The ordinary give and take of a General Assembly hearing on moderately contentious legislation took a detour on Tuesday night. When Lisa Blais, of Ocean State Tea Party in Action (OSTPA), approached the table to testify before the House Committee on Labor, Chairwoman Anastasia Williams (D, Providence) asked her to pause before she began:
Hold on, hold on, hold on. … Are you familiar with a W.B. Palazzo in your group? [Answer: No.] OK, then. I won’t address this to you, but I will say this: This individual emailed me, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, and everything in the context of this email to me led me to believe it to be your organization, or the organization that you’re affiliated with. … I say this: that if you do get a chance to find out who it is I would greatly appreciate your assistance, but please take the message to W.B. Palazzo.
If that individual and the organization that he is representing feels that they have anything to say with regards to legislation that comes before this committee, they are free to do so, but if they take it upon themselves to insult me and my parents and the choices that they took for me, make sure that that message gets back to them and say: Just as I deleted that individual, be it male or female, I will listen to whatever the Ocean State Tea Party or the Tea Party or whomever it is that he is representing, I will listen, but I will not hear a thing that they will have to say, because of the complete disrespect that this person said to me.
Blais assured Williams that she was not familiar with the name and that W.B. Palazzo was certainly not a prominent or active member with her group. She further pledged to review her records and take other steps to identify Palazzo and convey Williams’s message.
Subsequently, Mike Puyana, a representative of the Rhode Island Tea Party, prefaced his testimony with similar assurances, saying that he’d like to let W.B. Palazzo “know exactly what I think of him.”
When the Current sought details about the email after the hearing, Representative Williams declined to elaborate on its objectionable portions “because it was too insulting to me and, like I said, my parents, because it reflects on them, as well.” One comment had to do with her education.
She did, however, further describe the details that had led her to associate Palazzo with the OSTPA. Although the email was sent from an unaffiliated AOL account, the text laid out “a process of what the organization does and when it does it.” Specifically, she described the email as accusing her of suspicious activity with regard to the timing of her release of information, making it difficult for the group to disseminate it and organize its activities for the forthcoming week.
Williams objected to the accusation, saying that she releases announcements and information in the appropriate time frame for committee members, not to accommodate individual private organizations.
Using the email address that Williams provided, the Current identified her correspondent as William B. Palazzo. Throughout the last decade, Palazzo was embroiled in SLAPP suit litigation against former Senate Finance Chairman Stephen Alves, of West Warwick. (SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” and the relevant statutes are designed to prevent public officials from using the courts to intimidate members of the public.) Mr. Palazzo readily acknowledged that he regularly sends “caustic” emails to legislators, at one point filing a complaint with the RI American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) when they were blocked, but says that Williams is not among his usual targets.
When the Current described the content of the email in question and noted that it would have been sent approximately two weeks prior, Palazzo searched his old emails and recovered one titled “What Say You??? Shenannigans As Usual?” addressed to Williams and copied to Speaker of the House Gordon Fox (D, Providence).
The email consists mostly of a “legislative alert” that the OSTPA issued on March 5. The alert describes the difficulty of tracking bills as they move through the legislative process. Specifically, it cited the two-days notice given prior to the Labor Committee hearing for H7427, which would effectively repeal the ban on longevity payments to state workers for union members. Three of the bill’s five sponsors are members of the Labor Committee.
Above the legislative alert, which he copied in full from craigslist, Palazzo added in red, “Anastasia, you must have gotten your training in IRAN.”
Williams confirmed that she had received the email, but said that there had been another, and she has fully deleted all messages from Palazzo.
Palazzo denies having sent another message and states, “I NEVER said anything about her parents.”
Speaker Fox’s office did not reply to an email request for any correspondence related to exchanges between Williams and Palazzo.