Friday Night Beer: Ommegang Valar Morghulis

A dubbel ale by Ommegang offers enjoyable flavor with mild buzz and a tie-in to the world of fantasy novels.

Rep. Lally’s Opposition to a Constitutional Convention

My clock for blogging has run out, already, today, but an opinion essay that Representative Donald Lally (D, Narragansett, South Kingstown) sent out through the legislative press office merits a quick response.

The essay, which does not appear to be online, yet, expresses concern about the cost of a Constitutional Convention and about the possibility that “special interests… could hijack the convention and call for changes to the Rhode Island Constitution that actually weaken the rights of the citizens of our state.”  Moreover, he says, “supporters of a Constitutional Convention… tend to also be detractors of the General Assembly.”

While considering Lally’s comments, Rhode Islanders (especially voters in Rep. Lally’s district) should note three things.

First: Lally’s Freedom Index score, from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, was -56.6 for 2014, ranking him 73rd in the whole General Assembly.  According to the interactive Freedom Index Live, Lally’s three-year average score is -60.1, which is handily the worst of any legislator from either town that he represents, including progressive stalwart Teresa Tanzi.

Second: A look at Rep. Lally’s political donors shows he’s got no problem taking money from “special interests.” Here are his top 10 donors since 2002:

  • NRA Political Victory Fund PAC: $3,850
  • RI State Association of Firefighters: $2,700
  • NEARI PAC (National Education Association of RI): $2,450
  • RI Laborer’s Political League: $2,400
  • ATU Cope Special Holding Account (Amalgamated Transit Union): $2,300
  • Brian Goldman (of Goldman Law Offices Attorney/Lobbyist): $2,250
  • NECSA (New England Convenience Store Association): $1,650
  • Realtors PAC of RI: $1,650
  • RI Dental PAC: $1,600
  • Fund for Democratic Priorities: $1,575

It’s enough to make one wonder if Lally’s largest concern is actually that his contributors will have another option for their political donations for a couple of years.

Third: According to the Secretary of State’s candidate list for the General Assembly, Rep. Lally had no competition in his primary and has no competition in the general election in a couple of weeks.

In short, Rhode Islanders who aren’t happy with the laws that Rep. Lally has helped to put in place to weaken their rights and who fear the influence that his special-interest donors have over him have no other option than a Constitutional Convention.

Nation-Leading Teacher Pay… and the Constitutional Convention

With Rhode Island leading the nation in government-school teacher pay, it isn’t surprising that the union would court gun-rights advocates to kill a constitutional convention.

Oversized Signs

Why is one mayoral candidate allowed to flout city ordinances with oversized campaign signs. It’s not the biggest problem facing Providence, but it is indicative of his lack of interest in following laws.

Anthony Gemma, is All (or At Least Some) Forgiven?

Allegations of mail-ballot shenanigans were made, at the very least, in the previous Rhode Island election cycle. In 2012, a private detective hired by Congressional candidate Anthony Gemma produced video of an individual offering to sell completed mail-ballots to a campaign, who was shown with purportedly sealed ballots in his possession as evidence he could deliver. However, according to the Richard C. Dujardin of the Projo, the State Police investigated the case and found some “procedural irregularities, but nothing that rose to the level of criminal conduct”.

One unintended benefit of Buddy Cianci running for mayor of Providence seems to be that people are taking what are at a minimum “procedural irregularities” a little more seriously now. They are now newsworthy in the absence of accompanying video, or maybe on-the-ground sources are a little quicker to drop-a-dime when Cianci is involved…

The state police are investigating possible ballot tampering at the state’s largest homeless shelter after two “official-looking men with clipboards” entered Crossroads Rhode Island on Wednesday and asked residents to hand in their mail ballots — and in one case asked for a resident’s blank ballot. (Tom Mooney, Providence Journal)

A quick memo to the future: If the most recent allegations of vote tampering or voter intimidation turn out to be true, the process should be cleaned up, even in elections where Buddy Cianci is not running and systematic mail ballot “irregularities” or worse are working to the advantage of Democratic candidates.

The Rhode Island state police should also give the public some sense of what would need to happen for prosecutable criminal conduct to occur in this apparently recurring area of Rhode Island get-out-the-vote activity.

Latest on the Central Coventry Fire District Includes Threat by Governor’s Lawyers to Personally Sue Fire Board For Standing Up For Democracy

At the height of election fever, let’s not lose track of the latest developments in the disturbing situation involving the Central Coventry Fire District.

The following report, on “Central Coventry Citizens Taskforce for Fire Protection” letterhead and inclusive of two contact names and phone numbers, was sent out via e-mail this afternoon. It appears that at the Monday meeting and in other venues, Governor Chafee has had no compunction in carrying out the almost certainly unconstitutional order of the General Assembly to the taxpayers of the Central Coventry Fire District: – an order that could well come to every fire district in the state: No voting; just shut up and pay.

ConCon Ahead in the Brown Poll, 42 – 27

Here’s a result that shouldn’t be overlooked in the Brown University statewide poll released today…

Each state has its own constitution that is separate from the United States Constitution. Would you vote to approve or reject a convention to amend or revise the Rhode Island Constitution?
  • Approve 42.3%;
  • Reject 26.8%;
  • Don’t know 30.9%

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 45 (Secretary of State Debate)

Rob Paquin and Bob Plain discuss a debate between candidates for RI Secretary of State and related topics.

If Not on the Ballot, Where?

Jim Vincent, of the Providence NAACP, quotes the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity in a recent Providence Journal op-ed.  (Naturally, he fails to name his source, because progressive activists aren’t about public debate, they’re about confusing public debate for political reasons.)

Supporters have also suggested that a Constitutional Convention would be a good opportunity to “resolve some thorny cultural issues — one way or another.” Cultural issues have no place on the ballot.

He’s referring to a line, way toward the end of this analysis from the Center, in a section about ways in which Rhode Islanders might use a constitutional convention to “take issues off the table” of the General Assembly, where they come up regularly to distract the public and distort the legislative process.  Most of the points have to do with the operation of government, but here’s the final bullet point:

Resolve some thorny cultural issues — one way or another — though the mechanism that most clearly represents the will of the people

Look, cultural issues have to be resolved.  When the government begins dabbling in them (which it inevitably will do if we let it become as large and invasive as it has become), lines must be drawn by somebody concerning the appropriate scope and, if government is going to take a side, which side it will take.  To people with Vincent’s political philosophy, it’s not a question of whether cultural issues should be resolved within government, but how government should assert authority and make decisions.

In March, Vincent told Bob Plain, of RI Future, that “he will lobby legislative leaders this session to pass a bill that would tax and regulate rather than criminalize pot.”

In other words, the “thorny cultural issues” — which are at the core of defining our society and directing its course for generations — ”have no place on the ballot” because he wants them decided in back rooms by insiders and special interests.  He doesn’t trust the people — black, white, male, female, gay, straight, liberal, conservative — to come to the right decisions, so it’s imperative that their betters — the elite power brokers who’ve manipulated their way into positions of influence — control the system to tell the people what to do and who to be.

September 2014 Unemployment: Down Some More

Rhode Island’s September employment story was one of “down.” The unemployment rate was down, but so were labor force and employment numbers.

Things Go Sour in the Shire

At the end of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, the hobbits return from their battle with ultimate evil to find it necessary to vanquish some vestiges in their country home, the Shire.  I’m hoping this election season ends up to be something like that.

Depending on your city or town, the 2012 election may have left you under three layers of bad government.  The Obama Administration has proven to be more ideological, partisan, and (worst) incompetent than even most of us early skeptics feared.  The fruits of Rhode Island government under the General Assembly and Lincoln Chafee (who is still governor, I believe, although it doesn’t seem like it) are impossible to ignore.

And in Tiverton, we’ve had scandal after scandal, failure to oversee employees competently, and a regular practice of back-room decisions and subversion of government processes for political reasons.

Video of a hostile, uncomfortable Town Council meeting, last week, caps off the experience of the last two years.  Among the many scandals has been the council’s determination to appoint a specific person to the role of full-time town planner, even though budgets are tight, the voters did not approve enough money for the planning office for a full-time position, the anointed person lacks the credentials, and the Personnel Board did not include her among the finalists.  In the course of this battle, two members of the Personnel Board left, and three people have volunteered to fill the slots, one of them the wife of Town Council President Edward Roderick.

Another of the three volunteers is resident Donna Cook (also running for Budget Committee).  The day that she was scheduled to interview for the position, Council Member Jay Lambert, who has been on the council with Roderick for quite a while, called Cook on the phone and suggested that she should consider some other volunteer position in town.

Each party to that conversation tells it a little differently.  Cook says Lambert suggested that she withdraw her application to the Personnel Board, leaving a clear, uncontroversial path for the president’s wife.  Calling her “a liar” (but choosing his other words with a lawyer’s skill), Lambert presents it more as a friendly suggestion that she help the council fill the many vacancies.

I believe Mrs. Cook.  You can watch the seven-minute video yourself, but it’s apparent to me that Roderick — who tried to have her physically removed from the podium almost the moment she began speaking — had prior knowledge of the call and that the majority of the council at least had some sense of what was going on.

Sadly, I imagine these scenes are playing out across Rhode Island and the United States after the last election.  We might have to reverse Tolkien’s tale and clean things up from the Shire in.

Kilmartin’s Gift from the Providence Journal’s PolitiFactRI

Both a statement from Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and a related review by PolitiFactRI leave out important context that should have affected the Truth-o-meter rating.

The Providence Journal’s Credibility Problem with Cianci

The Providence Journal’s war against Buddy Cianci feels similar to the battles that the paper regularly conducts against people on the wrong side of its institutional bias.

The Message that’s Opened the Door for Cianci

Boston Globe deputy editorial page editor and Rhode Island native Dante Ramos somewhat misses the mark, in his basic assessment of the Providence Mayoral race…

In Cianci’s Providence, as in James Michael Curley-era Boston or Edwin Edwards-era Louisiana, there’s a sharp divide between good-government reformers and a, well, more instinctive style of politics.

“Instinctive” is an appropriate euphemism for describing Cianci’s brand of politics.

However, “good-government reformers” cannot be used to describe an opposition that’s centered on political players who believe that corruption and mismanagement from a Mayor aren’t issues, as long as they are kept at levels that David Cicilline or Lisa Baldelli-Hunt would tolerate.

Moderation of the General Assembly’s Wrecking Ball

Trends in the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s Legislative Freedom Index show the unhealthy attitude of the state’s legislators.

Rhode Island’s Ghoulish Government

An article by Lynn Arditi in today’s Providence Journal, Report: Too many teens in state care,” looks likely to be one of those dry, bureaucratic-process-related matters that many readers probably skip over.  That would be a mistake:

In her testimony, Field described a system where overloaded caseworkers who don’t have the time or resources to help families are increasingly removing teenagers from their homes and sending them to live in group homes. And group homes are paid only by the numbers of beds filled, so “you’ve got incentives for providers to keep kids to keep those beds filled,” [Tracey Field, director of the child welfare strategy group at the Casey Foundation’s Center for Systems Innovation in Baltimore] said.

To summarize in one sentence what appears to be going on:  The state government of Rhode Island is taking children away from their parents in order to maintain a government program, in part because its priorities have led the state government not to adequately fund a responsibility that it arrogated to itself.

That’s a long sentence, and the second half of it goes into the process stuff on which politicians like to focus because they can muddy the water.  It’s the first part of the sentence, though, that’s important: “The state government of Rhode Island is taking children away from their parents in order to maintain a government program.”

You don’t get much more ghoulish than that, and you don’t get a much better representation of the progressive style of governance.

Out-of-State Special Interests and the RI Constitution

We keep hearing complaints that out-of-state special interests are trying to manipulate Rhode Islanders when it comes to our own state constitution.  We hear it from folks like the three special-interest speakers who attended the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s luncheon with Grover Norquist, last week, and managed to grab a good portion of the coverage:

… Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, spokesman for Citizens for Responsible Government, which opposes a convention[, said,] “But today we have the prime evidence that outside wealthy special interests are coming into our state.”

Rodriguez was referring to Norquist, but his own little event did much more to prove his thesis about “outside wealthy special interests.”  As far as I know, of the seventy or so people joining the Center to support the idea of a constitutional convention, only three were from out of state: Norquist and his Massachusetts-resident parents.

It’s true that the special interests with whom Rodriguez was standing were in-state special interests. Kate Brewster of the Economic Progress Institute and Michael Araujo of  the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees were the speakers.  Of the three or four non-speakers at the anti-constitutional-convention rally, I recognized two:  Jenny Norris, the campaign manager for Rodriguez’s group, and James Parisi, a lobbyist for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals.

But the small group wasn’t only representative of in-state wealthy special interests.  Among CRG’s sponsors is Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, which (according to the Providence Journal) donated one-sixth of its initial funding, or $10,000.

Planned Parenthood of Southern New England is actually not a Rhode Island organization.  It operates out of New Haven, Connecticut.  According to the organization’s 990 form for 2013, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England had revenue of $34.2 million that year, with $4.9 million left over after expenses (what some might call its profit), contributing to assets of $28.3 million.

Judith Tabar, its president and CEO received $392,150 in compensation from the corporation and related entities, and the seven members of her executive staff listed on the form each received well over $100,000.

That looks like a wealthy out-of-state special interest, to me.  Meanwhile, actual Rhode Islanders — you know, the in-state non-special-interests — overwhelmingly support a constitutional convention.  I suspect they are who Rodriguez really fears.