Picking and Choosing What Voters Get to Consider


Last night, Tiverton’s Board of Canvassers decided that it had the authority to pick and choose what voters could vote on based on their feelings about it.  The Town Council is hostile to the resolutions, and the town solicitor, who serves in his $98,000-a-year position at the pleasure of the Town Council, told the canvassers that they might face a complaint if voters passed the resolutions.

Never mind that the board was nearly certain to face complaints for blocking the resolutions and the solicitor couldn’t say which lawsuits would be more likely to win.  The canvassers chose to disenfranchise electors rather than do something that the Town Council didn’t want.

As I write on Tiverton Fact Check:

This is the Board of Canvassers.  They’re supposed to be completely neutral referees making sure that all sides in a political dispute have equal access to the ballot.  In this case, the Town Solicitor — who has $98,000-plus reasons to do whatever the Town Council wants him to do — said people might file complaints against the town if voters agreed with the resolutions, and the Board of Canvassers decided to take the vote away from them.

It would be hard to overstate how shocking that is.  Tiverton’s Home Rule Charter states that “All… Elector Resolutions shall be included on the ballot for the Financial Town Referendum and presented at the Financial Town Hearing provided that they are accompanied by 50 qualified elector signatures.”  There is absolutely no dispute that the resolutions the Board of Canvassers blocked had 50 signatures and followed the process in every way, because they followed the same process and had almost identical signatures as other resolutions that were not blocked.

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Once again, government officials in Rhode Island show their belief that the law is whatever they say it is at any given moment.  Hopefully, a judge will conclude differently.

  • BasicCaruso

    “In this case, the Town Solicitor — who has $98,000-plus reasons to do whatever the Town Council wants him to do”

    Fascinating how relevant Justin thinks financial backing is to everyone else’s credibility.

    How much money, sorry, how many “reasons” does your organization have to do whatever the Koch brothers want RICFP to do?

    • OceanStateCurrent

      Asking the same question over and over won’t change the answer. The Center’s funding is not my information to give, nor would I provide it because, as the CEO has stated, the vast majority come from Rhode Islanders whom you and your allies would surely harass were you able. However, Mike Stenhouse has said, I believe, that little to no funding comes from the Koch brothers.

      At the risk of continuing yet another pointless exchange with you and your bad-faith arguments, what do you suppose the Koch brothers’ financial interests in the state to be? You always seem to skip over that part. It’s one thing to point out a specific lawyer’s specific actions benefiting his specific clients. It’s another to make vague allegations that somebody, somewhere might have something at stake.

      But again, we all know you aren’t sincere in your questions. You just enjoy sniping around the edges.

      • BasicCaruso

        What are your connections to Donors Trust or State Policy Network? How much financing have you received to date from those organizations? What are your connections to ALEC and the Franklin Center?

        Let’s be honest, Justin, and admit the connections to out-of-state wealthy donors such as the Kochs are shrouded in secrecy but not truly in question.

        As for the agenda…. sound familiar?
        Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement
        You haven’t heard of Donors Trust, but it’s bankrolled the right’s fights against unions, public schools, climate scientists, and more.

        • Justin Katz

          Because you begin with bad faith and dark insinuations, you conflate all sorts of things. It isn’t the same thing to work with organizations with which one agrees and to take money as somebody’s hired gun.

          Again… what’s the inappropriate interest of the Koch Brothers in Rhode Island policy? The fact that they participate in public policy debates is just how democracy works. Of course, the agenda of the Left is to promote a version of democracy that invalidates anybody with whom Leftists disagree.

          • BasicCaruso

            Hey, you’re welcome to shill for out of state billionaires if you like. Where we take issue is the lack of disclosure and the claims of nonprofit status while lobbying against the interest of ordinary Rhode Islanders.

            While SPN members call themselves “think tanks,” they rarely act as such. SPN groups often engage in extensive lobbying activities, even though nonprofits are limited in the amount of lobbying activity they may participate in by the IRS. SPN “think tanks” release “research” and policy reports, and there are numerous instances of SPN think tanks being accused of skewing facts and using faulty research to reach their policy goals. Many SPN think tanks also collaborate with the right-wing Franklin Center to launch agenda-driven “news” outlets, hawking right-wing talking points from behind a mask of journalism.

          • Merle The Monster

            Hey at least you have elicited this admission….”Again… what’s the inappropriate interest of the Koch Brothers in Rhode Island policy? The fact that they participate in public policy debates is just how democracy works. “

            They (the Kochs) seem less interested in preserving democracy than in shaping it to do as they wish. Their distain for groups and organizations lobbying government to improve living conditions ,be they the elderly or workers or environmentalists can be traced to their embrace of public choice economic views of conservative economist James McGill Buchanan who believed all functions of government are inherently coercive and the desires of wealthy individuals and corporations can be defined as defense of freedom. Sounds a lot like this people of the so called center you have challenged. I don’t think Buchanan struggled financially by the way

      • BasicCaruso

        “The Center’s funding is not my information to give, nor would I provide it because, as the CEO has stated, the vast majority come from Rhode Islanders whom you and your allies would surely harass were you able.”

        fwiw, I don’t blame your wealthy benefactors for wanting to keep secret their support for such unpopular positions. Who could blame them?

        What’s at issue is your credibility and your hypocrisy in pointing out the influence of compensation on others. Never any answer to that one, nor could there be.

        • Mike678

          Blah Blah Blah…. If the positions are so unpopular, then why worry? As for hypocrisy…pure projection.

          No, the fear that drives the progressive left to shut down ideas/concepts contrary to their beliefs is that they have few to no rational arguments in the war of ideas. If you can’t beat them, try to just shut them down. Sad and pathetic.

        • Justin Katz

          The lost credibility is yours, Russ Conway, because you so obviously refuse to draw distinctions.

          The solicitor:
          * Is acting as a public official.
          * Has employment contingent specifically on the good will of the Town Council.
          * Is acting in his official capacity on a specific legal matter of direct interest to the Council.

          By contrast, the Center:
          * Is not acting as a public official.
          * Has a wide range of donors, the great majority of whom are Rhode Islanders.
          * Generally takes a broad approach in advocating for changes to policies in keeping with our beliefs.

          These conditions are so distinct as to be different in kind.

          • BasicCaruso

            Indeed quite different…

            The solicitor is working in a professional capacity on behalf of the town and town council, his compensation a matter of public record.

            By contrast, the RICFP is working on behalf of unnamed individuals including out-of-state corporate interests and the super-rich with agendas we can only guess at, their compensation a closely guarded secret.

          • Justin Katz

            Your view implicates every single person outside of government who ever voices an opinion on public policy. The very problem is the insinuation about “agendas we can only guess at.” You can only guess at them because there’s no clear quid pro quo.

            As usual, I suspect you just derive a weird pleasure from trolling me.

          • BasicCaruso

            LOL, so there’s never any conflict of interest? I’ll keep that in mind.

            But what you ignore here is transparency. Disclose your conflicts of interest… or don’t and accept that your credibility is hopelessly compromised. Just don’t pretend these topics are out of bounds.

            “The groups funded by Donors Trust more or less pursue the same agenda—eliminate regulations, kneecap unions, shrink government, and transfer more power to the private sector.”

          • Justin Katz

            And here’s where you tease your interlocutor with the possibility that the problem really is that you don’t understand basic concepts and can be easily educated.

            There is no conflict of interests. A government official is presumed to be serving the public interest, so being paid by a special interest can present a conflict, in that he or she will execute public duties on behalf of the private interest. When private individuals or organizations advocate for or against public policy, there is no conflict of interests; there are only interests.

            Now you could try to argue that my “interests,” in this sense, are what I’m paid for them to be, but then you’d have to actually make an argument, taking into account my long ideological consistency as well as other points, like the direct interest that you allege my paymasters to have in RI policy.

          • BasicCaruso

            Classic… “I can’t be corrupted! I advocated for out of state billionaires and large corporate interests long before they paid me to do so.”

  • Rhett Hardwick

    “whom you and your allies would surely harass were you able”

    When my former wife went to work for state government it was “suggested” that she change her voter registration to Democrat. Being Cuban, that was almost impossible for her, she compromised on Independent/

  • guest

    You’ve avoided mentioning what the resolution is. Having zero knowledge of the situation, I’m guessing the resolution is for something of questionable legality the and canvassers are attempting to protect the town. Am I warm?

    • Justin Katz

      Well, of course the Town Solicitor would dress it up as concerns about a legal challenge. But even objectively speaking, after discussion, he wouldn’t say either way whether somebody suing because they didn’t block the resolutions (multiple) would have a better chance of winning under the law than somebody suing because they did block them.
      Ultimately, though, that’s a moot point, because no provision in the Town Charter authorizes solicitor or the canvassers to rule on legality or “attempt to protect the town” by invalidating legitimately submitted resolutions. If any of them are problematic, that’s an excellent political argument against them during the campaign, and it’s a matter that a judge can remedy after the fact.
      In short, the bogeyman of lawsuits is purely an attempt to manipulate the board into violating their role.

  • Justin Katz

    Even the solicitor wasn’t saying these are constitutional questions (although I’d suggest the BOC violated the state and federal constitutions by blocking valid resolutions based on their judgment of the content). Again whether the resolutions would (if passed) violate the town charter, or even state law, is a moot point because the Board of Canvassers has no authority to make that determination.