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One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women's ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about "reproductive health care."  Reproductive of what?

The Strange Assertions of Abortion Advocates

One aspect of the abortion debate with which one really must contend is the deception of those who advocate for abortion as a right, starting with the idea that legislation to preserve women’s ability to kill their unborn children in the womb is about “reproductive health care.”  Reproductive of what?

So much of the pro-abortion argument requires distortion of the language and concepts that are involved.  Why that is should be obvious.  The other day, a progressive state senator from Providence, Gayle Goldin, and Providence Journal reporter Katnerine Gregg responded to news that a judge had struck down an Iowa law restricting abortion when the baby’s heartbeat can be detected, implying that it’s a concern because it may give the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to address the question of abortion.

Think of the underlying issue.

This law that is, at the moment, arguably unconstitutional essentially states that if an unborn child is so provably unique from the mother as to have his or her own heartbeat, a doctor can’t suck out his or her brain, tear him or her limb from limb, or otherwise kill the child (presumably except to save the life of the mother).  When that’s the fact of the act, the only way to maintain support has got to be to misdirect attention some other way.

Activists at the Rhode Island State House, the other day, emphasized minorities’ access to abortion, but starting from a different perspective paints a very different picture.  Something around 8% of Rhode Island’s population is black, but they account for some 16% of abortions.  Abortion kills black babies at about twice the rate that it kills white babies in the Ocean State.

A chart from the Guttmacher Institute shows that minorities, especially black non-Hispanics, have much higher abortion rates than white non-Hispanics, yet the claim of the chart is that “lack of access to health insurance and health care plays a role, as do racism and discrimination,” in abortion rates that vary by race.   Is Guttmacher, which is associated with Planned Parenthood, suggesting that racism leads to the higher rates, or is it suggesting that, but for racism and discrimination, the United States would have even higher rates for killing black babies.

That’s what the Providence activists would seem to be suggesting when they talk about “access.”  Pursuing policies that would keep a significant portion of a minority population alive is a strange kind of bigotry.

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.

A Rationale for Expanding Janus

In the continuing pursuit of worker freedom, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation has filed a lawsuit to clarify (or, I guess, expand) the recent Janus v. AFSCME ruling to railway and airline employees.

Janus found that government employees could not be required to pay for union representation if they were not members of the unions that bargained for their workplaces.  The specific legal question in the new case is whether the Railway Labor Act extends those rights.

I haven’t reviewed the legal reasoning to be able to explain why the Railway Labor Act makes the difference.  The point in Janus, as I understand it, was that unions negotiating with government are inherently producing political speech, even when they simply negotiate contracts.

But one of the plaintiffs in the case, Lin Rizzo-Rupon seems to make the case that the right not to join unions should be universal:

“It’s my money. I don’t feel that I should be required to pay someone to protect my job,” said Rizzo-Rupon. “We now have laws to take care of our health and safety in the workplace. I don’t think I should be paying taxes to the government that’s protecting me and then also be paying these mandatory fees to a union for those same protections.”

If the point is that the Railway Labor Act affords protections to the worker, then all workplace or labor standards would apply.

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Pot in Pottersville for the Profit of Political Insiders

On a Facebook page that he controls, WPRI reporter Dan McGowan has generated a good amount of discussion about Ted Nesi’s article concerning Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s plan to put the legalization of marijuana in the state budget.

We should pause a moment on the propriety of making major social changes as part of the budget process, which inevitably covers a wide range of contentious issues.  This sort of history-changing decision should be considered in its own right, not in a giant omnibus bill that buys votes from legislators for this or that other provision.

Much of the conversation on McGowan’s page, however, has had to do with concern about the use of drug legalization explicitly to raise money for government in a failing state.  That suggestion brings to mind the rationale that the General Assembly put into law for creating the state sales tax in the middle of the last century:

The recognition of the state of its obligation to grant pay increases for teachers in the manner provided in chapter 7 of title 16, to assure the maintenance of proper educational standards in the public schools, coupled with the compelling necessity for additional state aid to the several cities and towns now confronted with financial crisis, have created an increased burden on the finances of the state. To the end that adequate funds are available to the state government to enable it to meet these newly adopted obligations, without impairing the ability of the state to fulfill its existing obligations, a revision of the tax structure is unavoidable.

The money is always desperately needed, and there’s always an emotional hook, but government insiders never pay for the supposed priorities. Next will be prostitution or harder drugs, even as nanny state progressives create black markets for cigarettes, soft drinks, and firearms.

Clearly we’re in the world in which George Bailey was never born.  Let’s just change the name of the state to Rhode Island and the Pottersville Strip.

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CORRECTED: Question of Progressive Legislation

CORRECTION (1:10 p.m., 1/12/19): Contrary to my original reading of this legislation, it does contain language making some provision for the transport of rifles and shotguns.  A paragraph running longer than a page exempts various people (mostly law enforcement and military personnel) from its provisions.  About three-quarters of the way through this paragraph, it exempts the “regular and/or ordinary transportation” of the weapons “as merchandise.  The exemption also allows transportation of the weapons unloaded and either in a trunk or a locked container.

This language does make the following post overly aggressive.  However, the bill is still deeply problematic.  Not only does it further infringe on the rights of gun owners, but its exceptions have giant gaps.  The allowable transport of firearms are very specific:  from the place of purchase to home, back and forth to their place of business, or to sell it or have it repaired.

Notably, the exemption still doesn’t include transportation to any sort of shooting range, let alone simply carrying the weapon for the purpose of having it available.  In short, the legislation would completely undermine a key purpose for enforcing the Second Amendment.  It would limit the use of rifles and shotguns to sport (presumably) and protection of the home or place of business.  Any use for the protection of one’s self or others in any other location would essentially be banned.

ORIGINAL POST (6:31 p.m. 1/8/19):

I see only three possibilities when it comes to legislation like H5022, which Democrat Representative Grace Diaz has already submitted for consideration. Either I’m missing something, the radicals are trying to sneak truly outrageous civil rights violations into law, or they just don’t read or think through the legislation they submit.

Here’s the new language the sponsors wish to insert into Rhode Island law:

No person shall carry a rifle or shotgun in any vehicle or conveyance or on or about the person whether visible or concealed, except in the persons dwelling house or place of business or on land possessed by the person. Every person violating the provisions of this subsection shall, upon conviction, be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten (10) years, or by a fine up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or both, except on a first conviction under this section, the person shall not be eligible for a suspended or deferred sentence or probation. This subsection shall not apply to those persons engaged in lawful hunting activity as provided in chapter 13 of title 20, lawful target shooting within this state or otherwise exempt …

So here’s a question: How is a person who has purchased a rifle or shotgun supposed to get it on to his or her own land?  There are no exceptions for transporting these firearms.

Again, either I’m missing something, some of our legislators are unable to foresee even the most obvious side effects of their proposals, or they aren’t side effects at all, and the legislators are hoping to slip unconstitutional language into law thanks to other people’s failure to pay attention or their belief that the sponsors couldn’t possibly mean what they’re saying.

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Another Union Case in the Supreme Court Pipeline

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity has signaled its support for the plaintiff in another union-related case, Kathleen Uradnik, a university professor in Minnesota:

This Uradnik case challenges state laws that appoint a union to represent and speak for all workers, even those who disagree with it – an arrangement known as “exclusive representation.”

Uradnik, who has had major disputes with her faculty’s labor union, which has discriminated against her, is nonetheless required by state law to associate with it and to allow it to speak for her. Rhode Island has similar laws imposing exclusive representation upon public employees, limiting their freedoms and opportunities for advancement.

Owing to the Janus v. AFSCME case, which the U.S. Supreme Court decided last year, government employees can no longer be forced to pay union dues.  Uradnik would free them of association with unions, allowing them to represent, and negotiate for, themselves, or to hire some other party to do so.

Right now, unions have a government-enforced monopoly over each workplace, usually voted into existence by employees years, even decades, ago.  That isn’t right, and it distorts the labor markets, the operation of our government, and (as Rhode Islanders know all too well) the balance of our politics.

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Just Shy of Illegal Voting

Monica Showalter describes some of the activities in California on the cutting edge of vote harvesting:

The [Los Angeles] Times describes how California’s famed ballot-harvesters, who flipped places such as Orange County blue by “helping” fill out, turn in, and continue to turn in ballots from otherwise uncommitted voters until they got the result they wanted, aren’t actually U.S. citizens. Here are the DREAMers in action, “helping” the voters to vote the way they wanted. …

The story doesn’t say what the DREAMer/ballot-harvester would do if the voter decided to vote some other way from the way she wanted him to fill his ballot out. The incurious reporter omitted the obvious question from that heart-tugging scene: Did this foreigner tell the indifferent man how to fill out his ballot? Let’s just say the reporter showed a strong interest, based on the rest of her reportage, in protecting the foreigner from any accusation of illegal voting.

This raises interesting questions about illegal immigrants’ involvement in our electoral system.  To be sure, some on the Left want these folks to able to vote, but even many who don’t go that far would surely not want to block them from civic engagement.

Showalter gives some sense of the risk by changing the immigration context:

… if DREAMers can do that to promote their own political agenda, what’s to stop other foreigners, with far more malign agendas, from doing it? Shall a team of Russian or Chinese agents, Arab terrorists, or Mexican cartels, be next to help harvest the ballots? (You know the Chinese are thinking about it.) They’re as foreign as DREAMers, and it would be perfectly legal under current California law. Ballot-harvesting, which is illegal in most states, makes this all possible. What’s to stop the Chinese from running an agent (as recent CIA busts show, it doesn’t need to be a Chinese-American) and then sending their goons and agents to the houses of Chinese-American voters in Chinese-American neighborhoods, to insist that they vote for Beijing’s candidate? They’d have the additional pull of being able to warn those voters about repercussions against family back home and don’t think they wouldn’t dream of using it.

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How Campaign Finance Laws Really Affect Campaign Finance

So many of the differences between us that people take as black-and-white indicators of good versus evil amount to a difference in how people look at problems.  As a general proposition, liberals/progressives see a problem and seek to put something in place to fix it, while conservatives tend to prefer changing incentives so that the system fixes the problem itself.

Campaign finance is a particularly enlightening example of this distinction.  The Left wants to create laws and reporting requirements that force politicians into the straight and narrow, while the Right wants to reduce the size of government, spread out its authority, and implement reforms that make it less valuable to bribe politicians in the first place.

A recent Washington Examiner editorial gives some explanation of the ways that the progressives’ approach can have unintended consequences.  It describes how a billionaire like Michael Bloomberg (or, say, Donald Trump) can step into a race and instantly be an intimidating contender because he or she can put as much personal wealth into the race as can be spent, while campaign finance laws push candidates who are only millionaires (or less) into the arms of lobbyists and bundlers:

Perhaps Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would propose curbing Bloomberg’s ability to spend on his own campaign, but the Supreme Court wouldn’t and shouldn’t tolerate a law restricting how much of your own money you may spend to ask people to vote for you.

Here’s a better proposal for any progressive out there who doesn’t want billionaire candidates to start with a huge advantage. Our idea could instantly abolish the position of lobbyist bundler, and it might make dark money and super PACs a thing of the past.

Here it is: Abolish the limit on individual contributions. If Bloomberg can get a million-dollar check from himself, Harris should be able to get a million-dollar check from Steyer, and Biden should be able to call up his former boss, former President Barack Obama, for a million.

If millionaires and billionaires are all on the same side, they’ll dominate our politics anyway.  Since they are not in lockstep with each other, our system should allow other candidates to attract their donations.  It should also allow people who are able to donate just a little bit more than the current limits to do so.

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The Evolution of a Strip

For readers elsewhere in Rhode Island, WPRI’s brief report about a Fall River store now approved for retail sale of recreational marijuana may not provide a sufficient picture:

The Cannabis Control Commission approved the final retail license for Northeast Alternatives on Thursday during a meeting in Boston.

Northeast Alternatives currently sells medical cannabis at its location on William S. Canning Blvd., a short distance from the border with Tiverton, Rhode Island.

To be more specific, this pot shop is a short distance from the new casino in Tiverton.  The image that begins to come to mind is that of Pottersville in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Also in the news, lately, has been the arrest of some Foxy Lady employees for prostitution.  With state governments’ pursuing the strategy of making vices legal in order to profit from them, one can’t help but wonder on which side of the border the brothel will go when state coffers continue to run low.

To be clear, this wonderment should not be taken as a comment on the loosening of any of these laws in particular.  We should, however, question this new way of looking at government’s relationship to our liberties and address these changes with open eyes.

The flip side of not believing that government should make everything bad illegal is realizing that not everything legal is desirable.  Our social and political processes can figure out where those lines are for any given topic or any particular location, but our decisions will be distorted if we legalize vices for the reason that government can profit from them.

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Harvesting Votes to Collect Power

In Rhode Island we’ve been watching a relentless push for early voting, emergency mail ballots, and so on — anything to increase the count of people voting.  One might wonder (although nobody asks) who really benefits when we all but force people to vote when they aren’t motivated or especially well informed, but there we are.

A question that is popping up around the country, however, is how much fraud we’re inviting into the system.  Eric Eggers gives the question a look for RealClear Investigations:

America’s electoral obsession isn’t Russian meddling anymore. It’s ballot-harvesting, a long-disputed practice implicated in fraud that’s come to the fore with the nationwide embrace of absentee voting in recent years — and especially in last month’s midterms.

With ballot-harvesting, paper votes are collected by intermediaries who deliver them to polling officials, presumably increasing voter turnout but also creating opportunities for mischief.

Particularly telling is a video out of California in which a doorbell camera catches a woman saying that she’s there to pick up a ballot, a service (she says) only available to people who support the Democrat candidates.  Rhode Island campaigns have been sending out notary publics to help voters finalize their ballots and then bring them in.  One suspects they know whom they are targeting for this special treatment.

One needn’t be a cynic to see this development as an opportunity for cheating, or at least a massive advantage to the candidates with the most money, whether they collected that money through partisan leverage, wealthy donors, or special interests.

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The Ambiguous Middle in the General Assembly

I’m not sure if the Providence Journal’s Political Scene crew is right to summarize the General Assembly’s left-right divide based solely on abortion and gun rights, but the reported numbers do raise an interesting question: Are the relatively conservative legislative leaders on the edge of a progressive precipice, or are the legislators whose views aren’t explicitly known more conservative than they want to show in floor votes, thereby exposing themselves to progressive attack?

Cranston Republican Steven Frias seems to think the former:

Frias said his own analysis of the ratings suggests that “Mattiello is in the minority among House Democrats on abortion and guns, which helps explain why [he] has dropped the ‘firewall’ rhetoric.”

“Mattiello’s dilemma is whether to allow a floor vote where representatives will be allowed to vote their conscience on legislation related to abortion and guns. Regardless of what he decides, someone will feel duped,″ either the “House liberals … [or] the cultural conservatives who backed [him] for reelection thinking he would be the ‘firewall’ on abortion and guns.”

Frias’ argument: “If Mattiello betrays his culturally conservative constituents it would be a signal to cultural conservatives that they cannot rely on the Democratic House leadership and they should vote Republican in General Assembly races.”

A corresponding dilemma faces quiet conservatives. As long as legislators are allowed to remain fuzzy on these issues, relatively conservative constituents will continue to rely on the good graces of “firewalls” like Mattiello. An unambiguous understanding of the danger would be clarifying as people make their decisions as voters, volunteers, and donors.

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The Constitutional Importance of Our Legislators’ Authority

Rhode Island has had lengthy debates about who, outside of the legislature, should have authority to judge what our state representatives and senators do in their official capacity, and few questioned whether that sort of protection belonged in the state constitution. Yet, nobody has yet suggested that legislators deserve the same level of protection from the abuses of other legislators, specifically when it comes to the House and Senate rules.

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is signing on to calls for rules that reduce the power of legislative leaders and give it back to legislators, but with the caveat that it ought to happen where new factions can’t change the rules back if they take control:

In calling for a dual-legislative track, the Center’s primary objective is to ensure that elected Senators and Representatives will have greater capacity and freedom to represent their individual districts, rather than being compelled to back the personal agendas of Senate and House leadership.

The first piece of legislation would immediately implement certain reforms for the 2019 General Assembly session, while the second piece would call for a ballot-referendum in 2020, whereby voters could approve codification of those reforms into the Rhode Island constitution.

The political Left, in particular, has exhibited a tendency to back individual rights until such time as Leftists are able to impose their preferred regime, at which point individual dissent suddenly becomes illegitimate. With legislative rules, as with our rights, we should move them as far out of reach as possible while we still have some semblance of representative democracy.

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A Little Sleight of Hand from Gorbea

It can be interesting what politicians believe to be valid explanations.  I’m thinking of this, from a press release put out by Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea:

The argument that the omission of birth day and month information could encumber a third-party analysis of the voter registration database is unfounded. In fact, less than 0.5% of the roughly 790,000 voter records share the same full name and year of birth.

One almost has to admire how slyly this misses the point. That’s 0.5% of voters in RI alone.  How many Rhode Island voters share a name and birth year with other voters across the country.  That’s a key question.

Even putting that aside, though, the Providence Journal points out that this percentage means there are around 4,000 Rhode Islanders who have the same name and birth year.  Anybody from Rhode Island or out of state who would like to check on those 4,000 folks would have to travel to the Secretary of State’s office and sit at a special terminal with who-knows-what actual functionality.  (Will it be able to print or save files to thumb drives?)  Surely Gorbea understands that every step that people are required to take means significantly fewer will do them.  This applies to an extra click on the Internet, let alone traveling to a special computer somewhere.

If her goal were really to protect voters from identity theft, Gorbea had much better ways of using the “extra effort” standard.  Right now, people have to request this information.  That alone will scare off many potential scammers.  Legislation could have further made people liable if it could be shown that their use of the information facilitated identity theft, although that might face constitutional challenge.

Most of all — it’s worth repeating — if Gorbea took this action in the public interest, she wouldn’t have done it quietly, but would have proclaimed it widely and visibly as a way in which she was protecting Rhode Islanders.

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Rights Erode with a Living Constitution

For a reminder of how the slow erosion of our constitutional rights proceeds, give a read to Damon Roots’s short article, “The 5 Worst Supreme Court Rulings of the Past 50 Years,” on Reason.* The entries don’t appear to name a winner, but I still find the Commerce Clause perversion to be the most indicative of the problematic political theory that has pervaded our government for a century:

Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution recognizes the congressional authority “to regulate commerce…among the several states.” In Wickard v. Filburn (1942), the Supreme Court gave federal lawmakers a massive shot of steroids, enlarging their power in this area to include the regulation of wholly local activity if it has a “substantial economic effect” on the national market.

Six decades later, in Gonzales v. Raich (2005), the Court handed Congress even more power, upholding a federal ban on marijuana, even as applied to plants that were cultivated and consumed by patients for their own doctor-prescribed use in states where medical cannabis was perfectly legal. As Justice Clarence Thomas observed in dissent, “by holding that Congress may regulate activity that is neither interstate nor commerce under the Interstate Commerce Clause, the Court abandons any attempt to enforce the Constitution’s limits on federal power.”

Once one erases the distinction between taking an action (like conducting business across state lines) and doing something that reduces the need for that action (producing something in your own home, for your own use, that reduces your need to conduct business across state lines), there really is no feasible limit on federal power.  In theory as well as in practical reality, every action in our society has some effect on every other action.

This is the problem with accepting government officials’ creativity in finding ways around Constitutional limits.  If people really want to ban marijuana, then they should push for legislation to do so.  If that legislation turns out to be unconstitutional, then they should amend the constitution… as narrowly as possible.  Bending the rules can never be a narrow measure in the long term, because it bends principles as well, and many issues reflect the shapes of our principles.

* Of course, the omission of Roe v. Wade is clearly a function of the publication in question.

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Gorbea’s Pattern of Action with Electoral Security

Of course there’s a balance to be struck between public information and privacy, but this just looks suspicious:

Two summers ago, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea quietly changed what information is available to the public in the state’s Central Voter Registration System.

Without public notice or public hearings, Gorbea deleted the month and day from the date of birth supplied to the public in response to requests for the voting list.

Full dates of birth can be key to independent investigations into how accurately Gorbea is maintaining the state’s voting list. Full dates of birth facilitate computerized searches for voters who may be registered in more than one municipality, may be registered in more than one state, or may have died.

As a rule of thumb, when politicians believe they’re doing something smart or popular, they create events, like hearings, and promote their actions with press releases.  When they’re doing something that they think might not be popular or for which they’ve got some ulterior motive, they do it “without public notice or public hearings.”  This is especially true when the politicians are using executive power to act, rather than legislative.

The motive could be as crass as responding to the desires of a big donor or as insidious as a plan to make election fraud more feasible.  In making a judgment as to where on that spectrum Gorbea’s action might fall, Rhode Islanders should recall that she also requested (and received) legislation from the General Assembly that would make fraud with mail ballots easier.

The mantra on the Left is that there is no evidence of systemic vote fraud.  To the extent that’s true (which isn’t much of an extent), one still must wonder about a secretary of state whose pattern of action seems to make it more difficult to find proof, rather than more difficult to commit fraud.

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Schools Rewrite Humanity Quietly and Children Face the Consequences

Have you seen this story, out of Georgia (via Rod Dreher)?

City Schools of Decatur parent Pascha Thomas claims her daughter, known by the initials N.T. in public documents, was sexually assaulted last year by a male classmate in an Oakhurst Elementary School girls’ restroom. Thomas said her 5-year-old daughter complained of vaginal pain the evening of Nov. 16, 2017. When Thomas asked more, the girl said she was leaving a restroom stall when a little boy in her class came in, pinned her against the stall, and groped her genitals with his hands. She said she tried to get away and called for help, but no one came.

When Thomas reported the assault to school officials the next morning, they responded with “deliberate indifference” toward the assault and the victim, according to the complaint. Despite Thomas’ efforts to ensure justice for her daughter over the following weeks, she said, the school failed to conduct a meaningful investigation, discipline the alleged assailant, remove the child from N.T.’s class or ensure he would not use the girl’s restroom again, or offer any assurance of protection or psychological counseling for N.T.

At a meeting in December, the school informed Thomas the boy identified as “gender fluid” and was allowed to use the girls’ restroom per a districtwide policy opening restrooms and locker rooms to students based on their gender identity.

As the corresponding video notes, Thomas says the school district didn’t stop at “deliberate indifference,” but actually called the state agency charged with investigating child abuse.  That agency paid the family a visit as and investigated the Thomas, herself.

Another point of emphasis is how little involvement parents had it the development and implementation of this policy.  How many Rhode Island parents, do you think, know that our state’s approach to the transgender issue is to assume that government employees are on (at least) an equal footing with parents when raising children and, by the high school level, should be tasked with identifying transgender feelings and helping students hide them from their parents?

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“Publick Occurrences” – The Fundamentals: Patriotism & Faith

As part of the recent Providence Journal sponsored “Publick Occurrences” panel discussion at RI College, I’d like to share some thoughts I prepared, but did not have the chance to put forth. The event’s premise – “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?” and the polarization of public discourse – leaves us two factors to consider:

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Funny How Rhode Island Works

Readers know that I’m not a fan of our campaign finance regime.  It imposes a complicated, intimidating set of laws for grassroots candidates and groups that creates opportunity not only for prosecution of them, but also political attacks on their donors.

I have a hard time, therefore, getting worked up about the apparent probability that the campaign of Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello funded a mailer allowing Republican Shawna Lawton to endorse him in a high-profile way against his Republican challenger, Steven Frias.  To the extent the activity is illegal, it is because of this complex, unconstitutional labyrinth we’ve built, with incentive to find workarounds.

That said, the investigation is unearthing an education in the way Rhode Island politics work, and the stunning thing is that the most objectionable things are treated as incidental… and they’re all completely legal.  I’ve already highlighted one connection:

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has put Edward Cotugno, the mail-ballot guru who helped him eke out an 85-vote victory in 2016, back on his campaign team and given his son a $70,000 a year State House job.

Mattiello, D-Cranston, hired Michael Cotugno as the legislature’s new associate director of House constituent-services.

Here’s another:

Included in the evidence packet that the board provided to The Journal on Friday, in response to a records request, was an Aug. 14, 2016, text from “Teresa” to [political consultant] “Jeff” [Britt] and his partner, Daniel Calhoun, who is still listed as a $60,891-a-year legislative employee on the state’s transparency portal.

Think of this.  Under Mattiello, the legislature has given well-paying legislative jobs (of unknown difficulty) to the son of his “mail-ballot guru” and the man who shares a nice Warwick house with one of his campaign operatives, and the thing we’re supposed to be upset about is a relatively small contribution toward political free speech!

But arguing that the campaign finance investigation is the only reason we know about the rest doesn’t justify burdensome campaign finance laws.  When people act in suspicious ways (like endorsing people of other parties or independent spoiler candidates), we should… well… suspect them of having some ulterior motive, unless they can express a persuasive rationale for the odd decision.  And if somebody who benefits from that persuasion wants to fund it, their money doesn’t change the validity of the argument.

Ultimately, the answer is just to reduce the size of government and the value of controlling it.

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Having a Standard Policy on Government’s Consumer Leverage

The Town of North Smithfield has entered into a “boycott” of Nike over the company’s elevation of the controversial football player Colin Kaepernick as its poster boy.  As a general rule, I’m not a fan of the government’s use of its economic power to push political positions — not so much because politics is inappropriate to government, but because of the government’s responsibility to be a good steward of public dollars.

Of all the reasons a town government might select a shoe, a ball, or a shirt for purchase, politics ought to be vanishingly minor.  Buy the product that best suits the town’s needs.  That said, if the people of North Smithfield have a different political philosophy, the importance of my opinion, standing at my desk over here in Tiverton, is also vanishingly minor.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island isn’t quite as circumspect:

“The Town Council’s passage of this inflammatory resolution over the objections of the many residents who came out to oppose it is shameful,” the ACLU said in a statement. “By punishing the right to peacefully protest and refusing to recognize the racial injustice prompting that protest, the resolution shows a disdain for both freedom and equality. Rhode Island is better than this.”

Lamentably, neither the ACLU nor journalist Linda Borg mentions that Kaepernick was more specifically insulting at the beginning of the whole controversy, notably with socks depicting police officers as pigs.  Be that as it may, I don’t happen to recall the ACLU’s shaming of either of our last two state treasurers for the long list of corporate decisions for which they wish to use our public investments as leverage.  Raimondo’s preferred activism was to hurt gun companies, while Magaziner has preferred environmentalism and identity politics.

In these instances, again, I’d suggest that government officials should just buy the products and make the investments that best serve within the narrow range of what the products and investments are for.  If a Nike product suits a town’s needs, go ahead and buy it.  If the best candidate to run a company in which the state has invested happens to be a white man, don’t stand in the way of the company’s hiring him.

Making decisions on some other basis comes with a cost, and as a general matter, that cost will be larger than the benefit of an activist’s statement.

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Yorke, Stenhouse, Walsh, and One-Way Fairness

In all the heat and contention, an important point slipped through on the episode of Dan Yorke State of Mind on which RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse debated National Education Association of Rhode Island Executive Director Robert Walsh:

Stenhouse was arguing, correctly, that teachers have a legal right to representation outside of their labor union.  Walsh was arguing, correctly, that the labor union has an increased interest in conflicts that arise within the “four walls of the contract” — that is, grievances arising from matters that fall under its unique scope.  And Yorke was stating, reasonably, that it isn’t really fair to force unions to spend money representing people who don’t pay into it.

On that last point, Stenhouse noted that the Supreme Court itself balanced this “free rider” issue against the decades of money that unions have collected from non-members against their will.  I’d go a bit farther, though.  Supporters of labor unions find it fair to force employees in a workplace to belong to unions and adhere to union contracts even if they’d prefer to make their own arrangements because that is for the good of the whole.  Just so, having a unified system for representing people in a bargaining unit could be said to be in everybody’s interests, even if those people don’t pay into it.  More directly, offering “free” services to non-members can still be in the financial interest of the union because accepting that burden gives them access to the larger, unionized workforce.

Fairness has to go both ways.

Now to the legal point:  Walsh is correct to cite the four walls of the contract.  In each district, that contract binds the school department, the union’s members, the non-union teachers, and the union.  As I’ve already explained, at least in the case of Bristol-Warren, the existing contract does not allow an additional fee.  However, it does place the burden of representing all teachers in grievances on the union.

If the union thinks this is unfair, then it must renegotiate the contract to include a fee, a concession for which a responsible school committee would extract something.  The union can’t simply create new terms in its favor just because one of its provisions turned out to violate the rights of non-members. In asserting this future possibility as a present fact, the union is deceiving teachers.

Again: Fairness has to go both ways.

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Another Politically Convenient “Finding” That Might Not Be True

File this under “things you won’t hear proclaimed loudly in Rhode Island.”  It appears that the United States is not the world leader in mass shootings:

[Criminologist Adam] Lankford’s study reported that over the 47 years there were 90 public mass shooters in the United States and 202 in the rest of world. Lankford hasn’t released his list of shootings or even the number of cases by country or year. We and others, both in academia and the media, have asked Lankford for his list, only to be declined. He has also declined to provide lists of the news sources and languages he used to compile his list of cases.

These omissions are important because Lankford’s entire conclusion would fall apart if he undercounted foreign cases due to lack of news coverage and language barriers.

When a researcher won’t provide the underlying data for his or her conclusions, that should be a major red flag.  The new Crime Prevention Research Center report puts the U.S. as having the 61st most mass shootings, not the first, behind (among others, obviously) Norway, Finland, Switzerland, and Russia.

But don’t expect reasonable doubts about Lankford’s assertions to gain much play.  His “findings” support a certain ideological position too cleanly.

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Hints of Mail Ballots as the Gateway to Buying Elections

In our weekly segments on his WNRI show, John DePetro and I have long been talking about indications that the new method of winning elections among Rhode Island’s dominant politicians appears to involve direct harvesting of votes through mail ballots.

The first red flag was Democrat House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s victory-by-mail-ballot in Cranston.  The next was Democrat Dawn Euer’s win of Rhode Island Senate District 13, with the help of a paid campaigner who became a notary public in order to generate mail-ballot votes.  With no big special elections since then, the indications have been limited to things like Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s attempt at funneling campaign money into Providence and legislation related to notary publics.  And, of course, there has been the governor’s furious campaign to raise more money than many people could think to spend on an election in Rhode Island.

Now add this to the list, from WPRI’s Dan McGowan:

More than 2,000 Providence voters turned in mail ballot applications ahead of the Sept. 12 primary, a steep increase from the number of mail ballots requested four years ago.

Kathy Placencia, the administrator for the Providence Board of Canvassers, confirmed Friday there were 2,183 requests for mail ballots in Providence by the Aug. 22 deadline, a 50% increase from the 2014 primary that featured competitive races for governor and mayor.

That’s a citywide increase of 50%, but at the ward level, the increases are up to four times the prior number of mail ballots.

Certainly, it could be that widening availability and awareness of mail ballots are leading people to change their habits.  People are increasingly shopping online, after all, including for groceries, and there’s no reason to think waiting in line to vote is an activity that would remain near and dear to Rhode Islanders’ hears if they had a choice.

Still, as we enter election season, this is going to be one of the key areas to watch, particularly as the votes are counted.

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The Balance of Freedoms in Rhode Island

A thousand discussions could be sparked by the Cato Institute’s Freedom in the 50 States ranking and Rhode’s Island’s 42nd place ranking.

The datapoints that go into the index cover a wide range of issues and are subjective.  For example, Rhode Island is number 1 in “marriage freedom,” largely on the strength of its same-sex partnership laws, but some might suggest that the use of government to redefine a cultural institution is hardly a marker of freedom.  Some might also note that same-sex marriage accounts for 2% of a state’s overall score while religious freedom accounts for only 0.01%.

On the other end of the spectrum, the only area in which Rhode Island is dead last is asset forfeiture. However, another low rank for the state could arguably be considered its defining problem: labor market freedom.  Here, our 49th place ranking results from laws on:

  • General right-to-work law
  • Short-term disability insurance
  • Noncompete agreements permitted
  • Minimum wage
  • Workers’ compensation funding regulations
  • Workers’ compensation coverage regulations
  • Employer verification of legal status
  • Employee anti-discrimination law
  • Paid family leave

The total effect of these policies has been that Rhode Island hasn’t budged from 49th since the first year measured: 2000.

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Rhode Island has a great deal going for it, but if people can’t find work here, they won’t live here.  The Ocean State is roughly in the middle fifth for fiscal and personal freedom — although dropping from 18th to 27th in fiscal freedom from 2000 to 2016 and from 12th to 31st in personal freedom.  If we take Cato’s weightings as our guide, that decline has been making life less free.  But those changes pale in comparison to our languishing at the edge of the bottom fifth in regulatory freedom throughout, and that’s an area in which we need great resolve and quick action to improve.

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