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Mike Stenhouse: Rhode Island motorists could find new gasoline taxes in their stockings

This Christmas season, Gov. Gina Raimondo could be the Grinch who stole affordable gasoline. If the Raimondo administration gets its way and bypasses the General Assembly to sign on to a new regional carbon-tax scheme, called the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), Rhode Island motorists will find a plan to increase gasoline taxes in their stockings this year.

TCI is a cap-and-trade tax on gasoline proposed by environmental extremists who purposely want gasoline to become so expensive — estimated at an extra 24 cents per gallon — that you will be financially forced to walk or bike to work and around town.

Like all far-left contrivances to reduce carbon emissions, TCI, a green-new-deal-type gas tax, will harm economic growth and will take money out of your pocket. Rhode Island already suffers from an Ocean State Exodus, where far too many of our children and loved ones, business investors, and neighbors are leaving for lower-cost living in other states. The TCI tax would be one more piece of coal that will drive people out of state (pun intended).

Most Rhode Islanders want a balanced approach, where there are multiple choices for abundant and affordable energy. But green-Grinches in government want to limit your options, and will force you to pay expensive new taxes if you make the wrong choice.

Only the General Assembly can raise taxes. Fortunately, the governor cannot unilaterally impose a new tax on gasoline without legislative approval. But the governor has purposely tried to keep this TCI tax under the radar. Her team has been working stealthily with unelected bureaucrats at TCI to advance the imposition of gas taxes among 12 Northeast states.

Did you know that the really high electricity prices we pay, among the highest in the country, are partly because of a different regional cap-and-trade program, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)? RGGI imposes tax-like fees on electricity power plants, which, of course, get passed on to you. Unfortunately, RGGI has been a complete failure; it has significantly increased the cost of electricity but has resulted in no added emissions reductions!

And now they want to try the same failed idea on gasoline with a TCI gas tax. Like RGGI, TCI is designed to increase the cost of fossil-based fuel so much, that families like yours — and businesses where you work — will be forced to use less of it.

Part of the RGGI and TCI schemes is that the extra money you pay at the gas pumps and on your electric bill is supposed to be spent by participating states on energy projects that are favored by greenie Grinches. Rhode Islanders understand that it is patently unfair for government subsidies to be handed-out to benefit a specific industry or company … at the expense of everyone else.

History has proven that too many government regulations and taxes on energy mean that the beneficial use of America’s rich natural resources might be put out of reach for many. Worse, such government imposed taxes as the RGGI tax and the TCI tax are regressive; they disproportionately harm low-income families who already struggle to pay heating bills and gasoline costs.

Also, many businesses, similarly burdened with higher energy costs, will be forced to reduce employee work hours, cut jobs, or even shut down and move to another state.

The secrecy must end now. The governor should have been more transparent about an issue that will cause economic hardship for many. I call on Ms. Raimondo to reject the TCI tax plan, expected out on Dec. 17; and I call on Senate and House leadership to ensure there is a robust public debate about whether you and I should pay higher gasoline taxes.

RGGI has failed miserably … and TCI is also doomed for failure. Why should any Grinch force any of us to pay unnecessarily higher gasoline taxes if it will not result in any environmental benefit?

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The TCI Tax Looms

Over the coming months, Rhode Islanders will be hearing about the implementation of the Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI), a cap-and-trade scheme for the northeastern states to impose a new tax on gasoline.  A brief that the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity released last week gives some of the details, including a quick look at TCI’s predecessor scheme, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which is directed at energy production, whereas TCI focuses on gasoline:

[Then-Governor Donald Carcieri’s] assurances that his policies would not severely hurt Rhode Islanders have proven unreliable. As he made his announcement, Rhode Island was enjoying the second-lowest cost per kiloWatthour for ultimate customers’ electricity in New England, at $13.08. By January 2019, this average price had increased to $20.12, by far the highest in the region. This 54% increase compares with an 18% increase nationwide over the same period (to just $10.47 per kWh) and 17% in New England overall (to $18.22 per kWh).

Despite enduring an increased cost for energy, RGGI states have experienced “no added emissions reductions or associated health benefits from the RGGI program,” when compared with different states that have otherwise similar energy policies, according to David Stevenson, Director of the Center for Energy Competitiveness at the Caesar Rodney Institute in Delaware.

It looks probable that these programs harm the economy and fail to achieve their stated objectives.  Why would the governor charge forward with another one?

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How Local Government Controls the Message

The Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) posted another episode of its podcast, Tiverton on Track, earlier this week, with me giving the opening monologue.  While the content is obviously local, some of the points probably have resonance across the state.  We talk about ways town government manipulates meeting rules and use the advice of its legal representation to limit the involvement of the public.

Track 1: The Silence the Public Scheme
Track 2: Heard Out on the Landfill?
Track 3: Mac’s Two Voices on Free Speech
Track 4: Fabisch Fabricates New Rules

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Political Monday with John DePetro: May Forms of Political Performance Art

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for December 9, included talk about:

  • Cicilline v. Trump
  • Energy protesters at the State House
  • Empty Wexford
  • Sports gambling lawsuit goes forward
  • Truck toll lawsuit goes forward
  • The Transportation & Climate Initiative (TCI) tax

Open post for full audio.

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Governor’s Back Door TCI Tax Would Cost You At The Pump

The prices for gasoline could soon rise dramatically for your family if the Raimondo administration undercuts the authority of the General Assembly, and moves forward with its plan to sign-on to a new stealth carbon-tax scheme – the TCI Tax… a move that would necessarily increase costs on families and business at the pump, and that also could lead to Constitutional legal challenges.

This tax – a green-new-deal type government mandate – is also a regressive fuel tax that will disproportionately harm low-income families, who will struggle much more than the wealthy to pay the higher gasoline prices.

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Vaping Shows How Quickly They’ll Take Away Rights

Note this, from Guy Bentley on Reason:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has finally identified a primary suspect in the wave of vaping-related lung illnesses and deaths.

Examining lung tissue samples of patients hospitalized with vaping-related illnesses, 100 percent tested positive for vitamin e acetate, often used to cut marijuana oils. This was not a surprise to those who have been arguing that the cause of these illnesses is not the commercial e-cigarette market, but the illicit market for THC vapes.

Now recall that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo moved quickly to hurt Rhode Island businesses by unilaterally banning a legal product that even then looked likely not to be the culprit.

Yes, we’re decades into a campaign by government to create a superstitious dread of nicotine products, but still… part of me can’t help but feel like every incident like this is a test to see how willingly Americans will give up their rights and their freedom.  The results of this test were not encouraging, at least in Southern New England.

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Hyperlocal Podcasting to Hold the Power-Hungry Accountable in Tiverton

People who are politically active locally in Rhode Island — especially those who aren’t plugged in to the state’s special interest, insider machine — may have noticed that technology and the general direction of our culture are making it increasingly difficult to get information to rise above the noise of social media and its amplification of the old-school rumor mill.

One way in which the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) is working to address that problem is through its new weekly podcast, Tiverton on Track.  Episodes will be available as they’re released on BuzzsproutiTunesSpotifyStitcherTuneIn, and a variety of other services that can be found via the Buzzsprout page.  Episodes will also be posted on the group’s blog, Tiverton Fact Check.

For the most recent episode, special guest Richard Rom joined me and Town Council members Donna Cook and Nancy Driggs.  Rom is the chairman of the Tiverton Republican Town Committee, a member of the Tiverton Library Board of Trustees, and the initiator of recall petitions to remove council President Patricia Hilton, Vice President Denise deMedeiros, and member John Edwards the Fifth.  Rom’s goal is to return the council to the TTA control that voters chose before the political stunt of an unjustified recall election in October that removed me and the council president.  (Note that I’m not involved in the second recall, thinking there are more effective ways to spend time holding the power-hungry of Tiverton accountable.)

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It’s Okay to Think Selfish Is Too Much

Retired Providence firefighter/EMT Michael Morse has a brief post on Rescuing Providence making the reasonable claim that “it’s okay to get paid”:

Without decent pay and great benefits I would have been forced to take my ability and passion for helping people elsewhere.

Morse’s argument is a bit of a strawman, however, and it’s one that labor unions tend to expand into a false dichotomy.  Nobody seriously argues that firefighters in communities that need or want something more extensive than a volunteer department should not be well compensated.  The tricky question is how much that should be.

Yes, in a more or less free market, it would be reasonable for employees to argue, as Morse does, that “it is okay to be selfless for selfish reasons.”  And if a community isn’t providing pay and benefits that attract workers, it will have to increase the pay.

The problem is that unions are designed to push beyond this dynamic.  We saw evidence earlier this year when legislation from Tiverton Democrat Representative John “Jay” Edwards the Fourth interfered with local negotiations to forbid firefighter union locals from continuing to negotiate contracts that the state and national unions don’t like.  (Edwards was very clear about who holds the power.)  This makes the compensation artificially high.  It takes whatever level of pay would not force Michael Morse and his peers to take their abilities elsewhere and then keeps going.

In those circumstances, one might reasonably suggest that it is not okay to be selfless for selfish reasons selfishly.  The unions would have us believe that workers who are not grabbing everything they can possibly get, by whatever means they can possibly get it, will inevitably be underpaid.  That perspective causes Morse’s reasonable point to evaporate and creates a society in which neither side can ever be content.

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The Tragedy of a Halted Development in Providence

There may be no better illustration of Rhode Island’s central problem than the foolish people celebrating the halt of a redevelopment project in Providence:

[Jim] Abdo’s request for a tax stabilization agreement, or TSA, was met with opposition from labor unions and progressive groups. Members of the groups applauded when the plan was tabled Tuesday night.

“I know Mr. Abdo is going to make out tremendously from his investment, with or without the TSA,” Nancy Iadeluca, the Rhode Island director for UniteHERE Local 26, said at a hearing about the TSA earlier this month. “What are we getting back?”

Mr. Abdo is looking to develop the former Providence Journal building and another next door, but he says he can’t secure financing for the project, pegged at $39 million, unless there’s a $2.7 million tax break.  According to the developer (who has reason to present his case in the best light, of course), property taxes resulting from the project would have been $5.7 million, anyway, in addition to more than $20 million in various state taxes.  All that comes with jobs and economic activity.

The article does not say, but one wonders, given labor’s involvement, if Mr. Abdo declined to promise to use union shops for his project.  Be that as it may, he says he’s going to hold on to the asset, undeveloped, whether or not it takes 20 years for him to do something with it.

Many Rhode Islanders oppose these special deals that make an inhospitable economic climate tolerable for hand-picked investors, but even we might see this outcome as tragic — if only as an indicator of things we don’t see.  Imagine how many deals are not being done in the Ocean State because of the environment progressive policies have created!

This is more than just tragic, though; it’s frightening, because under the progressives’ glee is the expectation that this is a step toward their “progress,” not an obstacle.  Note this comment from the Providence Preservation Society’s director, who supported the deal:  “These two buildings are eyesores in the core of downtown. They drive down the sense of positivity.”

Abdo says he’s patient, but his patience might be misplaced.  What the progressives may understand is that an “eyesore” is “blight,” and our society has given the government authority to confiscate properties on which they can pin that tag.  As Providence’s economy gets worse and worse, it may be that progressives are counting on being able to take Abdo’s property away from him, using public dollars to redevelop it into some delusional hipster dream (with expensive union labor), and taking the money to do it from the rest of us suckers who haven’t fled the state.

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Out-Progressiving Raimondo’s Progressives

The Providence Journal has an op-ed from me today, about progressive Democrat state Senator Samuel Bell’s freedom to use irresponsible rhetoric as leverage against the progressives in the administration of progressive Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo:

At the end of the day, Bell is just objecting to Raimondo’s efforts to buy off companies so that they’ll tolerate our horrible business climate, which he is free to do because his economic ideas are fantasy.

Gina Raimondo, Stefan Pryor and Bruce Katz are progressives who are responsible for implementing the central planning policies that progressives demand. Samuel Bell is a progressive with no real responsibility who is therefore free to be more irresponsible in his demands.

If it weren’t so harmful to our state, this would all be a laugh riot.

By capitulating to progressive-union pressure, and despite disingenuous claims that no broad-based taxes were imposed, Ocean Staters will once again bear increased burdens to pay for new taxes and regulations, more spending, and more union giveaways. Lawmakers chose to appease, rather than resist, the progressives’ job-killing, big-spending agenda.

Expanding Big-Government Programs Increases Taxes

Well, this news isn’t exactly surprising:

On New Year’s Day, the state Temporary Disability Insurance tax rate will rise from 1.1% to 1.3% of pay, according to the state Department of Labor and Training. That means someone making $50,000 per year should expect to pay $650 in TDI tax next year compared with $550 this year.

The biggest reason is that Rhode Islanders are beginning to take advantage of a 2013 change in the law that allows them to use the disability program to take time off in order to take care of other people who are injured or sick, or to “bond with a new child.” The sponsor of that legislation insists it’s a small price to pay, and she works diligently every year to make it a little less small:

Sen. Gayle Goldin, sponsor of the 2013 bill that created caregiver insurance, said Tuesday that more people taking advantage of the program is a sign that it’s working and that taxpayers are getting good value.

“It’s a very small [tax] increase to pay for a benefit that helps people when they need it the most,” said Goldin, a Providence Democrat.

Going from 1.1% of pay to 1.3% is actually an 18% increase.  What should families forgo in order to cover a benefit that people in 46 other states somehow manage to live without?

Naturally, the state’s army of spokespeople spins it as a positive:

“It is not surprising that improved income conditions would increase claims; more employed workers result in more individuals eligible, therefore, more potential users,” Angelika Pellegrino, spokeswoman for the Department of Labor and Training, wrote in an email.

That comment has two layers of deceit.  First, the program is funded by a percentage of total payroll.  More people working means more people paying into the system, which shouldn’t have to be adjusted if it’s designed well.  Of course, if Rhode Island is only creating low-paying jobs, then new tax contributions would be less likely to cover the cost of coverage.

Second, the increase in employed Rhode Islanders cannot possibly account for an 18% increase in the rate.  The number of people employed has barely budged year over year, and the number of jobs based in the state is up only 1.5%.

We should also remember that these policies pile up, including, for example, more-recently-mandated paid leave for employees.  That policy arguably froze and reverse employment increases in the state.

This 18% increase in the TDI tax is a visible warning sign for what we can’t see.  We can’t know all the jobs that would have been created or the raises that would have been given in the absence of these progressive policies. And we can’t forget that employers (and potential employers) can’t only adjust for the policies that have been passed; they have to plan for all of the new burdens their betters in the General Assembly are likely to impose every year.

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The Way to Address Workplace Injustice

Here’s a great story out of Rhode Island, oddly first spotted, at least that I’ve seen, by a news station in Minnesota:

A new business in North Smithfield, Rhode Island is spreading awareness of hiring people with disabilities.

Michael Coyne opened his coffee shop, Red, White & Brew, after struggling to find a job, which he believed was due to his disability.

He has autism, and when he couldn’t find anyone who would hire him, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

When a business underpays its staff or discriminates, that is an opportunity for others to compete and take advantage of those destructive decisions.  Yet, every time the state of Rhode Island imposes new taxes, licenses, and regulations, it makes it more difficult for people like Mr. Coyne to rise up and do so.

We shouldn’t have the attitude that there are workers and there are owners, or that businesses have a paternalistic duty to take care of their employees.  Instead, we should understand that we’re all human beings, equal in the eyes of God, who make agreements to work together.  When individuals are taken advantage of, we ought to help them, but not with blanket pronouncements that assume everybody in one class (the evil business owners) is always trying to take advantage of everybody else (the vulnerable employees).

If the proponents of “diversity” and “inclusion” really believed that they helped businesses, they wouldn’t try to regulate them as mandates, because they would expect the marketplace to reward businesses who followed those principles.  Instead, they try to be exclusive of people who hold different views, not only within a single business but across the entire economy.

Congratulations to Mr. Coyne for living an important principle that too many of his fellow Rhode Islanders seem unwilling to learn.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: A Creature of Their Own Making

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for November 25, included talk about:

  • Insider Alves and the radical caucus
  • The union view of employer responsibility
  • Gaspee versus campaign finance laws
  • Paint on the statute becoming blood on government’s hands
  • Blood on the police officer’s hand gets a slap on the wrist

Open post for full audio.

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What Organized Labor Thinks of Workers

To understand Rhode Island politics, one must understand the activities of organized labor (that is, unions), and to understand their activities, one must understand their attitude.  (By the way, one should also know that reporters for the state’s major daily newspaper, the Providence Journal, are unionized under the AFL-CIO.)

This is from a Providence Journal article by Katherine Gregg about a press conference promoting legislation from Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo that would impose a new tax on large companies whose employees are on Medicaid:

“There is a loophole in the Rhode Island health-care system allowing certain large corporations to avoid their responsibility to provide adequate coverage to their workers. Instead they shift employee health-care costs to the state budget from their own balance sheet,” said George Nee, president of the RI AFL-CIO.

Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Hold on there, a second.  When did it become my employer’s responsibility to take care of my health?  Put from a perspective that sees workers as adults capable of making their own decisions, when did it become the case that when we choose for whom we want to work, we’re picking the people who will take care of us?

We’re not wards of our employers.  They aren’t our parents; they aren’t our masters.  That’s a huge stolen base in our rights and our autonomy.

Why would labor organizations — who claim to be all about the rights and humanity of workers — see us as something like children who need to be cared for?  Because they have a worldview that breaks us all into classes of people, in this case workers and management, and they want workers to feel like they are something more like servants under the protective thumb of a master so that they, the unions, can edge into the relationship promising that only they have the strength to go up against the master.

Once they do that, it ceases to be your job, for which your employer pays you an agreed upon rate, with agreed upon benefits.  It becomes the union’s job, which you get to fill for the moment, as a nameless servant of the boss and a client of the union.  One uses you for labor, and the other uses you for leverage.

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Diagnosing the Education System’s Health

While disaster in Providence schools receives a deserved proportion of Rhode Islanders’ attention, Tim Benson of the Heartland Institute suggests that we shouldn’t lose sight of problems across the whole state:

Results from the latest version of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test—also known as the Nation’s Report Card—have been released, and Rhode Island’s scores are not good.

Only 35 percent of fourth graders tested “proficient” in reading, while just 40 percent tested proficient in mathematics in 2019. These math scores were a decline from 2017. For eighth graders, just 35 percent were proficient in reading, and only 29 percent were proficient in math. Both of these results were also a decline from 2017, with reading scores being significantly down. When accounting for demographic differences across students throughout the state and control for race, ethnicity, special education status, income level, etc., Rhode Island’s scores are even worse.

Benson offers this as an introduction to his proposed solution, which is to expand the state’s tax credit scholarship program, whereby businesses receive tax credits for donating to scholarships for disadvantaged students.  Lifting the cap on that program, opening it up to non-corporate donors, and adding provisions to provide certainty to scholarship recipients would all be great changes, but of itself, that solution is wholly inadequate to Rhode Island’s problem.

One local man here in Tiverton has been on a Facebook mission to find out what went wrong with Rhode Island public schools.  There isn’t a single reason things got to their current state, and there won’t be a single fix.  The challenges are cultural, they’re institutional, and they’re deep.  Asking what went wrong is like looking at a lonely, obese, alcoholic smoker in late middle age whose house looks like it ought to be condemned for all the hazards and asking why his health is poor.

We need broad public policy reforms that open up doors for a wide variety of individualized education plans for students as part of a cultural shift in our understanding of ourselves and of government.

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The Perfect RI Government Agency

If you were to envision the perfect government agency, what would it look like?  Rhode Island has come up with one that few would find perfect in an objective sense, but it is perfectly emblematic: the Central Collections Unit.

As Patrick Anderson explains in the Providence Journal, this unit was put into place with the promise that just a little bit of effort from the state government could increase its collection of money owed to the state by millions of collars, well beyond the cost of the program.  The reality hasn’t, let’s say, matched expectations:

The Central Collections Unit, created last year to capture some of the millions of dollars owed to state agencies, had collected $196,000 through the end of October, a fraction of what was expected, according to the Department of Revenue.

The Projo editorial board contrasts that revenue with the cost of the unit:

What are the taxpayers spending for that $196,000? According to Department of Revenue spokesman Paul Grimaldi, the annual budget for the unit is $899,649.

What is a bureaucracy to do?  Redefine the goals (emphasis added):

“We’re building something new with the Central Collections Unit, trying an innovative way to improving the state’s financial operations. It’s too early to rate the ultimate effectiveness of the effort this unit is making to hold people accountable,” Department of Revenue spokesman Paul Grimaldi said in an email. “The figures submitted to the Revenue Estimating Conference cannot tell the complete story. Some of the money we’ve collected goes directly to workers who were shortchanged by their bosses. Other people who owed the largest amounts to the state have been drawn into monthly payment plans by the CCU.”

Ah.  So now the Collections Unit is not a profit center, but an expense to assist employees in collecting their own back pay.  No articles have yet flushed out a number for how much those workers received, but it would be reasonable to wager that taxpayers would have saved money by simply giving them the cash.

These sorts of debacles-in-the-making can leave Rhode Islanders feeling as if there’s something missing in the story.  Who proposed this unit?  Who advocated for it?  Does it amount to more union membership, or were its employees earmarked before it was even created?

We’ll never know, because nobody has the incentive to dig into it (at the expense of other priorities), which ensures that there will be more plaque-like units building up in the arteries of state government on into the future, with the more-visible officials professing that they can’t get by without growing budgets year after year.

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The Political Fashionableness of Latin

By way of some morning levity, I thought I’d pass along this headline from the Fall River Herald that caught my eye: “For classicists, ‘quid pro quo’ is music to the ears,” for a story from the Washington Post news wire.

They could have chosen “this for that.” Or possibly even “tit for tat.” But instead, Democrats and Republicans alike decided to go with “quid pro quo” as the defining term for the central accusation of the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

They disagree, of course, on whether an illegal quid pro quo occurred, but have embraced the alliterative Latin phrase as the lingua franca for the debate. Now all that remains is the ultimate political thumbs up or thumbs down decision.

For people thoroughly convinced that the mainstream news media is — to varying degrees depending on region — an active wing of the Democrat Party machine, articles like this appear to be a sly effort to push impeachment.  The presentation is of a light article about linguistic fashion, but what it accomplishes, politically, is to give readers the sense that the impeachment effort is about something real (the Democrat position) and to explain a key phrase for people who aren’t familiar with it.

My awareness of this phrase goes back at least 25 years, for a reason that affects my impression of the news media’s efforts.  During the presidency of George H.W. Bush, news stories were repeatedly framed so as to make him seem out of touch.  One example was a news cycle about how he’d been like a stranger in a strange land at a grocery store, when really he’d been expressing due admiration for some new checkout technology that was cutting edge at the time.

I remember distinctly the coloring of the press when President Bush stated, in response to some faux scandal, “There was no quid pro quo.”  The implied commentary of the news media was so strong as to carry across decades of memory:  “What is this strange phrase, and who even talks like that?”

Vulpes pilum mutat, non mores.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Hints of a Constitutional Crisis

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for November 18, included talk about:

  • Raimondo fundraising as governance
  • The governor sues the General Assembly
  • Municipalities sue the state government
  • Protestors’ liberal-meeting interruptions
  • Cranston seeks investigation of another department

Open post for full audio.

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