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A Chronic Illness of the RI Right

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Rhode Island Senate Leaders Declare Representative Democracy Dead in Rhode Island

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.

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Setting Up Political Operatives

I’ve expressed skepticism that the state Ethics Commission will see a violation in Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s hiring of a member of the Providence Democratic City Committee and subsequent campaign agreement with that council.  In general, the commission has held the view that corruption only exists in the private sector.  Maybe a political committee will count as a private sector organization under its taxonomy, but I doubt it.

Abstruse government rules aside, the agreement, which Raimondo released on the Sunday of a three-day weekend, looks really bad, mostly because of this part:

No later than January 31, 2018, the Committee will authorize Patrick Ward (“Ward”) to open the following three accounts (collectively, the “Accounts”)…

The Committee agrees that Ward shall have exclusive and plenary authority to spend, transfer, and otherwise disburse funds from the Accounts for any lawful purpose… and shall be the only signatory on the Accounts…, except that Ward may designate any other persons of his choosing to also exercise these powers.  No other person’s approval will be required to authorize the spending, transfer, or disbursement of funds from the Accounts.

So, the agreement doesn’t leave the money in the control of the “committee president,” or any other such language that would give the committee as a whole ultimate control.  It gives control to somebody to whom the governor recently gave a $71,608, in company with his wife’s job in the administration.

The governor insists that the agreement doesn’t establish any “master and servant” relationship, but it gives the committee as a body no control outside of one of the governor’s employees.  Let’s just say that doesn’t look very good or ethical.

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Two Blows to the Collusion Narrative

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Political Incentives for the Opposition as for the News Media

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.

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