Learning from Local Issues

There are essentially two reasons I encourage people to become involved in government and politics at the local level.

First, it’s the closest to the voters and their community, so it should be easier (although still very difficult) to overcome the institutional advantage of insiders.  Most people in a city or town don’t pay much attention to local civics, and a large portion of those who do are part of the vested-interests crowd.  But when a topic has to do with their neighbors, it’s a little bit more possible to change people’s minds, and if not, it ought to be more likely at the local level to get other people to be better informed — perhaps well enough informed to get involved.

Second, local government and politics is very educational.  Many of the battles are fought over the same sorts of things, and on the same types of battlegrounds, as state and national issues.  What’s more, the local players tend not to be as slick, so their maneuvers are easier to see and make for better lessons to the general public.

More for the second reason than the first, I took a little time, on Tiverton Fact Check, to analyze one aspect of the latest incident in the ongoing saga of town government’s making up the rules as it goes.  Of particular interest is the degree to which the Town Solicitor, Andrew Teitz, has pushed the envelope when it comes to the Ethics Commission’s tolerance for corruption provided that nobody involved is not in government.

I’ll have more on this in the future, but he’s going so far as to tell the council what he’s going to argue when he defends a client before it a couple weeks later and to advise the council from the witness table while it’s trying to make a motion in favor of his client.

This is one of those fine cracks in the foundation of our society that nobody seems to be too concerned about but that really deserves more attention than a largely apathetic electorate is likely to pay it.

Will Their Votes Count?

Will the ballots involved in a State Police investigation be counted on Tuesday, or are they seized as evidence? And how closely does the Board of Elections examine the signature on mail-in ballots?

Rhode Islanders Have to Stop Allowing This to Happen

So the city of East Providence has gone so far as to ban the sale of dogs and cats.  Worse, it did so in a way that looks like the ordinance targeted a specific business:

The owners of an East Providence pet store asked a federal judge Thursday to strike down as unconstitutional a city ordinance banning the sale of cats and dogs.

The City Council on June 3 passed an ordinance making it a criminal offense to sell cats or dogs, just weeks after the Perfect Puppy opened its doors at 1235 Wampanoag Trail.

You know, folks are railing against mayoral candidate Vincent Cianci, saying that it would send a terrible signal about Rhode Island governance to elect him as mayor of Providence, once again, but I have to wonder whether that’s worse than headlines suggesting that people starting businesses around here might find themselves suddenly targeted by city ordinances and state laws that pull the rug out from under their investments.

Ultimately, I don’t think the courts should interfere with the ability of representatives to pursue such horrible policies and practices.  That just moves them to a venue over which the people have less control.

Rather, the people of East Providence should take responsibility for their contribution to the bad reputation that’s driving Rhode Island into the ground and replace their city council with one that doesn’t see government as a way to pick and choose what our neighbors can do for a living.

Jorge Elorza and an Incomplete Pantheist God

Last week, Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence, asked…

So, can anyone help determine: Is Jorge Elorza an atheist or not? It would be good to know before Election Day.
It is possible to anlayze Professor Elorza’s law-review article using the categories of conventional theology and find a place for — and some flaws with — the idea of the “memist” God that is the primary subject of his theological speculations on the nature of God.

(Hint: Re-read the title for an executive summary of the answer).

Question #4: In-State Employment Rate of URI Engineering Grads Does Not Justify $125 Million Tab for Taxpayers

This Tuesday, Rhode Island taxpayers will be asked if they are willing to pay an eye-opening $125 million, excluding interest, to construct a new building and renovate existing buildings at URI’s College of Engineering. Proponents claim it will improve Rhode Island’s workforce, but how many URI engineers are actually staying to work in the state, right now?

Gee. Wonder Why Some Politicians Support Illegal Immigration and Lax Voting Rules

I had to chuckle at the Powerline headline, “How Many Elections Will Democrats Steal Next Week?“:

How extensive is voter-fraud, especially among non-citizens? Just bring up the question, or suggest we need to have voter-ID at the polls like every other advanced democracy, and the answer will be instantly supplied: You’re a racist. But as Dan McLaughlin points out over at The Federalist, Democrats seem to win a suspiciously high number of close elections, well beyond what a random statistical trial would suggest.

At the internal link, in that quotation, we learn that Democrats have an uncanny ability to win close races.  The Powerline article goes on:

The authors [of an academic study] think that non-citizen votes not only tipped the 2008 Minnesota senate race to Al Franken, but also tipped North Carolina’s presidential vote that year.

The reason I chuckled is that, even as busy and disconnected from some of the election news as I am, I’ve gotten the impression that the Providence mayoral race has picked up an aspect of competing vote fraud schemes.  When a place is as institutionally corrupt as Rhode Island, one gets to ask questions like:  Is it really fraud if stealing more votes is simply another part of the competition?

To be frank, overt fraud is merely one of the ways in which political insiders have arguably made our electoral system invalid in Rhode Island and (to various degrees) across the nation, given the Constitutional guarantee of a “republican form of government,” which above all requires the consent of the governed.  Having just filled out some campaign finance reports in order to put out some signs and print post cards supporting some of my Tiverton neighbors, it’s especially clear to me right now the many ways in which our government discourages participation and limits competition.

That’s the larger, more-fundamental challenge to our democracy, which makes the overt fraud seem like a subset — the last, insurmountable straw for people who might otherwise become politically engaged.

Gina Raimondo and Rhode Island’s Preemptive Surrender to the Threat of Collusion

Gina Raimondo could stand with the people of Rhode Island on the 38 Studios matter and, with her venture capitalist background, could be an especially forceful advocate for the principle that the laws apply to everyone, from big bondholders to regular citizens. Instead, she has chosen to stand with big finance against the people of Rhode Island, taking the cavalier attitude towards representative democracy and the rule of law that has become the hallmark of Rhode Island’s political establishment.

A Constitutional Convention Is to Make Change When Legislators Won’t

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 46 (Congressional Debates)

Rob Paquin and Bob Plain discuss the candidates for U.S. Congress from Rhode Island (mostly by way of the issues).

General Assembly Is a Standing Constitutional Convention with Myopic Vision

They’re Getting What They Didn’t Ask For

Am I surprised that at least one outside political group isn’t following Rhode Island’s campaign finance laws? Not at all. Based on our recent history, why should they?

Who’s to Blame for Lost Local Coverage?

I had an interesting conversation on Twitter, Sunday night, with WPRI’s Ted Nesi and WPRO’s Matt Allen.  It branched off in a few directions, so it’s a bit difficult to provide a link to the comprehensive thing.  Here’s the end of one thread.

The two of them had been lamenting the out-of-state corporate decision that led the Providence Journal effectively to end its extensive city-and-town coverage, and I chimed in to ask if there’s evidence that there’s an adequate market for local news to support it.  In the end, we all agreed that local news is valuable and should be seen as an investment even if it’s not profitable in its own right.

For that to work, though, it has to be subsidized somehow, by somebody who sees its value.  Some other source of revenue has to pay for the local coverage, which has its value in both civic responsibility and the long-term credibility and audience building of the overall product.

Where my contrarian nature kicks in is that I have a hard time faulting an out-of-state corporation for having different priorities.  It’s easy to export the blame, but why should a corporation that made an investment become the scapegoat?  Local people and organizations that don’t support the paper financially are to blame for not creating a sufficient market, as are those who’ve made locals’ budgets so tight.  The local interest that sold the paper to the national entity is to blame for handing it off beyond the borders of people who feel some civic responsibility for the state.

And there’s blame within the paper.  I’d argue that the bias — especially in headlines and page layout — has put off a lot of people who now see the Providence Journal as a constituent part of what’s driving Rhode Island into the ground.  (I offer that by way of reporting what I’ve heard people say.)

The reporters’ union has to take some responsibility, too.  If (as I think is very likely) they are largely the reason Rhode Island pays so much for “reporters and correspondents,” then they’ve made it more difficult for local interests to keep ownership in the state, and they make it less likely that outside corporate interests will invest in local news.  After all, that requires hiring journalists.

I mean, if you (with your group of interested backers) had invested in a newspaper in a place where the locals treat the news business with indifference or like an entitlement and the journalists insist on being the highest paid in the country (especially adjusted for cost of living, which has an effect on cost of doing business, too), would you take the risk of investing in expanded offerings, or would you just try to maximize profits?  Whichever you choose, can you really blame people choose the other?

Journalists Another Group with an Interest in the RI Status Quo?

Last week, I pointed out that Rhode Island teachers lead the country in pay, when adjusted for the cost of living in each state — at least teachers in categories that tend to be overwhelmingly dominated by government labor unions.  An obvious next question is what other categories of professions put Rhode Island at the top of the pay chart.

So far, I’ve only found one: “reporters and correspondents.”

At $60,871 per year, Rhode Island’s journalists make even more than those in Washington, D.C., where their peers take home a cost-of-living-adjusted $54,154.  (In fairness, Washington reporters and correspondents make more in absolute terms, but it’s more expensive to live there, so the adjustment knocks their average pay down about $10,000, while it boosts Rhode Island’s by about $800.)

It’s interesting to note that “broadcast news analysts,” the only other category that I could find under the broad category of “journalist,” fall back to the 10-15 ranking range that seems to be Rhode Island’s overall home.  (Note that these professionals make a little more than the “reporters and correspondents,” but their peers in other states surpass them.)

Some aspects of the news business might make Rhode Island unique.  For instance, in a larger state, like Massachusetts, the salaries of urban and statewide reporters might be significantly diluted, in this data, by many more small-market, local reporters.  The local reporters are toiling away in Rhode Island, of course, but there are fewer of them.  On the other hand, Delaware falls in the middle of the pack, for this category, and Maryland is nearly last.

Disclaimers aside, the apparent fact that the Rhode Island socio-politico-economic system benefits journalists so disproportionately raises questions about why that is, and whether it indicates an occupational bias against the sorts of dramatic changes that the state so desperately needs.  Folks can be forgiven for seeing a connection to some surprisingly status-quo-friendly endorsements from the Providence Journal, this cycle.

About the Journal’s Endorsements

The Providence Journal said they want change. I think they missed a great opportunity to advocate for change in at least one of their endorsements.

Having to Know Your Precinct to Clean Up Your Town

While putting together a very simple page for Clean Up Tiverton and a post on Tiverton Fact Check to let people in town know where to vote a week from Tuesday, it occurred to me that it seems like I rarely vote in the same place twice in a row.  I pay more than the average attention to these things, and twice in the past few years, I’ve found myself driving from one polling place to another.

It’s not just rearrangement of the precinct map, although that’s played a role, as has a move on my part, but also the different arrangements for budget votes, primaries, and general elections.  Making things more peculiar, the locations for four of the seven precincts are right next to each other, sometimes requiring a person from a particular district to drive right past the closest location in order to get to the one at which he or she has to vote.

Does this happen elsewhere, or is there some kind of peculiarity in my town?

Fear Mongering the Constitutional Convention

Don’t let people scare you into what “could” happen at the Constitutional Convention. Vote YES on Question 3 and let’s take this opportunity to fix the government and improve the way Rhode Island works.

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.