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A National Chameleon of Spin

Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo certainly has her PR team active.  Within the space of a week, she’s had positive profiles in the major newspapers of the most-major nearby cities.  What’s interesting, though, is how targeted the messaging is.

The New York Times column by Frank Bruni is headlined: “The Loneliness of the Moderate Democrat.”

She can’t tweet worth a damn and the same goes for Instagram. She winces at talk of a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent and cringes at the growing use of “corporatist” as a slur against Democratic politicians deemed too cozy with business interests. She thinks that big companies often need to be prodded forcefully to do right by their employees, but that it’s bad policy and bad politics to paint them as the enemy.

She recalled an exchange with college students not long ago. One of them said: “I get who you are. You’re one of those spineless centrists.”

“And I was like, ‘Excuse me?’,” she said. “It takes a lot of spine to be a centrist in America today. You get whacked from the left and whacked from the right. That’s my life. I get whacked.”

At the New England-regional Boston Globehowever:

In a multicandidate race, [a majority vote is] a mandate, Raimondo says. And now a politician who rose to prominence by pushing pension reforms that enraged public employees is using her mandate to pursue a list of progressive policy goals: expanding a tuition-free college program, universal pre-K, raising the minimum wage, new gun safety laws, pot legalization. She is calling for more money for public schools, after a round of distressingly low student test scores.

Put it all together, and what do you got?  Raimondo is a progressive who wants to appear moderate to a national audience.  Her PR team is (or “teams are”) savvy enough to craft their message for different audiences, and mainstream journalists and columnists are happy to play along.  (Note that the Boston Globe article is by Mark Arsenault, who was at the Providence Journal until 2009.)

Election results notwithstanding, Raimondo still isn’t very popular in her home state.  But she’s smoothly transitioning to status as a fully national Democrat, which means she’ll have plenty of help appearing to different audiences however she wants to appear.

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A Modest Rules Change and the Legislative Firewall

Busy with other things, I was excited to look into details about the new rules that appear likely to apply to the House this legislative session.  And this is definitely a good thing:

The rule changes, endorsed 14-3, would require House leaders to post new legislative language — with some exceptions — for public consumption at least 24 hours before it is voted on by lawmakers.

The exceptions: The annual House budget bill customarily printed and immediately approved by the House Finance Committee late at night will not be subject to the 24-hour posting rule.

And neither will bills the chairman of a committee deems “either technical, grammatical, or not substantive or substantial in nature” need a day’s exposure to public scrutiny.

But I can’t help but wonder… is that it?  I thought we were going to shift power away from the speaker and toward our elected representatives.  More time to review legislative language will help, but not much, and only if legislators are sincerely reviewing it.  If (as one needn’t be too cynical to suspect) their votes depend more on politics than policy, more time won’t matter a bit.

I’ll also acknowledge mixed feelings about this reaction from the speaker:

Speaker Mattiello has pooh-poohed the debate over the House rules as being of little interest to voters. “I might have gotten no more than two emails on it,” Mattiello told Dan Yorke on Thursday. “Nobody is asking me about it. Nobody cares about it.” Referring to the Reform Caucus of dissident Democrats, the speaker added, “This is an internal game with this ‘high-tax caucus’ wanting to gain ground so they can pass their bad bills.”

He’s undoubtedly right.  Progressive activists may have impressed the local media by getting a few people to testify, but anybody on the inside knows what that amounts to.  These are folks who’ll turn out anyway and won’t be persuaded to vote for people who don’t align with them.  (Raising my hand with some Tea Party been-there-done-that experience.)

Moreover, Mattiello goes right to the key point.  At this time, the rules (which remain terrible, from a perspective of political theory) are what will enable him to be a firewall against a destructive ideology that would actually be worse than the insider system under which we’ve been suffering.  That he is maintaining his promise of being a firewall is at least a bit of a silver lining.

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“Choice” is Clear in Upcoming Furious Healthcare Debate

A federal judge recently ruled that Obamacare is unconstitutional because the individual mandate, repealed in the 2017 federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, is no longer in force. Even though existing federal health-care laws will remain in effect during the appeals process, states should not panic and codify Obamacare into state law, as it is not certain how long federal subsidies will remain intact.

While the courts hear the appeals, and with Democrats winning back control of the U.S. House of Representatives largely on the health-care issue, another furious debate is about to unfold.

Democrats will probably introduce some kind of government-centric plan, while Republicans are poised to introduce their own free-enterprise solution. What we all want are simply more choices at lower net costs.

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“We’re Still Here” After the End of Net Neutrality

Remember that scene in the movie War Games when the military’s top brass (along with our teenage protagonists) are watching monitors that ostensibly show Russian nuclear missiles exploding in major cities across the United States and then some military personnel from around the country check in, proving that the monitors are wrong?  “We’re still here!”

Well, that’s what comes to mind when Glenn Reynolds reminds us that “net neutrality” ended a year ago.  “It’s as if all the Left’s existential crises are just made-up shams,” he writes, quoting Investor’s Business Daily as follows:

So-called experts predicted that removing this cumbersome Obama-era regulatory scheme — which granted the FCC virtually unchecked power over internet providers — would lead to the demise of the internet.

Repealing “net neutrality” regulations “would be the final pillow in (the internet’s) face,” said The New York Times. The ACLU said it “risks erosion of the biggest free-speech platform the world has ever known.” CNET declared that “net neutrality repeal means your internet may never be the same.” CNN labeled repeal the “end of the internet as we know it.” …

A year later, none of the horror stories came true. In fact, average internet speeds climbed by roughly a third last year. The number of homes with access to fiber internet jumped 23% last year, according to the Fiber Broadband Association.

Keeping some perspective as these panics and maniacs work their way through our communities — whether at the national, state, or local levels — is a good practice.

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Keeping the Progressive Elite Employed

Sometimes the exercise of stating things as they appear, removing the names of the people involved helps to clarify what’s being done.  So:

  • The mayor has created an $80,000-per-year government job for somebody to advocate for government-funded pre-kindergarten and housing that is either subsidized or based on restrictions on new developments.  To fill that job, he has hired a twenty-something politician whose work experience includes activism in college, four years as a part-time representative in the state legislature, and a losing campaign for lieutenant governor, who will probably switch to part time when he goes back to school in the fall.

Or:

  • To advance their causes (supposedly helping the disadvantaged), progressive office holders create jobs with unbelievably high salaries to keep their privileged political friends from having to find jobs outside of government and activism.

That, anyway, is how I read Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s hiring of Aaron Regunberg.

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The Best of Times for RI Insiders

There’s an “it was the best of times; it was the worst of times” feel to the picture of a long tent leading up to the State House for the momentary comfort of elite party goers.  The event was an inaugural ball to celebrate the victory of Gina Raimondo in ensuring that nothing much will change in Rhode Island for the next four years, at least not if it will reduce the status of inside players.

Katherine Gregg lists some of the gratuitous donations:

The largest contribution, $20,000, came from the Laborers International Union of North America.

International Game Technology (IGT) and the corporate owners of the Twin River casinos each gave $15,000 for Saturday’s inaugural events, including the invite-only gala at the Rhode Island State House and a “pre-gala reception” for all the inaugural sponsors and their guests at at Café Nuovo.

The $10,000 donors included Amica, Bank of America, Citizens, CVS, Deepwater Wind, General Dynamics, Electric Boat and Pfizer, according to the governor’s office.

Others giving up to $5,000 each included AAA Northeast, Amgen, AT&T, Centene Corp., Dimeo Construction Co., FedEx, First Bristol Corp., JPMorgan Chase, Locke Lord, Microsoft and Washington Trust.

Gee, what would give corporations and other organizations incentive to give this much money to a politician for a party?

True to the formula for these stories, Gregg interviews John Marion of Common Cause RI, who suggests that the government should impose even more (arguably unconstitutional) restrictions on political donations.  But the inaugural donations only illustrate that money will find a way into politics like a rising tide into a structure that’s below sea level.  Even public financing won’t stop it.

The only way to end this flow of money is to reduce what’s available to buy.

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Weird Shutdown Politics

As a local barber cut my hair, this afternoon, one of the customers awaiting his turn mentioned that he is in the Coast Guard and hasn’t been receiving his pay.  They’ll typically get their back pay, but anybody living paycheck to paycheck is going to have a challenging time.  With 12 years of experience, he’s gone through this before, but he said this time is different and might last longer.

He sure is right that this time is different.  The typical analysis of shutdown politics has been that the side that looks like it is the one holding up agreement is the loser.  Of course, that common wisdom is tainted by the fact that the news media always presents the Republicans as the holder-uppers, whether the GOP is trying to get something new or to maintain the status quo on the controversial policy question at the heart of the dispute.

That makes this bit of news, pointed out by Alexandra DeSanctis, a little bit of a head scratcher:

Despite the fact that the funding process has already been held up over political disagreements, in part having to do with contention over building and reinforcing a wall at the southern border, the Democratic representatives now controlling the House added further controversy to the process by slipping a pro-abortion provision into their draft spending bill.

This might make sense as a negotiation tactic (“You remove your controversial proposal, and I’ll review mine.”), but it gives both sides blame as things drag on.  It could be that the farther-left Congressional Democrats are more convinced than even conservative commentators have thought that there is secret national popularity for radical progressive policies.  It could also be that they know their media allies, amped up on Trump hatred, will apply their good-guy/bad-guy brush even more liberally.

In crass political terms, they may be assessing that President Trump isn’t going to back down on the wall and the Democrats aren’t going to back down on not funding it, so they might as well gain some points with their abortion-supporting core.  But again, conceding that they’re not going to back down, to the extent that they’re moving in the opposite direction of compromise, makes it difficult to maintain the narrative that they’re the ones truly concerned with keeping the government operating at full expense.

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How Campaign Finance Laws Really Affect Campaign Finance

So many of the differences between us that people take as black-and-white indicators of good versus evil amount to a difference in how people look at problems.  As a general proposition, liberals/progressives see a problem and seek to put something in place to fix it, while conservatives tend to prefer changing incentives so that the system fixes the problem itself.

Campaign finance is a particularly enlightening example of this distinction.  The Left wants to create laws and reporting requirements that force politicians into the straight and narrow, while the Right wants to reduce the size of government, spread out its authority, and implement reforms that make it less valuable to bribe politicians in the first place.

A recent Washington Examiner editorial gives some explanation of the ways that the progressives’ approach can have unintended consequences.  It describes how a billionaire like Michael Bloomberg (or, say, Donald Trump) can step into a race and instantly be an intimidating contender because he or she can put as much personal wealth into the race as can be spent, while campaign finance laws push candidates who are only millionaires (or less) into the arms of lobbyists and bundlers:

Perhaps Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would propose curbing Bloomberg’s ability to spend on his own campaign, but the Supreme Court wouldn’t and shouldn’t tolerate a law restricting how much of your own money you may spend to ask people to vote for you.

Here’s a better proposal for any progressive out there who doesn’t want billionaire candidates to start with a huge advantage. Our idea could instantly abolish the position of lobbyist bundler, and it might make dark money and super PACs a thing of the past.

Here it is: Abolish the limit on individual contributions. If Bloomberg can get a million-dollar check from himself, Harris should be able to get a million-dollar check from Steyer, and Biden should be able to call up his former boss, former President Barack Obama, for a million.

If millionaires and billionaires are all on the same side, they’ll dominate our politics anyway.  Since they are not in lockstep with each other, our system should allow other candidates to attract their donations.  It should also allow people who are able to donate just a little bit more than the current limits to do so.

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Happy New Year from the Center! How to Start Winning Conservative Victories in 2019.

Happy New Year from everyone at the Center! Do you want to start winning conservative victories in 2019? It is my view that conservatives in our state MUST boldly and relentlessly stand for the core values that have always bonded Americans together, and translate those values into kitchen-table issues that benefit families.

Our vision is based upon the core values of love of country, freedom of religion, self-sufficiency, and preservation of the individual rights granted by God to every American, as defined in our constitution.

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RI Senate and RIDE Leave Little Room for Hope on Education

What’s the basic summary — from the public’s point of view — of Senate President Dominick Ruggerio’s complaint about the Rhode Island Department of Education’s response to a Senate request?

“It was the sloppiest report I have ever seen in my whole life,″ said Ruggerio as he made public a letter he sent Rhode Island Education Commissioner Ken Wagner earlier in the day to express his “deep disappointment.”

The letter focused on a Senate resolution, sponsored by Sen. Ryan Pearson of Cumberland, “respectfully requesting the R.I. Department of Education to conduct a comprehensive review of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 and provide recommendations to improve Rhode Island’s overall education standards and governance.” The Senate requested a response by December 1, 2018.

Of the response the department known as RIDE provided, Ruggerio asked Wagner, in his letter: “How could the department possibly issue a report [in response] to our resolution without even one mention of Massachusetts? Furthermore, the report is dated June 2017 — a full year before the Senate passed its resolution.”

In short, senators passed an inconsequential and wholly inadequate resolution buying time with a request for more information in lieu of taking real action, and RIDE couldn’t even be bothered to play along that much.

The interesting question is this:  Is RIDE just this monumentally incompetent, or did the department err mainly in thinking it could respond to the request in the manner that it probably deserved?

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Owning a Government Shutdown to Own the Libs

For my once-in-a-while dabble in national politics, I’d like to offer a point related to a Los Angeles Times column that appeared in the Fall River Herald:

When Washington braces for a potential government shutdown, the usual ritual is that Republicans and Democrats will posture over who will get blamed.

President Donald Trump, however, made it clear Tuesday morning that he will be the one shutting down the government if Congress doesn’t provide money for the bigger, more expansive wall he has promised to build along the southern U.S. border.

Of course, we have to acknowledge that Donald Trump appears to make this sort of decision off the cuff, and it isn’t (let’s just say) at all clear that it’s part of some master strategy.  But, you know, these moves — when he blows up the etiquette  of Washington — sometimes work, and not only his base, but also many conservatives outside his base, like that he’s dispensing with the illusions.

The news media would have made sure that President Trump owned a shutdown anyway.  In the column quoted above, Jon Healey insists that previous shutdowns had to do with “big, important issues,” like the Dreamers and Obamacare.  One can dispute that Dreamers (certainly) were any more objectively important than a wall, but their issue was certainly more important to the mainstream media, which worked diligently to blame the shutdown on Congressional Republicans, rather than President Obama.

In short, the side that opposes the Democrats always “owns the shutdown.”  Whether Republicans are blocking new initiatives or pushing them, the reportage is unified in decrying their intransigence, while the Democrats merely want to keep the government working.

Having dispensed with the kabuki, Trump can attack the issues head on without getting caught up in the weaselly business of trying to avoid responsibility.  We’ll see if those of us who’ve urged that sort of attitude in the past were correct, but the willingness of a politician to dispense with the games is refreshing.

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Past the Break in Rhode Island

A foreboding thought came to me after my weekly conversation with John DePetro, this week.

The topics that we covered had a recurring theme of elected officials who seem not to care how their actions appear — from Gorbea’s obvious breach of transparency, to Kilmartin’s eight years of running interference for insiders, to Raimondo’s failure to hold anybody accountable for unacceptably low test scores in public schools.

Meanwhile, the same Providence Journal that is criticizing these officials in the strongest terms endorsed the full set of them.  I’ve wondered if different members of the editorial board assert more authority when it comes to endorsements during elections than they exercise when it comes to expressing policy views throughout the year.

Some people say that, even when there are other candidates in the races, there really is no viable choice.  I don’t agree with that; after all, gambling on somebody who has to learn on the job has the benefit of sending a signal to all elected officials that they have to care how their actions appear because voters will replace them, with unknowns if necessary.

Whatever the case, one can’t deny that most statewide races are simply locked up by the nominated Democrat, who can only be threatened in a primary (whether by union stand-ins or more-radical progressives).  The sobering thought one has is that Raimondo’s stronger-than-expected victory may be a signal that this hegemony has now captured the governor’s office.

If the governor’s office is no longer threatened by a competitive political race, we’re done.  The lunatics run the asylum.  Competition is the most effective and incorruptible way to restrain elected officials, and if they don’t face that restraint, they really don’t have to care what we all think.

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The Ambiguous Middle in the General Assembly

I’m not sure if the Providence Journal’s Political Scene crew is right to summarize the General Assembly’s left-right divide based solely on abortion and gun rights, but the reported numbers do raise an interesting question: Are the relatively conservative legislative leaders on the edge of a progressive precipice, or are the legislators whose views aren’t explicitly known more conservative than they want to show in floor votes, thereby exposing themselves to progressive attack?

Cranston Republican Steven Frias seems to think the former:

Frias said his own analysis of the ratings suggests that “Mattiello is in the minority among House Democrats on abortion and guns, which helps explain why [he] has dropped the ‘firewall’ rhetoric.”

“Mattiello’s dilemma is whether to allow a floor vote where representatives will be allowed to vote their conscience on legislation related to abortion and guns. Regardless of what he decides, someone will feel duped,″ either the “House liberals … [or] the cultural conservatives who backed [him] for reelection thinking he would be the ‘firewall’ on abortion and guns.”

Frias’ argument: “If Mattiello betrays his culturally conservative constituents it would be a signal to cultural conservatives that they cannot rely on the Democratic House leadership and they should vote Republican in General Assembly races.”

A corresponding dilemma faces quiet conservatives. As long as legislators are allowed to remain fuzzy on these issues, relatively conservative constituents will continue to rely on the good graces of “firewalls” like Mattiello. An unambiguous understanding of the danger would be clarifying as people make their decisions as voters, volunteers, and donors.

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Center Recommends Constitutional Amendment to Codify Legislative Process Reforms

The legislative sausage-making process in Rhode Island is in dire need of reform. Those reforms that should be codified through a constitutional amendment, so that Senators and Representatives will have greater capacity and freedom to represent their individual districts, rather than being compelled to back the personal agendas of Senate and House leadership. Now is the time to demand better government.

Our state needs less control by leadership over what legislation will advance, with more power provided to legislative committees.

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Bruce Waidler: S.K. School Committee – Serious Questions of Transparency & Conflict of Interest

On Tuesday, November 27, 2018, I attended the South Kingstown School Committee meeting. The recently elected Vice Chair, Sarah Markey, is also the Assistant Executive Director for the National Education Association of Rhode Island (NEARI). The vast majority of the employees working in the South Kingstown School Department are represented by this labor union.

Last year, Markey attempted to get appointed to a vacant school committee position.

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A Great Year for Worker Freedom – Help Spread the Word

This year was a GREAT year for worker freedom across the country, and here in the Ocean State. Early in the summer, the SCOTUS decision in the historic Janus case determined that state and local governments are forbidden from forcing their employees to join unions as a condition of employment. The ruling means union leaders can no longer automatically plunder the pocketbooks of public employees to fund the unions’ political agendas.

In August, we launched our MyPayMySayRI.com campaign to educate public servants about their restored First Amendment rights.

But the insiders want to keep workers in the dark, and in the unions… at any cost.

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School Choice: An Opportunity for Minorities, Republicans, and Conservatives

Some folks questioned whether minority school choice families put Republican Ron DeSantis over the top in the race for Florida governor.  Here’s the numerical evidence:

Of the roughly 650,000 black women who voted in Florida, 18% chose Mr. DeSantis, according to CNN’s exit poll of 3,108 voters. This exceeded their support for GOP U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott (9%), Mr. DeSantis’s performance among black men (8%) and the GOP’s national average among black women (7%). …

What explains Mr. DeSantis’ surprising support from African-American women? Two words: school choice.

More than 100,000 low-income students in Florida participate in the Step Up For Students program, which grants tax-credit funded scholarships to attend private schools. Even more students are currently enrolled in the state’s 650 charter schools.

Most Step Up students are minorities whose mothers are registered Democrats. Yet many of these “school-choice moms” vote for gubernatorial candidates committed to protecting their ability to choose where their child goes to school.

The school choice wave more than a decade ago created a challenge for Democrats, who are dependent upon support from government labor unions, specifically teacher unions.  It’s an area in which free-market reforms actually create something like a government benefit through the loosening of government funds already (for the most part) being spent.  This opens a window of opportunity.

This creates an opportunity for Republicans to open up new cuts of the electorate and, if they play their cards right, to teach some lessons about their policy principles.

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A Little Sleight of Hand from Gorbea

It can be interesting what politicians believe to be valid explanations.  I’m thinking of this, from a press release put out by Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea:

The argument that the omission of birth day and month information could encumber a third-party analysis of the voter registration database is unfounded. In fact, less than 0.5% of the roughly 790,000 voter records share the same full name and year of birth.

One almost has to admire how slyly this misses the point. That’s 0.5% of voters in RI alone.  How many Rhode Island voters share a name and birth year with other voters across the country.  That’s a key question.

Even putting that aside, though, the Providence Journal points out that this percentage means there are around 4,000 Rhode Islanders who have the same name and birth year.  Anybody from Rhode Island or out of state who would like to check on those 4,000 folks would have to travel to the Secretary of State’s office and sit at a special terminal with who-knows-what actual functionality.  (Will it be able to print or save files to thumb drives?)  Surely Gorbea understands that every step that people are required to take means significantly fewer will do them.  This applies to an extra click on the Internet, let alone traveling to a special computer somewhere.

If her goal were really to protect voters from identity theft, Gorbea had much better ways of using the “extra effort” standard.  Right now, people have to request this information.  That alone will scare off many potential scammers.  Legislation could have further made people liable if it could be shown that their use of the information facilitated identity theft, although that might face constitutional challenge.

Most of all — it’s worth repeating — if Gorbea took this action in the public interest, she wouldn’t have done it quietly, but would have proclaimed it widely and visibly as a way in which she was protecting Rhode Islanders.

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The Dogs That Aren’t Barking

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, “Silver Blaze,” Sherlock Holmes cracks the case with the observation that a dog didn’t bark during the commission of a crime.  From this, he infers that the animal knew the criminal.  Perhaps that explains a phenomenon that Rick DeBlois notes in a letter to the editor:

… Rhode Islanders complain about high taxes, incompetent leadership, back-door deals, cronyism, nepotism, and all the mobsters up on Smith Hill. We complain about poor roads, poor schools and a myriad of other issues that are wrong with our state.

But when the time comes to make a change, they reelect the same old gang of incompetent fools who got us here in the first place.

To be sure, part of the problem is that the people complaining turn on each other, a conundrum now personified in the person of Republican gubernatorial candidate Patricia Morgan.  She spent years building up an admirable brand as a politician who responds to Rhode Islanders’ complaints and presses for change, but when primary voters didn’t pick her to be their candidate, she targeted the only alternative candidate with a chance to win.

The bigger, more-systematic problem, however, is all the dogs that aren’t barking… the voters who aren’t complaining.  These are folks who don’t want anything to change because they’re getting something out of the system as it is, whether it’s a do-nothing government job, a government union perch with inflated compensation, or some kind of handout (from welfare to corporate cronyism).  These voters know their masters.

Another layer of voters may sometimes growl a little, but they are easily distracted.  The insiders throw them some progressive causes, some bits of identity politics, or some Trump hatred, and they happily gnaw on those meatless bones while the crime against our state persists.

It’s a fascinating state of affairs to investigate, although one needn’t be Sherlock Holmes to figure it out.  Rather, where that character’s genius is truly needed is in coming up with a way to unravel the trap, because the complaints (and the bites) will multiply exponentially when necessary reforms begin to clear the fatal excesses away.

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