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POST-DISPATCH: Messenger: Eric Schmitt’s ‘careful review’ of Missouri pandemic restrictions doesn't exist

Messenger: Eric Schmitt’s ‘careful review’ of Missouri pandemic restrictions doesn't exist

Tony Messenger, May 4, 2021

Attorney General Eric Schmitt recently wrote a 10-page ode to Donald Trump that he passed off as a threat to sue St. Louis County over its various health orders trying to protect residents of the county — including Schmitt and his family — from the spread of COVID-19.

One sentence stood out.

“Accordingly, my Office is conducting a careful review of coronavirus restrictions in Missouri, including St. Louis County, to ensure that the extraordinary limits on personal freedom are justified by equally compelling reasons.”

If there’s actually a statewide elected official who would have the authority and statutory responsibility to conduct such a review, it would seem to me to be Auditor Nicole Galloway, but, if Schmitt, a Republican who is running for U.S. Senate, was serious about conducting a “careful review,” surely he wrote letters to other cities and counties throughout the state that have also enforced various health restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, right?

So, last Wednesday morning, after first seeing the letter from Schmitt, I sent the attorney general’s office a Sunshine Law request, seeking any such letters sent to other cities and counties. I copied the request to the attorney general’s spokesman, who, of course, could easily just tell me if there were no other letters.

Schmitt knew well that plenty of other Missouri cities and counties have issued health orders with various levels of restrictions, from St. Louis to Springfield, Columbia, Kansas City and Branson. Yes, the ones in St. Louis — both city and county — were more restrictive than most, due in part to the heavy medical facility presence in the county, and the dense urban population.

That was one of the things St. Louis County Counselor Beth Orwick told Schmitt in her response letter, which outlined the bevy of medical advice given to the county that guided its various health orders, as well as the clear legal authority to do so.

“Of course, St. Louis County is not alone in its decision to exercise that authority,” Orwick wrote. “Indeed, local governments throughout the state of Missouri have issued similar orders.”

For good measure, Orwick included internet links to many public health orders throughout the state, should Schmitt want to send them letters as part of his statewide “careful review.”

But that wasn’t Schmitt’s plan. This letter, like the ones he sends President Joe Biden weekly, was about politics, not protecting citizens or respecting the law. Schmitt wanted a headline for his Senate race, showing the Trump-loving Republican battling Doctor Evil, aka St. Louis County Executive Sam Page.

Schmitt got his headlines, threatening a lawsuit he was never going to file, let alone win. (Remember, he still hasn’t served any defendants in the COVID-19 lawsuit he filed against China more than a year ago.) A few days later, Page appeared with St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones to announce a joint reduction in restrictions, allowing restaurants, for instance, to go back to full capacity, as long as they still practice social distancing.

Jones, by the way, who oversees a city with restrictions that have been similar to those in the county, never received a letter from Schmitt; nor did the previous mayor.

Schmitt, of course, issued a chest-thumping news release taking credit for a move he knew was already in the works. Chicken Little for the win.

Page, undaunted, said, “We will continue following the advice of public health experts as we carefully reopen.”

About that Sunshine Law request. At 5:11 p.m. Monday, several hours after the mandatory three-day response window closed on this open records request, Schmitt’s office replied:

“We have no records responsive to your request,” the letter said.

Of course not. There was no “careful review.” There was never going to be a lawsuit. Schmitt’s office knew the moment I submitted the request there were no other letters and could have told me.

But why let the truth get in the way of a headline?

P.O. Box 410091
Saint Louis, MO 63141
Paid for by Page for Missouri, Sue Felling, Treasurer

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