Building off the successful “Justice Reinvestment” reforms that were enacted in by Rhode Island lawmakers in 2017, the state’s asset forfeiture laws should next come under scrutiny, as they can often lead to the unfettered government seizure of cars, cash, and other private property. While many policymakers might assume that such laws are directed at criminals, in reality, simply being accused of a crime or violating a regulation may be sufficient for the state to take your property.
For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, the topics were various questions of motivation for campaign (and campaign finance) decisions.
A recent editorial in the Providence Journal comes to the defense of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, after his shoddy treatment during a hearing in the RI Senate:
There are limits on how much time a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization can devote to lobbying, but Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller turned those limits into a virtual ban last month when he interrupted and challenged testimony from one group.
Senator Miller, a progressive Democrat, told Mike Stenhouse of the conservative Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity that the committee was “dismissing” his comments because the center should not be expressing opinions on legislation.
This happens periodically. Mike and I received similar treatment by disgraced Rhode Island representative Raymond Gallison, who moved a bill in which we had an interest to the end and then cut our presentation and all questions short. Really, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that thuggishness runs throughout the culture of our legislature. Giving the thugs leverage only increases their power, which is one of the unhappy effects of tax exemption laws.
It also doesn’t help that everybody knows committee hearings are a total farce in Rhode Island, simply giving a veneer of real legislative representation to an insider game.
How society confuses Kettle, the benefits of religion, and what is “collusion,” anyway?
Here’s a telling anecdote (in the “Rhode Island way” sense) in the Political Scene from today’s Providence Journal:
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.
Yes, Rhode Island surely is a coincidential state, to coin a term. If you’re politically helpful, a government job will appear for your or your family completely by coincidence.
Oppressive Regulations Harm Low Income Families. Hair braiding is a generational and practical African-style art-form for Jocelyn DoCouto and her family, which hail from Senegal and Cape Verde. Yet, unable to afford the burdensome levels of fees and training required to receive permission from the government to legally work in a field that presents no safety risks, Jocelyn, as well as other would-be entrepreneurs, are not able to operate a business that would provide them hope to achieve financial independence.
The year is still young, but this headline for a Tim White article on WPRI is an early candidate in the nobody-should-find-this-surprising category: “RI’s top Democratic lawmakers lead list in handing out taxpayer-funded grants.”
More than $500,000 of the taxpayer money handed out through the $2 million legislative grant program goes to organizations hand-picked by the General Assembly’s top Democrats, a Target 12 review has found.
We should go farther, though. Every dollar goes to legislators hand-picked by leadership to give out these vote-buying grants.
Whether it’s at the state level or the local level, charity shouldn’t be the business of government, and it certainly shouldn’t become an excuse for taxpayer-funded campaign promotion.
In the Providence Journal this week, Wendy P. Warcholik and J. Scott Moody write, “This growing number of children in Rhode Island without a solid familial foundation should give us all pause. This is not a problem that is going to just go away, and we must find ways to help these children before tragedy strikes, perhaps in your own neighborhood.”
Back to the beginning: projected cost of the RI Convention Center in 1990 was $9.7 million a year, with the city paying $3.2 million and the state, $6.5 million a year. Projected state payment this year: $19,364,003. Next year: $18,911,254.
What changed? pic.twitter.com/xCbERMffmI
— katherine gregg (@kathyprojo) March 12, 2018
Rhode Island licenses 72 of 102 occupations studied by the Institute for Justice, far more than most states. Such burdensome licensing mandates hurt lower-income families most and harm economic growth.
Given the national attention, Rhode Islanders can probably expect their legislators to shy away from implementing Providence/North Providence Democrat Senator Frank Ciccone’s proposal to impose a government fee for viewing online pornography. Let’s take the lesson, though.
Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown puts her finger a growing attitude that I’ve been pointing out in Rhode Island government, lately (emphasis added):
What makes all of this especially ridiculous is that under Ciccone and Gallo’s proposal, anyone over 18-years-old could have the filter removed by making a request in writing and paying a $20 fee. The money would go to the state’s general treasury “to help fund the operations of the council on human trafficking.” (But… if people are paying the state $20 to access prostitution sites, doesn’t that make the state a trafficker?)
With its fingers in alcohol, gambling, and marijuana, Rhode Island government continues on its path toward replacing organized crime. Government officials will want a cut of anything that has the feel of a vice. Whereas mobsters built an infrastructure to provide what the law had blocked, government has that infrastructure already in place and capitalizes on it either by making things that are currently legal slightly less so or by letting things that are currently illegal filter through its coffers.
Meanwhile, Ciccone would have the state collect a record of every Rhode Islander who requests access to pornography. Nobody should be comfortable with gangster government’s having access to a list like that.
— Susan Wynne (@scwynne) March 4, 2018
On multiple issues, the Rhode Island news media seems either to inhabit a different universe or to be deliberately skewing Rhode Islanders’ perspective of reality.
I’ve been finding the news cycles discouraging lately, even frightening. We’re fallen creatures, so even a casual familiarity with history will show that the madness isn’t anything new or different. What’s discouraging at this moment is the acceleration of the movement to undermine the principles of freedom and (at least) aspiration to consider things logically and with mutual respect.
Even things that ought to be encouraging have the feel of futility. It feels, for example, like a sign of how far things have gone that I’m agreeing so much with the Rhode Island ACLU more often, and not because I’m changing my worldview. The latest area of agreement comes with the organization’s statement of concern about proposed “red flag” legislation proposing to empower law enforcement personnel and a single judge to predict that a person is likely enough to do harm that he or she loses his Second Amendment rights (emphasis added):
The heart of the legislation’s ERPO process requires speculation – on the part of both the petitioner and judges – about an individual’s risk of possible violence. But, the ACLU analysis notes: “Psychiatry and the medical sciences have not succeeded in this realm, and there is no basis for believing courts will do any better. The result will likely be a significant impact on the rights of many innocent individuals in the hope of preventing a tragedy.”The ACLU’s analysis concludes:“People who are not alleged to have committed a crime should not be subject to severe deprivations of liberty interests, and deprivations for lengthy periods of time, in the absence of a clear, compelling and immediate showing of need. As well-intentioned as this legislation is, its breadth and its lenient standards for both applying for and granting an ERPO are cause for great concern.
We’ll see how this plays out. The RI ACLU was correct, as well, to express concern with the lurching of the Rhode Island Senate to expel an elected member and leave his district without representation on the strength of allegations. Republican Senator Nicholas Kettle’s resignation saved Senate leaders from having to follow through on their threats — and saved the ACLU from having to judge the process one way or another — but there’s no similar out in this case.
The question for legislators and for the rest of us is whether Rhode Island is now a state in which the ACLU can fall outside of the boundaries of acceptable opinion on the conservative side of the spectrum.
Let's remember that reasonable people can honestly disagree about financial assumptions. That is why budget and ROI on corporate welfare are vigorously debated annually. Why not assumptions on PawSox deal? https://t.co/TsXKIMgYFh
— gary sasse (@gssasse) February 28, 2018
Monday’s Providence Journal Political Scene contains an interesting moment regarding vague legislation (since withdrawn) to give the state government authority to go into all public and private schools in the state and test them against an official measure of tolerance:
Diaz told Political Scene she was stunned by the criticism. She said the bill evolved out of a conversation she had with the Providence school superintendent. She said it reflects her beliefs as a Christian woman about how children should be treated, and it matches legislation she successfully sponsored a few years ago for children in the care of the state’s Department of Children, Youth & Families.
Wait, what? I thought progressives were opposed to politicians’ legislating their religious beliefs. What happened to that separation of church and state?
The obvious reality is that “separation” talk is just partisan baloney. Any particular progressive may simply be a hypocrite, but as a general proposition, its adherents understand that individual people are able to pass through the proverbial wall. As long as a church hierarchy isn’t actually running the government, there’s nothing wrong with legislating one’s morality.
Progressives actually surpass most conservatives in wanting to impose their beliefs on others through the force of government. Oh, they’ve got a number of self-deceptive gimmicks that allow them to feel otherwise — the assertion of their beliefs as objective fact, for example — but they see the law as the sine qua non of “who we are as a community,” and that means it must reflect their beliefs. It’s only your beliefs, if you disagree, that simply aren’t allowed… because those are the objective rules.
In a meaningful coincidence (or, as I’d tend to believe, a divine hint), the same Political Scene includes a run-down of the number of times either chamber of the General Assembly has even considered removing members. Even the Dorr Rebellion — an armed insurrection — was not sufficient for legislators actually to seek expulsion, yet as of this writing, all that recently resigned Senator Nicholas Kettle faces are unproven allegations.
But Kettle is a political minority (a Republican), and even if he’s done nothing criminal, he appears to be an infidel against the #MeToo dogma, so his sacrifice serves as a useful message to everybody else that the progressive god will strike down those who are guilty even when the laws of men do not apply.
Very interesting adoption by the Senate of the “good behavior standard” to apply to expulsion decisions; will be interesting to see where this gets consistently applied moving forward… https://t.co/SyqpNG5aDD
— Daniel Reilly (@RepDanReilly) February 22, 2018
This is a terrible quote from Sen Algiere. It says that ignoring due process in serious cases should be considered. Once upon a time in America, we realized that the opposite was true. https://t.co/Mwd8qP9HIL
— Andrew Morse (@CAndrewMorse) February 22, 2018
For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, this week, the topics were Senator Kettle’s travails, Raimondo’s special fund raising deal, defining the Moderate Party, and progressive dog whistles.
For people concerned about possible abuse of the RI General Assembly's expulsion power, remember that there is an expressed check on it in the state Constitution. A member cannot be expelled "a second time for the same cause". (Art VI sec 7)… 1/
— Andrew Morse (@CAndrewMorse) February 22, 2018
…so an expelled member can run again and if his constituents choose to send him back to the Assembly, he could not be instantly re-expelled. It's not perfect, the voters of a district do end up going some time without representation, but they also get the final say. 2/2
— Andrew Morse (@CAndrewMorse) February 22, 2018
Senator Kettle has responded to the threat of an unpleasant ejection process by resigning; unfortunately, even districts that haven’t been deprived of representation are still stuck with the rest of the Senate.
To the Rhode Island Senate’s shame, it has filed legislation for what is likely the first-ever expulsion of a state senator, and it was done, as the bill states, based on some now-resolved campaign finance problems, “unwanted media coverage,” and some allegations and criminal charges for which Coventry Republican Senator Nicholas Kettle has not yet gone to trial.
As argued in this space, yesterday, whatever one thinks of Kettle’s moral standing to claim continuing political support, this extreme measure by the Senate goes beyond attacking his rights to attacking the rights of Rhode Island voters. It isn’t up to voters to find a candidate whom the insiders in the State House can accept; it’s up to the legislators to accept whomever the voters send.
The fact that the lead sponsor of the bill is Democrat Senate President Dominick Ruggerio — who was himself arrested in 2012 and brought “unwanted media coverage” to the chamber — puts an exclamation point on the political nature of this move. The involvement of Senate Majority Leader Dennis Algiere does not alleviate this problem, especially after recent revelations that he played a role attempting to broker peace at an initially secret meeting between Ruggerio and Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello.
Moreover, the fact that the legislation includes detailed documentation of the allegations, as attachments or evidence, suggests that there’s more going on here than a desire to resolve a legislative problem. I’ve never seen external documents appended as part of a bill before, and I’ve read thousands of bills in the past few years.
One needn’t come to the defense of Senator Kettle or his alleged actions to suggest that this is a step too far and moves Rhode Island governance to another level of intrinsic corruption. If Kettle is no longer acceptable to his constituents, then they should remove him. The other politicians in the state Senate shouldn’t take it upon themselves to ensure that a district goes without representation for an entire legislative session. Discomfort with the subject matter of the allegations shouldn’t lead Rhode Islanders to give over their basic rights as voters to a small group of political elites.
While facts still need to be provided, Senator Kettle’s claim to political support seems to be darkening, but the days are dark, indeed, if the state Senate truly has a backwards understanding of representative democracy.
Last week, we told you about a thorny issue that highlights the danger of the progressive-left’s agenda to control our lives through political correctness. I am pleased to report due to coalition efforts we were able to see the bill pulled from committee.
Calling Aaron Regunberg an “overlord” (at least in intention) is not a dog whistle; it’s more like a game of name that tune.
A few weeks ago, Rhode Islanders were reacting to the rapid-fire news of two Providence Journal reporters’ transition to jobs in government offices on which they’d recently written stories. Shortly thereafter, the announcement came that former Republican state Senator John Pagliarini had taken a job as the Senate parliamentarian, and Rhode Island Public Radio reporter Ian Donnis asked state GOP Chairman Brandon Bell whether this was a matter of concern as well. I never saw Bell’s response, but mine was: of course.
An item in today’s Providence Journal Political Scene fleshes out why I’d say that:
Until recently, [Pagliarini] had kept the door open to a potential GOP run for a range of political offices from mayor to lieutenant governor. Now? “I have no aspirations to run for political office as of today,″ he told Political Scene about a week ago. He has also resigned as the state GOP’s general counsel.
And there you go. As with the reporters, the problem isn’t so much the appearance that the government is buying out the potent soldiers of the opposition, but that the prospect of a $54,259 part-time gig makes clear who has the career prospects on offer for anybody who might consider the possibility of raising the sorts of objections that might offend the powerful.