Kettle and Protecting Our Rights from Backwards Political Philosophy


As I’ve been telling at least one anonymous commenter (who is pretending that his or her mind wasn’t already made up about my integrity), my practice in commenting on the personal-life scandals of local elected officials in either party has been to demure until there is something more closely related to policy or governance.  That opportunity has arisen in the case of Coventry Republican Senator Nicholas Kettle, oddly enough, as an expression of agreement with the Rhode Island ACLU.

Kettle finds himself under scrutiny for two apparently separate matters.  One of them is the alleged sharing of “nude” pictures of his now-ex-girlfriend with a friend of his, who is alleged to have reciprocated with photos of his wife.  As details unfold, we’ll see whether this abuse of modern technology amounted to a crime, but if even a mild version of the events is true, the senator is no longer worthy of political support.

The other matter involves some kind of statement or statements that the senator made to a page working in his legislative chamber, who may or may not have been his friend and who ran a losing campaign against him some time between the alleged incident and now.  On this question, the public doesn’t have enough information to draw any conclusions at all.

Nonetheless, the Rhode Island Senate lurched immediately to start the process of kicking Kettle out of his elective seat, and that’s where I have to agree with the ACLU, whose statement Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio tweeted out:

The presumption of innocence remains a fundamental component of our criminal justice system, and while the same standard of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” may not necessarily also apply to a setting like a Senate’s consideration for expelling a member, it is nonetheless worth emphasizing that Sen. Kettle has been charged with, not convicted of, these crimes.

In short, while the Constitution clearly gives the Senate the power to establish the rules for punishing its members, it is a power that must be exercised cautiously and with care lest the mere fact that a sitting member has been charged with any crime can serve as the basis for removal, or a duly-elected Senator can be expelled without any opportunity to contest the basis for his expulsion.

The ACLU is correct with respect to Kettle’s rights, as a citizen, but I’d put my emphasis on an even more important point:  The Rhode Islanders in his district elected Kettle.  To expel him over a mere allegation and criminal charge, especially without a rigorous process over weeks or months, would be a violation of their rights.

It wouldn’t just set a precedent, as the ACLU avers, that arrest might lead to the expulsion of any senator, but it would also raise justified concerns that the process would be used in a one-sided, wholly political way.  Let’s not forget, for example, that Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a Democrat from North Providence, was arrested in 2012 for drunk driving, when he was the Senate Majority Leader.

While some process should exist for a legislative body to reject a member in extreme cases, the most disturbing aspect of Ruggerio’s intention to oust a member of the opposition party is the confirmation that our elected officials have their understanding of government backwards.  Our elected officials hold their offices at our pleasure, not at the pleasure of the other political insiders in the State House.   It is not our duty to find a representative whom they find acceptable; rather, it is their duty to accept whomever we might send.

As distasteful as we may find the behaviors of which Kettle has been accused, we should be absolutely repulsed by the idea that the people who claim power to create laws that take our money and put us in jail might have forgotten that.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    “that arrest might lead to the expulsion of any senator,”

    Exactly what our forefathers feared. That is why the Constitution provides that a Senator (or, I believe) a Representative cannot be arrested while travelling to a meeting of the Congress.

    If arrest were sufficient, imagine that you were an elected official and another elected official posed a real obstacle to your plans; what would you do?

    The nature of the evidence provided suggests to me that he should resign.

  • guest

    Thank you for finally acknowledging the elephant in room of RI politics for weeks now. You raise a salient point about senate colleagues taking actions to expel and I do not disagree. However, hiding behind your legal rights is a poor excuse to hold on to your seat. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Do you not aspire to have our leaders hold themselves to a bar somewhat higher than the bare minimum required by law?

    Where you are woefully off base is characterizing “Kettle allegedly extorted sex on two occasions from a former Senate page in 2011″ as “…some kind of statement or statements that the senator made…” Come on, Justin you are better than that.

    • Justin Katz

      I’m not a senator holding on to my seat. With regard to Kettle, I’d take the position that your view is reasonable, but that I differ. As a general rule, he should resign if he sees evidence that he doesn’t have the support of his constituents. Based on what I’ve seen on the “voyeurism” count, I’d say he’s very, very close to where he loses the moral authority to govern, but I have to leave open the possibility that he knows something that I don’t and that pushes the line a little farther away.

      With regard the extortion charges, it’s possible I haven’t seen reported details beyond what’s in the indictment. Based on that, though, we have no idea what it actually entailed.

  • Mike678

    “On this question, the public doesn’t have enough information to draw any conclusions at all.”

    Lol–you assume all people are reasonable. When has a lack of facts or context stopped people from expressing their expert opinions on any matter?

    • guest

      Mike, are you referring to Justin ignoring the factual contents of the indictment, or the general ignorance and distortions we see promoted on a daily basis?

      • Justin Katz

        There are no “factual contents” in the indictment. It alleges attempted extortion, but it doesn’t tell us what that means. It could mean that the two were out drinking and Kettle said something like, “I’ll beat you up if you don’t let me [whatever].” That comes down to a he-said-he-said about whether Kettle was kidding or maybe serious without rising to a real threat. The continued friendship of the two after the fact would suggest that it probably wasn’t taken as a real threat.

        But we just don’t know, yet.

      • Mike678

        The general ignorance we see promoted in the media…as well as the lynch mob mentality. I prefer to let the justice system take out the trash, not allegations which have proven, all to often, to be wrong.