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NY attorney general sues Donald Trump and his company

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www.wxxv25.com – Associated Press – 2022-09-21 11:16:15

NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s sued former and his company on Wednesday, alleging business fraud involving some of their most prized assets, including properties in Manhattan, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Attorney General Letitia James’ , filed in state court in New York, is the culmination of the Democrat’s three-year civil investigation of Trump and the Trump Organization. Trump’s three eldest children, Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump, were also named as defendants, along with two longtime company executives, Allen…

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5 reasons lawmakers might not want to restore the ballot initiative

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5 reasons lawmakers might not want to restore the ballot initiative

Mississippi is the only state in the modern era to rescind its initiative process that allowed voters to bypass the Legislature and place issues directly on the ballot.

In 2021 the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the signature-gathering process as spelled out in the Constitution to place issues on the ballot. The ruling resulted in a initiative approved by voters in November 2020 and the entire initiative process being found to be invalid.

The Legislature could not agree during the 2022 session on language to revive the initiative process.

If the Legislature did restore the initiative, there would be at least five issues that could be the subject of initiative efforts. Those five issues, all opposed by many of the state’s political leaders, might be the reason legislators are reluctant to revive the initiative.

Those five initiatives would:

  • Expand .
  • Allow early .
  • Approve recreational marijuana.
  • Restore rights.
  • Allow people convicted of felonies to regain their voting rights at some point after they complete their sentence.

No doubt, there are other issues that most likely would be the subject of initiative efforts if the process was restored. Generally, initiatives are undertaken when legislators refuse to act on issues, such as on medical marijuana recently and on voter identification in 2011.

Medical marijuana was being rejected by the Legislature as a whole. In 2011, one chamber of the Legislature – the Democratic-controlled House – was blocking the enactment of a voter ID requirement.

Just like with medical marijuana and voter ID, the five issues cited above are currently being blocked by key legislators.

Medicaid expansion

Mississippi is one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid to provide health insurance for primarily the working poor. The two biggest obstacles to Medicaid expansion have been House Speaker Philip Gunn and Gov. Tate Reeves, who argue the state cannot afford to cover Mississippi’s share of the costs. Various studies have concluded that the expansion would actually be a boon to state coffers since the federal government would pay the bulk of the costs.

Various diverse groups ranging from the Mississippi Hospital Association to the Delta Council have endorsed expansion.

Early voting

Despite the rhetoric of former and many of his supporters bemoaning the evils of early voting, 46 states allow no excuse early voting and 27 permit voting by mail. And most states were allowing the various forms of early voting long before the 2020 election and the pandemic.

And truth be known, early voting has long been popular. Still, Reeves and other Mississippi politicians proudly proclaim they will block any effort to place Mississippi within the mainstream of states by enacting no excuse early voting.

Recreational marijuana

Like with early voting and Medicaid expansion, there was a recreational marijuana initiative being considered when the Mississippi Supreme Court shut down the initiative process.

And granted, it might be a long shot that Mississippi voters would approve recreational marijuana. But marijuana supporters in Arkansas garnered significantly more signatures than needed to place the issue on the November ballot.

If Arkansans approve or come close to approving recreational marijuana in November, that could be a sign that Mississippians also are willing to consider the issue.

Felony suffrage

Mississippi is one of a few states (less than 10) that do not restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies at some point after they complete their sentence. The felony suffrage provision was incorporated into the 1890 Constitution by those attempting to prevent African Americans from voting.

Voters in Florida recently voted via ballot initiative to restore voting rights to people convicted of felonies.

Abortion rights

Granted, it has long been perceived that Mississippians as a whole are staunchly anti-abortion. But after the June ruling by the in the Mississippi decision – Dobbs v. – overturning and rescinding a national right to an abortion, there has been a hue and cry by some to let Mississippians vote on the issue. After all, people who support abortion rights figure they have nothing to lose since existing Mississippi laws ban most abortions.

And there are a few reasons to give abortion rights supporters hope. For instance, in Kansas, a conservative state like Mississippi, voters recently rejected an anti-abortion proposal at the ballot box.

In addition, when Mississippians voted on abortion in 2011, they overwhelmingly defeated the “Personhood” initiative that defined life as beginning at conception. Plus, recent polling indicates that a vote on abortion in Mississippi might be close.

But unless the Legislature restores the initiative, we may never know how Mississippians feel about these issues and others.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

FBI seized ‘top secret’ documents from Trump home

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www.wxxv25.com – WXXV Staff – 2022-08-12 14:54:44

Files
The notice filed by the Justice Department to the U.S. District Court South District of Florida informing the judge that lawyers for former did not object to the government’s motion to unseal the search warrant for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, is photographed Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

By MICHAEL BALSAMO, ZEKE MILLER and ERIC TUCKER
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – Court papers show that the FBI recovered several documents that were labeled “top secret” from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in…

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‘There will be women who will die:’ Protesters, supporters look to the future on last day of legal abortion in Mississippi

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‘There will be women who will die:’ Protesters, supporters look to the future on last day of legal abortion in Mississippi

When the last patient went inside Mississippi’s only clinic on the final day of legal abortion in the state, escort Derenda Hancock packed up stray bottles of Coca-Cola and water next to the driveway she has guarded for nine years. Wearing aviator sunglasses that hid her eyes, she leaned silently against the pink stucco wall for a moment. Then she walked away.  

The provided abortions for the last time on Wednesday afternoon. Starting Thursday, Mississippi will permit abortions only in cases where the pregnancy threatens the mother’s life — a medically imprecise standard that may force doctors to wait for patients to deteriorate before providing care — or when the pregnant person reported a rape to law enforcement.

Abortion will be more restricted than at any point in state history except for about 15 years in the mid-20th century.

The clinic, which also offers contraceptives and other services, will likely close altogether. Director Shannon Brewer and a few staff members plan to move to New Mexico to open Pink House West.

The Pink House spent much of its existence fighting for its survival against laws and regulations designed to make it as difficult and complicated as possible to provide abortions in Mississippi. In the end, the facility at the heart of the case that overturned Roe was able to stay open longer than many others in the region of the country most hostile to abortion rights.

Since Texas banned almost all abortions last September, the clinic parking lot had regularly been crowded with Louisiana and Texas license plates. And for the last 10 days, it became an unlikely island of abortion access when other southeastern states halted the procedure almost immediately after the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

When Brewer arrived at work around 8:15 a.m. on Wednesday, the clinic escorts gathered in the parking lot. They applauded as she walked inside.

“That’s right, the hero of our age,” said John Busby, an anti-abortion protester.

“Turn to Jesus, Shannon! Repent,” shouted another frequent protester, Gabriel Olivier, who remained sitting in his camp chair across the street from the parking lot.

For the last four years, Busby has spent at least three days a week protesting at the Pink House. But he’s not satisfied with its closure.

He plans to travel to other states where abortion is still permitted, to preach and protest outside clinics there. And he wants to see Mississippi pass a “full abolishment” of abortion—no exceptions for rape or to protect the life of a pregnant person.

Cases where a pregnancy endangers the pregnant person’s life are “almost nonexistent,” he said. Between 1 and 2% of pregnancies – at least 350 pregnancies in Mississippi every year – implant outside the uterus and cannot be carried to term. They are always fatal for the fetus and unless treated can cause life-threatening bleeding. Busby doesn’t think abortion should be allowed in those cases. 

“The baby either can’t be sustained because of an ectopic pregnancy, or it’s gonna, by a miracle of God, it’s gonna full term…What we do as a human race, we want to say, we know better than what God knows.”

As the first patients arrived before 10 a.m., Dr. Cheryl Hamlin, the Boston-based OB-GYN working her final three-day shift at the clinic, came outside to speak to reporters. Anti-abortion protesters chanted through megaphones while supporters of the clinic blew kazoos.

When Hamlin started working in Mississippi five years ago, inspired to do something after the election of , she never expected she’d be at the clinic on its last day providing abortions.

“There will be women who will die because their OB/GYN or family doctor or whatever is afraid to treat them because they’re afraid of the implications,” she said. “‘It’s not quite life threatening yet. This may be only 50% life threatening. Or 75. Is that enough? Does it have to be 100%?’” 

Sonnie Bane arrived around 9:30 Wednesday morning. She came to sit outside the clinic because the abortion she got there in late 2016 saved her life, she said. She was in an abusive relationship, and while “it wasn’t the easiest decision for me to make,” she’s never regretted it.

“I wouldn’t be the same person and I love who I am today,” she said.

Since the Court’s ruling in Dobbs, she’s spent most days sitting outside the clinic with a group. They’ve mostly gotten supportive honks from passers-by.

“I want someone to drive by that needs to see it,” she said.

Even with the clinic open in Mississippi, access was limited. The mandatory 24-hour waiting period between visits could force people to miss two days of work, especially if they lived far from Jackson. The state already had one of the lowest abortion rates in the country, and many Mississippians traveled out of state for abortions. Reproductive rights advocates say some people believed abortion was illegal already.

Now, people will have to travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion or order pills online—a practice which is prohibited by Mississippi law but which will likely be difficult for law enforcement to stop.

Advocates expect the closest clinic to Jackson will be in Carbondale, Ill., a more than six-hour drive away.

The abortion ban will disproportionately affect Black women in Mississippi, who get about three-quarters of all abortions in the state. Black women also face much greater risks during pregnancy: They are about three times likelier than white women in the state to die of a pregnancy-related complication. 

Though southeastern abortion funds have vowed to keep helping patients pay for the procedure and travel expenses, they face legal uncertainty. The Yellowhammer Fund in neighboring Alabama has paused financial assistance for abortion while its lawyers assess whether the organization and patients could incur legal risks, deputy director Kelsea McLain said in an interview with Mississippi Today.

About 12 hours after the Court issued its ruling in Dobbs, she had to call a patient whose appointment was the next day to tell them Yellowhammer couldn’t help pay for the procedure.

“It’s become so accustomed to them that they run into barriers and obstacles that running into another one is not even that big a deal,” she said. “It’s expected. I don’t think it would have made it better, for people to lash out, curse me — but it just broke my heart even more that these people are depending on us. We were revoking that support, and they just understood.”

The Atlanta-based organization ARC-Southeast, which supports people across the South, including Mississippi, has not paused funding.

During the final days before Mississippi’s trigger ban took effect, the clinic escorts were exhausted. Hancock had started showing up at 4:30 a.m. to make sure she got there before the protesters.

“This last year has felt like the other eight put together,” she said.

On Tuesday morning, she sat in a green camp chair next to the driveway, with a waist-high orange and white traffic cone next to her. Olivier, who had started referring to himself as her “media partner” came over.

“What would we be if there was no man here?” escort Kim Gibson said. “At peace.”

“Chaos,” Olivier retorted. “Men run the world. Even just the small amount of authority you’ve been given, look how terrible things have gotten.”

Coleman Boyd, such a frequent presence outside the Pink House that the security guards working there since the ruling have nicknamed him “Ringleader,” came over and started jostling the cone. He sang “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang.

The three security guards who have spent 10 hours a day outside the clinic since June 24 had dubbed the experience “interesting.” One of the anti-abortion protesters repeatedly referred to his “colored” wife over the loudspeaker, and another had told one of the guards, a Black man, that he hadn’t had a father in his life.

“It’s almost like babysitting little children,” said Keswic Farrar. “That’s both sides included. It’s amazing how much they know about each other. They spend so much time hating each other. … apparently everyone’s opinion is the right one.”

“How you gonna insult someone?” said another security guard, who wanted to be identified as KJ. “If your goal is to argue facts and things like that, you can’t resort to petty insults and then say, ‘I’m doing this ‘cause God loves you.’ That ain’t how that works.”

Before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Gibson looked across the street from the parking lot and recognized 79-year-old Dr. Beverly McMillan. In 1975, McMillan started working at the state’s first freestanding abortion clinic.

“I hope you’re happy for what you have wrought here,” Gibson called to her. “Women dying and babies in trash cans.”

McMillan said that she grew up Catholic but was secular when she moved to Jackson. A year after she started working at the abortion clinic, she encountered Christ and returned to reading the Bible. Then, after performing an abortion, she saw a “perfectly formed little biceps.” It reminded her of her youngest son, a 4-year-old who liked to show off his arm muscle.

“I got this sadness,” she said. “I couldn’t do abortions any more.”

By 1980, she had gotten involved in a local pro-life organization. She has regularly prayed the rosary outside the Pink House since it opened. She understood why Gibson had shouted at her, she said, and she would pray for her, too.

Another demonstrator came over to talk.

“Are you the lady that Kim was hollering at earlier?” he asked. Yes, McMillan said. 

“It’s a glorious day,” he said. “I just feel like, go ahead and yell all you want, you know, because it’s a great day.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Trump hints at 2024 run during Saturday visit to Southaven, Mississippi

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rssfeeds.clarionledger.com – Memphis Commercial Appeal – 2022-06-19 07:42:36

Former teased a future run for the White House during a visit to Southaven, Mississippi, on Saturday and continued to call the Jan. 6 Committee hearings a “witch hunt.” 

The former president, speaking during a stop on the for-profit American Freedom Tour, spent time lingering on his electoral defeat in 2020, disputing the results and repeating false claims of voter…

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Abortion provider travels to Jackson for likely final shift

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With Roe on the line, an abortion provider travels to Jackson for what may be her final shift

Dr. Cheryl Hamlin once attended a demonstration against the Iraq War in the Boston Common, but she’s never felt like much of a radical. Then she started providing abortions in Mississippi. 

Hamlin, a 60-year-old OB-GYN at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., spends three days a month at the state’s only clinic in Jackson. Her work places her at the center of a decades-long national war that has culminated in the case poised to overturn the constitutional right to abortion: Dobbs v.

The job is too dangerous for local physicians, so she and other out-of-state doctors fly in on a rotation.  

Though Hamlin always thought being a doctor meant you were supposed to help people, she describes her career as “kind of ordinary.” A mix of idealism, principle and shock at the election of led her to start working in Mississippi in 2017. 

And last week, during what may well have been her final shift here, she wondered how far she would be willing to go to ensure access to abortion remains.

On Monday, June 6, a little before 4 p.m., she leaned over the steering wheel of her rental car as she pulled into the parking lot, in a hurry to get to her patients. They sat in idling sedans and SUVs, cranking up the air conditioning against a hot and sunny afternoon. 

Standing on the sidewalk just beyond the metal fence that surrounds the pink stucco clinic – known around Jackson as the Pink House – Pam Miller watched the doctor drive up. Miller, a 67-year-old grandmother of seven, is a regular presence outside the Pink House, wearing her blue 40 Days For Life baseball cap and clutching a stack of pro-life pamphlets. 

“That’s Cheryl Hamlin,” she said to Zach Boyd, another frequent protester. “She’s just now getting here.”

Hamlin didn’t notice them. And she wasn’t thinking about the seemingly imminent fall of Roe and the end to a constitutional right to abortion in the United States – at least not directly. 

She was thinking about her patients. She felt the extra pressure of knowing that clinics across the Southeast are packed with people seeking abortions, that some of them had driven hours for their appointments, and that soon it could be too late. 

A clinic staffer came out of the building to tell patients they could come inside.

Boyd held out a tan rubber fetus, smaller than his fist. 

“God’s going to judge you,” he called to the clinic employee.

“Why are you worrying about what I’m doing?” she shouted back. “Worry about yourself.”

If the final ruling in Dobbs hews to the draft opinion that leaked in early May, the Pink House will close. The clinic and some of the staff will move to New Mexico. Hamlin will join them there once a month, just as she has done in Mississippi for the last five years.

“I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on that fact,” Hamlin said of the possibility that this shift could be her last in Jackson. “But I guess I’ve been reading too much – it’s starting to affect my mind.”

While Hamlin began work inside the clinic, a young couple waited in their car down the block. As college students, they said, they’re not financially stable. They’re not ready to have a baby. The young woman had called Planned Parenthood in her home state, but they had referred her to Jackson. 

The pregnancy was already causing health complications, and they were thinking about their future. There was nothing any protester or pamphlet could say to change their minds. 

“I feel like everyone thinks that it’s an easy decision,” the woman said. “It’s really not.”

Dr. Cheryl Hamlin gets ready to drive to the airport after completing her shift at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, June 9, 2022. Dr. Hamlin travels from Massachusetts to Jackson to assist patients seeking abortions.

On Wednesday morning, six women sat in high-backed chairs arranged in a semicircle inside a narrow room in the back of the clinic. A purple sign taped to a door said “Everyone loves someone who had an abortion.” 

The patients gripped medical forms or held their hands together on their laps; one rocked back and forth in her seat, and another crossed her legs and jiggled her foot. 

“Hi ladies, how are you doing?” said Hamlin, taking her seat at the front of the room. The doctor has short hair and an air of friendly professionalism. 

“So, I’m Cheryl Hamlin, the doctor for the week, and I’ll be doing your counseling.”

She described the risks of the procedure: infection, blood transfusion, uterine perforation.

“To put it all in perspective, if you were giving birth, I would tell you you have all the same risks, but many more,” she said. 

She delivered the line required by Mississippi law, that abortion increases risk of breast cancer. 

“Nobody thinks it’s true. I’m pretty sure doesn’t think it’s true, but it’s a state law that I say those words,” she told them. She recited another required line: If the only reason for the procedure is financial, “there may be organizations that will assist you as well as the father of the pregnancy should be providing child support.”

Then she turned to what she called “the elephant in the room:” the Supreme Court’s impending decision in the case that started with this clinic. In the best case scenario, she said, the Court will uphold Mississippi’s law and allow it to forbid abortions after 15 weeks. 

Since the Pink House currently provides the procedure through 16 weeks, that outcome wouldn’t make a major difference for the clinic. 

“The more likely and worst-case scenario is they overturn Roe,” she continued. “This clinic, and every clinic through most of the South and Midwest, is going to close.”

She urged her patients to vote. Then she moved on to explain the process for surgical abortions and for medication abortions. 

Next came individual counseling. Each person had a number to indicate her turn in line. Hamlin told them to keep an eye on her office door. Lately, as abortion clinics across the country have cut back services, the Pink House has been busy, and the process is designed for efficiency.

“When she comes out, you go right on in,” she said. “You guys pay attention, don’t wait for me to call you, and we’ll get you right on out of here.”

The individual counseling room is a small office shared between the doctors when they come to the clinic for their shifts. Hamlin sat behind a broad, dark wooden desk. The patients sat in a chair across from her. 

None of the generic furnishings reflected anything of Hamlin; this was the clinic’s office, not hers. 

The fifth patient to talk to Hamlin was a young woman in running shorts.

“Come on in, how are you doing?” Hamlin said.

“Good,” the woman replied as she sat down. 

Hamlin looked at her medical records spread on the desk. 

“You’re 15 weeks, so you have to come…” She paused, glancing up at the monthly calendar taped next to her seat. It was June 8. 

The calendar showed Hamlin’s shift, which would end just before 1 p.m. the next day, and another doctor’s shift on June 10 and 11. But that doctor only performs abortions through 13 weeks.

“So it’ll be the next available…” Hamlin looked at the calendar again. “…is the 16th or 17th. Gosh. You’re 15 – we’re not going to get you in.”

The woman’s face betrayed no emotion. She explained that the nurse who performed her ultrasound had said the doctor might be able to do the procedure on Friday. 

“Aaah,” Hamlin said in a high-pitched tone. “Let me just make sure what I’m saying is true.”

She ran the math in her head: The woman was already 15 weeks pregnant. The next time a doctor at the clinic could perform the procedure, she would be more than 16 weeks pregnant – past the clinic’s cut-off date.

Hamlin left the room. The woman looked at her phone on her lap. 

Two minutes later, Hamlin came back. The patient wouldn’t be able to get an abortion in Jackson.

“But we can help refer you, we have a relationship with Huntsville, Alabama, that can do beyond (16 weeks),” she said.

“OK,” the woman replied. Hamlin guided her out of the room to talk to a staffer about the referral.

These were the limits of choice, even with Roe still technically the law of the land. 

The patient might have waited weeks to get her first appointment at the Pink House because Texans were streaming into every clinic in the South following that state’s recent ban on abortions after six weeks. Then she ran into Mississippi’s mandatory 24-hour waiting period. 

And the threats and harassment directed against local abortion providers meant that when Hamlin flew home to Boston, there would be no one in the state who could or would perform the procedure for days – critical days. 

The Alabama Women’s Center in Huntsville, which performs abortions up to 21 weeks and six days, is more than five hours from Jackson by car. The clinic sees about five patients who have been referred from the Pink House every week, according to its office manager Makeda Harris. 

That state has a 48-hour waiting period, meaning Hamlin’s patient would likely have to spend two nights in an unfamiliar city or make a long round-trip drive twice. 

Hamlin felt terrible realizing that her patient would just barely miss out on being able to get an abortion in Mississippi. 

Cases like this one raised the question of how much she was willing to sacrifice. 

“I could do it today, but it’s a law that I can’t,” she said. “How many hoops do you jump through? … Should I stay a little bit later? I’ve done stuff like that, but you can also make yourself completely insane. If I miss my plane, I’ll be a really unhappy person … You can’t make yourself completely crazy.”

The constraints on the Pink House limit patient options in another way: Because there are so few slots available for surgical appointments, those whose pregnancies are under 11 weeks are urged to opt for a medication abortion. 

That process is safe, but it involves hours of cramping and heavy bleeding, and often lighter bleeding for weeks afterward. 

During Hamlin’s consultations on Wednesday morning, two patients whose pregnancies were early said they were scared of the pills and wanted a surgical abortion. Hamlin said she doesn’t hear that very often, and since the doctor coming in on Friday and Saturday could do the surgeries, she didn’t try to push them to take the pills.

“You want to give people all the choices,” she said. “If just one person does that, no big deal. But if people start coming in for their eight-week, seven-week surgical procedure, pretty soon we’re not going to fit all the 15-weekers in. So it’s always that balance of, how can you help the most people?”

Derenda Hancock, a longtime clinic escort, waits for patients to arrive at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, June 7, 2022.

The war outside the Pink House started years before Hamlin first arrived in Mississippi. 

In the 1980s, Mississippi had more than a dozen abortion clinics. Around the country, the number of providers began to fall as abortion opponents bombed clinics and harassed doctors. States also began imposing strict rules around clinic operations; in 1992, Mississippi passed the country’s first mandatory 24-hour waiting period. 

By the following year, there were only three clinics. And in 2004, the Pink House became the last clinic standing. 

Barbara Beavers, who has protested outside Mississippi’s abortion clinics for decades, remembers those days. She and her husband founded an anti-abortion pregnancy center in 1988. 

At one point, she was a frequent presence outside a building that housed an abortion clinic on the second floor. 

“Maybe a few times I did chase them up the stairs, and say, ‘Come home with us! Come home with us!’” she said, sitting in a camp chair outside the Pink House on Tuesday afternoon. “My husband liberated me to do that, and we’ve had girls in our home.”

“Here, we have to stand here,” she said, reminiscing about the days of easier access to patients. “We have to shout at them for them to hear us.” 

Since Derenda Hancock established the Pink House Defenders in 2013, the volunteers have served as a buffer between patients and the people aiming to dissuade them from entering the clinic. While escorts at other clinics may ignore protesters, the Defenders believe confrontation fights abortion stigma and can help change “the cultural narrative” around abortion.

Since the leaked opinion draft came out in early May, there have been relatively few protesters outside the clinic. Some of them are preaching and passing out supplies in Ukraine. Others, the street preachers, are using the early summer to do yard work. With June being LGBTQ Pride Month, some regulars are busy protesting those events. 

For the escorts, this is a bitter time. Hancock and Kim Gibson, who joined the organization in 2017, have felt for years that this day would come. Now, the world is watching, and it’s too late. 

They’re also exhausted, as the clinic’s operating days have increased from three days a week to five or sometimes six. They guide patients into the parking lot for up to 10 hours at a time while the temperature climbs into the 90s and the shade disappears. 

“We’re just sitting here waiting for the ax,” Hancock said. “It just needs to go ahead.”

When Hamlin started working in Mississippi in 2017, she was motivated by the desire to help people outside of her “pretty nice bubble” in Boston. 

She wanted to practice in a state where access to abortion is limited – so limited that advocates say many people already believe it is illegal here. 

On the morning of Hamlin’s first full day at the clinic, an anti-abortion demonstrator known to the escorts as “Stepper” took up her usual spot down the street from the parking lot entrance. She declined to share her name with Mississippi Today; the nickname comes from her tendency to pace up and down the block as she waits. 

“It’s a lot quieter than I thought it would be,” she said of the period since the leak. “I thought the community would have been all over this. That case is going to put Mississippi on the map.”

Around 9 a.m., a woman wearing a crucifix necklace got out of a car and headed toward the clinic. Stepper called out after her as the driver of the car idled outside the clinic. 

“Do know that God loves you and you can make a different choice,” she said. The woman didn’t look at her. 

“What is this?” asked the woman’s driver, a middle-aged woman who said she works for Uber, while gesturing at the Pink House. The passenger had told her she was going to work. 

“This is an abortion clinic,” Stepper replied.

“I thought they outlawed that,” the driver said.

Brooke Jones poses for a portrait in Pearl, Miss., Wednesday, June 15, 2022. Jones is a nurse at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Brooke Jones, a 28-year-old Jackson native and a nurse at the clinic, spent her afternoon break sitting on the patio with a bag of chips she decided she didn’t want to eat. 

Jones said it feels like everyone at the Pink House is thinking about the upcoming Supreme Court ruling, but not talking about it much. What would she do if Roe were overturned and the clinic closed?

“Cry,” she said. “And not just because this is my job. Because it’s the only clinic in Mississippi.”

Jones has always been pro-choice. She joined the Pink House staff two years ago, thanks to an acquaintance who worked at the clinic and curiosity about what took place there. 

Before that, she worked at group homes for kids. 

“I know the kids they want you to keep and tell you the state is going to help – they treat them like shit,” she said. 

If clinic director Shannon Brewer approves, Jones wants to move to New Mexico to work at the new facility Brewer and Pink House owner Diane Derzis are opening there. She’s made a list of pros and cons, and doesn’t see many cons. It’s a chance to keep doing the work she knows how to do and experience life in a new state. 

In the meantime, she keeps coming to work. Every morning and every afternoon, she walks past the protesters. She’s memorized their lines. 

“‘You can find something else, we can help you, let’s get you something else, you do not need the blood of innocent lives on your hands!’” she recited. “I’m like, ‘shut the hell up.’”

They don’t bother her, but patients sometimes say they were already scared and the protesters made it worse, she said.

Jones gestured toward Beavers, who was sitting in her camp chair by the fence. 

“She’s going to sit there until everybody clocks out and walks to their car,” she said. 

Then Jones went back to work to prepare for the afternoon’s surgical procedures. 

Beavers, a leader of the pregnancy center movement in Mississippi, was hoping to get women to turn toward the Cline Center, a crisis pregnancy center across the street from the clinic, where they could get a free ultrasound. Around the country, these centers aim to dissuade women from seeking abortions and often offer supplies and parenting classes. 

Now, they are the centerpiece of what Gov. Tate Reeves calls a “new pro-life agenda.” 

The state’s nearly 40 centers can receive up to $3.5 million in tax credits thanks to a bill passed in the most recent legislative session. They are not regulated by the state department of health, and there are no rules or reporting requirements on how they spend the money. 

Beavers said that after Roe falls, she wants to see the pro-life movement focus on helping women who have had abortions deal with “this hurt and this pain.” She has been praying for “revival.”

While Beavers has her priorities, Hamlin and those who work with her see a bigger problem to address: the lack of access in Mississippi, the state ranked at the bottom of most health indicators and one of only 12 that has not expanded .

When Hamlin started working in Mississippi, she was shocked to meet so many patients who didn’t have health insurance, which meant they couldn’t afford to see a regular OB-GYN and often weren’t sure how to get or pay for birth control. 

But Beavers doesn’t see much value in paying for people to get health care. 

“We’re giving money to have babies without husbands, in my opinion,” she said. 

“You can get health care in Mississippi,” she continued. “… They’re getting all their money from the government anyhow.”

Around 5 p.m., Beavers packed up and left for her weekly “post-abortion healing meeting” with women who have had abortions. They are told that accepting that they killed their child “is the first step in grieving,” according to a lesson plan Beavers shared.

Not long after Beavers left, a 24-year-old woman walked out of the clinic holding a bag of pills and started down the block toward her car. She had just taken the first pill involved in a medication abortion, and within the next 48 hours she would take the second set. 

“I’m young, and I already have children. I’m a single mother,” she said. “And it’s already basically hard for me. I’ve barely got my head above water, with the high gas prices and basically we’re in a recession, they just don’t want to admit it … I think it would be selfish to bring another child into this world, and I’m knowing that I’m not able, physically or emotionally or mentally.”

Even making $15 an hour, she was just scraping by, she said. 

Growing up in Jackson, she saw the anti-abortion protesters around town from time to time. They once posted up outside her high school with big posters of fetuses, which felt to her like harassment. 

She had mostly managed to ignore them walking into her appointments at the clinic. When she heard them offer help, she didn’t believe it. Would they help her pay for housing and child care? Would they do that for the dozens of people who visited the clinic every week? 

“Y’all don’t know us by a cat or a dog walking down the street,” she said. “When they go home, they’re living comfortably, without a care in the world, besides what’s going on with our bodies.”

If Roe falls, advocates expect the nearest abortion clinic will be in southern Illinois, a seven-hour drive from Jackson. Would she make trip? 

“I would go,” she said. 

A demonstrator stops a car as they arrive at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, June 7, 2022.

Just before 8:45 a.m. on what might end up being her final day working at the clinic, Hamlin turned off State Street and angled into the clinic parking lot. As the escorts waved her to her parking spot, 78-year-old David Lane left his place across the street and walked toward the driveway. 

“Cheryl, you need to quit killing the babies!” he called. “You’ll answer for every child you’ve ever killed. Won’t you repent and quit killing the babies?”

As Hamlin got out of her car, escorts stood nearby, eyeing Lane. Because the protesters aren’t allowed to cross onto clinic property, Lane kept shouting at Hamlin from yards away. 

“We know you make a lot of money, but it won’t do you any good when you’re in a casket and your soul burns in hell for dying as a murderer. Won’t you quit?”

Lane had no megaphone—the protesters who’d left for Ukraine typically brought that. Hamlin couldn’t even hear him, but that didn’t matter to Lane: He shouted at her as a matter of duty and custom. 

Hamlin disappeared into the clinic, and Lane shuffled back to his chair. He understands why the clinic’s doctors must travel from out of state. He helped make it that way. 

“Nobody will do abortions from Mississippi here because they’d get recognized. They don’t like people coming to their house,” he said. “We go to the neighborhoods and tell everybody in the neighborhood what they do. They don’t like that. But if it’ll get rid of them, and it’s legal, we’ll do it.”

The likely closure of the Pink House will change Lane’s life, and that of his brother, Doug, who also protests regularly. Before Doug left for Ukraine two weeks earlier, the brothers were driving down the road together. Doug put his arm around David’s shoulder, and David could tell he was about to cry.

“He said, ‘David, I’m sorry that we didn’t get to do what we planned,’” Lane recalled. “And our daddy raised us hunting and fishing. And what we wanted to do was retire one day, and go hunting and fishing. But now we come here.”

He paused to envision the world after the Court rules in Dobbs. 

“So I’ll, maybe I’ll get to do a little hunting, and maybe I’ll get to do a little fishing.”

Hamlin walked out of the clinic just before 1 p.m. on Thursday. The parking lot was nearly empty. The escorts had left for the day. There were no protesters damning her to hell. 

As she started the 20-minute drive to the airport, she thought about her work in Mississippi and what might come next. 

In what she considered an otherwise standard career, performing abortions in Mississippi had, from the very beginning, felt bold. When she applied for her license to practice here, she almost hoped it wouldn’t arrive. Then it came in the mail.

“I’m like, ‘OK, here we go,’” she said.  

Now, she was questioning how bold she was willing to be.

“I do feel like this is bigger than just abortion rights, and it really scares me,” she said. “And I’m feeling like … for the first time, questioning … How far am I going to take this? Would I do something illegal? I mean, I don’t know. Right now I don’t think I want to. I’m going to try to do everything through legal means. But…”

She paused.

“I guess at some point, if it’s really people’s lives at stake, I might.”

At the rental car drop-off, she got her duffel bag and backpack out of the Honda and retrieved a stray Earl Gray tea bag from the passenger seat. She walked across the parking lot into the airport, up the escalator and past the bust of Medgar Evers to security, a route she’s taken dozens of times before. She finished a can of seltzer, dropped it in a trash can, and headed for home. 

She wasn’t sure when she would be back in Jackson. If Roe falls, the Pink House will close, and she’ll go to New Mexico for her next rotation. 

But during her shift, she asked Brewer if she ought to buy tickets for July, just in case the Court doesn’t overturn Roe. Brewer said yes. So Hamlin left her spare t-shirts, running shoes, shampoo and toothbrush in the doctors’ shared apartment and booked her next trip to Jackson. 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Thompson tells the world what happened on Jan. 6, 2021

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‘An attempted coup’: Rep. Bennie Thompson tells the world what happened on Jan. 6, 2021

The eyes of the world were on Rep. Bennie Thompson, the longtime congressman from Mississippi, on Thursday night as the special House committee he chairs held a prime-time hearing regarding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Thompson’s bipartisan committee began laying out a seven-point case Thursday night they say will show former ’s efforts to overturn his defeat and keep himself in office.

“Donald Trump was at the center of that conspiracy,” Thompson said. “And ultimately, Donald Trump — the president of the United States — spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy.”

The committee showed dramatic video of how the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group, led the attack on the Capitol. They also heard the emotional testimony of a U.S. Capitol officer who suffered a brain injury during the attack.

“What I saw was a war scene,” said Caroline Edwards, one of the more than 150 officers injured in the rampage. “I saw officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up … I was slipping in people’s blood … it was carnage, it was chaos.”

Before the hearing — broadcast live on nearly every major American network with the exception of Fox — began, Thompson convened the meeting with a powerful speech.

Below is a transcript of his remarks.


“Thanks to everyone watching tonight for sharing part of your evening, to learn about the facts and causes of the events leading up to and including the violent attack on January 6th, 2021 — on our democracy, electoral system, and country. 

I am Bennie Thompson, chairman of the January 6, 2021, Committee. I was born, raised and still live in Bolton, Mississippi, a town with a population of 521, which is midway between Jackson and Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the Mississippi River. 

I am from a part of the country where people justified the actions of , the Ku Klux Klan and lynching. I’m reminded of that dark history as I hear voices today try and justify the actions of the insurrectionists on January 6, 2021. 

Over the next few weeks, hopefully you will get to know the other members, my colleagues up here, and me. We represent a diversity of communities from all over the United States — rural areas and cities — east coast, west coast, and the heartland. 

All of us have one thing in common: We swore the same oath. The same oath that all members of Congress take upon taking office and afterward every two years if they are reelected. We swore an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic. 

The words of the current oath taken by all of us — that nearly every United States government employee takes — have their roots in the . Throughout our history, the United States has fought against foreign enemies to preserve our democracy, electoral system, and country. 

When the United States Capitol was stormed and burned in 1814, foreign enemies were responsible. Afterward, in 1862, when American citizens had taken up arms against this country, Congress adopted a new oath to help make sure no person who had supported the rebellion could hold a position of public trust. Therefore, congresspersons and U.S. federal government employees were required for the first time to swear an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies — foreign and domestic. 

That oath was put to the test on January 6, 2021. 

The police officers who held the line that day honored their oaths. Many came out of that day bloodied and broken. They still bear those wounds, visible and invisible. They did their duty. They repelled the mob and ended the occupation of the Capitol. They defended the Constitution against domestic enemies so that Congress could return, uphold our own oaths, and count your votes to ensure the transfer of power — just as we’ve done for hundreds of years. 

But unlike in 1814, it was domestic enemies of the Constitution who stormed and occupied the Capitol, who sought to thwart the will of the people, to stop the transfer of power. And they did so at the encouragement of the president of the United States. The president of the United States, trying to stop the transfer of power — a precedent that had stood for 220 years, even as our democracy has faced its most difficult tests. 

Thinking back again to the Civil War, in the summer of 1864, the president of the United States was staring down what he believed would be a doomed bid for reelection. He believed his opponent, General George McClellan, would wave the white when it came to preserving the Union. 

But even with that grim fate hanging in the balance, President Lincoln was ready to accept the will of the voters, come what may. He made a quiet pledge. He wrote down the words, “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the president elect….” It will be my duty. 

Lincoln sealed that memo and asked his cabinet secretaries to sign it, sight unseen. He asked them to make the same commitment he did: to accept defeat if indeed defeat was the will of the people. To uphold the rule of law. To do what every other president who came before him did, and what every president who followed him would do. 

Until Donald Trump. 

Donald Trump lost the presidential election in 2020. The American people voted him out of office. It was not because of a rigged system. It was not because of voter fraud. Don’t believe me? Hear what his former had to say about it, and I’ll warn those watching that this contains strong language. 

Bill Barr. On Election Day 2020, he was attorney general of the United States — the top law enforcement official in the country, telling the president exactly what he thought about claims of a stolen election.

Donald Trump had his days in court to challenge the results. He was within his rights to seek those judgments. In the United States, law-abiding citizens have those tools for pursuing justice. He lost in the courts just as he did at the ballot box. And in this country, that’s the end of the line. 

But for Donald Trump, that was only the beginning of what became a sprawling, multi-step conspiracy aimed at overturning the presidential election, aimed at throwing out the votes of millions of Americans — your votes, your voice in our democracy — and replacing the will of the American people with his will to remain in power after his term ended. 

Donald Trump was at the center of that conspiracy. And ultimately, Donald Trump — the president of the United States — spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down the Capitol and subvert American democracy. 

Any legal jargon you hear about “seditious conspiracy,” “obstruction of an official proceeding,” “conspiracy to defraud the United States” boils down to this: January 6 was the culmination of an attempted coup. A brazen attempt, as one rioter put it shortly after January 6, “to overthrow the government.” 

The violence was no . It represented Trump’s last, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power. 

Now, you may hear those words and think, “This is just another political attack on Donald Trump by people who don’t like him.” That’s not the case. My colleagues and I all wanted an outside, independent commission to investigate January 6, similar to what we had after 9/11. 

But after first agreeing to the idea, Donald Trump’s allies in Congress put a stop to it. Apparently, they don’t want January 6 investigated at all. 

And, in the last 17 months, many of those same people have tried to whitewash what happened on January 6 — to rewrite history, call it a tourist visit, label it “legitimate political discourse.” 

Donald Trump and his followers have adopted the words of the songwriter: “Do you believe me or your lying eyes?”

We can’t sweep what happened under the rug. The American people deserve answers. 

So I come before you this evening not as a Democrat, but as an American who swore an oath to defend the Constitution. The Constitution doesn’t protect just Democrats or just Republicans. It protects all of us. “We the People.” 

And this scheme was an attempt to undermine the will of the people.”

READ MORE: Rep. Bennie Thompson, leading the public Jan. 6 hearings, has long worked to protect democracy

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Rep. Bennie Thompson leads public Jan. 6 hearings

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Rep. Bennie Thompson, leading the public Jan. 6 hearings, has long worked to protect democracy

Reuben Anderson, Mississippi’s first African American Supreme Court justice of the modern era, had the responsibility of introducing former President Bill Clinton at the recent memorial ceremony for his longtime friends, Gov. and First Lady William and Elise Winter.

Before making that introduction, Anderson said he wanted to recognize “my congressman.” He described 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson as “the most unusual politician you will ever meet. He is not interested in getting rich. He is not interested in a higher office, and he shuns publicity.”

Reasonable people can differ on whether Anderson was being overly generous of “a fella I have known for over 50 years,” but what is not debatable is that Thompson will not be able to shun publicity this week.

Thompson, the Bolton native who has held the 2nd Congressional District post since 1993, will be at the center of attention as the special committee he chairs holds prime-time hearings beginning Thursday on the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by those trying to prevent the certification of the 2020 presidential election. A big part of the committee’s work centers around the role of former and his allies in the attack.

READ MORE: Rep. Bennie Thompson tapped to lead committee investigating Jan. 6 riot

Thursday’s hearing begins at 7 p.m. It and a separate hearing next week will be carried live by most major networks and cable channels — with the notable exception of Fox News.

“I want, as an African American, to be able to say to the world that I helped stabilize our government when insurrectionists tried to take over,” Thompson recently told CNN of the hearings.

Thompson — the dean of the Mississippi congressional delegation and indeed someone who has worked to avoid the limelight — has built his long political career on protecting democracy.

As a young adult in the 1960s, he worked to register African Americans to vote and to ensure votes were counted. Now leading the Jan. 6 Commission, he is effectively doing similar work: ensuring that legally cast votes are counted and that the nation’s representative democracy is protected from any future efforts to overturn the results of an election.

During a 2018 Mississippi Today interview, Thompson recalled in the 1960s as a Tougaloo College political science student working in the Mississippi Delta trying to register people to vote on behalf of icon Fannie Lou Hamer’s congressional bid.

“I was talking to my mother, and she was saying you know we don’t vote here in Bolton,” Thompson recalled. “It was a shock to me that I was up in Sunflower County helping register Black people to vote, and even in my hometown they didn’t enjoy the same luxury.”

Thompson’s auto mechanic father, who died in 1964 — the same year of passage of the federal Rights Act designed to ensure racial minorities were not denied the right to vote — never got to vote. His mother, a schoolteacher, did, and most likely her first vote cast was for her son when he ran and was elected to the board of aldermen in his hometown of Bolton in 1969.

While Thompson won that election, it took a ruling of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to ensure victory for him and for two other African Americans elected that year in Bolton.

Thursday’s Jan. 6 Commission hearings could be viewed as a continuation of Bennie Thompson’s life’s work in terms of trying to ensure fair elections.

“I’m a passionate believer that in a democracy you have to follow the rule of law,” Thompson recently told NPR. “It has nothing to do with individuals. It has nothing to do with wealth. It has nothing to do with status in the community. It’s the law. The law is colorblind.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Will Trump endorse in GOP midterm runoffs?

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Trump coming to Mississippi. Will he endorse in GOP midterm runoffs?

Former , headlining his “American Freedom Tour,” is scheduled to be in Southaven on June 18.

This visit comes ahead of Mississippi’s June 28 GOP primary runoffs, with two incumbent Republican congressmen struggling to keep their seats. With Trump remaining popular with Mississippi Republicans, his endorsement in either race could be a deciding factor for incumbents or challengers.

Incumbent Rep. Michael Guest trailed Republican challenger Michael Cassidy in unofficial results from Tuesday 46.6% to 47.8%, forcing a runoff with no candidate breaking 50%. Cassidy, a former Navy pilot, tried to run to the right of Guest, including criticizing Guest for with Democrats to create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by those trying to overturn Trump’s loss to .

Incumbent Rep. Steven Palazzo is headed to a runoff with Sheriff Mike Ezell. Palazzo led Ezell 31.6% to 25.2% in unofficial results, with the two topping a crowded field of Republican challengers to Palazzo. Palazzo drew numerous challengers in part because he has faced an ethics investigation over allegations he misspent campaign and congressional money and misused his office.

Trump’s only endorsement in Tuesday’s Mississippi midterm primaries was for incumbent 1st District Rep. Trent , who handily won his primary with 90% of the vote.

Trump carried Mississippi with 58% of the vote in 2020, and to date, candidates he has endorsed and campaigned for here — including Gov. Tate Reeves and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith twice — have won. On Tuesday, all 16 candidates he endorsed for midterm primaries held by seven states won, although most were, like Kelly, strongly favored to win.

Trump’s American Freedom Tour event is billed as being for Memphis on the group’s website, but is set to be held at the Landers Center in Southaven on June 18 from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The event includes some free access with pre-registration required, but also includes special paid access and seating ranging from $1,295 for the “chamber” level to $3,995 for the presidential level.

The daylong event schedule includes roundtable discussions, meet-and-greet and photo ops and speeches. Speakers include Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, conservative commentators and authors Candace Owens and Dinesh D’Souza.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Phil Bryant’s star-powered selfies didn’t Save the Children

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Phil Bryant’s star-powered selfies and slick brochures didn’t Save the Children

As Jennifer Garner spoke about growing up and her family’s narrow escape from poverty in West Virginia, a C-SPAN camera panned over to then-Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. 

From across the room, Bryant held up his cellphone with both arms, capturing video of the “13 Going on 30” actress on his device.

Garner and Bryant were together at a panel on early childhood education at the 2017 National Governors Association meeting in Washington.

As many politicians do, Bryant liked to leverage his proximity to celebrities like country music singers, star athletes and even a reality TV personality to advance his agenda. 

When it was his turn to speak, Bryant began by name-checking a low-income grandmother Garner had recently met in the Mississippi Delta town of Mound Bayou. Tracy Price’s grandchildren attended the nearby elementary school where Garner read to students during her visit.

“I hope Tracy Price is doing good,” Bryant said. “We sent Tracy a selfie yesterday so Jennifer could tell them she’s gone to the top of the government in Mississippi to make sure Tracy gets help.”

Garner beamed, nodding her head. Bryant’s comment suggested that Garner – the kind of “elite Hollywood liberal” that conservatives often mock – had some pull with the governor, that someone with her stardom wielded influence in the Magnolia State.

But like many low-income parents who were systematically denied government benefits during Bryant’s administration, Price did not, in fact, “get help.” 

“Jennifer came to my house,” Price, 62, told Mississippi Today when the publication found her in January. “But I have gotten nothing from anybody since then. I have not received a thing. … Nothing. I had my grandkids here and I was losing my house and everything. They never reached out to me.”

When Garner arrived at her home, Price added, “I had no idea who she was.”

Actress Jennifer Garner (left) visited Tracy Price (second from left), a grandmother living in the Mississippi Delta town of Mound Bayou, in 2016 as part of her work with humanitarian nonprofit Save the Children. They posed with another Save the Children
Then-Gov. Phil Bryant said Garner “went to the top of the government in Mississippi to make sure” the grandmother received help, but none ever came.

A few months after Bryant and Garner’s exchange in Washington, Bryant’s office arranged for the Mississippi Department of Human Services to start awarding welfare money to the international nonprofit that Garner represented in the meeting. The organization would later give Bryant a shiny award.

Save the Children, a century-old and well-regarded humanitarian organization, has received about $2 million in funding from Mississippi’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant since then.

TANF, the subject of a sprawling fraud investigation in Mississippi, is an anti-poverty program best known for providing direct cash assistance to poor families.

When Save the Children came on the welfare scene, the state was denying more than 98% of poor families applying for the cash benefit while investigators say officials were misspending and embezzling millions from the program. On Bryant’s watch, more than $70 million that the welfare agency passed through two private nonprofits was misspent, according to independent auditors.

Unlike the more conspicuous welfare contractors, Save the Children received its welfare funding directly from the welfare agency for legitimate literacy, after-school and summer programs. Auditors did not find any of its funding was improper. 

But a deeper look at Save the Children’s connection to the welfare program reveals how Bryant used the group to project an image that his administration was implementing innovative approaches to battling chronic poverty and nationally recognized early childhood development, even though the plan never got off the ground. Mississippi remains near the bottom of most national rankings dealing with early childhood development and well-being.

Price said she was initially turned off by Save the Children’s involvement in Mississippi, since the international group is best known for using private donations to aid and educate children in war-torn countries and after natural disasters.

“My whole thing was I kept asking, ‘Why do we have to save the world?’” Price told Mississippi Today. “We can start saving stuff right here. We’ve got a need here. … Charity starts at home.”

But less prominently, Save the Children also operates as a government contractor across the United States.

Save the Children says it has served people in Mississippi for more than 80 years, and former officials and advocates told Mississippi Today the organization really elevated its state presence in 2005 during the aftermath of Hurricane . It most notably raised private money to build a new child care center on the Coast. The group also took over the federally funded Head Start Center in Sunflower in 2014 after it won the federal grant over the local organization that ran it before.

Ever since, Save the Children has received funding from the Mississippi Department of Education to provide literacy, nutrition and fitness programming in Mississippi’s notoriously underfunded public school system. Reports show it also runs a home-visiting program to coach parents on the best early childhood practices. Save the Children says it matches the public funding it gets with private dollars, almost 2-to-1 in Mississippi, to boost its state programs.

In 2020, Save the Children reported that 91% of 3-year-olds who spent at least one year in its “Early Steps” program had an average or above average vocabulary.

“I have never met a parent that didn’t want to give their child the best possible start in life, but many that just don’t know how. So that’s why these programs are so important,” said Yolanda Minor, Save the Children’s Mississippi State Director. “… We go in and assess the parent, build their self-confidence, provide those age-appropriate activities.”

Current Gov. Tate Reeves awarded the charity more than $460,000 from the Governor’s Emergency Education Response (GEER) pandemic relief funds in 2021. Since current MDHS director Bob Anderson took over and promised to clean up the agency, Save the Children is one of the few welfare grantees introduced during the scandal who is still receiving TANF grants through a newly implemented competitive bid process. In its 2020 application for TANF funding, Save the Children said it employs 160 people in Mississippi and serves 7,529 children and parents.

Save the Children fits as a TANF recipient because in addition to the “welfare check,” states may use the federal dollars for a variety of services including child care, workforce training, transportation, parenting classes and aid to children at risk of abuse and neglect.

Mississippi Today examined Save the Children’s introduction into the welfare landscape, and like all subgrantees at the time, the charity did not have to win a competitive bid to receive funding. They just had to have the governor’s ear.

Emails show Bryant and his education policy adviser Laurie Smith had a hand in channeling welfare funds to Save the Children for the first time in 2017.

Smith, originally from Arizona, was a public school teacher who eventually served as director of Mississippi Building Blocks, an early education and child care center training program launched in 2008 by former Netscape CEO and philanthropist Jim Barksdale’s reading institute.* 

Gov. Bryant’s publicly stated policy preferences – “school choice” and resistance to fully-funding – were opposite those Barksdale endorsed. Yet the governor eventually tapped Smith as his education policy adviser in 2012. 

Smith, who led both the State Early Childhood Advisory Council and the State Workforce Investment Board for Bryant, had great control and decision-making power in her position in the governor’s cabinet.

They seemed to take a special interest in keeping tax dollars flowing to Save the Children. 

“The Governor, through Laurie’s advice, helped us obtain some TANF funding the past year or so and have been able to use those funds to sustain programs as legislative appropriations have decreased over time,” a lobbyist for Save the Children wrote in an email to former MDHS director Davis in November of 2018. 

Save the Children had been receiving a $150,000 direct allocation within the Legislature’s annual education appropriations bill, but in 2018, it was reduced to $50,000.

Trevor Moe, Save the Children’s Managing Director of Partnership Development, told Mississippi Today that it is not unusual for the organization to press leaders to find the funding so it can keep providing services to kids in need. While Save the Children does refer families to other resources, they keep a narrow focus on kids.

“Our approach to dealing with governors, elected officials, is … we’re very zealous about advocating for rural kids – unabashedly so,” he said.

Price said Save the Children selected her as a parent advocate in 2016 because of her involvement at one of the schools it served. 

Years later, during a particularly difficult time in her life near the beginning of the pandemic, Price sent an email to the organization.

“I would love to do more but I am struggling to hold my life together,” Price wrote. “I have nobody to help me … Jen said that she would never forget me yet I knew that we would never meet again. Who helps us in our own country? … I am rich at heart but struggling to make ends meet. I have never reached out to anyone. Can your world wide organization help me?”

Price said she never received a response.

Garner has served as an ambassador for Save the Children for more than a decade, with a focus on early childhood development, an area of special concern in Mississippi. Science shows that the first five years of a child’s life is the most critical for brain development. Experts say that supporting development in a child’s earliest years, even before pre-K, is an effective way of interrupting generational poverty. 

Today, more than one in four Mississippi children live in poverty, the highest rate in the nation. For Black children, the poverty rate is 43%. 

There are several agencies that operate public programs for the youngest Mississippians: the health department has an early intervention program; provides health insurance and case management; some public schools offer pre-K through what are called Early Learning Collaboratives; and local community organizations operate federally funded Head Start programs for low-income families.

But the state’s private child care industry, which does not receive a direct allocation in state or federal budgets, is an often overlooked avenue for helping the tens of thousands of babies and young kids it impacts on a daily basis.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services, which saw massive misspending and allegations during the Bryant administration, is in charge of the federal fund that props up these private child care centers in low-income areas.

The fund, the Child Care Development Fund, provides vouchers to working class parents so they can afford the child care that allows them to keep a job. The agency’s child care division also grants some of the money to centers that qualify so they can make improvements in accordance with a state plan and quality rating system the division develops.

During his administration, Bryant acknowledged the importance of early education and claimed Mississippi was making progress in that arena. He singled out Save the Children as a key player in making it happen.

At that 2017 governor’s meeting, he held up an orange and fuschia booklet with a wordy title in white letters across the front: “Family Based Unified and Integrated Early Childhood System.”

“The great thing about Save the Children is, we have a statewide plan,” he said, pamphlet in hand. “We worked three years on this, for early childhood learning in the state of Mississippi and this program fits exactly into this plan. It was almost as if, through fate, perhaps divine intervention, that Save the Children came to be a part of this.”

The plan included several components but the main objective was two-fold: To usher in a new child care quality rating system, replacing an old controversial policy, and to increase training opportunities in private child care centers so the employees can appropriately educate, not just supervise, the kids in their care. The less-than-novel concept mirrored the Building Blocks program Smith previously ran. They called this new training effort Early Childhood Academies, which purported to partner with Families First for Mississippi, the program that was misspending tens of millions of TANF funds.

“We’ve been creative in the funding,” Bryant said in the meeting. “We use TANF. Delta Regional Authority has been a part of this. Private funds. Wherever we can find funds, we go and do so.”

The previous quality rating system, which rated centers one through five stars and provided higher reimbursement rates to centers who scored higher, had proved unsuccessful. Fewer than half of centers participated, and advocates complained that the policy worsened racial inequity and offered few resources to actually help centers improve. A 2016 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights investigation into Mississippi’s child care voucher program found that “far too many eligible children are not serviced by the subsidy program, and that the money that should support this eligible population of children is redirected elsewhere.”

The new system was to rate centers either “standard” or “comprehensive.” Standard centers would meet minimum guidelines, plus additional training and professional development, while comprehensive centers would provide more staff coaching and conduct child assessments, among other requirements. Centers would have to rate as standard to participate in the voucher program while comprehensive centers would receive higher reimbursement rates. 

Mississippi received a federal $10.6 million Preschool Development Grant at the end of 2018 to implement the plan. 

But the idea, concocted by Laurie Smith and data scientist Mimmo Parisi of the governor-appointed State Early Childhood Advisory Council, barely materialized. The former council’s website, along with the reports and information it published at that time, was eventually wiped from the internet.

“Everybody interested in participating in the comprehensive plan was invited to a luncheon,” said Amy Berry, director of Little Saints Academy, which received $5,000 through the grant to buy a laminator among other equipment. “They served really nice food, gave us little plaques, gave us all kinds of little trinkets and stuff. They were just spending the money, in essence.”

State leadership placed the grant under the Mississippi Community College Board. The board then hired Austin Smith, the nephew of then-MDHS director John Davis, to serve as the program manager.

Austin Smith (no known relation to Laurie Smith) was also hired to develop a “coding academy” for Families First for Mississippi, the MDHS-funded program that perpetuated the welfare scandal. A forensic audit of the department showed that his employment history included restaurants, a canoe rental company and his father’s landscaping business and suggested he was not qualified to conduct this work. Austin Smith received an auditor’s office demand to repay the state almost $380,000.

His uncle, Davis, also a Bryant appointee, is currently awaiting trial in what officials have called the largest public embezzlement case in state history.

The FBI also investigated the board’s spending of the preschool grant in 2020, former Mississippi Community College Board Director Andrea Mayfield told Mississippi Today, but have not made any public allegations surrounding it.

Behind the scenes of the preschool grant, communication shows Laurie Smith was calling the shots with a particular interest in Save the Children. Mayfield, another Bryant appointee who chaired the governor’s workforce board that Laurie Smith directed, worked closely with Smith to carry out her vision.

“Hi- will you continue with save the children funding?” Laurie Smith texted Davis on June 21, 2019, just a few days before investigators would administer his first polygraph test and he would be forced out of office. “I’m going to have pdg (Preschool Development Grant) pay for some additional work.”

Mississippi Today requested all expenditure documents, invoices and receipts pertaining to the Preschool Development Grant funding. Save the Children does not appear as a direct subgrant recipient. The organization said it never received this funding.

Under the grant, the community colleges sent trainers out to participating child care centers to work with the staff and read to the children, but Berry said the training her center received was too sporadic and short lived to result in meaningful progress. Much of the money also went to private day care centers to buy equipment like printers and laptops or supplies like ink and markers. 

About $190,000 went to Mississippi Community Education Center founded by Nancy New, a key figure in Mississippi’s unraveling welfare scandal. Records show the nonprofit used most of the money to purchase commodities and equipment for child care centers. 

Overall, Mississippi spent only about 60% of the preschool funds it was awarded, the final expenditure report shows, leaving about $4.2 million unspent.

“There was nothing beyond giving child care centers furniture,” Deloris Suel, owner of Prep Company Tutorial School in Jackson, said of the grant. “That was the biggest part of it.”

Near the end of Bryant’s last term in October of 2019, then- appointed Laurie Smith to lead the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau. Now, she’s a partner at Bryant’s lobbying company; her work with Building Blocks is absent from her staff profile on the firm’s website. 

Laurie Smith declined to interview for this story, but she sent the following statement: “Although I wasn’t there at the time, once the decision to not move forward with the comprehensive model was made, returning federal taxpayer dollars seems like a responsible decision.”

By the end of the grant period in early 2020, the department had still failed to designate any centers as “comprehensive,” and the rating system was soon abandoned. The state was relying on an additional $10 million federal grant it applied for in late 2019 in hopes of keeping the plan intact. Save the Children representatives said they had discussed working under this grant with state leaders, and even assisted Mississippi with its application.

In a recent interview with Mississippi Today, Bryant said that the state secured $50 million for this early childhood program – which records show is not true. Laurie Smith also told Mississippi Today in 2019 that the state would be going after a $50 million grant, but it only applied for $10 million.

The government eventually rejected Mississippi’s application and the whole operation collapsed. 

“It was a complete failure to launch,” said Debbie Ellis, owner of Greenwood child care center The Learning Tree and leader of a coalition of providers in the Mississippi Delta. “And it set us back years.”

Today, there is no child care quality rating system in Mississippi.

Yet, Bryant was still touting the defunct program as recently as December 2020. 

“When I was governor, I helped create the Family Based Unified and Integrated Early Childhood System, which connects and integrates resources and services for both parents/caregivers and their children,” Bryant said well after the grant was over and the program ceased to function. “This system was expanded as Mississippi secured a $10.6 million federal Preschool Development Grant. This grant funding is helping to strengthen the state’s early childhood systems and improve access and quality for Mississippi families with children age five and under.”

Mississippi Today informed Bryant that no centers ever received the comprehensive designation. “If you’re telling me some government program didn’t work properly, I’m not saying that they always do,” Bryant told Mississippi Today.

Bryant did characterize the program as a success because, he said, “I was told that it was.”

“Dr. (Laurie) Smith managed that and from every report I got was doing a very good job,” Bryant said.

Asked how he knew, during his administration, if reports he received about the efficacy of his programs were honest, he responded, “You don’t. It’s impossible.”

Bryant also said he didn’t know that the community college board had placed Austin Smith, who according to the forensic audit had little experience in this kind of programming, over the management of the grant or that the state failed to spend 40% of the funding.

Ellis said the early childhood development plan’s purpose was little more than to make Mississippi politicians and bureaucrats look good, “to look like they were doing something no one else had been able to do.”

“And they were not,” she said. “They actually did nothing but print beautiful brochures and tout a program throughout the nation that never launched in Mississippi.”

In October of 2019, Save the Children awarded Bryant the “Champion for Children Award” for being a leader in child advocacy.

In an email to Mississippi Today, Save the Children said Bryant’s efforts with the Early Childhood Academies made him the right candidate for one of their awards. 

The organization also praised Bryant for the reduced caseload at Child Protection Services, an agency that remains out of compliance with a federal settlement due to underfunding; reading gains ushered in after the controversial “third grade reading gate”; and the Early Learning Collaboratives, public pre-K programs set up by the Legislature in 2013.

The state most recently ranked 39th in the nation for preschool access for 4-year-olds and 42nd for state spending in early childhood education, according to the The National Institute for Early Education Research annual preschool report.

Mississippi ranked last in the nation for overall child well-being in The Casey Foundation’s 2021 KIDS COUNT report. 

But there is some hope for progress today. In 2021, the state doubled its investment in pre-K. MDHS also recently announced it is developing a new curriculum for child care centers with a $5 million grant to Mississippi State University, calling it the “first step in a strategic partnership for early childhood development.”

Back at the 2017 governor’s meeting in Washington, Garner told stories about visiting the homes of poor families and encouraging often stressed-out moms to talk, read and play with their babies. This is the cornerstone of the work Save the Children has been doing in the Mississippi Delta.

Garner described the homes as having “not an ounce of sound or joy in the place.”

“When we walk into these homes, you would be suffocated by the silence in the rooms,” she said.

Mississippi Today shared the video with Price, who had no idea that Mississippi’s governor had mentioned her in a national broadcast. She said she never received a “selfie” from the governor or Garner. 

Price also said Garner is mistaken when it comes to the Mississippi homes and families she knows. 

“Jen missed the mark. Said too much incorrect fluff that leads any reader or listeners to the wrong conclusion,” Price wrote in a text message. “We struggle to survive but proudly. There is a lot of talent here but no opportunity.”

Save the Children told Mississippi Today that Garner was not available for an interview for this story.

Price was born in Jackson but grew up and went to college in California. There, she spent 29 years working for the same telephone provider until the company abruptly laid her off in 2008. A single mom of a teenager, Price moved back to Mississippi to be with family and wound up in Bolivar County, a particularly economically ravaged part of the Delta.

Now, Price takes care of her two grandchildren, 15 and 13, while their mom finds work elsewhere.

Price said she almost lost her home a few years ago due to a squabble with the previous owners. She now owns the house, which is situated on an isolated piece of property out in the county.

But with the little income she pulls from disability payments, she’s struggled to afford upkeep. The house needs plumbing and siding repairs, but as Mississippi Today has previously reported, home rehabilitation programs for low-income families are sparse in Mississippi.

Price had to take out high interest debt that she would like to consolidate and refinance, but she said lenders have locked her out of opportunities. She said she worked to get her credit score well into the 700s, then a recent $9,000 medical bill for one of the children caused it to drop again. She started a trucking business in 2017 but said she’s been unable to get business loans to purchase the necessary equipment to keep it running. The company didn’t qualify for any of the pandemic relief, either.

“Society has suppressed me economically and reduced me to a credit score,” Price told Mississippi Today. “If you don’t know somebody, you ain’t getting nothing here.”

Price may struggle, but she said that’s what strengthens her faith and the bonds in her family.

In a picture taken with Garner at Price’s home, peeling beige paint near the ceiling is visible. So are colorful curtains, a display cabinet that held a series of Black figurines passed down to her daughter, and Price’s wide, infectious smile. 

Her home is not joyless.

“I go down to the projects, I go down to the low-income places, it’s more joy down there than I see anywhere else,” Price said. “My grandkids are happy, you know? They smile all the time, laugh. They normal; they fight and cuss at each other, too. But they got a roof over their head. They got food in their mouth. They got clothes on their back.”

“They know – beyond a shadow of a doubt – they know their grandma got them.”

*Editor’s note: Jim Barksdale is a Mississippi Today co-founder and major donor.

This is Part 4 in Mississippi Today’s series “The Backchannel,” which examines former Gov. Phil Bryant’s role in the running of his welfare department during what officials have called the largest public embezzlement scheme in state history.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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