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Rhode Island is both bitter and sweet on Spicer



Over 75 people lined up outside Barrington Books in Barrington, Rhode Island Saturday afternoon to hear Sean Spicer talk about his new book which details his experiences working first for the Trump campaign, and then as the White House Press Secretary and White House Communications Director under President Donald Trump in 2017.

About a dozen protesters stood on the sidewalk of County Road. The Barrington Police Department would not allow the protesters onto the strip mall property with signs.

During the brief presentation preceding the book signing, Spicer answered questions posed to him by the former Mayor of Providence, Joseph Paolino Jr, who serves as the Democratic Committeeman for the State of Rhode Island.

“Lot’s of my friends on the extreme, my friends in the Democrats, say, ‘What the hell are you doing with Sean Spicer?'” said Paolino. “I just shake my head. I say, ‘You know, that’s part of the problem in politics and government today, that Democrats and Republicans don’t talk together…

“Today the polarization that I’ve seen is so bad,” continued Paolino. “What I’m trying to do in my position is to tell Democrats, ‘We’ve got to talk to Republicans if we want to get our country moving forward.’

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“So as much as I did all I could to see Donald Trump get defeated – I was a strong political supporter [of Hillary Clinton] – I was so proud, that when Sean Spicer, a kid that grew up in Barrington, because what a lot of people don’t know is I grew up in Barrington.”

Paolino called Spicer “a quality guy. And I think all of us as Rode Islanders if we like his politics or we don’t like his politics we’ve got to be proud of the great success that he’s had.”

“I think I’m a fairly fierce partisan,” said Spicer, “But I think we can be good people and have dialog. We can learn from each other. I want to advocate the things that I believe in but I want to respect the voices of people who either don’t agree or have their own. And I think we need to be able to have those discussions in a civil and respectful way.”

Spicer’s “defining moment,” what he called his “ideological conversion,” came when the United States Congress passed a luxury tax in 1992. “It just wiped out the [yachting] industry here in Rhode Island. And suddenly you’re seeing the real impact it caused,” said Spicer.

(It is worth noting here that both the “General Accounting Office and the Congressional Research Service expressed skepticism in 1992 about reports that the luxury tax was the main reason for the collapse of the yacht industry: ‘The cyclical nature of the luxury boat market indicates that any sales decline must be interpreted with caution,’ said the GAO.” [See: Washington Post]

“Just knowing what it did to working men and women in Rhode Island and watching industry go away because, you know…” said Spicer.

It was because of that luxury tax that Joseph Paolino led the effort to make the sale of boats in Rhode Island exempt from sales taxes. “It was because of what happened in Washington,” said Paolino.

“So you’re kind of like a, sort of a Republican,” said Spicer to Paolino, to laughter.

It’s important that I be careful with this next story, because Spicer, through his attorney, has already threatened legal action against a news service for their coverage of his book signing events.

“Sean! Sean!” said a man in the crowd wearing a suit. “Any advice for the young people who want to make a profit from corroding the truth?”

“Excellent question!” said another man.

The first man was ejected from the event. “I always liked you more than Sara [Huckabee Sanders]!” said the man.

“I’ll take it,” replied Spicer. “She’s a great person.”

“Women are very nervous about what’s happening in the White House,” said a woman in the audience, “and very upset about how truth is being misused. Can you speak to that?”

“Well, I think that we’re a divided country right now,” replied Spicer, before going into the President’s approval rating and not answering the question at all. Instead of talking about truth, Spicer talked about the partisan divide and the lack of respect that both sides show the other.

I would be remiss not to highlight Will Weatherly‘s excellent piece about Spicer’s Middeltown book signing in RI Future.

Also, Joseph Paolino taped an episode of of his WLNE/Channel 6 TV show In the Arena, with Spicer.

Here’s the video (I didn’t have use of a tripod, so the video is stabilized.)

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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.