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Contributions to an Ideological Common Wisdom

Over the weekend, I had a Twitter tiff with Providence Journal columnist Ed Fitzpatrick over a comment in his Sunday column, which was about the negativity between the two Republicans vying for the party’s gubernatorial nomination.  Noting that they both have liberal or Democrat backgrounds, Fitzpatrick wrote, “In Ted Cruz’s Texas, they’d give you the electric chair for less than that.”

It’s obviously a joke, but this sort of humor requires some sense of underlying truth.  To mainstream New England liberals, the two bits of common wisdom on which Fitzpatrick is playing are that conservatives brook no dissent and that we are casual about human life.

But humor doesn’t only rely on underlying truth, it also reinforces it.  If that smart and reasonable political columnist in the state’s major newspaper can casually reference conservatives’ willingness to put people to death for disagreeing with them, then (while of course everybody knows they aren’t that bad… at least not all of them) it’s smart and reasonable of others to trust in the sentiment.  This is how the Obama administration can actively abuse Americans during the government shutdown in full expectation that the news media will blame conservative Republicans (e.g., Ted Cruz).  This is how local activists (backed by the teachers’ union, naturally) can get away with declaring that their neighbors want to hurt children and destroy the community for seeking to slow the rate of growth of taxes.

It wasn’t that long ago that mainstream journalists (including Fitzpatrick, as I recall) were assuring me that they understood that it’s possible to oppose same-sex marriage without being a bigot, and now look where we are.  In part we’re here based on the casual dismissing of opponents’ views, such as performed by Fitzpatrick’s fellow Providence Journal columnist, Bob Kerr.  Many were the jokes about traditionalists’ ignorance and bigotry.

This is a lot of weight to put on a throw-away line in an ephemeral bit of political literature, to be sure.  I elaborate on the 140 characters of my tweet only because Fitzpatrick and others objected to my objection.  Comedians are comedians, and ideologues are ideologues.  Even those who agree with them can see the role they fill and take their words in that spirit.  At some level in the development of a smart and reasonable columnist, though, an awareness should develop that even jokes can have consequences.

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 26 (Pay by Gender)

Justin and Bob Plain talk about the pay differential between men and women.

GOP Gubernatorial Candidates on Newsmakers

Both GOP candidates, Ken Block and Allan Fung have appeared on WPRI’s Newsmakers. Here’s both videos. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Joy of Overtime, Part Three of Three: 3 State Employees Tripled Their Pay With O.T.

RIOpenGov data finds three state employees who managed to triple their income, or more, with overtime.

Consolation Prizes for East Bay Legislators?

The rise of East Bay representatives with the ascension to Speaker of the House of Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) is an interesting development to watch. John “Jay” Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton) is now House Majority Whip.  Raymond Gallison (D, Bristol, Portsmouth) is now chairman of the House Finance Committee.

Some folks have suggested that it’s an indication that the tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge may be removed, despite Mattiello’s having been the main proponent for the tolls the night they passed the House two years ago.  In Rhode Island politics, however, explanations that work from the top down tend to be more predictive than those that work from the bottom up.  Assume that leadership’s objectives are being maneuvered, not regular members’.

Another possibility is that leadership positions are consolation prizes for the East Bay representatives.  I’ve been suggesting that the legislative fight against the tolls has been little more than a distraction dance.  For all intents and purposes, the only legislators who must fear the displeasure of the East Bay are our own, and if they are boosters of the Democrat leaders, then it makes sense for them to contrive some cover.

How many times has Buddy Cianci said that Edwards has done the “yeoman’s work” trying to stop the tolls?  And yet, the delays remain only delays.  Some firey speeches on the House floor (though Edwards never withdrew as deputy majority leader under Gordon Fox), some commission hearings, some unlikely legislation (requiring other reps to impose new taxes on their own constituents), and voila the people of the East Bay think their reps did everything they could. And now those reps are in “leadership” positions… why rock the boat?  Maybe they’ll be able to help in other ways, moving forward.

Out of ceaseless hope and optimism, I haven’t wanted to pick between these two possibilities in the past couple of weeks.  I must say, though, that news that first-time, mostly quiet Representative Dennis Canario (D, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Tiverton) has become deputy majority leader begins to sway me back toward the distraction-dance thesis.

It just feels like preparation for the election-season line that “the East Bay shouldn’t give up its big role in leadership.”

The Joys of Overtime, Part Two of Three: 102 State Employees Doubled or Better (100-199%) Their Salary with O.T.

The RIOpenGov Web site shows 102 state employees who doubled their salaries or more with overtime and other pay.

The Joys of Murky Data, Part One of Three: 500 State Employees Boosted Their Pay in 2013 by 50-99% of salary with O.T.

New transparency releases and updates from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity help fill out the picture as Rhode Island follows the pension settlement ping pong.

Metts, Master Lever, and the RI Merry-Go-Round

Yesterday, Patrick mentioned the statement of Sen. Harold Metts (D, Providence) that he supports the master lever (i.e., straight-party voting on Rhode Island’s ballots) because his constituents know what party is best for them.  As that hearing happened, I saw a number of tweets of astonishment that he would say such a thing.

But this is just the annual tradition.  Here’s a paragraph from my liveblog of the corresponding hearing back in 2012:

Senator Metts commented that his father always knew what party was for poor people and what party were for rich. (His grandparents were Republicans.) People may not know the specifics and all the complicated political things that candidates fight about, but people know which party “is going to put food on the table.”

Add it to the long list of evidence that nothing will change until Rhode Islanders start changing the people making the speeches.

A Testing Notification Bill Passes a Semi-Present Senate Committee

Yesterday evening, the Senate Education committee passed a high-school testing bill which, as a result of the amendment process, is substantially different from the bill originally introduced.

The original bill placed a permanent prohibition on the use of standardized testing as a graduation requirement. The amended bill assumes that a “state assessment requirement for graduation from high school” will be in place, and defines procedures for notifying parents and students that assessment requirements are in danger of not being met, and for informing the governor and the executive branch of various test-related results.

The bill passed by a 6-0 vote of the Education Committee with 6 members absent, but only reached 6 votes with the help of the Senate President and Majority Leader adding their two ex-officio “yes” votes to four “yes” votes from regular committee members — to state the obvious here, this means that only four of ten regular committee members showed up to vote on a potentially important bill.

I will point out here that you cannot come to the conclusion that a quorum was present at the committee hearing with a simple answer of “ex-officio members do count towards a quorum” [only 6 of 12 members present] or “ex-officio members don’t count towards a quorum” [only 4 of 10 members present]; you only get to a quorum for last night’s vote by saying that ex-officio members do count when determining how many members are present, but don’t count when determining how many people need to be present.

For reference, here what Roberts’ Rules has to say about ex-officio committee members and quorums

If the ex-officio member is under the control of the society, there is no distinction between him and the other members except where the president is ex-officio member of all committees, in which case it is evidently the intention to permit, not to require, him to act as a member of the various committees, and therefore in counting a quorum he should not be counted as a member.

Like most parliamentary procedure rules, this one is grounded in solid principle; the principle to consider here is whether committees should be passing bills, dependent on ex-officio votes, when a majority of regular members can’t be bothered to show up or may have decided to avoid a difficult issue.

Why is Attorney General Kilmartin Attending a Conference on Fracking?

Is fracking an option for Rhode Island? If it is, let me be one of the first to say hey! let’s check into it.

If it is not, why has Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin signed up to attend a fracking conference in Colorado?

The attorneys general of several states will be in Colorado April 16 for a conference on legal and regulatory issues surrounding the oil and gas industry’s use of hydraulic fracturing.

The Colorado Energy Summit is organized by the Conference of Western Attorneys General (CWAG). It will take place at the Denver Marriott City Center. Regististration information is here.

AGs from several western states including Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah are expected to attend. The attorneys general from Rhode Island and Arkansas also are planning to attend …

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 24 (New House Speaker)

Justin and Bob Plain discuss the new speaker of the Rhode Island House.

Leaving the Door Open for the Exhilarating Right Choice

Rhode Islanders who want their state to turn around from the back of the national pack and forge a more hopeful future should give the new Speaker of the House space to prove their expectations wrong.

The Mattiello Speakership; Past, Present and Future

Past: It was difficult to look at the (unsuccessful) Marcello coalition and believe they were offering reform, as much as they were offering a refashioned oligarchy to replace the old one.

Present: Here are three specific proposals for rules reform, consistent with Speaker Mattiello’s call for a House of Representatives that is truly run by its members:

  • A prohibition on members being removed from a committee, without their consent, after they’ve received their initial committee assignment from the Speaker (this is so non-radical a proposal, the Rhode Island Senate already does it).
  • Creation of a clear procedure — that everybody understands exists — for rank-and-file members to use to recall bills “held for further study” and place them on committee agendas for up-or-down votes.
  • Tidying-up the discharge petition procedure for freeing bills from committee, removing the current rule preventing their use until 50 days into the session, and removing any ambiguity about the “only one petition to be presented for a public bill or resolution during the course of a session” clause in the rules meaning one petition per bill, as opposed to one petition per year.

Future: Trying to downplay the serious differences and avoid explaining the errors of progressivism and the excesses of unionism in order to ease the process of political coalition building isn’t likely to stop the progressives from immediately coming after Speaker Mattiello, or the unions from shifting their support elsewhere, if they don’t get their top agenda items. With the help of some standard-issue Rhode Island political inertia, the new Speaker may be able to maintain the coalition he has assembled for a time, but to prevent it from being whittled away, he will need to resolutely work at convincing a broad swath of Rhode Islanders about why his version of “jobs and the economy” is superior to competing versions which have strong constituencies amongst activists in the Democratic party.

UPDATED: RI Senator Miller Expresses Attitude Toward the Bill of Rights?

The second amendment to the U.S. Constitution, listed in the Bill of Rights, reads as follows:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

What say you, Rhode Island Senator Joshua Miller (D, Cranston, Providence) (language warning)?

The primary problem with this sort of talk from an elected official is that it erodes Rhode Islanders’ confidence that their government works for them, even when the people currently in power happen to disagree on particular issues. If we don’t insist on some minimum standard of conduct, then Rhode Island deserves the government it gets.

Credit to Dan Bidondi for posting the video and being one of Rhode Island’s willing targets.

(Updated with Miller’s apology at the link.)

Sometimes It Feels Like Obama’s Turned Government into a Syndicate

So, today Instapundit links to a Daily Caller story about members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) riding along with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) when SEIU-friendly workers in non-union businesses make complaints about safety violations (which subsequently aren’t substantiated by inspectors):

OSHA deputy assistant secretary Richard Fairfax wrote in a February 21, 2013 clarification letter that union agents can accompany OSHA inspectors to site visits at companies without collective bargaining agreements. …

Maurice Baskin, an attorney representing the Associated Builders and Contractors and the National Association of Manufacturers, said in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections that OSHA’s clarification letter violates the OSH Act and the National Labor Relations Act.

Put this in the file for “Obama uses government agency to help unions (which help Democrats).”

The other day, I came across a Washington Times story reporting that the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is playing favorites when handing out potential election-fodder:

Twenty-eight of the Democrats’ requests have been completed. Most resulted in the EPA release of documents with some reports that a search yielded no records. The other requests are being processed or await assignment. …

Republican political committees have filed just four requests since 2012, and none of those has been fulfilled. One request that has languished for more than two years sought correspondence between John F. Kerry, a senator at the time, and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

File this one under “Obama uses government agency to give Democrats electoral advantage.”

Of course, a quick skim of news stories involving the EPA brings us to another bulging file labeled “Obama uses government agency to change law without changing law.” Also in the drawer are files for “Obama uses government agency to stop political opposition” and (maybe most ominous) a folder simply labeled “NSA spying.”

I can’t shake the feeling that we now have exactly the sort of government that our founding documents strove so hard to prevent, one that sets the government against the people… or at least those who won’t get in line.

Legislative Grants and Reform Leadership

The legislative grants that the Rhode Island General Assembly gives to its leadership teams in both chambers for leverage and public relations perks are a favorite complaint of Rhode Island reformers. It looks a lot like leadership uses them to buy support from our reps and senators, who in turn use them to buy support and good will in their communities.

So with the question being knocked back and forth of who is the “reform” candidate to replace Gordon Fox as Speaker of the House — Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston) or Michael Marcello (D, Cranston, Scituate) — I thought it might be interesting to follow my quick review of campaign finance reports with an even quicker review of their legislative grant requests, as they currently stand.

As of January 1st, Mattiello had requested (and received) $11,250 for CLCF Baseball, Day One, and Oaklawn Grange #42. Marcello had requested (but not received) $18,000 across 21 different organizations, mainly in his district.

That Mattiello has received more only tells us where he stood with Gordon Fox. That Marcello requested 60% more only tells us that he’s comfortable with the practice. It might tell us that he’s more comfortable with it than Mattiello, or maybe being majority leader meant that Mattiello didn’t feel a need to get all of his in right away.

And so it goes; you could make as much of the specific grants as you want, or not. You could infer one thing from the fact that Marcello wanted $5,000 for fire departments, but you could infer quite another from the fact that they’re all volunteer departments. The most important fact, however, is probably simply that they happen to be in his district.

The most important metric that I’ve found remains gauging Rhode Island progressives’ dislike of Mattiello, as expressed on Twitter. If you’ve got a finger in the air, that’s a strong, cold blast.

Speaker Candidate Storylines Distract from Real Reforms

Real reformers in the General Assembly would advocate for a more deliberative and public process of electing a new Speaker of the House.

“Fox On The Run”

Yesterday, the U.S. Attorney, the R.I. State Police, the FBI and the IRS executed search warrants on the State House office and home of Speaker Gordon Fox. From a picture tweeted out yesterday by the Providence Journal, it appears that part of the door to his professional office on Custom House was boarded up. It’s [...]

There’s a Larger Lesson to Be Learned from the Soviet-Style Pension-Settlement Election

Patrick highlighted, earlier, the peculiar ballot and rules of the voting by which retirees can approve or (by some miracle) reject the negotiated settlement of a pension-reform lawsuit (which has come about by peculiar rules, as well):

… if you’re sent a ballot but never get it, you voted yes. If you forget to return your ballot with a “no” vote, you voted yes. If you have no idea what this is about and you don’t return the ballot, you voted yes. If you moved and the ballot doesn’t make it to you in time, you voted yes.

This may be the most stark example in recent years (which tells you something about how important the settlement is to political insiders), but the only thing that’s really new about this “election” is that the local media is actually adopting a mild tone of incredulity, this time. It was only a few months ago, after all, that the SEIU held a successful election to unionize independent child care workers whose clients receive government subsidies. Amidst unjustified threats of arresting observers and other peculiarities, most of the coverage and incredulity came from, well, us.

That election achieved a pro-union vote just shy of the Crimea’s “Soviet-style, 97-percent vote to secede from Ukraine.”

And yet, a small, private free-market think tank — the people raising questions about these and other harmful and suspect Rhode Island realities — is the organization that sparks the most skepticism in local political reporting.

Of course, this is exactly the sort of thing that a villain would say, but with Rhode Island’s economy falling apart and with Rhode Islanders giving up hope, it just might be time for certain folks to readjust their understanding of whom the good guys and the bad guys are.

Watching the President from the Other Side

Many among the conservative commentariate have quickly gotten past their brief flirtation with “I told you so” and are moving toward a tone of slow, aching disconcertment.