But politics ain’t bean bag

Posted 6/22/22


 Perhaps you’ve heard the twist on the golden rule – the person with the gold makes the rules. The legislative corollary is how the Democratic super-majority in …

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But politics ain’t bean bag



 Perhaps you’ve heard the twist on the golden rule – the person with the gold makes the rules. The legislative corollary is how the Democratic super-majority in the General Assembly enables the powers that be on Smith Hill to get their way. That’s why it was only a bump in the road when the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked last week on a bill to limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds. Gun-rights supporters thought the defeat of the bill in committee marked a victory. But Senate President Dominick Ruggerio’s leadership was holding an ace – the ability to use immediate consideration to bring the House version of the magazine-capacity bill directly to the Senate floor. This is allowed under the rules of the chamber, even if opponents variously described the maneuver as somewhere between shady and a violation of the spirit of the committee process. But politics ain’t bean bag, as the expression goes. And timing, of course, is a huge factor in politics (along with the election of more progressive lawmakers through multiple election cycles). Ruggerio’s A rating from the NRA notwithstanding, the palpable sense of public frustration about mass shootings compelled Rhode Island lawmakers to pass the magazine bill, along with less controversial measures raising the age to buy guns and ammo from 18 to 21 and banning the open carry of loaded long guns, except for hunters. Opponents argue the measures will not address the problem of gun violence, while supporters say different steps are needed to foster improvement. Regardless, the Senate leadership used the legislative process to pass a measure with considerable public support. Gov. Dan McKee signed the gun bills Tuesday. If opponents don’t like how things went down in the Senate, making change starts at the ballot box.


After about five hours of debate, the Rhode Island House of Representatives passed Thursday a $13.6 billion budget on a 61-9 vote. This was the third budget during House Speaker Joe Shekarchi’s tenure, and the vote reflects broad support from his membership and one Republican, Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung of Cranston. Supporters hailed heightened spending on education, housing and healthcare, while critics lamented the absence of a pause on the gas tax and what Rep. Brian Newberry (R-North Smithfield) called increasing opacity in the budget: “I really don’t understand where a lot of this money is going.”


GOP General Treasurer candidate James Lathrop bills himself as someone with “a Republican brain and a Democratic heart.” That could be a good fit in Rhode Island, where moderate Republicans won elections for state general offices in the 80s and 90s arguably helping to set the stage for the GOP firm hold on the governor’s office from 1995 to 2011. Lathrop told Bill Bartholomew he thinks the RI GOP needs to be more moderate to overcome its more recent struggles (no general offices and just 15 seats in the 113-seat General Assembly. Thing is, no less a source that former GOP Rep. John Loughlin said the same thing in 2012, in an interview with The Public’s Radio: “If in fact the Rhode Island Republican Party was inclusive to moderate voices, then the day after Election Day, we would be congratulating the new senator-elect, Scott Avedisian. However, Scott Avedisian can’t win a Rhode Island Republican primary, because of the ring-wing elements that have kind of co-opted the party. So I think the party really needs to reassess who it is, where it’s going, and include more moderate voices, frankly.” Lathrop joined me for half of Political Roundtable this week, so I asked him what’s holding the RI GOP back from being more moderate or supporting more moderate candidates. His response: “I think it’s because at their core, the core base is a little bit more to the right. And it’s hard to get someone to run, knowing that you’re going to probably lose. I mean, it’s a very expensive and time-consuming prospect of running. And I think that’s part of the reason why I think I can run. I tell people, I have a Republican brain and a Democratic heart. You know, I went to NYU, I have some social causes. I believe in mental health -- a big priority to me. I’ve served on some boards, and finances as part of mental health. That’s what the Republicans need is, that they need to not only address their core, but they need to address those independents. Rhode Island is a moderate state. And if you’re too extreme, you’re not going to get the support.”


 As the General Assembly heads into likely the last week of session, the House is expected to pass a bill to allow driver’s licenses for undocumented Rhode Islanders already approved in the Senate. The issue has stalled since 2013, when Gina Raimondo endorsed the concept during a campaign announcement (and then after taking office, called it a legislative issue). Supporters say driver’s licenses for the undocumented are a matter of public safety, while opponents say they signal a breach with the fundamentals laws of citizenship. The issue has been a stormy one in Massachusetts, where the GOP is trying to overturn a new law backed by lawmakers, following an override of a veto from Gov. Charlie Baker.


Ahead of the filing deadline for candidates later this month, there are two key races to follow as progressives have gained more representation in the legislature: The state Senate rematch between Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Lenny Cioe, a Democratic challenger backed by the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, has been brewing for a while, with both men occasionally sniping at one another via social media. With the legislative session over almost over, Ruggerio, 73 and the longest serving member of the Senate, can tout action on gun control, legalizing cannabis and climate change. Cioe’s supporters say he would bring a fresh approach and challenge the old way of doing things. Elsewhere, Rep. Charlene Lima (D-Cranston), who has the title of deputy speaker and is among three remaining reps first elected in a big post-banking crisis class in 1992, faces opposition from SEIU and the RI Working Families Party, amid a sharp clash with another Cranston Rep. Brandon Potter, as reported by the ProJo. While Lima has the backing of gun-rights supporters, among others, critics call her out of step with Democratic values. She faces a challenge from fellow Democrat Giona Picheco.


Check back on September 13 to find out what happens when a five-way Democratic primary for governor runs smack dab into the pleasant diversions of summer in Rhode Island. Here’s a quick rundown on a few of the latest developments: Gov. Dan McKee touted a jobs report showing unemployment below 3%, although voters still face inflation and high gas prices …. Via Ted Nesi, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea is getting ready to join the air war with her first TV campaign commercial …. Helena Foulkes is out with her fourth TV ad.


Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien sounded upbeat ahead of a meeting Tuesday of the Commerce Corporation, but the outlook for $30 million in additional financing for Fortuitous Partners’ envisioned soccer stadium remains cloudy. The issue has spilled over into the race for general treasurer, with Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor delaying his exit from that job, and Pryor rival James Diossa criticizing the delay. (Pryor will end his tenure as Commerce secretary Tuesday, he said in a letter to Gov. Dan McKee released Friday afternoon.) Elsewhere in LG land, GOP candidate Jeann Lugo joined me for part of Political Roundtable this week, and former Don Carcieri aide Aaron Guckian entered the Republican side of the race Tuesday. On the Democratic side, Rep. Deb Ruggiero of Jamestown has sent out a letter ahead of the June 26 endorsement convention, saying she is not seeking the party’s imprimatur. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos explained why she declined to take part in a debate hosted by an affiliate of the RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity while criticizing Ruggiero for saying yes to the group. Ruggiero said she agreed to speak with veteran broadcaster Ron St. Pierre and asked RICFP to remove the conversation from its website.


The General Assembly is changing before our eyes, with Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (D-Providence) and Sen. James Seveney (D-Portsmouth) – both first elected in 2016 – announcing that they will not seek re-election. In related news, Democrat Mark Tracy, a former Rep candidate in Providence, announced he’s running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Barrington). And Portsmouth Town Council VP Democrat Linda Ujifusa announced a run for the seat now held by Seveney.


 Sam Bader has signed on as House campaign coordinator for RI Democrats …. Kenneth Naylor Jr., current RI Young Republican chair, is taking on a new role as field director for the party …. Matthew Hanrahan has signed on as comms director for Ashley Kalus’ GOP gov run. Per news release: “Hanrahan, originally from neighboring Connecticut, has worked on Capitol Hill since 2017 and served as Communications Director to a sitting Member of Congress for the past three years. Before transitioning into communications, he worked on legislative issues ranging from housing and foreign affairs to civil liberties. Prior to moving to Washington, DC, he was the Political Director on a U.S. Senate campaign, in New England, during the 2016 election cycle.” U.S . Rep. Ben Cline, a Virginia Republican, was Hanrahan’s former employer.


Poet Amanda Gorman talks with NPR about Juneteenth. Excerpt: “For me, it’s a day of celebration, of honoring my heritage of my ancestors. And it’s also a day of deep reflection of the opposition in that where we are celebrating African American liberty, a liberty that was not promised, but something we continuously have to fight for … African Americans and also communities beyond that have been celebrating Juneteenth for generations without it being federalized, that it wasn’t something that we need permission to look at. It has everything to do with who and what our nation is and what we owe each other, which is liberty, life, joy and freedom.”

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org. You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon.

Talking Politics, op-ed