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Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising, July 13, 2018



“Remember that this forest belongs to all of us, and to our children. Once the forest is gone – it’s gone forever. Trading this land area through the mitigation process for another green space will not save the species that call this their home.”
Kevin Cleary, chair of the Burrillville Conservation Commission

Welcome to a mid-July Uprising!

First off, thank you to Linda Ujifusa and Jim Cowan for organizing UpriseRI‘s first annual fundraiser, which was a smashing success and a ton of fun. Thank you also to Aaron Jaehnig and The Parlour on North Main Street for providing a capacious venue for the event. Finally, thank you to everyone who turned out for the fundraiser and everyone who has contributed and everyone who appreciates the work I do. It is humbling and inspirational.

I was especially excited to see people who work in vastly different capacities interacting with each other and striking up new connections, conversations and collaborations. Who knows what will grow from seeds planted last night?

1. Invenergy

The 2018 campaign season is in full swing, but next week final hearings resume at the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) on Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the woods of north west Rhode Island. To put the coming hearings into context, representatives from environmental, tourism and conservation groups including the Burrillville Conservation Commission, Save The Bay, the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, the Metacoment Land Trust and an Eagle Scout gathered in Pulaski State Park to show the world what Rhode Island stands to lose if the plant is built.

The plant, if built, will cause forest fragmentation that will have an incremental deadly effect on the environment. Construction and operation of the plant would cause permanent damage to the area and pose “unacceptable risks” to the Narragansett Bay Watershed.

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About 20 people took a walk through the woods, where we learned about the importance of the area Rhode Island is deciding to either preserve, or destroy.

The EFSB meets on Thursday, July 19 and will be hearing witnesses from Invenergy on both the project’s details and the jobs the project will create.

2a. Providence City Council Wards 1 and 12

The Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) held an interactive discussion with candidates running for Providence City Council in Ward 1 and 12, which includes downtown, Fox Point, Smith Hill, and other neighborhoods. All the candidates attended, including Ward 1 incumbent Seth Yurdin, his challenger Justice Gaines, Ward 12 incumbent Terrence Hassett and his challenger Kat Kerwin. All four candidates are Democrats.

All the video from the event can be viewed here.

II found Will Weatherly‘s coverage of the event for RI Future especially good.

And Madeline List at the Providence Journal covered it here.

2b. Ryan Holt

Ryan Holt, running for Providence City Council in Ward 2, is a lawyer and a State House lobbyist. I reached out to him because some of the organizations he lobbies for, like High Rock Development, for which Holt’s firm is paid $120,000 a year, may have important business before the City Council. High Rock owns the Superman Building downtown, and issues that affect the building and the area around it are contentious and very political: Think downtown redevelopment, affordable housing, homelessness, smoking bans and more.

Also of concern is Holt’s work for payday lender Axcess Financial. Last year Nicholas Hemond, employed with Holt as a lobbyist for all the same clients, worked with Representative Scott Slater (Democrat, District 10, Providence) to eliminate the interest-rate ceiling on PayDay loans in Rhode Island, seemingly as a last minute special favor to Axcess Financial and other payday lenders.

Rhode Island is the only state in New England that allows payday loan companies

The Center for American Progress maintains that payday loans, aka “predatory lending” has damaged the national economy and individual households” and “is especially harmful because it disproportionately takes place in vulnerable communities.”

“The reality is that [a payday loan] targets people at their most vulnerable. It’s reckless lending. This product at its core is evil,” said the Reverend Donnie Anderson in this story from 2013.

“Ryan would not represent any client before any municipal board in Providence if elected,” said Holt’s campaign manager David Ellison. “In the event one of the firm’s clients issues rises to the level of City Council, Ryan will recuse himself on both fronts. We anticipate this to be a rare occurrence.”

2c. Helen Anthony

Helen Anthony is also running for Providence City Council in Ward 2. She is a lawyer at Handy Law LLC, a firm deeply involved with pushing a law change that would benefit the developer of a biomass burning facility. (See here and here.) That bill was withdrawn only after a sustained and last minute push by environmental and good governance groups such as the Environmental Council of Rhode Island and Common Cause.

In an email, Anthony defended her law firm’s work:

In response to your inquiry, Handy Law has volunteered and effectively advocated for our new energy economy and sustainable energy solutions for over seven years now.  We’re extremely proud of our record on that.  Please feel free to review those accomplishments on our website at (you may be especially interested in the “News” part of the site, consult with any of our clients regarding our record or call us if you have any questions about that legacy).

We still sincerely believe that allowing biomass facilities to net meter in Rhode Island is the right policy.  Make no mistake, the current alternative is importing natural gas (the lion’s share of New England’s energy supply right now), so the question is not whether local biomass facilities are perfect but whether they are preferable to extracting shale gas, moving it across huge pipelines to his region and then burning it in facilities like Burrillville.  We’ve seen no analysis to prove that it is not preferable and we firmly believe that it is preferable, when subject to the standards in the biomass legislation (clean wood only, subject to all applicable permitting requirements) for many good reasons.

Biomass facilities are already eligible for RECs (through RI’s Renewable Energy Standard law), which means Rhode Island already pays for the green attribute of these biomass facilities in other states.  All this bill would do is provide the mechanics (net metering eligibility) to allow generation here at home.

“We represent our clients’ interests but we don’t represent clients whose interests are not aligned with what is right for the community.  We’re passionate about moving our state toward a green economy and our work at Handy Law, LLC reflects our passion.

In May, Jay McCaffrey, New England clean energy advocate for the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI) stood outside the State House and said that biomass burning,

“…by any account, is more polluting than coal. At the smokestack and per megawatt hour it is significantly more polluting than other forms of fossil fuels like natural gas. Rhode Island has already made a serious error in incentivizing biomass through its renewable energy portfolio standard, which led to more than half of Rhode Island’s energy coming from polluting forms of biomass from around the region in 2015, by Rhode Island’s own accounting.”

2c. Correia and Ryan

Providence City Council member Michael Correia (Ward 6) took to Facebook to accuse fellow council member Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5) of making comments Correia described as “a little racist.” Ryan is in a three way race for re-election against Steven Cianci (cousin to infamous Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci) and and progressive candidate Aaron Jaehnig.

Ryan responded forcefully, saying, “I find this attack upon my character shameful and personally offensive. These are damnable lies and are actionable.”

Ryan and Jaehnig attended a Ward 5 candidate forum at Federal Hill Pizza on Thursday night. Steven Cianci was a no-show at the event, but reportedly the man collecting signatures to get Cianci on the ballot as a Democrat was also collecting signatures to get Cranston Mayor Allan Fung on the ballot as the Republican candidate for governor.

2d. Rhode Island Democratic Party endorsements

Rhode Island Democratic Party Chair Joseph McNamara responded to some off the issues surrounding the recent endorsement kerfuffle in emails to a constituent released to reporters this week.

In his emails, McNamara noted that he had rescinded the Democratic Party endorsements of MAGA sign wielding Trump supporter Michael Earnheart and the “unfit” and “unqualified” former State Senator Greg Acciardo. To avoid such problems in the future, McNamara wrote:

“I believe that, while I have the authority to make endorsements in these races, my default posture in the future is to avoid making any endorsements when a district committee is not organized/constituted and there is a primary. That is not to say that there may not be a compelling reason not to do so in the future, but I think that as a policy matter going forward that is how we will govern ourselves.”

The district committee process, which the RIDP Women’s Caucus labelled “arcane,” is responsible for the endorsement of John Carnevale in District 13, who is going on trial for perjury this summer and has a history of domestic violence and sexual assault charges.

But it is certainly more Democratic.

2e. John Carnevale

Speaking of Carnevale, Tim White at Channel 12/WPRI reports that the “Rhode Island State Police lost or ‘destroyed’ hundreds of hours of undercover surveillance in the case.”

2f. Kenneth Marshall

Carnevale’s replacement as vice-chair of the House Finance Committee, Representative Kenneth Marshall (Democrat, District 68, Bristol), decided not to run after he ran afoul of campaign finance laws a second time. House leadership is taking hits from both the right and left on this.

“Mattiello has a high tolerance for bad behavior,” said Steven Frias, Speaker Nicholas Mattiello‘s Republican challenger.

“These findings are nothing new and reflect an ongoing problem with some of the most powerful legislators here in Rhode Island,” said Nate Carpenter, from the Rhode Progressive Democrats of America.

2g. Signing parties

Some Democratic City and Town Committee are holding “signing parties” that are exclusive to only endorsed candidates

As candidates work furiously to collect the signatures they need to get on the ballot, so-called “signing parties” are organized so that politicians and their supporters can get together and sign each other’s papers. In the wake of last week’s endorsement embarrassment, you would think that city and town committees would be sensitive to issues of fairness and inclusion.

Not so much:

“Hello Warwick Democrats,” writes Warwick Democratic City Committee Chairman Robert Farrell in an email sent to, among others, Representatives Joseph McNamara (Democrat, District 19, Warwick), David Bennett (Democrat, District 20, Warwick), Camille Vella Wilkinson (Democrat, District 21, Warwick), Joseph Solomon Jr (Democrat, District 22, Warwick), Joseph Shekarchi (Democrat, District 23, Warwick), Evan Shanley (Democrat, District 24, Warwick) and Senators Michael McCaffrey (Democrat, District 29, Warwick) and Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick).

“I hope that you and your family and friends have a safe and happy 4th of July. As you know, this election season is going to be a hard-worked battle for us Democrats. On Thursday July 5, 2018 a “Signing Party” will take place at the Knights of Columbus. This event will be from 6pm till 8pm with a catered food available. The purpose of this event will be for “ENDORSED” Democrats to have their nomination papers signed and handed out for signatures to your ward or district committees. Only candidates that have been ENDORCED by their respectful committees are invited. The Warwick Democratic City Committee holds the endorsement of a candidate at a high level of accomplishment and respect and believes that he or she should be able to share a room, and talk about strategy without the worry of their respected opponent.

“Sorry to any candidates that have not been endorsed, if you need my help in other matters, I am always available.”

As a result, incumbent Senator Jeanine Calkin was excluded from the event, as was candidate Jennifer Rourke, who is challenging incumbent Senator McCaffrey. Robert Farrell has not responded to a request for comment.

The Burrillville Democratic Town Committee also excluded candidates who were not endorsed. Paul Roselli, who is running for an open state senate seat as a Democrat in District 23 (Burrillville, Glocester) was disinvited from the event.

Roselli writes,

“Given all that has taken place with the Rhode Island State Democratic Committee, the endorsement mess, lack of transparency with campaign contributions, its incumbent for all committees to open their doors to all. Over the past week, during this nomination process, I have been to an open signing party hosted by former opposition candidates, a Republican, many a Democratic friends, neighbors, businesses, and more. I personally signed as many nomination papers as possible as I believe that everyone deserves a chance to be on the ballot. Let the voters decide. When hostile and polarizing rhetoric is rampant on the airwaves and in the media every second of every day, we need every chance we get to come together to unify as a people and as a country. Let’s rise about this mess and move on.”

Not all Democratic committees behaved this way. The Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee held an open “signing party” that included candidates that were endorsed or un-endorsed, and even opened their doors to two Republican candidates.

“This is something we have done for many years now,” said Portsmouth Democratic Town Committee Chair Leonard Katzman. “We are constantly discussing among ourselves what we stand for, what our platform is – but through it all we are guided by our core principles, our core values of diversity and tolerance and equal protection and treatment under the law, regardless of socioeconomic status, or gender identity or sexual orientation. We champion science and facts. We support public education and universal healthcare. We embrace these because of the values we hold, but core among them all  is the idea that we are a Democracy and for that to work people need to run for office and hold office and have intelligent discussions about their ideas.

“It’s basically a philosophy that says if you want to run for office, we will not shy away from rigorous debate, but we think you should have the right as an American to run for office,” continued Katzman. “I personally have signed the papers of Republicans and Independents. Once the nomination papers are filed we will support our Democratic Party slate and we will work for Democratic Party candidates. Just getting access to the ballot we feel should be a universal value.”

There are also practical considerations, said Katzman.

“After the elections, there will be some winners and there will be some losers. We will need to, after that election, work together, and engaging in petty, exclusionary activity doesn’t lend itself to having those conversations down the road.

“Not only is our openness philosophically good,” said Katzman, “It’s also practically good.”

2h. Rhode Island Working Families Party endorsements

The Rhode Island Working Families Party (RI WFP) continues to endorse progressive candidates. In the Rhode Island Senate, RI WFP is supporting Val Lawson for the open seat in Senate District 14 (East Providence) and incumbent Senator Dawn Euer (Senate District 13, Newport and Jamestown). In the Rhode Island House of Representatives, the RI WFP is backing incumbents Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (House District 5, Providence), Representative Teresa Tanzi (House District 34, Wakefield, Peacedale, Narragansett), and Representative Moira Walsh (House District 3, Providence).

RI WFP is supporting newcomer Laufton Ascencao, who is running to represent House District 68 (Bristol, Warren). That seat is currently held by Senior Deputy Majority Leader Kenneth Marshall, who announced his retirement after Ascencao launched his campaign. The organization is also endorsing Justine Caldwell who is challenging a Republican incumbent in House District 30 (East Greenwich).

In May, RI WFP endorsed Rebecca Kislack (House District 4, Providence) and Liana Cassar (House District 66, Barrington) who are running for open seats, along with incumbent Sen.ator Jeanine Calkin, and Bridget Valverde, an insurgent candidate for the Senate seat in Senate District 35 (East Greenwich, North Kingstown, Narragansett) currently held by a Republican.

2i. Pat Fontes

Pat Fontes is a peace and environmental activist. We sat down for an interview.

“What we really need is something so unusual, something that’s so spectacular that it would draw public opinion and therefore we’ll get chance to put our position to a larger group,” said Fontes, who is challenging incumbent Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in the Democratic primary. “So in a way this candidacy of this 80 year-old lady is part of that idea.”

3. Gabriela Domenzain

Gabriela Domenzain has only been with the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University a short time, but has become an essential voice on immigration issues under Trump in Rhode Island. Whether it’s been the case of Lilian Calderon taken by ICE or the monstrous United States policy of separating and destroying families at the border Domenzain has been a consistent voice of compassion and reason.

So it seems  sad day for Rhode Island that she’s leaving her position.

I would say she’ll be missed, but she tells me she’s not going very far:

4. Book Review

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

5. Will Weatherly

Jewelry District garage gets public funding for private parking spaces

6. The Bartholomewtown Podcast

7. Picture of the week:

This little guy wants to keep his home in Burrillville.

Seems like a short week, but that’s July.

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.