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AG Suggests the Use of Government Staff Has No Cost

This snippet from yesterday’s Providence Journal Political Scene caught my eye.  Concerning Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s running his office as “part of the Trump resistance movement”:

The cost?

“Although the office has spent significant time reviewing the various legal actions brought by attorneys general, this work continues to be handled by staff, without the need for outside resources,″ Kempe said.

Are we to understand that the AG’s staff is entirely volunteer, or that they would have been sitting around doing nothing if not for this activity?  Those are the only two ways an initiative to thwart the activities of the President of the United States wouldn’t have a monetary cost.

Otherwise, we ought to amend the Access to Public Records Act to take away government agencies’ ability to charge the person requesting information for the time of staff members in producing it, because as the AG’s office now suggests that using staff imposes no cost.

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Out of Touch Elite Don’t See the Nerve Trump Touches

Rod Dreher got to this point before I was able to do so:

The news media have been seriously distorting public reaction to Trump’s handling of Charlottesville. Whether this is a matter of only seeing what they want to see, or a matter of the talking heads being concentrated among coastal elites of both parties, is a matter of conjecture. True, a slight majority of Americans think Trump didn’t go far enough, but judging from the coverage and commentary, you would have thought at Charlottesville, Trump met his Waterloo. It didn’t happen. Charlottesville is not nearly as big a deal to Americans as it is to the media and coastal elites.

From coverage in the national media (and across the board, here in the Northeast), one would expect the “not far enough” opinion to rate in the 90s.  The only quibble I’d make is that Dreher skipped one possibility:  Maybe it’s not only that journalists are seeing what they want to see within their coastal elite bubble, but that they actively want to shape the narrative.

Whatever the case, one might fairly suggest that, when it comes to anything having to do with President Trump, journalists aren’t doing their job.  That’s true even if they see their “job” in some respects to be advancing their ideology.  Consider this, from Dreher:

This is likely to cause them to seriously overreach. If Democrats and liberals only pay attention to the media and to each other on the statue debate, they are going to alienate a lot of people. The hostile media environment has made it very difficult for anybody to speak up for keeping the statues, even though that is a majority opinion in America. So people will keep that opinion to themselves.

Keeping their opinions to themselves doesn’t mean forgetting the issue altogether.  Even people who don’t particularly care about Confederate statues will observe the way things work, these days, and may conclude that the country very much needs forces pushing back against the elite zeitgeist.  President Trump is currently the most visible manifestation of that conclusion, and I fear there are worse.

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Why Trump Won: Ending Tyrannical Obama Projects

Such thoughts are surely verboten across the entire Left and among some on the Right, but I don’t see how a reasoned assessment can conclude otherwise than this:  President Trump is still preferable to the President Clinton from whom he saved our country.  Yes, that’s a bit like saying amputation is preferable to death or blindness to a vegetative state, but sometimes life (and our countrymen) force such decisions upon us.

President Trump is reinforcing the Left’s divisive culture war and could certainly be handling that better, but a President Clinton would have reinforced the dismantlement of our rights.  If President Trump’s great sin, recently, was that he was too quick to equivocate over blame in Charlottesville, Hillary Clinton would have been unequivocal in furthering the treatment of conservatives, broadly speaking, as people without rights.  In that regard, even where Trump’s bad, at least he’s reminding liberals why we maintain those rights.

I offer the foregoing preamble in preface to a “hurrah” in response to this news, reported by Joseph Lawler in the Washington Examiner:

After the Obama Justice Department began Operation Choke Point in 2013, Hensarling and other conservatives accused them of denying the constitutional rights of businesses like gun dealers and payday lenders by targeting them for scrutiny under the program, cutting off their access to the banking system under the guise of investigating fraud and money laundering.

The GOP said companies were still wary that they could lose access to the banking system, and needed clear guidance from the Trump administration that the program wouldn’t be continued.

In a joint statement, Hensarling, Goodlatte, and Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri and Darrell Issa said that the Trump administration has “restored the Department’s responsibility to pursue lawbreakers, not legitimate businesses.”

In all the Sturm und Drang we see in the news, don’t lose sight of the fact that the absence of what we have now does not mean the ideal, or even the tolerable, but the elevation of some other intolerable circumstance.

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We Now Return to Our Regularly Scheduled Left-Wing Violence

So… Boston.  A small group organized what turned out to be an actual rally for free speech, and left-wing “counter protesters” — likely ranging from Antifa to well-meaning college kids and others — turned out ready to brawl with Nazis.  In fairness, the news media promoted it as if it was the same sort of white supremacist rally as in Charlottesville, because that sold stories and helped them advance the narrative that racists are resurgent in America.

When it turned out there were no white supremacists to attack, the “counter-protesters” dragged an elderly woman by her American flag, screamed threats at a young man with a MAGA hat and an Israeli flag, and threw bottles of urine at police officers.

Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds offers a related reminder:

Note that although the Tea Party movement was treated much worse by mainstream media than Antifa has been, Tea Partiers never physically attacked journalists, or anyone. Note also that this didn’t get the Tea Party any credit, or even spare it from being compared to Nazis and the Klan.

Shame on the journalists and politicians creating the false sense of boogeymen.  On the other hand, thank you for doubling down on your ideological winnings from last week and losing it all, bringing us back to status quo ante: left-wing violence and opposition to free speech.

From what I’m reading, more “counter protesters” were arrested than actual free-speech advocates attended.  Guess that means there really aren’t two sides to the political violence.  The whole thing was a good lesson, though, of what the Left, mainstream media, and national Democrats hope to accomplish by tarring the entire Right as racist and minimizing the violence of the Left.

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Center Blasts Newest Truck Toll Tyranny; RIDOT’s Laughable Denial

It has come to light that, on August 11, RIDOT *corrected* requested a hearing, scheduled for today, to issue commercial truck route restrictions within the state. The Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity (for whom I am Communications Manager) has just issued a statement strongly condemning this. It says, in part,

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Incumbents Comply with Incumbent-Protection Regulation

Is anybody really surprised that only 7% of Rhode Island politicians (neutrally meant) with open campaign finance accounts failed to comply with a new law requiring them to submit their bank accounts to the state, as Political Scene reports?

The law, which went into effect in 2016, requires all candidates and officeholders to submit bank statements to the Board of Elections following fourth-quarter campaign finance reports. This year marked the first time the statements had to be filed. While copies of the bank statements are not public documents under the law, the Board of Elections provided Political Scene with the names of those who have not yet complied.

As of this week, 49 of 668 individuals with active campaign-finance accounts had failed to file their bank statements. Another 24 of 199 political action committees also failed to file the statements in the required time frame.

The most significant effect of such legislation is to dissuade people from running for public office.  So I have to file a campaign finance report regularly with the state?  OK, I guess I can do that.  And an Ethics Commission report, too?  Well, that’s a lot of forms.  What’s that?  Open a new, separate bank account and give copies of statements to the state government?  Gee, this local volunteer office is looking like more trouble than it’s worth.

Here’s a noteworthy indication of how carefully legislators review the laws that they pass:

Reached last week, [Democrat Representative from Cranston Arthur] Handy said… he initially misunderstood the new law and thought he was exempt because he didn’t meet a spending threshold. (Another campaign-finance bill passed in 2015 requires that candidates who raise or spend $10,000 or more in a year retain a treasurer or deputy treasurer other than themselves.)

From my conversations with the folks at the Board of Elections, all candidates are supposed to have separate bank accounts for campaign purposes, even if they raise no money, but realizing how ridiculous that is, the board isn’t enforcing it against those who don’t have to file campaign reports.  Of course, the way to avoid it all is to not volunteer in the first place.

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Chilling: H5069, Single Payer Healthcare (And the Inconsistencies It Poses)

In the course of reviewing certain bills filed during this year’s General Assembly session, I clicked on H5069 — and stared in growing horror at all of the red-lining (i.e., everything to be struck from current law). I turned to the succinct description of this bill written by Justin Katz, Research Director for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, for the Center’s Freedom Index and the horror did not abate:

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Once Upon a Time, Media Bias Was Actually Debatable

Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice details the latest findings in his organization’s investigation of the government’s cover-up of the meeting between former President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch at a time when Lynch was investigating Clinton’s wife, who (you may recall) was running for president and was heavily favored by the Left, including the news media.

Sekulow points out that it wasn’t just a government cover-up:

… there is clear evidence that the main stream media was colluding with the DOJ to bury the story. A Washington Post reporter, speaking of the Clinton Lynch meeting story, said, “I’m hoping I can put it to rest .” The same Washington Post reporter, interacting with the DOJ spin team, implemented specific DOJ requests to change his story to make the Attorney General appear in a more favorable light. A New York Times reporter apologetically told the Obama DOJ that he was being “pressed into service” to have to cover the story. As the story was breaking, DOJ press officials stated, “I also talked to the ABC producer, who noted that they aren’t interested, even if Fox runs with it.”

Americans cannot trust the national media to cover the federal government or national politics.  They’re on a side.  Period.

I can’t help but recall wistfully a time when President George W. Bush generated mild controversy by visibly carrying a copy of Bernard Goldberg’s book, Bias.  The rapid contrast of the Obama Era sandwiched between the Bush and Trump administrations answered that debate definitively.

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Some Real Scandals We Hear Less About than We Should

The headline given to Tyler O’Neil’s recent PJMedia essay probably captures the sense of many of us on the political right: “Imran Awan Scandal Shows Just How Much Dirt Dems Wanted to Hide By Focusing on Trump-Russia.”  Over on National Review Online, Andrew McCarthy offers a worthy summary, with due incredulity:

… the proceeds of the fraudulent $165,000 loan they’d gotten from the Congressional Federal Credit Union had been sent ahead. It was part of a $283,000 transfer that Awan managed to wire from Capitol Hill. He pulled it off — hilariously, if infuriatingly — by pretending to be his wife in a phone call with the credit union. Told that his proffered reason for the transfer (“funeral arrangements”) wouldn’t fly, “Mrs.” Awan promptly repurposed: Now “she” was “buying property.” Asking no more questions, the credit union wired the money . . . to Pakistan.

As you let all that sink in, consider this: Awan and his family cabal of fraudsters had access for years to the e-mails and other electronic files of members of the House’s Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees. It turns out they were accessing members’ computers without their knowledge, transferring files to remote servers, and stealing computer equipment — including hard drives that Awan & Co. smashed to bits of bytes before making tracks.

On NewsBusters, Tim Graham notes how little coverage the issue is getting in the mainstream media, including avoidance of party designations and some the more-disturbing aspects of the story, such as national security implications.  Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds offers a significant observation with his habitual insight and brevity:

Weird how, since the connection to Democratic dirty-tricks firm Fusion GPS came up, the press stopped talking about the Russia “collusion” story overnight.

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What the Governor Thinks of the People

This clip from today’s Providence Journal “Political Scene” seems telling to me:

Asked by a TV reporter if she believed there was anything she “could learn from″ Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, with his 71 percent highest-in-the-nation approval rating, the 5-foot-3-inch Raimondo quipped:

“Maybe be taller? No.”

Doesn’t that response seem perfectly indicative of what she thinks of us, Rhode Island voters.  Her lack of introspection suggests that she really doesn’t feel the approval of the people whom she’s supposed to be representing is all that important.  After all, what do we know?  The impression is that she simultaneously holds the “smaht people know best” view of governance and has her eye on a different voter pool — national voters.

Even the nature of her quip is insulting, insinuating that, for Rhode Island voters, the difference between the most popular governor in the country and one of the least popular is physical height.  Yeah, “hey, guv,” you’re thwarted by the cruel fate of governing a shallow people.

Incidentally, just by way of a small correction, reporter Katherine Gregg writes that Raimondo has “43 percent approval and 47 disapproval, among those with an opinion.”  That is incorrect.  Those are the governor’s overall numbers, but 10% of survey respondents were unsure, so the percentages “among those with an opinion” are 48% approval and 52% disapproval.

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Email Leaks Aren’t Just for National Politics

Americans are still receiving daily updates about Russia’s interference in our elections, last year, beginning with the still-unattributed hacking and publication of Democrats’ emails.  Followers of Tiverton politics, however, don’t have to go that far for their intrigue.  As I write on Tiverton Fact Check:

The day before our Charter Review Commission (CRC) election, Deborah Scanlon Janick published on her Facebook page a string of private emails sent among some members of the town’s Budget Committee, not including her.  Her explanation, as secretary of the committee, is that I “erroneously left [them] in [her] pile of attachments.” …

Her next move was to show them to Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto to ask whether the email chain violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA).  Under state law, a quorum (usually a majority of a board) can’t communicate privately about official business because that would essentially be a secret meeting. …

In this case, there were five of us on the email chain out of 11 Budget Committee members, so Mr. DeSisto concluded we’d done nothing wrong.  Nonetheless, Janick held on to the emails for five months and attempted to throw them like a grenade the day before an election, hoping to affect the outcome.

So, acting in her official capacity, the elected secretary of the Budget Committee took private emails that she knew weren’t meant to be shared and released them on her own Facebook page for political advantage.  There’s nothing to the emails, but the folks in town who aren’t happy that taxes haven’t continued to climb faster than inflation are trying to compensate for the lack of controversy with dark insinuations that elected officials’ communicating is somehow overly secretive.

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The Union Shoe Drops on Evergreens

Well, here’s perhaps the key political consequence for Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo upon her veto of legislation that would ensure that teachers and municipal employees are exempt from the state law limiting all government employment contracts to three years:

“I think that the classified ad is out: ‘Real Democrat wanted for governor of Rhode Island,”’ Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, said Thursday.

Much of my analysis of likely outcomes has been premised on Walsh’s previous statement that the 2014 election season had convinced his union that unity with Raimondo was important.  The truce has expired, apparently, an result that I expected Raimondo to seek to avoid.

It’s pretty rich, though, for Walsh to break faith with Raimondo and divulge that she mentioned her donors during a private meeting that the two had.  The NEA-RI’s PAC alone hands out $15,000 or more per year to state-level politicians, and that doesn’t count the combined total of every union local giving out money across the state, let alone individual members.

Hopefully Walsh was right a few months ago about the importance to progressives that they stick together.  That way he and Raimondo can both lose.

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Montanaro Investigation… Well, That Was Quick

I mentioned, yesterday, that John DePetro had different expectations for the likely outcome of the State Police investigation of state employee and labor-union prince Frank Montanaro, Jr., and his receipt of a college-tuition benefit to which he was dubiously entitled.  Existence of the investigation came to light early this week, with the subject having been interviewed on Friday.

Well, Tim White and Ted Nesi published this yesterday afternoon:

Just a day after confirming the investigation, the Rhode Island State Police said Tuesday they have completed their examination of a top State House staffer who got about $50,000 in free tuition, and forwarded their findings to the attorney general.

What might a quick resolution of the investigation mean?  It would seem that a law was either obviously broken or the State Police have passed along the nothing-to-see-here conclusion that I predicted.

We’ll see.

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UPDATED: Taxpayer Group Sweeps Tiverton Charter Review Commission

In the balance of elections, Tiverton’s charter review commission is relatively obscure, but its importance this year is evidenced by the facts that 24 candidates ran for the nine available seats and the election brought around 150 more people to the polls than voted in Newport’s simultaneous Democrat primary for the state Senate seat vacated by former Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed.

The conclusion of Tiverton’s campaign, yesterday, saw the candidates endorsed by the Tiverton Taxpayers Association PAC sweep all nine available offices.  The commission will spend a year reviewing the town’s Home Rule Charter (essentially the local constitution) and gathering feedback from residents and town officials, ultimately recommending changes that the Town Council should (and typically will) put on the November 2018 ballot.  The election outcome has huge significance on the policy side and the political side.

On the policy side, the TTA candidates ran with a promise not to substantially modify the financial town referendum (FTR) method of setting a budget, which has produced tax increases under 1% for the last four years.  The candidates also pledged to ensure that millions of dollars in revenue expected from the new Twin River casino currently under construction in town will be put through the regular budgeting process, rather than sectioned off beyond the reach of taxpayers’ annual vote.

On the politics side, the election marks a translation of TTA’s budget-election success into a more-traditional campaign for office, with an outcome more decisive than the group’s partial victory securing a large minority of Budget Committee seats in November (including one currently occupied by this writer).

The next challenge for the taxpayer group will be similar achievements during the regular election cycle, rather than special elections and spring referenda.  The prospects are brightened by the fact that five of the nine winning candidates have not held public office in Tiverton before, and at least two of the five have shown an interest in political activity beyond the commission, with Richard Rom and Justin LaCroix having run for state senate and representative seats last year, ultimately unsuccessfully.  In yesterday’s election, LaCroix was the highest vote-getter, with nearly 50% of the vote in the 24-person race.

Addendum (2:42 p.m., 7/19/17):

RI Future’s Steve Ahlquist makes the reasonable point that this post should mention my involvement with the Tiverton Taxpayers Association, with which I hold and have held various “official” positions, although the simpler truth of the matter is that I’m one of a handful of “core” members.  The omission was in no way intended to mislead, but was premised on the expectation that most readers would know of my deep involvement with the group or, at the very least, that I’m sympathetic with it, whatever my involvement.

In that regard, such a “disclosure” would be similar to requiring Providence Journal reporters to mention their union affiliation any time they report on related labor unions.  Of course, I’ve faulted them from time to time for not doing so, so given the specific nature of this post, I should have mentioned the affiliation.

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State Police and Other Mechanisms for Responsive Government

During my weekly call today to the John DePetro Show on 1540 AM WADK, John and I disagreed, a little, on the news that, at Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s request, the State Police are investigating the process by which Frank Montanaro, Jr., got around $50,000 in free public-higher-education tuition as a benefit for a job that he no longer held with Rhode Island College.

The disagreement, minor as it was, involved John’s expectation that there’s legal fire behind the smoke of this issue and my skepticism that the State Police will find and pursue anything that’s actually a legal problem for Montanaro.  John mentioned other legislators who’ve been nailed on legal challenges, but with some of the more-notable cases (Fox & Gallison), federal officials were involved, not just the state.

I guess I’ve just reduced my expectations for the State Police in recent years, based on various seemingly political decisions they’ve made.  Maybe that’s fair, or maybe it’s not, but it’s my feeling.

A key point that I didn’t manage to make adequately on the radio is that Rhode Island has a dire need to start enforcing rules that aren’t quite laws.  The moment Montanaro was found to have filed false reports in pursuit of his benefit, he ought to have been gone, whether or not it proved to be illegal.  And to ensure that reform, we need something other than the State Police.

If the State Police come out and say that they found no evidence of criminal activity — however bad the whole thing might stink — that counts as absolution for crooked behavior.  What we need is some other authority, like an inspector general or something, who can bridge that gap, both recommending legal prosecution and providing credible analysis that a particular deal did not seem to jibe with the spirit of a personnel policy.

A lot of corruption can go on between completely legit government activities and clearly illegal behavior.  Our government officials have proven unwilling to enforce that gray area on the side of justice, so we need something more.

In the meantime, I’ll remain skeptical.

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Raimondo Transparency: Ain’t Your Business

Rhode Island House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan (R, Coventry, Warwick, West Warwick) asked the administration of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo for some information about a public relations firm’s activities placing stories about Rhode Island in out-of-town publications at taxpayer expense.  Here’s the response:

Our office completed a review of the requested materials. There is one document responsive to your request but is being withheld, as it is not deemed public. This document is an internal e-mail thread reflecting work product of the Governor’s staff.

The next paragraph laughably invites the person requesting the information to appeal the decision to Raimondo Chief of Staff Brett Smiley, a left-wing activist.

Given the notable, noteworthy, and much-noted appearances of our governor in out-of-state publications that were explicitly promoting her, not Rhode Island, one would think her administration would be eager to prove that it isn’t buying that coverage with taxpayer dollars.  The lack of transparency will inevitably make Rhode Islanders suspicious that this may be exactly what the governor is doing.

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