“Most distressing of all, perhaps, is the fact that you’ve got a Senator down there, Mr Whitehouse, who supposedly is a champion of the environment and someone who is adamant about opposing fossil fuel plants like this one and yet all we hear from him on this issue is crickets,” said former Judge Robert Flanders, a Republican candidate for United States Senate, to the nearly 50 people gathered in the First Universalist Church of Burrillville.
Flanders was talking about his opponent, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who is seeking a third term as Rhode Island’s Junior Senator. Despite repeated requests from Burrillville residents, Whitehouse, considered by many to be the premiere congressional voice on the issues of environment, climate change and energy, has declined to speak out against Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of Burrillville. Every environmental group and 35 cities and towns in Rhode Island have officially opposed the power plant.
“Unbelievable!” continued Flanders. “What hypocrisy. Where has this man been and why isn’t he advocating for your interests and hearing you out? Especially when he’s hypocritically taken these positions on a national level that would seem to be right into his wheelhouse? So I don’t understand why this guy is failing you in the way he’s failing you.”
There was applause at this.
“I think I’ve found the answer,” said Flanders. “He’s taken over $100,000 in contributions from proponents of this power plant. Today, again hypocritically, [Whitehouse] announces for the first time, that he’s going to forswear all further Political Action Committee donations. Can you imagine that? Here he is sitting on the four million he’s garnered just in this election cycle, and now he’s telling us that now that he’s gathered all this money, he’s not going to take any more of it. What a guy!”
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Whitehouse’s support for the power plant, or at least his silence, “tells me that there’s something rotten here in the way this Invenergy proposal is being put forth,” said Flanders. “They’re trying to buy their way into this part of our state and I don’t like it one bit.”
Flanders arrived in Burrillville earlier in the day, and was taken to the site of the proposed power plant by Burrillville residents Bill Potvin and Robert Woods. There, the ongoing struggles of the town against the proposed power plant were explained to Flanders, and one issue that seemed to resonate with the candidate was the traffic. Invenergy plans to supply the water, diesel oil and dangerous chemicals needed to operate the power plant via a steady stream of tanker trucks. Burrillville’s roads were not built with the expectation of handling such traffic.
As far as Whitehouse’s contention that a sitting Senator speaking out on the power plant while the Energy Facilities Siting Board is deliberating would be inappropriate or somehow taint the process, Flanders was dismissive. “There’s still free speech here and he’s a Senator. He can express his point of view. I don’t accept for a minute his suggestion that that would taint the process.”
In addition to the power plant, Flanders was asked about a number of other issues:
When asked about rising inequality, Flanders said he supported the Trump tax cuts. He wishes they hadn’t been so “heavy handed” when it came to corporate tax cuts, but on balance he feels that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has been beneficial to the economy, noting that he believes that the average Rhode Island family will get to keep about a thousand dollars more than before.
On LGBTQ rights and marriage equality, Flanders said that the Supreme Court has ruled on the issue and he would not vote to take away marriage. That said, he “respects the fact” that LGBTQ rights creates “religious issues.” Flanders then mischaracterized the Supreme Court decision in the “cake case,” saying the Supreme Court supported the bakers’ right to refuse to make a cake for a gay couple. Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission was decided on procedural grounds, and no right to discriminate was created by the court.
[Note July 28, 2018: Robert Flanders disputes my characterization, writing, “I disagree with your article’s contention that I mischaracterized the United States Supreme Court decision in the “cake case” when I stated that the Supreme Court supported the baker’s right to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple because of the baker’s religious beliefs. Your contention that the case was decided on procedural grounds is incorrect. The Court ruled that the state commission failed to accord the baker’s religious objections to creating such a cake the respect and neutrality that the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause required.”]
Burrillville resident Cindy Lussier, President of UNAP 5019 and candidate for Burrillville Town Council, noted that unions are under attack, and cited the Janus Decision as an example. Flanders said the recently decided Janus Decision, which prevents public sector unions from collecting fees from non-union members, was correctly decided on First Amendment grounds. UNAP is currently in the midst of a three-day strike outside Rhode Island Hospital as nurses and other hospital workers fight for fair wages and adequate staffing.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to say something that you’re probably not going to like,” said Flanders. “Because I support that decision.”
When asked about gun rights by Jessica Delacruz, Republican Candidate for State Senate District 23 in Burrillville, Flanders said, “I am very pro second amendment” to applause.
Flanders was asked about “radical liberals,” and used the question to outline his political philosophy:
“I consider radical liberals as people who are advocating for socialistic policies,” said Flanders. “[New York Senator] Kirsten Gillibrand, for example, just advocated that we do away with ICE. [Vermont Senator] Bernie Sanders has advocated that we have an all-government healthcare system, which would cost us trillions of more dollars. I think we need a better healthcare system but I think we need to do this [with] more competition into the system… I don’t think the answer is a government run healthcare system for everybody. That’s basically what I consider to be part and parcel of the very radical progressive Democratic agenda…
“I don’t know where the Conservation Law Foundation comes into it, but I do consider Whitehouse and some of the groups that back him on a national basis to be environmental extremists in terms of the solutions they’re proposing for some of the issues that we’re facing with climate change and global warming. I don’t like arbitrary abandonment of fossil fuels completely. Which is what some of them are advocating. That would be detrimental to our power situation. We pay some of the highest power costs in the world and in the country, so we’ve got to be mindful of that.
“I believe in the free enterprise system and less government rather than more government. So I’m skeptical of agendas that include hyper regulation and government mandates that aren’t consistent with what it means to run a free enterprise system.”
As usual, the event was emceed by the remarkable Donna Woods.
You can watch the full video here:
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