office receive. 

Sam Page has included $11.9 million in general funding in his 2020 spending proposal to the county council. At a county council budget hearing Thursday, Bell asked to have that bumped to $13.3 million.

Local and federal law enforcement make an arrest in St. Louis this summer during a three-month roundup of violent fugitives.
United States Marshals

Federal law enforcement officials say a three-month cooperative push to apprehend violent fugitives resulted in more than 160 arrests in the St. Louis region.

The U.S. Marshals announced the results of the operation Thursday. They say 16 of those arrested were wanted for homicide, and many were connected to violent gangs in the area.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page has nominated Dr. Laurie Punch, left and Thomasina Hassler to the county's Board of Police Commissioners.
Washington University School of Medicine, Thomasina Hassler via Facebook

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page is keeping his promise to bring leadership change to the police department.

Page on Thursday announced that he had nominated Dr. Laurie Punch, a trauma surgeon, and Thomasina Hassler, a longtime educator, to the Board of Police Commissioners, which oversees the police department. He had two other nominees approved by the county council last week.

Updated at 5:21 p.m. ET

A State Department staffer overheard President Trump asking a top diplomat about "investigations" he wanted Ukraine to pursue that he believed might help him in the 2020 election, another senior diplomat told Congress.

That staffer is expected to tell his story directly to House investigators at a closed-door deposition on Friday.

The new subplot about the overheard phone conversation was one of a small number of new details to emerge from Democrats' first open hearing in their impeachment inquiry into Trump on Wednesday.

Members of the Board of Freeholders listen to concerns from St. Louis aldermen during the board's first meeting Tuesday morning.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Members of a board that could recommend big changes to St. Louis and St. Louis County government met for the first time Tuesday, expressing optimism that they can present a plan that city and county residents will accept.

With city members of the Board of Freeholders still unseated, the board spent most of Tuesday’s meeting getting to know each other — and hearing from members of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

Recreational marijuana facility in San Francisco, California in Nov. 2018
File photo | Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri has already approved more than 17,000 patients for its yet-to-be-launched medical marijuana program — a stark contrast to neighboring Illinois, which had fewer than 3,000 patients in the first 10 months. 

Licenses for Missouri’s dispensaries are expected to be awarded by January, and cannabis should be available for medical card holders by spring. 

At their core, Missouri and Illinois programs do the same thing: They allow doctors to certify patients to use cannabis if they have a qualifying condition. But there are significant differences in the details of each law, including who has access, how they’re getting access and how the programs can be changed in the future.

November 11, 2019 Josie Grillas and Chris Ottolino
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Critics of airport privatization believe they are close to having enough signatures to force a public vote on any potential lease.

Since June 2018, a group calling itself STL Not for Sale has been circulating petitions for a ballot initiative requiring any airport lease to be subject to a public vote — that’s even though Mayor Lyda Krewson would prefer to leave the matter to the Board of Aldermen.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Josie Grillas and Chris Ottolino of STL Not for Sale said they are now working with the union-rights organization Jobs with Justice. The groups are working together to analyze the petitions they’ve gathered and see how close they are to ensuring they have enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot. 

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page's nominees to the Board of Freeholders await a committee hearing on Oct. 15, 2019, in Clayton.
File photo I Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Members of a board that could reshape how St. Louis and St. Louis County are governed plan to meet for the first time on Tuesday morning in St. Louis City Hall.

But without representatives from the city, some of the members of the Board of Freeholders aren’t expecting the first gathering to feature a lot of definitive action. That likely won’t occur until an impasse is resolved over St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s appointees.

State Rep. LaDonna Appelbaum, D, St. Louis County
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Radio’s Julie O’Donoghue and Jaclyn Driscoll welcome state Rep. LaDonna Appelbaum to Politically Speaking for the first time. The discussion includes the Democrat's efforts to improve health care.

Appelbaum represents Missouri’s 71st House District, which takes in portions of Chesterfield, Creve Coeur, Maryland Heights, Olivette, Overland and unincorporated St. Louis County. She was first elected in 2018.

The intersection of Collinsville and St. Louis Avenues in East St. Louis is where a mob of white rioters first gathered before they rampaged through the city, seeking out and killing black residents.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

BELLEVILLE — The 2020 census headcount will have wide-ranging implications for the state of Illinois and communities in the Metro East. The state could lose congressional seats and federal money, and some downstate cities could lose their home-rule status after the decennial headcount, which begins in April.

These high stakes spurred Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritkzer and the state Legislature to dedicate $29 million to counting hard-to-reach communities; $20 million is for grants that go to 30 local community organizations across the state tasked with ensuring accurate counts. 

St. Louis Lambert International Airport. August 2018
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest episode of Politically Speaking, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Julie O’Donoghue break down some of the week’s biggest stories.

To do that, Rosenbaum and O’Donoghue enlisted the help of St. Louis Public Radio colleagues Corinne Ruff and Kae Petrin. Ruff talked about the ongoing process of potentially getting a private operator to run St. Louis Lambert International Airport. And Petrin discussed Paul McKee’s bid to redevelop parts of north St. Louis.

(via Flickr/Tracy O)

Under the best-case scenario, St. Louis County has about $12.5 million readily available to pay a police officer who won a nearly $20 million verdict in a workplace discrimination lawsuit two weeks ago.

But county officials and legal experts say it’s likely the county won’t end up owing Sgt. Keith Wildhaber near the amount he has been initially awarded. Existing state laws and court precedent suggest that $20 million verdict could be reduced on appeal or through a settlement. 

People place bets at the Sports Book at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
File photo | Leila Fidel | NPR

Missouri legislators heard from Major League Baseball, the NBA and the PGA on Thursday about their leagues’ role if legalized sports betting comes to the state.

The General Assembly is expected to consider legalizing sports betting in the 2020 legislative session. 

Among the details that need to be worked out is whether lawmakers will consider a sports gambling proposal that includes college sports as well as professional sports, mobile phone betting and in-game wagering on a particular play during an event. 

November 7, 2019 Michael-John Voss and Blake Strode
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Ten years ago, a trio of recent law school graduates formed a nonprofit law firm. They called it ArchCity Defenders. And they had a novel idea: wraparound services, not just legal representation, for the people who needed it most.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Michael-John Voss explained that he and his co-founders, Thomas Harvey and John McAnnar, were inspired by the Jesuit tradition at St. Louis University School of Law. After taking classes in public interest law, they found themselves working on projects representing those too poor to afford lawyers.

“We saw the fact that the existing entities that were supposed to serve the indigent population were overburdened and overworked,” he said. “And there was no communication between the civil and criminal organizations that are supposed to serve this population. We thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this.’” 

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker says he’s "furious" about the behavior of state lawmakers ensnared in federal probes this year. Now he’s calling for changes in the way lobbyists disclose their finances.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar speaks with a St. Louis Public Radio reporter at his office in downtown Clayton on Tuesday. Nov. 5, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Sgt. Keith Wildhaber’s nearly $20 million jury verdict hit St. Louis County government like a lightning bolt. 

The huge award sparked internal and external scrutiny of one of Missouri’s largest law enforcement agencies about how it treats LGBTQ employees. It’s also prompted a debate about whether Missouri should pass more explicit laws to protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Loop Trolley during a test drive on June 13, 2018.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Nov. 7 with a statement from Bi-State Development —

The struggling Loop Trolley has received enough funding to keep running until January. 

The money comes from the Loop Trolley Transportation Development District, a political group that advocates for the trolley. It will keep the trolley operating with reduced hours. Without additional funding, the trolley could cease operations after Jan. 1. 

An airforce member recieves instructions on a drug test. After January 1st, Illinois employers cannot simply rely on a drug test to ensure drug free work environments.
Ashley Gardner | Shaw Air Force Base

BELLEVILLE — Recreational cannabis will be legal in Illinois in less than two months, and some employers are scrambling to understand what legalization will mean for their drug-free policies. 

Specifically, the new law pits an employee’s right to use marijuana recreationally on their own time against an employer’s ability to enforce drug-free policies under Illinois’ Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act

Former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ray Price and Michelle Schwerin, an attorney at Capes Sokol, were nominated to the Board of Police Commissioners Friday. Nov. 4, 2019
File photo|Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County Council on Tuesday approved two new members of the Board of Police Commissioners — a move activists said doesn’t do enough to improve a culture that fails to punish officer misconduct.

The council also approved funding for outside attorneys to help with a legal response to a nearly $20 million verdict against the county for discrimination. And members called on the city of St. Louis to be more transparent in conversations about privatizing St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Democrat Trish Gunby is congratulated by her son, Kyle Gunby, who worked on her campaign, after winning a traditionally Republican Missouri House seat in the 99th District.  Nov. 5, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Democrat Trish Gunby won a high-profile Missouri House race in the 99th District on Tuesday, capturing a historically Republican seat with 54% of the vote in west St. Louis County.

Gunby’s victory over Republican Lee Ann Pitman is a morale boost for a Missouri Democratic Party that’s struggling to pick up the pieces after three disastrous election cycles that left the party out of favor in the state.

A flyer encouraging voters to approve the use tax in Phelps County and the City of Rolla. 10/24/19
File photo | Jonathan Ahl | St. Louis Public Radio

ROLLA — Voters in Phelps County were inconsistent Tuesday in their approach to authorizing local government to collect sales taxes on online purchases. 

Phelps County rejected the tax, while its two biggest cities, Rolla and St. James, approved it.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar speaks with a St. Louis Public Radio reporter at his office in downtown Clayton on Tuesday. Nov. 5, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar says he was surprised by a nearly $20 million verdict against his department for discriminating against a gay police sergeant.

“Without getting too much into a conversation about the verdict, yes, I was surprised by it,” Belmar said Tuesday. “But I would say that we have to take a look at these things as an opportunity to move forward.”

President Ronald Reagan delivers his famous "tear down this wall" speech in June 1987 at the Brandenburg Gate. | Courtesy Ronald Reagan Library
Ronald Reagan Library

Peter Robinson had just turned 30 years old when, as Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter in 1987, he was tasked with crafting what would become one of the world’s most famous presidential speeches.

“I spent six years in the Reagan White House and I wrote tens of thousands of words, and nobody remembers anything except six of them — and one of them is ‘mister,’” said Robinson, referring to the memorable “tear down this wall” line that Reagan directed at Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev before a crowd of thousands at the Berlin Wall.

Attorney Michelle Schwerin, center right, and former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ray Price, center left, speak with attendees after answering questions from St. Louis County councilmembers. Nov. 4, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar appears to have the support of the two nominees to the Board of Police Commissioners — at least for now.

Former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ray Price and Michelle Schwerin, an attorney at Capes Sokol, answered questions Monday from all but one of the County Council members who will vote on their confirmation. That could come Tuesday if background checks are completed in time.

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, address Rolla Police Chief Sean Fagan during the first meeting for the Interim Committee on Public Safety on Nov. 4, 2019.
Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio

A Missouri Senate committee heard several hours of testimony on Monday regarding gun violence throughout the state, with possible solutions including more money for gang intervention and better retention of police officers. 

Witnesses at the hearing were invited by one of the seven senators on the newly formed Interim Committee on Public Safety. They included police, prosecutors and research analysts. 

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