Editorial & Opinion

The Uprising, August 17, 2018

“A debate is part of the democratic process. It’s where you get to talk yourself up. It’s where the public gets to hear what you have to say – your opinions, your ideas. That’s the most important part – The public hearing what you’re going to do and you know, Raimondo just doesn’t want that.” –Joshua Delarosa, Rhode Islander Welcome
Photo for The Uprising, August 17, 2018

Published on August 17, 2018
By Steve Ahlquist

“A debate is part of the democratic process. It’s where you get to talk yourself up. It’s where the public gets to hear what you have to say – your opinions, your ideas. That’s the most important part – The public hearing what you’re going to do and you know, Raimondo just doesn’t want that.”
Joshua Delarosa, Rhode Islander

Welcome to The Uprising!

1a. Debates

Is it really a good strategy to not debate your opponent? Governor Gina Raimondo, Cranston Mayor Alan Fung and Lieutenant Governor Dan McKee are all avoiding debating their challengers. Meanwhile, candidates like Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, State Senator Harold Metts and Representative Carlos Tobon seem to embrace and welcome debates. Tobon, Metts and Elorza took some hits in their debates from their opponents, and that’s never fun, but the end result was a more informed public. Senator Metts shook Jonathan Hernandez‘s hand and thanked him for participating in the democratic process, after Hernandez accused Metts of being intolerant of LGBTQ people in a primary debate. That’s classy, whatever your politics are.

On Thursday voters delivered a petition to Governor Gina Raimondo demanding that she debate her primary opponents Matt Brown and Spencer Dickinson. Maggie Kain, from Our Revolution Rhode Island, sees Raimondo’s unwillingness to debate fueled by corporate money:

“When corporate money fuels campaigns, it really shuts out the regular folks of Rhode Island,” said Kain. “We want to know about the political choices and have transparent and open debates, perhaps one of the last pillars of open democracy. However, with Governor Raimondo refusing to debate her opponents before the primary election, we’ve lost access to that democracy. And we demand that we have a democracy unfettered by corporate influence.”

1b. Carlos Tobon v Jonathan Vallecilla

Jonathan Vallecilla is challenging State Representative Carlos Tobon (District 58, Pawtucket) for his seat in the upcoming Democratic primary. The Fairlawn Against Crime Team (FACT) held a candidate forum moderated by WBOB talk show host Scott Rotondo.

It was a good debate that really allowed the public to get a view of both candidates. Tobon wanted people to see him as experienced and plugged into the power structure at the State House. Vallecilla presented himself as the young, idealistic progressive trying to upset that structure.

2a. Sunrise Movement

A request to engage in democracy and debate was not the only petition delivered to Governor Gina Raimondo this week. Student activists from the Sunrise Movement delivered a message and a petition to Governor Gina Raimondo at the Rhode Island State House Friday afternoon. Sunrise Rhode Island is asking the Governor to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge. If she signs, Raimondo will be agreeing to accept no more money from fossil fuel companies. So far, about 34 candidates and incumbents have signed the pledge, including Raimondo’s primary opponent, Matt Brown.

Here’s video of an earlier attempt by the Sunrise Movement to get Raimondo to sign the pledge:

2b. BASE

Members of BASE (Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion) intercepted Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo on her way to a campaign stop meeting with real estate professionals at Punta Cana Bistro on Broad St in Providence. At issue is Governor Raimondo’s tacit support of Invenergy‘s $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island and her tacit support of fossil fuel energy projects in general.

“I asked her if she thinks she’ll have trouble getting re-elected since she hasn’t come out against the power plant,” Martley told me. [Raimondo] replied, “No, I don’t think so.”

2c. Burrillville

There were two days of hearings on Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island this week before the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB). there were no major revelations, as far as I can tell, but I do have a good update on various aspects off the case, courtesy of Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer:

“At the EFSB hearing on July 25, the EFSB asked the Town of Burrillville to tell the EFSB what information the Town had been trying to obtain from Invenergy but still had not received.  Earlier today, the Town filed its response.  This is basically a 12-page document listing many plans, applications, and details that the Town of Burrillville has tried – hard, but unsuccessfully – to get from Invenergy.

“Here is why this filing today by the Town of Burrillville is significant.  You may remember that, way back in September 2016, CLF filed a Motion To Dismiss with the EFSB.  (Since that motion was written by my CLF colleague at the time, Max Greene, I can say without fear of being accused of self-promotion that CLF’s motion was a fine piece of lawyering.)  As you can see, the basis for CLF’s Motion To Dismiss was that six of the agencies that had been asked by the EFSB to provide Advisory Opinions had told the EFSB that their Advisory Opinions were in complete because they had not received necessary information from Invenergy.  CLF argued that Invenergy should not be allowed to do an end-run around the EFSB process by stonewalling state and Burrillville town agencies, not providing necessary (and legally required!) information so that those agencies could provide the EFSB with Advisory Opinions.

“As you know, the EFSB denied CLF’s Motion To Dismiss.  (That’s why we are now having the Final Hearing at the EFSB.)  However, in the event that the EFSB grants a permit to Invenergy, CLF will probably appeal that permit.  (Appeals from the EFSB go directly to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.) If there is an appeal, one of CLF’s stronger arguments will be that it was improper for Invenergy to stonewall state and Burrillville agencies by not providing information needed for Advisory Opinions, and it was wrong for the EFSB to deny CLF’s Motion To Dismiss.

“The importance of today’s filing by Burrillville is that it strengthens CLF’s argument on this point.  Burrillville’s filing today is a long laundry list of information that the Town of Burrillville needs from Invenergy that Invenergy has not provided.  This strengthens CLF’s legal argument in a possible, later appeal that Invenergy has not been playing by the rules, and that any possible future permit issued to Invenergy should be taken away.

“[And for those of you who are lawyers, let me add the following.  EFSB decisions are rarely overturned on issues of fact. Instead, appeals based on errors of law are more likely to succeed.  This issue is a pure question of law: was it legal error for the EFSB to issue a permit to Invenergy when multiple agencies said that they were unable to provide necessary, required Advisory Opinions due to Invenergy’s stonewalling?]”

2d. Peter Kilmartin

Jerry Elmer continues:

“On August 3, the Attorney General filed a so-called “amicus curiæ” brief in the Superior Court lawsuit in which CLF and Burrillville are challenging the legality of the water contract between Invenergy and the Town of Johnston.  (“Amicus curiæ” means “friend of the court.”) The Attorney General is not a party to this lawsuit, but he wanted to let the Court know that, as a matter of law, the arguments being made by CLF (and Burrillville) are correct. The fact that the AG filed this means that at the oral argument in the case on Monday, I can say to the Judge, “The highest law enforcement officer in the state of Rhode Island agrees with CLF – the water contract between Invenergy and Johnston is completely illegal.”  Judge Silverstein may not rule in CLF’s favor, but having the Attorney General on our side certainly helps.

“The article about the AG’s filing in UpriseRI included a link to the Attorney General’s full brief, which you may want to read: https://upriseri.com/news/energy/efsb/invenergy/2018-08-03-invenergy/

“As I have previously mentioned, oral argument on Invenergy’s Motion For Summary Judgment will be heard this coming Monday, August 20, in Superior Court, 250 Benefit Street, Providence (Judge Silverstein’s courtroom on the third floor).  If you attend, please do not snicker at things that Invenergy’s lawyers say and make sure your cell phones are turned off.”

2e. EFSB Hearings

Jerry Elmer continues:

“The Final Hearing at the EFSB continues on non-consecutive days until October 31.  These are the dates that will be most interesting to attend:

  • September 4, CLF’s expert witness Scott Comings will testify about the fact that the proposed Invenergy plant is to be located in a uniquely sensitive area for biodiversity and forest connectivity and would, if built, do irreparable harm to the environment.
  • September 18, CLF’s expert Timmons Roberts testifies on the carbon emission and climate impacts of Invenergy.
  • October 16, 17, and 30, CLF’s expert witness Bob Fagan will testify that the plant is not needed.  Invenergy’s expert on need, Ryan Hardy, will be cross-examined by CLF. All sides agree that whether the plant is needed is a crucial question.  If the plant is just not needed, it will be very hard for the EFSB to grant a permit to Invenergy.
  • October 31, Invenergy’s public face, John Niland, will be cross-examined.  Suffice it to say that CLF has a lot of questions to put to John.”

2f. Burrillville speaks

“Respectfully, we ask the Governor to reconsider her position on the highly controversial power plant proposal which we now know is in direct conflict with her administration’s recently stated energy and environmental goals,” said Burrillville Town Manager Michael Wood. “Governor Raimondo knows that Rhode Islanders treasure their environment and her stated goals call for protection of the environment and plan for Rhode Island’s clean energy future. But the proposed power plant makes achieving those goals nearly impossible.”

You can read Burrillville’s full statement here.

3a. This election must be about housing

Sam Howard contributed an excellent and timely piece about the affordable housing crisis in Rhode Island:

“A few years ago, a housing advocate and I were talking about a prominent political journalist who refused to cover housing issues. “He just doesn’t see it as a ‘political’ issue,” the advocate said.

“Such a view is wrong. Housing is (and long has been) political. Housing is also economic development. Think of the millions of dollars that are tied up by thousands of cost burdened households. Those are dollars that could be spent on other items, in local businesses, leading to more hiring and better wages. Rhode Island is too quick by half to spend money on outside businesses who might already be looking to move here anyway, while ignoring the plight of its own residents who need housing relief now.”

3b. DARE

The Tenant and Homeowner Association (THA) from Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) held an action outside Rhode Island Housing in Providence Wednesday morning questioning the hiring of Camiros Ltd, a consulting firm from Chicago, to conduct community engagement on the redevelopment of Barbara Jordan II apartments, a recently foreclosed, 74 unit low-income housing project in South Providence.

“They went out of town, to Chicago, to hire a consulting firm to tell us how to fix our own houses,” said DARE boardmember Malchus Mills. “We have enough data within Providence itself. We have data coming out of our ears. And all we have to do is put the right people in the right room, and sit down and start to discuss how we are going to save Barbara Jordan II.”

4a. Guns and Student Rights

The Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) Youth Committee held a youth power rally to address the administrative response of schools who prevented students from participating in the state-wide school walkouts in March. Many students felt their rights to organize and speak out were not heard and they felt unsupported in their organizing efforts. Many of these students reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for help, wondering if their rights to protest in school had been violated, and the Rhode Island ACLU found they may have been, say organizers.

Over 100 youth activists representing Young Voices Rhode Island, Providence Student Union (PSU), Breakthrough PVD and One Gun Gone gathered on the State House lawn Tuesday afternoon to unveil a new youth/student power handbook with information on how to form political clubs in public schools and information on students’ right to protest in schools and in other spaces.

The rally was solidly grounded in gun violence prevention, taking on both legislative initiatives and intersectional discussions about urban violence.

4b. Angelina Williams

“Sometimes when people get shot it is close to where I live. All I am saying is I have seen and heard enough to make be here and give a speech about how I am traumatized because of gun violence even though I am just 14,” said Angelina Williams, a student leader with Providence Student Union. “I am here to tell you that just because I am kid, doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced traumatizing moments from gun violence. I live in Chad Brown and if you know Chad Brown, you know people wave guns like it is their flag.”

4c. Mike Chippendale

What is it about the youth of our country advocating for what they believe in that so rankles Rhode Island State representative Michael Chippendale (Republican, District 40, Coventry, Foster Glocester)? Chippendale blocks me on Twitter (for reasons unknown) but still feels free to comment negatively on my work:

I assume that Chippendale thinks I cropped the photos the way I did to hide the crowd size, which Chippendale must assume to be small. In fact, I mentioned the crowd size in the piece, writing, “Over 100 youth activists representing Young Voices Rhode Island, Providence Student Union (PSU), Breakthrough PVD and One Gun Gone gathered on the State House lawn Tuesday afternoon…”

You might remember when Chippendale called parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez a “dummy.”

Thanks to the person who forwarded me the above tweet, by the way!

5. In These Times

Proud to have published my first piece in the national progressive news magazine In These Times. Titled, “Rhode Island Elected A Slate of Progressives in 2016. Now Centrists Are Coming for Them” it’s about Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) and the Rhode Island Democratic party endorsement kerfuffle.

An excerpt:

“That power structure fired back in June with its endorsements. In House District 3, Trump voter Michael Earnhart was endorsed over Working Families Party state Rep. Moira Walsh. In state Senate District 35, Gregory Acciardo, a former state senator who has been accused of domestic violence (charges were dropped) and convicted of drunk driving, was endorsed over progressive candidate Bridget Valverde, the vice president of the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus.

“After widespread backlash, the party rescinded these endorsements, but other dubious choices remain, including the endorsement of Coolman and John Carnevale. Coolman, a Catholic theologian, opposes the pro-choice Reproductive Health Care Act, and Carnevale has faced allegations of sexual assault (charges were dropped upon the victim’s death) and domestic violence.”

Since writing this, of course, John Carnevale had his candidacy revoked after taking a plea deal in a perjury case.

6a. Lifespan and UNAP

On Wednesday UNAP held an informational picket outside Miriam Hospital as negotiations were underway between UNAP and Lifespan officials. Discussions were again being led by a Federal mediator. Negotiations were expected to resume as I write this on Friday.

6b. Groden Center and SEIU

Fed up with high turnover, unsafe staffing, and low wages, educators who work with students with autism at the Groden Center went on a 1-day strike today in Providence.  This is an unfair labor practice strike.

After months of negotiations, management still refuses to raise starting rate for staff to a living wage, says SEIU 1199. The union says that failure to pay a living wage to staff has resulted in the following:

  • 30 percent staff turnover
  • Dozens of unfilled classroom positions covered daily by less trained, inconsistent, temporary workers
  • Daily, unnecessary injuries and unsafe situations for staff and students
  • Inconsistent IEP implementation and data tracking

“We are out here because it is not safe for us at work,” said behavioral specialist Samantha Lozeau, as seen in the video below. “We have constant staff turnover[and] temporary staff being used. All of us here today have gone through extensive training. We continue to go through training to make sure that we can give our students what they need – and this new staff coming in just doesn’t have that.”

7a. ACLU and ICE

Huge story from the ACLU this week:

“It was no coincidence when undocumented immigrants like Rhode Island resident Lilian Calderon were arrested by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials immediately after showing up for interviews at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services offices (CIS) to legalize their status. Instead, documents released yesterday reveal that CIS officials informed Boston ICE agents of the interviews, scheduled them at a convenient time for ICE, and sometimes even notified ICE when an individual arrived for his or her interview and how the interview was progressing. The disclosures came in a request for a preliminary injunction against the practice made by ACLU of Massachusetts attorneys in a class-action lawsuit filed in April on behalf of Ms. Calderon.

This gives a lot of impetus and legitimacy to the Abolish ICE movement.

7b. Allan Fung and ICE

Meanwhile, Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung is feeding his base by announcing “his intention to expand the role of the Cranston Police Department in identifying individuals detained by police to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).”

The progressive Cranston Action Network (CAN) objects:

“We, at Cranston Action Network, strongly condemn the actions of Mayor Fung in aligning with the Trump administration, which has cruelly separated families, placed children in cages, and unnecessarily traumatized immigrants, even those seeking asylum from violence in their home countries. Mayor Fung’s willingness to cooperate with a Federal government responsible for such atrocities in no way reflects the compassionate, inclusive values of our community. We stand in solidarity to urge our city council, statewide leaders, and statewide voters to take every measure possible to oppose this stance. Mayor Fung does not reflect the values of our community. These measures foster distrust towards our valiant and highly respected police force and make our community less safe.”

The Cranston Action Network (CAN) “is residents and friends of Cranston working together for a caring, resilient, and progressive community. We seek economic, racial, social, and political justice, a sustainable environment, and a government that serves the common good.”

8. Substance Abuse and Overdose Prevention Political Action Committee (SAOP PAC)

“We found ourselves at the State House last year advocating for good bills, trying to stop bad bills, and we were really frustrated with the folks at the State House who wouldn’t listen to the experts – wouldn’t listen to people who had experience with substance use disorder – who were medical professionals and public health professionals – people who had been incarcerated for this problem before,” said PAC is co-chair Annajane Yolken.

Recovery, medical, and public health advocates started the Substance Abuse and Overdose Prevention Political Action Committee (SAOP PAC). The PAC focuses on public health and criminal justice reform issues as they relate to substance use and overdose prevention.

“I have a personal stake in this game,” said Representative Moira Walsh (Democrat, District 3, Providence). “As many of you know, my older brother has been a heroine addict for most of my adult life. And I have to say this at every event: Addicts are people too. They’re our neighbors, they’re our friends, there’s no one specific group of people that struggles with addiction. It’s not just poor people. It’s not just ignorant people. It’s not just people who are poorly educated.

“It’s oftentimes people who have trusted their medical professionals to give them the best and soundest advice, and were led astray…

“An addict is not a criminal, an addict is a victim themselves. And laws like the draconian Kristen’s Law… are really steps moving backwards…”

You can give to the PAC here.

9. Providence City Council candidate Aaron Jaehnig on The Bartholomewtown Podcast

“Bill Bartholomew welcomes Providence Ward 5 City Council candidate Aaron Jaehnig to the loft for a wide-ranging conversation ahead of the September 12th Democratic primary contest. The small business owner, arts community leader and Sierra Club Executive Committee member describes a variety of issues facing Rhode Island’s capital city, and presents possible solutions to return power and influence to each neighborhood and community Providence.”

You can listen here.

10a. Aaron Regunberg

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor Aaron Regunberg blasted incumbent Dan McKee for breaking his promise to donate tainted campaign contributions to charity.

Campaign finance reports filed Wednesday by McKee show that he has not fulfilled his promise to donate thousands of dollars in tainted campaign contributions from Jonathan Sackler of Purdue Pharmaceuticals.

Sackler, who made his fortune from the manufacture of OxyContin – a key driver of the state’s opioid crisis – has contributed multiple times to McKee. In 2014, Sackler contributed $20,000 to a Super PAC supporting Dan McKee’s campaign. In subsequent years Sackler and his wife gave McKee an additional $4,000 in direct campaign contributions.

Dan McKee misled Rhode Island voters. Not only did McKee accept thousands from a man whose OxyContin empire is responsible for the destruction of countless lives in our state, but when caught, he pledged to return the money within weeks – and he has not,” said Regunberg. “Apparently this was a pledge he had no intention of following through on. This deception is an insult to all Rhode Islanders, and it’s particularly offensive to all the families whose lives have been touched by the opioid crisis.

“I repeat my call once more: Dan McKee, it does not take months to pick a charity. Prove you know the difference between right and wrong and donate these corrupt contributions today.”

10b. Matt Brown

Matt Brown has a new video ad directed and produced by Means of Production, the creators of ads for progressive candidates Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Kaniela Ing.

“We can have a Rhode Island where every person can go to the doctor without fear of going broke, where we can lead the nation in renewable energy and return the profits to the people, where all Rhode Islanders can have jobs that pay, homes they can afford, and a future for their children,” says Matt Brown in the video. “All of this is possible. We only need the courage to act, and it starts now.”

11. Joseph Polisena

The Rhode Island Superior Court has overturned a slander lawsuit against Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena. Polisena had been ordered to pay $20,000 in damages to former town councilmember Eileen Fuoco, according to Bill Rappleye at Channel 10 News. The verdict also allowed Fuoco to collect two terms of town councilmember salary, which amounted to four years at around $7000 a year. The Superior Court ruled that the jury verdict was based on a lack of understanding of the jury instructions. The jury, said the court, found malice where there had been none on the part of Polisena.

12. Picture of the week:

Thanks all, see you next week!

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