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General Assembly Must Step In – Tolls Have Taken A Dangerous Turn

Below is a statement that StopTollsRI.com (for which I am spokesperson) placed on its Facebook page last night. The R.I. Trucking Association and the American Trucking Association have announced that they would wait until all 30+ toll gantries were installed before they would challenge the legality of truck tolls in court. This alarming development first came to light Thursday night in testimony before House Finance. See Mike Collins’ testimony starting at approximately minute 1:52:40.

Tolls have taken a dangerous turn for Rhode Island residents and taxpayers. It is now imperative that state legislators and General Assembly leadership step in for the good of the state and end the truck toll program.

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Seems the Fascists Are Pro-Net-Neutrality

Here’s an interesting — if no longer surprising — detail from Tunku Varadarajan’s interview with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pal, in the Wall Street Journal:

Protesters from the far-left group Popular Resistance have swarmed the Arlington, Va., street where Ajit Pai lives, placing pamphlets with his face on his neighbors’ front doors. “Have you seen this man?” the flyers ask, stating that Mr. Pai—“Age 44 / Height 6’1″ / Weight 200”—is “trying to destroy net neutrality.” Mr. Pai is chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and the activists, not without perverse humor, describe their picketing of his home as “Ajit-ation.”

“They were there yesterday,” Mr. Pai tells me Monday in his office at the FCC, in uncool Southwest Washington. “I understand they’ll be there today. They’ll be there tomorrow and the day after. It’s a hassle, especially for my wife and my two young children.” The activists, he adds, “come up to our front windows and take photographs of the inside of the house. My kids are 5 and 3. It’s not pleasant.”

The Left excuses itself for this sort of behavior because, like every self-righteous group of totalitarians, they believe they are on the side of ideals that are higher than the rights of those whom they see as a danger.

Ultimately, though, this isn’t a grassroots uprising against an official in an overbearing government, but rather, the protesters are the shock troops of a deliberate movement to grow overbearing government.  When their politicians are in power, they force rules through.  When people vote for a change of course, out come the shock troops, and up goes the mainstream media propaganda, to make sure the ratchet only moves toward more centralized power.

You’d think their unhinged response to President Trump’s election would have taught these people that consolidating power doesn’t come with a guarantee that they’ll always like what’s done with it.  Of course, one can’t expect people who put a family’s house under siege over Internet rules to think things through rationally like that.  They’re either crazy or paid to act like it.

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Imagine Every Rep Surveying Constituents

One of the topics on my weekly call-in to the John DePetro Show, today, was the idea of Democrat House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s surveying his constituents regarding their views on various issues as the House moves into its annual race to do everything that’s important within a couple of months.  No doubt, he’s got some sense of the responses he’ll get and (inasmuch as he’s keeping the results secret) will only release those data points that serve his political interests.

But still, let’s not let cynicism brush off what I would argue is an excellent development.  I’ve confirmed with the speaker’s office that he used campaign funds for the survey.  Imagine if every representative and senator used his or her campaign funds to survey constituents annually (at least) specifically on current issues of political debate.  Then imagine if they made a practice of releasing the results and then working to justify, to their own constituents, any areas in which they voted inconsistently with their preferences.

Why, that might be something like representative democracy!

Of course, in this case and in Rhode Island, one can’t step away from the cynicism of noting that this survey of the speaker’s specific 10,000ish voter span in Cranston could be setting the policy terms for a state of around one million people.  But even then, if an open process of surveying constituents were part of the culture of the State House, it would be immediately clear who was voting with their constituents and who was finding excuses to vote with legislative leadership.

As a bonus, this practice would give incumbents something to spend their campaign money on, maybe avoiding the trap of letting it build up into the tempting pots that have been tripping up Providence City Council members.

 

If I were of a progressive bent, I’d suggest passing a law to require legislators to use campaign funds in this way.  Being reasonable (which is to say, being a conservative), I’d just suggest that it’s a good reason for all politicians to face political opposition every election, as Mattiello did last year.

And as a hint to potential candidates, it wouldn’t be a bad campaign pledge to make.

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Is Party or Country First for Whitehouse?

One of Rhode Island’s U.S. Senators, Sheldon Whitehouse, recently illustrated the outrageous level of partisanship that he exemplifies.  Asked at a South Providence event “how long we have to wait” for the impeachment of President Trump, Whitehouse provided the following response (captured by RI Future’s Steve Ahlquist).

Sure, the blame could go around on who has contributed to the current atmosphere in the United States, and the argument would become yet another political rabbit hole.  Not surprisingly, I’d fault the national Democrats and news media for stoking anti-Bush lunacy, an attitude that Barack Obama perpetuated as a theme of his presidency.  But putting blame aside, what struck me is that Senator Whitehouse didn’t even give lip service to responsible rhetoric or patriotic sentiment.

  • He didn’t caution his audience that investigations might produce nothing, or stop well short of the president.
  • He didn’t express even superficial hope that the country could avoid something that would be so disruptive and damaging to our unity.
  • He didn’t express a preference for a president who would grow in office, even if he’d find that miraculous, at this point.
  • Instead, he furthered the speculation and presented impeachment as something for which we can and should hope.

That is a shocking degree of callousness.  Until November 2016, we could have expected elected officials to muster at least the sense of responsibility for the health of the republic to express hope that even a horrible president wasn’t proven to have behaved in an impeachable manner and would correct himself in office, rather than drive the country to the point at which kicking him out would be the best option.

But not in 2017, apparently, and not Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

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The Paper of the RI Resistance Does Its Best

Notice that today’s half-page (with pictures) Providence Journal article about a Woman Project “rally” to support the right of women to kill their children doesn’t mention how many people actually attended.  Sure, Patrick Anderson lets us know that prior rallies of the Rhode Island left wing were sizable, but from the text and the pictures, one gets the impression that a dozen or two people (including the performers and professional activists) showed up.

That fact doesn’t prevent the Projo from considering the event newsworthy, which contributes to the impression that it’s really just fulfilling its role in “the Resistance” by making sure that readers of its biggest weekly edition know that the anti-Trumpers are still out there.

State Rep. J. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence, [who doesn’t appear to have been at the rally,] has been a lead organizer of the Rhode Island anti-Trump movement and has watched it evolve from, as he described it, “an inferno to a slow, steady burn.”

He noted that in addition to all the weekend events, there were several State House rallies each week on different left-leaning bills.

“One important thing the movement is doing is moving from resistance to policy,” Regunberg said, “making the transition from outrage to something concrete.”

I couldn’t help think of the movement’s transition to “a slow, steady burn” while reading Cheryl Chumley’s Washington Times article about escalating left-wing violence against conservatives and Republicans.  Add to Chumley’s list a message sent to Republican Congressman from Virginia Tom Garrett: “This is how we’re going to kill your wife.”

At this point, it probably won’t take much effort, but for a moment’s imaginative exercise, consider how the Providence Journal would have reported on a small conservative rally at the State House in the context of national increase of violence and intimidation perpetrated by right-wingers.  “Slow, steady burn” might have been used to insinuate something sinister.

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Demagoguing Pre-Existing Conditions

Rich Lowry gives an explanation, in the New York Post, of why the fear mongering about the American Health Care Act (AHCA)’s effects on those with pre-existing conditions is yet another manufactured outrage:

The perversity of it all is that the legislation is properly understood as doing more to preserve the ObamaCare regulation on pre-existing conditions than to undermine it. The legislation maintains a federal baseline of protection in such cases, and says only that states can apply for a waiver from it, provided that they abide by certain conditions meant to ensure that no one is left out in the cold.

Since these provisions only involve the individual insurance market, a small slice of the overall insurance picture (about 18 million are on the individual market), and merely make possible state waivers, they are inherently limited.

You’re not affected if you get insurance through your employer (155 million people), or through Medicaid or Medicare. You’re not affected if you live in a state that doesn’t request the waiver, a category that will certainly include every blue state and most red states, too. Even if you buy insurance on the individual market and live in a state that gets a waiver, you’re not affected if you’ve maintained insurance coverage continuously and not had a gap in coverage longer than 63 days.

By this point, we’re talking about a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the population. If you do have a pre-existing condition in a waiver state and haven’t had continuous coverage, you can be charged more by your insurer only the first year. The state will have access to $8 billion in federal funds explicitly to ease the cost of your insurance, and the state must further have a high-risk pool or similar program to mitigate insurance costs for the sick.

People who oppose these sorts of measures — especially with as much heat and smoke as we’ve been seeing related to the AHCA — give the appearance of elevating their own access to power above any real policy consideration.

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What Do Non-Rhode Islanders Care About a State Rep or Lieutenant Governor

Pondering why a young, still-new state representative from Rhode Island would have $128,000 sitting around in campaign donations, I thought I’d run his name through Rhode Island’s campaign finance search tool.  Regunberg is reportedly considering a run for lieutenant governor, which anybody who watches Rhode Island politics knows is essentially a political holding spot by which to live off of taxpayers while gathering media attention in preparation for a more-significant office, a political appointment, or some sort of private-sector payoff.

That being the case, why has 51% (i.e., a majority) of Regunberg’s campaign cash, gathered since he started collecting it in 2014, come from beyond the borders of Rhode Island?  The average Rhode Island donor has given him $273, while the average non-Rhode Island donor has given him $582.  What are the donors hoping to get for their money?

For some comparison, consider Regunberg’s fellow legislator House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, who has collected fully 94% of her campaign money from within the Ocean State.  Moreover, Rhode Islanders have given her an average of $277, while non-Rhode Islanders have given her an average of $197.  Alternately, look at Regunberg’s fellow Democrat, current Lieutenant Governor (and former Cumberland Mayor) Dan McKee.  His in-state percentage for money is 85%, with RI donations averaging $261 and non-RI donations averaging $343.

There are two possibilities, with both probably playing a role:

  • As we’re seeing with our current governor, out-of-state Regunberg donors may be interested in pushing their nationally focused agenda within Rhode Island, or
  • they may see Rhode Island as one of the increasingly limited staging grounds for left-wing politicians.

In neither of those cases should we expect the well-being of Rhode Islanders as Rhode Islanders to be the top priority of the donor, and we can reasonably wonder how much weight Rhode Islanders’ well-being will have on the politician’s scales as he makes decisions when in office.

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No Health Policy Is Perfect, but Remember Both Sides

Mary Katharine Ham makes a critical point as we all debate (make that, “debate”) health care policy:

Arguing about this as if beneficiaries of ACA don’t exist isn’t right. Arguing about it as if people like me don’t is also not right. ACA was never the panacea it was sold as and it remains distinctly un-utopian in its results. Lazy characterizations of things you like as perfect—and of people you oppose as big fans of people dying—are not particularly helpful to actual people.

So if you’re weaving a utopian or dystopian scenario for Facebook, remember reality is almost always less extreme and more nuanced than you’re asserting, and you probably know a real human on both sides of every imperfect adjustment to our Frankenstein system.

That’s the level at which policy debates ought to be conducted, and it would be true to say that both sides have people who reach that level and people who decidedly do not.  It’s vertigo-inducing to watch the speed at which we go from a mainstream with no major concerns about the wholly partisan, parliamentarily manipulated, nature of ObamaCare to, for example, a Democrat Congressman’s proclaiming that overhauling health care shouldn’t be done in a partisan way.  (It’s like that childhood friend who would keep breaking the rules of a game and then saying that they would apply from that point forward.)

To get to that point, one must ignore the past, and in the case of ObamaCare, it means ignoring people who have been harmed, not to mention the long-term harm to our health care system and economy.  Somehow, we have to see the self-interested partisan talking points and get to the question of which direction policy should actually go.

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Disconnect Between Health Care Rhetoric and Reality

So it seems that Rhode Island and national Democrats have decided that the outrage machine must remain dialed up to 11.  Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline has proclaimed that Congress would kill “tens of thousands of Americans” if it passed the Republican health care bill.  (Put aside evidence that ObamaCare’s already tallying the deaths.)  Democrat governor of Rhode Island Gina (everybody calls me “gov”) Raimondo insists that the bill would strip families of health care coverage.

Meanwhile, as WPRI’s Ted Nesi reports, Care New England hospitals are losing money and struggling under ObamaCare:

The $26-million operating loss for the winter quarter, Beardsworth said, “further tells the story we have been very candid about – decreases in patient volume, a worsening payer mix, changing health care needs of the population, and extremely restrictive reimbursement caps in place through the state health insurance commissioner’s office.”

The payer mix refers to what share of hospital bills are paid for by different commercial and government insurers. In Care New England’s case, more of its revenue is coming from Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for low-income people, and Neighborhood Health Plan; it says both pay less than Blue Cross & Blue Shield. The hospital group’s management attribute the shift to the Obama health law, which President Trump is now seeking to overhaul.

And not to be outdone, insurers around the country are beginning to be more vehement in warning that ObamaCare may have entered the much-warned-about “death spiral.”

Of course, many have suspected that a death spiral leading to full government control of health care was the underlying plan of ObamaCare all along.  So those now squawking are trying to score political points (and out-of-state donations, no doubt) while preventing Republicans from doing just e-pitiful-nough to keep American health care from fainting fully into the arms of the government vampire.

In a state with no political pull within the national Republican Party (i.e., the party in power), it seems politicians’ time would be better spent trying to figure out how to handle any changes that come along than jumping on this week’s excuse for stoking a “resistance.”

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What Are Raimondo Campaign Donors Buying from Out of State?

Shortly after adding the certification of school bus drivers to my running list of tasks at which Rhode Island government is failing, my morning reading brought to my attention multiple articles about Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s big fundraising take in the first quarter of this calendar year.  Here’s WPRI’s Ted Nesi:

Raimondo continues to demonstrate a fundraising prowess rarely seen in Rhode Island politics, having raised nearly $3 million since becoming governor and millions more before that when she was general treasurer. The state’s last two-term governor, Republican Don Carcieri, had about $275,000 on hand at the same point during his third year in office.

Want a fun fact?  According to the helpful spreadsheets that one can download from the state’s campaign finance search tool, so far in 2017, only 31% of the $570,110 the governor has raised came from people with addresses within Rhode Island.  That does represent a little bit of a change.  Going back to 2009 (the earliest available for her) brings Raimondo’s in-state percentage up to 51%.  Over those seven-plus years, by the way, the governor of Rhode Island has averaged a $541 donation from people out of state, but only $406 from donors in the state.

For comparison’s sake, Cranston’s Republican Mayor Allan Fung, presumed to be Raimondo’s most likely GOP challenger in 2018, has collected 99% of his $30,109 campaign donations so far in 2017 from people with in-state addresses.  If it seems unfair to compare a governor with a mayor, turn to the fundraising record of former Republican Governor Donald Carcieri.  He raised 89% of all of his campaign money from people in Rhode Island, and Rhode Island donors gave him an average $427 donation, versus $397 from each out-of-state-donor.

So what are Raimondo’s out-of-state donors buying with their money?  I’m sure their motivations are manifold, but I can’t help but notice that Wexford Science & Technology is back in the news, having received approval for $13.5 million in taxpayer incentives to do business in RI.  As I highlighted back in December, the interactions of Wexford, the Brookings Institution, and other private organizations are certainly, let’s say, interesting, as is the overlap with Raimondo’s donor base.

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Well, RI Does Love Passing Laws for Emotional and Political Reasons

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed with the get-right-to-the-point title, “Tuition-Free College Is Nothing More Than a Political Ploy,” Allysia Finley suggests real motivation is Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo’s presidential aspirations.  She also suggests another topic that merits some careful research before Rhode Island jumps on the bandwagon:

Promising free tuition could steer more students to public schools from private ones. The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York estimates Gov. Cuomo’s plan would boost enrollment at public colleges by 116,000 while reducing the head count at nonprofit schools by 11%. The declines would be particularly acute at small, less selective colleges. For-profit schools would be pinched, too.

According to the commission’s analysis, the plan would shift $1.4 billion away from nonprofit colleges, resulting in 45,000 job losses. Compensating jobs would be created at public schools, but dislocations would invariably occur. “Once this is out there and implemented, possibly some of the more precarious institutions will go under,” Gary Olson, president of Daemen College, told Inside Higher Ed. “And what that will do is cause millions of dollars of lost economic impact on the local community where the college is located.”

Yes, the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities sounds like an interested party, but our society is supposed to work by pitting such interests against each other for the public’s edification.  Perhaps one of Rhode Island’s problems is that it isn’t big enough for collective voices to emerge, even as politicians have enough power to make individual institutions wary of crossing them.

In that, Rhode Island an excellent case study in the danger of big government.  When your economy depends on the ability to procure special deals from the government, the incentive is to not advocate for your interests publicly, which leaves the public uninformed for votes.

Anyway, if Rhode Island’s non-government institutions of higher learning are too besotted or timid to argue their own interests, mark this down as another reason the General Assembly should pass the “free tuition” idea along for a study commission that might draw some real evidence out of the still waters of public discourse.

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Having Enough Sense to Come in Out of the Rain

Reading about Rhode Island’s obligatory branch of the “March for Science,” I couldn’t help but think of this scene from the classic philosophical work, Big Trouble in Little China.

A brave man (or a left-wing ideologue) may like the feel of nature on his face, but there’s something humorous about the idea of people with saturated political signs standing in the rain for an hour and a half listening to speeches about the importance of learning the lessons of science.  Jacqueline Tempera’s credulous reporting for the Providence Journal only adds to the humor:

After about an hour and a half of speeches, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott from the Rhode Island Department of Health ended the program with a strong message.

“This is more than bad policy,” she said. “This is a profound environmental injustice that will have the biggest impact on our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.”

Before the reader can even get to wondering whether Tempera believes “strong message” is an objective phrase or is just cheering on her political allies, the absolute absence of context for the “strong statement” — from a state employee making an overtly political statement — captures the event to perfection.

What is “more than bad policy”?  We don’t know, and one suspects the Puddle-Jumpers for Science don’t either.

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The Right Track for Those Who Stay

Ted Nesi highlights something in the recent Hassenfeld Institute poll that may be worth a deeper investigation:

The poll also showed that for the first time in years, more Rhode Islanders think the state is moving in the right direction than in the wrong direction, with 42% of voters saying it’s headed in the right direction, 36% saying it’s headed in the wrong direction, and 16% unsure.

Nesi combines the Hassenfeld results from the last couple of years with prior polls asking the same question on WPRI’s behalf to show that Rhode Islanders’ outlook has improved since 2010, when it was about 70% wrong track, 12% right track, to statistically even, now, at around 40%.

I wonder what effect population change has had on these numbers.  Every year for the past 12, something like 20,000 to 30,000 Rhode Islanders have left for other states.  Smaller numbers of people have moved here from other states.  Over a decade, though, that’s an exchange or loss of about one-quarter of the whole population.  If we assume people coming will have a more positive view than those leaving, that could have a big effect on a question like right-track/wrong-track.

It’d be interesting if pollsters would start asking how long survey respondents have lived in Rhode Island.  The cross-tabs might be telling.  New arrivals might skew the results positive, or those who’ve been here a while might be comparing our current stagnation with the huge deterioration of the last decade.

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State House Report with John DePetro, No. 4: Flanders in the Outside Lane, Ruggerio on the Inside

For my weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WADK 1540 AM show, the topics were Robert Flanders’s play for the U.S. Senate, Raimondo’s tuition talking point, and Dominick Ruggerio’s insider senate presidency.
Click full post for audio.

I’ll be on again Tuesday, April 11, at 2:00 p.m.

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“Free Tuition” Makes Suckers of Us All

I’ve got the “con” side of a Providence Journal commentary-page presentation of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s college tuition proposal, today:

The typical transition of students to adulthood goes something like this: Children begin attending public school in kindergarten (or earlier) and graduate with diplomas at the end of the 12th grade. Depending on their interests, aptitude and resources, they will either begin working, pursue vocational training or enter college. These decisions are all highly personal and represent only the beginning of a long life in the productive labor force.

In general, where is Rhode Island going wrong for its young folks in this story?

Hint: It isn’t the lack of opportunities for insiders to buy votes or take more money from taxpayers.

On the “pro” side is Deval Patrick who (as one might expect of a politician) tries to take credit for his state’s long slog toward health, proclaiming that “in many ways, from the perspective of a shifting economy, Rhode Island today looks like Massachusetts did 10 years ago.”  Umm.  Massachusetts’s Prop 2 1/2 tax reform went into effect in the early ’80s.  The Bay State’s education reforms were implemented in the early ’90s.  On that count, as I’ve written before, Patrick’s capitulation to the teachers’ unions placed a political ceiling on Massachusetts’s progress, and its standardized scores haven’t improved.

Raimondo’s got the front-page plastered with her face under the headline, “The Raimondo Brand: Nation’s top Democrats tout R.I. governor as icon of party’s ideals.”  If that’s true, the national party is gambling a great deal on the governor’s phony self promotion.  I end my op-ed quoting from Crimetown and suggesting that “free tuition” both compromises its beneficiaries morally and makes us all suckers.  One suspects a national audience won’t be as inclined to ignore the utter failures of Rhode Island government, nor be impressed with the numbers games of its “reforms,” nor desire to emulate the policies of a governor under whom employment growth has almost entirely stopped.

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