The Uprising April 20, 2018

The mechanisms, i.e. political parties, that we have that are supposed to organize and express discontent are, of course, precisely the organs that require the money that only the dominant groups possess.
Sheldon Wolin

The Rhode Island General Assembly was on break this week but that doesn’t mean there was any shortage of news. The break gave me the time I needed to highlight some of the processes that are most disconcerting to those who make regular pilgrimages to the Rhode Island State House to advocate on behalf of themselves and others.

Processes like:

1a. Punching in and Checking Out

Majority Whip John Edwards (Democrat, District 70, Tiverton) has the third highest position in the Rhode Island House of Representatives. Showing up at the House Labor Committee meeting ahead of public testimony on bills concerning fair wages and $15 minimum wage, Edwards said to the committee clerk, “I’m never at this” and then laughed when the clerk reminded him that, “Actually, you are.”

Committees, under House rules, require a quorum. Our elected representatives, it seems, are so busy that they can’t attend committee meetings. So they fake it. They show up, hang around for role call and then vote to hold all bills for further study. Then they disappear. Edwards left with Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Michael Chippendale (Republican, District 40, Coventry, Foster Glocester) in tow.

Chippendale is a Republican, making this issue bi-partisan.

John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island noted, “…in those instances when only a few committee members stay to take testimony from dozens of witnesses who have waited hours, it’s discouraging to the public.”

On the other hand, maybe discouraging the public is the point.

1b. Representatives, not Royalty

Maybe the only thing worse than our elected officials not being present at these committee meetings is committee chairs telling members of the public that they are not allowed to criticize elected officials while giving public testimony. Here’s an interaction that occured in the same House Labor Committee as above:

“I am quite disappointed that my state rep is not here,” said Lisa Ranglin, president of the Rhode Island Black Business Association (RIBBA). “I will let him know I am very disappointed…”

“Excuse me,” interrupted Representative Stephen Casey (Democrat, District 50, Woonsocket), who serves as the third committee chair. “He’s in another committee right now. So that’s an unfair statement to make at this time.”

“Well…” said Ranglin.

Casey interrupted again. “I would advise you to refrain from that.”

“As a resident of District 7…” continued Ranglin.

“I understand, I understand,” said Casey, interrupting a third time.

Ranglin would not be deterred. “As a resident of District 7, I do have the right to state that I am very disappointed that my state rep is not in this room. I have reached out to my state rep on several occasions and have not gotten any information back. Very disappointed.”

It took eight seconds for Casey to interrupt Ranglin, a black woman. Later in the same hearing, it took Casey 48 seconds to interrupt Glen Chelo, owner of the Chelo’s restaurant chain and a white man, for essentially the same behavior.

So we can add racial and gender bias into the mix as well.

1c. Reps cannot be criticized, but a Rabbi? Sure.

Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman delivered testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, explaining that according to his faith, human life begins at birth, not conception. He explained that he respects religious convictions that differ from his own, but made the point that one religious conviction should not be the law of Rhode Island when it comes to abortion.

Voss-Altman’s beliefs were met with criticism from Tyler Rowley and Kara Russo, conservative Roman Catholics and members of Rhode Island Right to Life. Rowley dismissed Voss-Altman’s religious convictions as “radical moral relativism.” Russo countered Voss-Altman’s beliefs with her own, saying that “we celebrate the conception of Jesus, not just his birth on Christmas.”

Meanwhile, Representative Arthur Corvese (Democrat, District 55, North Providence) leapt on Voss-Altman’s use of the term “potential life” and said, “I’m heartened that you used the word ‘potential’ this evening” as though Voss-Altman was conceding some important point. Voss-Altman was not. When it comes to the issue of abortion, “potential” means different things to Voss-Altman and Corvese. Corvese was disingenuously equivocating.

“This is antisemitism,” wrote a commenter on this video. “It may not be the intentionally malicious or violent antisemitism of the KKK-Nazi type. It’s more the insidious antisemitism of the ignorant. But it is antisemitism. It’s the kind of antisemitism that condemns Jews for their beliefs while at the same time thinking that they are not anti-Semitic.”

1d. What does Rhode Island know about separating Church and State?

The attacks on Jewish faith did not end there. Judi Zimmer, a Jewish Woman, said, “I remind you that a particular theology is not the means by which the state is run.”

“But earlier in your testimony you [mentioned that ] you were happy that you were joined by religious faith leaders,” interrupted Committee Chair Cale Keable (Democrat, District 47, Burrillville, Glocester).

“Yes, but they were not trying to run the state…” said Zimmer.

“Okay, just so I understand, some religion good, some religion bad,” said Keable.

“No,” said Zimmer.

Clarifying this took some back and forth, as Keable tried to cast Zimmer’s testimony into an easy to digest form. But Zimmer would not give an inch.

Then Representative Arthur Corvese then went after Zimmer, claiming that religion and theology are not required when opposing abortion.

Apparently non-religious arguments are allowed when they support religious arguments.

2. Mike Pompeo

“In conjunction with youth-led activism across the country, this Sunday at a Millennials Meet & Greet campaign event, members of the Rhode Island Student Climate Coalition pressured Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to oppose current Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Mike Pompeo’s nomination for United States Secretary of State,” writes Emma Bouton, Emily Greenberg and Lauren Maunus.

When confronted by Maunus at a Millennials Meet & Greet campaign event, Whitehouse said, “As a matter of process I think [Pompeo] is probably entitled to have me hear what he has to say in response to questions before I make any final answer.”

By Wednesday, that all changed. First Senator Jack Reed, then Whitehouse put out statements opposing Pompeo for Secretary of State, ahead of Senate confirmation hearings. The hard part for the Senators was justifying their yes votes for Pompeo as head of the CIA in light of their more recent opposition to his becoming Secretary of State.

“The Secretary of State has a much broader policy portfolio than the CIA Director. In that portfolio, Mr Pompeo’s record as a member of Congress is alarming,” said Whitehouse. “He denied human beings’ role in driving climate change. He vilified people based on their faith, and attacked women’s essential reproductive rights. And he pushed reckless military intervention over diplomacy. His extreme views on these issues – and many more – make me unable to support his nomination as America’s top diplomat.”

“I do not support Director Pompeo’s nomination to serve as Secretary of State, which is a very different role than the one he plays at the CIA,” said Reed. “America needs an experienced diplomat with a strong voice who will serve as a check on an impulsive, inexperienced President and undertake a sustained effort to rebuild the State Department and restore the morale of its dedicated public servants.”

3. Fair Pay and a $15 minimum wage

Ahead of last week’s House Labor Committee meeting, the Working Families Rhode Island held an event to promote the Fair Pay Act (H7427) that would “make it illegal to pay workers less than their white, male colleagues without a clearly documented difference in skills” and minimum wage legislation (H7636) that would “gradually increase the hourly minimum wage from $10.10 to $15 by 2023.”

On a national level, with a Republican-controlled Congress and a President Trump, nothing is happening and nothing will happen. The real action is on the state level.

“Progress towards closing the wage gap is not happening in our nation’s capital,” said Andrea Johnson, senior counsel for state policy at the National Women’s Law Center. “It’s happening here. States like Rhode Island are leading the national movement to close the wage gap. And with this equal pay bill and fight for $15 bill, Rhode Island is finally joining this movement.”

4. ProJo gives space to hate groups

The Providence Journal published a rambling oped by William Perry, of Cumberland, who has lobbied in Washington DC for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) on immigration-control bills. FAIR has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as an anti-immigrant hate group.

Though it’s difficult to understand  exactly what he means in the following paragraph, it appears that Perry is claiming that there are about one million immigrants, legal or “illegal” here in Rhode Island:

A national lack of fortitude has created a massive illegal immigration problem. We’ve been accepting close to a million legal immigrants per year, and absorbing another million illegal aliens. That’s 2 million a year! Fourteen states have populations under that figure, including Rhode Island, with about 1 million.

Here Perry claims our state is suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome:

The Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which kidnapped individuals express empathy and sympathy for, and have positive feelings toward, their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them. Because of government’s long-time failure to enforce provisions of immigration law, America is suffering under illegal immigration’s version of that syndrome.

Do better ProJo.

5. Speaking of SPLC hate groups, at St Pius V Church in Providence…

Michelle Cretella, a member of the American College of Pediatrics (ACPed), gave a lecture Thursday evening at St Pius V Church in Providence on the dangers of the “transgender agenda.” In response, nearly 50 people supportive of transgender rights held signs protesting Cretella outside the church. They pointed out that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) considers Cretella’s organization, ACPed, “a fringe anti-LGBT hate group that masquerades as a premier United States association of pediatricians to push LGBT junk science…”

“Our presence at St Pius tonight achieved exactly what we hoped to achieve — to provide information to our community and support the transgender youth who deserve to know that their experiences are valid,” said protest organizer Galen Auer. “I don’t believe that St. Pius teaches hatred for the LGBTQ community, or that tonight’s event was motivated by hatred, but we know that factually misinformed rhetoric like Michelle Cretella’s has the potential to harm trans kids regardless of her intentions, which is why every major medical association in the country disagrees with her position on this subject.”

The protest itself was entirely peaceful. Protesters held signs and handed out flyers to those entering the church. In a kind gesture, the church put out a table with coffee and hot chocolate for the protesters.

6. The Gaspee Project supports REAL DEMOCRATS who use public resources for partisan political purposes…

The Gaspee Project issued a Koch-inspired if not financed attack ad against Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence). They call North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi a REAL DEMOCRAT and link to a GoLocal piece as proof.

In the piece, Lombardi “admitted to sending a political email from a town email address.”

“Mayor Lombardi shouldn’t be using town resources for partisan political purposes, whether it’s against the Code of Ethics or not. Public resources should be used to serve the public, not political allies,” GoLocal quotes John Marion of Common Cause Rhode Island as saying.

7. Moms Demand takes its victory lap

Two years ago, the idea of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (Democrat, District 15, Cranston) speaking at a Moms Demand event seemed ridiculous. Speaker Mattiello is a longtime supporter for gun rights, and has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign cash from the National Rifle Association (NRA). But ahead of the House vote on the red flag and bump stock bill, both of which overwhelmingly passed, Mattiello attended a Moms demand press conference.

“This is a pragmatic, common sense law,” said Mattiello about the red flag bill, which he championed.

The red flag bill “would create a means for courts to disarm people whose behavior is believed by authorities to pose a serious threat to others or themselves.”

8. The Woman Project Interviews: Mary Ann Sorrentino, Rhode Island’s Reproductive Freedom Fighter

“I hadn’t testified in a hearing for decades before last week, but I can see from the overwhelming reaction from the committee and from the audience that my gift for getting people’s attention is still there. I thing age has something to do with it—certainly gender and my background at PP helps. So I think a good and unused strategy might be to get more women of pre-Roe times to testify and tell their stories. Then we would REALLY be facing lawmakers with their mothers, their wives, and daughters!”

Here’s Sorrentino’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee:

9. Cyd McKenna

Cyd McKenna has launched her campaign to be the next Providence city councilor from Ward 13, replacing Bryan Principe, who is not seeking re-election.

10. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail…

Two years ago Representative William O’Brien (Democrat, District 54, North Providence) introduced legislation to bring back the death penalty, which has been outlawed in Rhode Island since 1852. Now he wants to arm campus security at Rhode Island College (RIC) and the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI).

11. Governor Gina Raimondo

Governor Raimondo sat down with Molly Shapiro at the politic.org for an interview about voting rights and voting access.

“In a democracy, our most precious right is the right to vote, and every vote counts—elections have huge consequences, as we’re living right now,” said Raimondo. “I think it’s our responsibility to make it easier to vote and get rid of all of the deterrence and obstacles that there may be to voting. And we’ll have a stronger democracy if everyone has their voice heard and everyone has confidence in a voting system.”

Raimondo traveled to Washington DC to deliver an address to the North America’s Building Trades Unions legislative conference on Wednesday.

“We don’t need to build walls. We need to build bridges… and schools… and airports… and seaports… and water treatment facilities… and off-shore wind farms like the one we have in Rhode Island!”

Raimondo traveled from Washington to Warwick to address the Warwick Democratic Committee as part off her re-election bid. You can see that video in its entirety here:

One question we as an electoral body must deal with: When is a donation from a high ranking company official really a donation from the company itself? Until we answer that, will we ever really be sure that corporate money isn’t buying or democracy out from under us?

12. Who to believe, a world renowned expert on energy and the environment, or the Providence Journal editorial board?

The ProJo editorial board writes:

One of Rhode Island’s apparent gubernatorial wannabes, former Secretary of State Matt Brown, engaged in some fantastical thinking on these pages last week (“Use wind, not natural gas, to power R.I.,” Commentary, April 13).

He cheered on the “heroic fight” against a state-of-the-art, $1 billion power plant proposed in Burrillville. He argued that “water, wind and sun” can supply the region’s power needs, and that wind off the coast of Rhode Island could “produce twice the energy its people use.”

That is a pleasant thought and an enjoyable suspension of disbelief. Similarly, people in the Middle Ages believed in the magical powers of unicorns.

Meanwhile, author and environmentalist Bill McKibben writes:

Scientists now tell us that at current rates, within a decade we’ll likely have put enough carbon in the atmosphere to warm the earth past the Paris climate targets. And in any event there’s no need any longer to go slow: engineers have in the last few years brought the price of renewables so low that it would make sense to switch over even if fossil fuel wasn’t wrecking the earth. In fact, that’s why the appeal of 100 percent renewables goes well beyond the left: if you pay a power bill, clean energy is increasingly the common-sense path forward. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen automatically: the fossil fuel industry recognizes its peril, and is rallying all the political power its cash reserves can buy to prevent the idea getting traction. It’s going to be a hell of a fight.

I said it before, but I’m not counting on it: Do better ProJo.

13. Hindu prayers…

Rajan Zed, a Hindu cleric, may have jumped the gun when he announced that he will open the June 20 session of the Rhode Island House of Representatives “with Hindu prayers, containing verses from world’s oldest existing scripture.”

“The Speaker’s office received a request for a Hindu invocation on June 20,” writes Larry Berman, House communications director, “Since this is recess week, we plan to review the request with him next week. Nothing has been confirmed.”

In truth, I’m not even sure that the House will be in session on June 20. In election years thee House likes to have everything wrapped up so that elected officials can get around to the important work of getting re-elected.

EDIT: I received the following from Rajan Zed:

I received an email from Anastasia B. Custer, Assistant to the Chief of Staff, Office of the Speaker of the House, Rhode Island State House, on April 18, which included:

“I received your request from Rep. Teresa Tanzi about reading an invocation to the RI House of Representatives on Wednesday, June 20. Speaker Nicholas Mattiello approved your request and I will add this reading to the schedule. Note that legislative session is scheduled to start at 4pm and I recommend guests arrive between 3:30-3:45pm.”

On my asking in another email, she also provided me parking suggestions.

14. Picture of the week:

Next week: Big goings on at the Rhode Island State House, including House Judiciary Committee meetings on the assault weapon ban.

See you soon!


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About Steve Ahlquist 389 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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