Dare I say that too much happened this week? Let’s dig in.
1a. Reproductive Rights
By my count 135 people (not counting elected officials) trekked to the Rhode Island State House to deliver testimony, in person, to the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. This doesn’t include the written testimony submitted, or the emails members of the committee received.
At issue was the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) a bill that would that would codify Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law, its lesser, cousin, the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA) which might actually make it harder for women to access safe and legal abortion if passed, and three bills (H5114, H5198, and H5199) that would severely restrict or even abolish abortion in the state.
Big hearings like this make for chaotic nights at the State House, but that early burst of energy transitions to a dark stubbornness by the time midnight has come and gone and there’s still just under three hours of testimony to hear. Only the strongest and most fierce advocates from both sides of the issue are left.
Some of the politicians testifying for reproductive rights include:
- Former State Representative Linda Kushner spoke about her experience with an illegal, life threatening abortion in the days before Roe v Wade.
- Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.
- Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner.
- Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza testifying with his son, Omar Ernesto Elorza Gonzalez and fiancé, former Central Falls City Councilor Stephanie Gonzalez.
- Here’s a link to Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Nerhona‘s written testimony.
- Governor Gina Raimondo provided written testimony to the committee, while Matt Brown, who challenged Raimondo in the Democratic Primary in 2018 and lost, testified in person.
- Former State Senator Jeanine Calkin.
- Current State Representative Liana Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence).
1b. LaFortune v Roberts
Representative Sherry Roberts (Republican, District 29, Coventry) had a choice. She could travel to the historic John Brown House on the East Side of Providence, take the apple tree root that was found in Roger Williams‘ grave, and burn it to ash, or she could pronounce herself the arbiter of Christianity during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.
She chose the latter.
Providence City Councilor Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3) was testifying in favor of the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA). The Providence City Council had recently passed, unanimously, a resolution in support of the RHCA. LaFortune, as part of her testimony, identified as a Christian. LaFortune’s testimony is deeply personal and moving.
“I thought I heard you say that you’re a Christian,” said Roberts. “Did you just say that?”
“I am a Christian,” replied LaFortune.
“I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of a Christian that supports abortion,” said Roberts. “But that’s all I have to ask, thank you.”
“There is nothing in the Bible that condemns a woman who chooses to terminate a pregnancy,” said LaFortune, as the crowd behind her became agitated.
“Though shall not kill,” said Roberts.
Rhode Island is the first government, anywhere in the world, to enshrine the freedom of religion and conscience into law. These concepts were adapted into the United States Constitution and replicated throughout the world. Roberts’ statements to LaFortune at this hearing are an affront to the founding principles of Rhode Island and the United States.
She should be ashamed.
1c. Dupont v Costantino… and Corvese… and McNamara
Melanie DuPont is the secretary of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus and she unsuccessfully primaried Stephen Archambault (Democrat, District 22, Smithfield, Johnston, North Providence) in 2018, running to the left of the State Senator.
In her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, DuPont focused on Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence)’s “Unborn child protection from dismemberment abortion act” and did so through parody: She suggested renaming the bill the “Testicular Fairness Act” and rewrote the bill to apply the substandard and dangerous medical care the legislation aims at women towards men.
She submitted her testimony in peson and submitted it as written testimony as well. She said (and wrote): “…I contend that, any time my State Representative, Gregory J. Costantino, tries to abridge my rights as a woman, and endanger my life, I, Melanie DuPont, should return the favor, and try to abridge his rights as a man, and endanger his life.”
Representative Gregory Costantino (Democrat, District 44, Lincoln) cosponsored Corvese’s bill and was not in the hearing room when DuPont testified. He was alerted to the testimony by Corvese.
Perhaps being unfamiliar with the concept of parody, Costantino decided to report DuPont’s testimony as death threat to the Rhode Island State Police. Costantino told the Providence Journal that this “threat” was brought to his attention by Corvese.
Bill Rappleye, usually a fine reporter despite working for the Sinclair Media owned WJAR/Channel 10, tweted out that Costantino had recieved a note containing a death theat. It wasn’t a note, it was DuPont’s written testimony, submitted to the committee clerk. And it wasn’t a threat. It was parody, taken out of context.
“It was certainly inappropriate, uncalled for, unlawful,” said Representative Joseph McNamara (Democrat, District 19, Warwick). “She should be prosecuted to the highest extent of the law. I know the State Police have been notified. There is absolutely no place for that … in the political sphere.”
Here’s where it gets interesting: In addition to being a state representative, McNamara also serves as the Chair of the Rhode Island Democratic Party. Could misinterpretting DuPont’s testimony have been politically motivated rather than just stupid?
The Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus often buts head with the highly conservative Rhode Island Democratic Party leadership, and State Senator Achambeault is tightly plugged into the party. Perhaps going after DuPont, under any pretext, is an attempt to silence or discredit women, like DuPont, who are demanding a Democratic Party that reflects their interests and the issue positions of the National Democratic Platform.
It’s either that, or these three Representatives don’t understand what satire is…
Did you know that YouTube limits you to 100 video uploads per day? I didn’t, until I tried to upload 147 videos from the House Judiciary Committee hearing.
1e. Selene Means
Photographer Selene Means sent me some amazing photos from Tuesday night at the State House. You can see them here.
2a. Adler, Pollock and Sheehan
Invenergy‘s local law firm Adler, Pollock and Sheehan threw Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo a fundraiser at the exclusive University Club in Providence Friday morning. Suggested contributions were $250, $500 and $1000.
Adler, Pollock and Sheehan lawyers Vicky Almeida, Richard Beretta, Robert Brooks, Susan Leach DeBlasio, Patricia Rocha, Robert Stolzman, Stephen Ucci and Nicole Verdi hosted. Ucci is also the Democratic Rhode Island State Representative for District 42 in Johnston.
Standing in the freezing, eight degree cold, members of Sunrise RI partnered with the FANG Collective and other climate activists outside the University Club holding signs to greet the governor and her moneyed suppoters as they arrived.
“It is despicable that Gina can claim to be a leader on jobs and climate while continuing to side with fossil fuel executives over the health and safety of people in her state,” said Sunrise RI is a statement.
In the past, Raimondo has laughed at the students from Sunrise RI when asked to sign a pledge to receive no more fossil fuel industry money for her political campaigns, as seen in the video below:
2b. Sunrise RI
Later on Friday, Sunrise RI attended the keynote address Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse delivered to the one-day mini-conference on climate change held at Brown University‘s Watson Institute. The students were given the opportunity to ask Whitehouse the first question after the keynote was delivered, and Whitehouse seemed pleased by the presence of the students.
Whitehouse was asked to sign a pledge refusing money from the fossil fuel industry.
“I think I have completely stopped that,” said Whitehouse, to applause. “I don’t even take any corporate PAC money at this point.”
“The way the fossil fuel industry deploys its muscle is perhaps least through the limited, transparent, reported contributions that are made to individual members,” continued Whitehouse. “You’re not going to diminish their influence much by telling people in the most transparent, most regulated and smallest dollar denomination part of this whole mess that that’s what has to go.”
“Just to follow up on that,” said another student member of SunriseRI, holding a copy of the pledge, “I have a pledge right here that if you want to…”
“I don’t do that kind of stuff,” said Whitehouse.
“It’s in line with your…”
“My response will stand,” interrupted Whitehouse. “I don’t do like, random pledges.”
2c. Sheldon Whitehouse
Whitehouse was questioned by the Sunrise RI students at a conference entitled America’s Climate Change Future: Housing Markets, Stranded Assets, and Entrenched Interests. In his keynote, Whitehouse spoke at leangth about the dark money influence of the the fossil fuel lobby and in his response to the questions from Sunrise RI, downplayed the siginificance of PAC money, going so far as to high-handedly dismiss the students’ fossil fuel money pledge.
Whitehouse did this at a scientific conference full of people who study the influence of corporate money on politics, perception and climate change.
“In general the Climate Change Counter Movement has indeed made very good use of PACs,” said Kerry Ard of Ohio State University, presenting after Whitehouse’s keynote. “And they were significantly associated with Democrats voting against their [pro-environment] party platform.”
Looks like what Whitehouse dismissed as the “most transparent, most regulated and smallest dollar denomination” form of money in politics is pretty significant after all…
2d. Fossil Fuel Echo Chamber
The pro-fossil fuel industry echo chamber, under examination at the Brown University mini-conference, is fully at work here in Rhode Island. I wrote about how this works, and how Ed Achorn of the Providence Journal has plugged himself into this echo chamber, here:
2e. Green New Deal
Sheldon Whitehouse, in his keynote address at the Brown University mini-conference on climate change, said that proponents for a Green New Deal have to wait until after Democrats take back the Senate and the Presidency and dark money is taken out of politics before they can see their ideas implemented.
Former State Representative Aaron Regunberg, in a oped, says we can’t wait for the federal government to get themselves together. States have to step up:
“…given the current administration in DC, and the limited time we have to act, we can’t rely on immediate solutions coming out of Washington. States must step up and help lead the way.
“During the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal, a number of state governments enacted their own “Little New Deals” to expand and strengthen programs for workers and their families. Now, at this fundamental moment of crisis for ourselves and our children, the onus is on us. Rhode Island is the birthplace of the industrial revolution and home to the first offshore wind farm in the Western Hemisphere. There is so much we can do to implement our own Green New Deal, right here in Rhode Island.”
“I would like to brag about my office,” said Sheldon Whitehouse at the climate change mini-conference at Brown University. “We had an entire team dedicated to exfenestrating Scott Pruitt and we were at the center of all the investigative work and putting people together and getting leaks out to press and so forth and we took a lot of personal satisfaction when that particular person left. Not that Andrew Wheeler is any treat. He’s basically just as bad but without the personal disgraces.”
3. Tax breaks for the wealthy are non-partisan
“This is not a partisan issue,” said Brenna McCabe, at the Rhode Island Department of Administration when I asked her about a line in Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget that would grant a state corporate income tax break, modeled after President Donald Trump‘s federal corporate income tax break. In Trump’s bill, he made it so that states can draw zones around certain areas where rich people and corporations can make tax-free investments. In the Governor’s budget proposal, she is copying Trump’s tax cut for rich corporations who invest in these zones into state law, granting them additional, state level tax breaks.
Here’s what Governor Raimondo released when the Trump tax bill was passed in December, 2017:
“The Republican-Trump Tax Bill is an unconscionable handout to millionaires and billionaires paid for by working families from cities and towns like Cranston, Warwick, Providence and every other part of Rhode Island. Senate leaders forced a vote without any debate while Americans were fast asleep and the ballpoint ink on the amendments was barely dry.”
Seems that tax breaks for the rich are only partisan when Trump does it.
4. House District 68 Special Election
Do you live in House District 68 and are you unsure of who to vote for in the special election Democratic Primary on February 5? Do you want to know more about candidates June Speakman and Richard Ruggiero? You’re in luck! All the video from last week’s candidate forum is right here:
The forum became a little heated when a question about the opioid epidemic morphed into a question about the legalization of marijuana.
Back and forth:
5. Blackstone Valley Community Health Care
Staff at Blackstone Valley Community Health Care (BVCHC) held an informational picket in Central Falls on Wednesday to demand fair wages, affordable health insurance, and better patient care.
“We work hard to provide exceptional care to our patients. But low wages cause workplace frustrations and high turnover, which could mean longer wait times for patients,” said Nissa Slachek, a Registered Nurse. “That’s why we’re out here today, to stand up for ourselves and our patients.”
6. Bristol County House of Corrections
On Wednesday members of the Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), with the help of AMOR (Alianza para Movilizar Nuestra Resistencia) the The FANG Collective held a demonstration outside the prison as part of the National Week of Action to End Southeast Asian Deportations.
On Wednesday the Beneficent Church in Providence hosted the Homeless Memorial Day Service and Luncheon to “honor the memories of our loved ones who passed from this life in 2017 and 2018 while experiencing homelessness.” The event was sponsored by the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless and about 100 people were in attendance.
7b. Homes RI
Governor Gina Raimondo joined dozens of housing advocates and supporters at the Rhode Island State House on Tuesday to call for increased investments and legislative changes that would support housing for more Rhode Islanders.
There were three deamnds made at the event: banning discrimination against tenants with lawful sources of income (such as government-sponsored rental subsidies); the sealing of court files in housing cases resolved in the tenant’s favor; and the provision of economic assistance for those with one-time or short-term economic barriers to housing.
8. Andy Boardman
Andy Boardman has some ideas on how should we make sense of this year’s state budget proposals from Governor Gina Raimondo.
9. Rhode Island State House
Just a reminder: House Privacy Commission overrun with Lobbyists
Three of Raimondo’s judicial picks move towards Senate confirmation (and since this was written, make that all nine of Raimondo’s picks.
11. The Bartholomewtown Podcast
12. The College Hill independent
“The story of the Scituate Reservoir holds its own in the annals of Rhode Island history. A gruesome tale of eminent domain and the state’s monopoly on the use of force, it began in 1915 when the Rhode Island General Assembly approved the state’s largest public works project in history: a plan to flatten and flood five villages in the town of Scituate in order to build a reservoir to provide clean water for Providence residents…”
“On the marble steps inside a packed Rhode Island State House on Tuesday, hundreds of protesters competed for legislative attention as the House Judiciary Committee gathered to hear hotly debated bills on reproductive health care. Above the chanting and horn-blowing of pro-life nuns, activist groups, including Planned Parenthood and The Rhode Island-based Womxn Project, shouted their support of the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA), a bill which aims to codify the legal implications of Roe v. Wade into state law. If passed, the RHCA would ensure Rhode Islanders the right to an abortion even if the landmark Supreme Court decision were to be overturned—a perceived judicial threat that is driving much of the newfound urgency of abortion advocates around the country. (Last week, for example, New York State passed similar legislation into law.) The RHCA would also eliminate several statutes that have been declared unconstitutional by Rhode Island courts, such as the criminalization of abortion providers and the spousal notification requirement—with spouses referred to as ‘husbands’ under Rhode Island law…”
The empire of news consolidation strikes again by Richard Asinof
“The alarms being sounded about the impending death of corporate journalism may be missing the real story: the ability of innovative, nimble digital platforms to provide in-depth, comprehensive news in competitive markets, in Rhode Island and elsewhere…”
14. Rhode Island Liberator
Frank Bruni eats dinner, again by Samuel Gifford Howard
“Frank Bruni likes Gina Raimondo. He likes to have eggplant parmigiana with her. He likes to remind her that they eat eggplant parmigiana together. And if you’re wondering where this is going, the answer is: I don’t know. I don’t think Frank Bruni knows. I’m not sure Governor Raimondo knows.
“Because Bruni’s recent column is really inexplicable. Charitably, it likely exists to help Raimondo raise thousands from corporate donors for the Democratic Governors Association that she now chairs, something that may be more difficult now that popular Democrats (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren) are talking about taxing the rich (which is popular). So this column allows rich donors to give to Raimondo, secure in the knowledge that hey, they have a friend…”
15. The Womxn Project
“’I’m here and it’s terrifying’ was the first thing I texted from the security line leading up to the State House yesterday. I was sandwiched between two groups, speaking as loudly as they could to make sure I didn’t miss a single one of their points. ‘Everyone here should thank their mothers for NOT having an abortion!’ ‘The girl who’s had TONS of abortions and LOVES to talk about them is here!’ ‘The devil walks among us. Is that a pentagram?’ Three of the four people working on the finer points of passive aggression were, of course, elderly men…”
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