Tag Archives: Rhode Island

Lil’ Rhody Part 2

“Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” Will Rogers

Senate President Ruggerio and House Speaker Mattiello (from WPRO 2015)

The last post ended with Rhode Island’s colorful rogue, Buddy Cianci, long time Providence mayor and failed gubernatorial candidate. This time up, the current gray denizens inhabiting the Rhode Island statehouse make their appearance. Long dominated by the Democrat Party, Rhode Island politics are inbred and clubby on a need to know basis. Outsiders and voters don’t need to know.

Much has been written about ‘deep state’ bureaucracy in Washington: privileged, secretive and shielded from view, intensely ideological, entitled, entrenched, metastasizing relentlessly and ruthless in its self-regard and self-preservation.  Each state has its own version; Rhode Island is no exception.

When Rita worked as Executive Director of Rhode Island Right to Life, she was a registered lobbyist and stalked the corridors of the statehouse discussing pending legislation relevant to her organization with state reps and senators and occasionally governors and Federal reps and senators.  On one of her first visits to the Statehouse, Rita was anxious to learn the ways of the labyrinth.  She went to the office of a friend, who was office manager to the Democrat Senate Majority Leader, who eventually quit under a cloud. Under a cloud is how many incumbents reluctantly fade away in Rhode Island.

While she was there, a confidant of her friend and recently in her probationary period as a new state employee, rushed through the door and breathlessly exclaimed, “I got my benefits!” She had the enthusiasm of someone who just hit the lottery. And in a way, she had. Lifetime health care and pension benefits, and even though grossly underfunded by a legislature reluctant to disclose the full costs of employee sinecures to the voters, the promise was at least there for permanent security. “I got my benefits!” translated as “I am now deeply ensconced in the elite cadre of protected forever state workers!” Or in short, “Hallelujah, hallelujah, there is a God!![i]

After Rita left her friend’s office, she made her way down the stairs past another public employee sitting at a naked desktop in an empty corridor waiting for his benefits. On his desk was nothing: no phone, no computer, no paper, not even a magazine. He did not look embarrassed or bored or apologetic to be doing absolutely nothing. He was friendly in an offhanded, distracted way and seemed confident that there would be no negative repercussions for his lack of productive work. These things will work themselves out. Eventually. No one had asked him to do anything or defined his job for him, but his paycheck would clear on Friday – the reward for shoe leather expended in some key office holder’s campaign no doubt. Thus, were Rita’s first lessons in Rhode Island state governance completed.

Please understand there are many highly skilled professionals who work hard every day as public employees, and we are fortunate they do, especially in jobs protecting the environment, clean air and water, health and safety. But there are others who tarnish the great ones, which should offend the productive workers and the voters.

“One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.” Niccolo Machiavelli

Last post Rhode Island was lauded as the ‘Most Peaceful’ state in the country. Lil’ Rhody shows on some other lists. It ranks sixth highest in total tax burden on its citizens[ii], not a great surprise as all the others at the top are similarly Democrat controlled. Democrats are the party of coercive government solutions to social problems, irrespective of evidence that the state can positively influence them. The Law of Unintended Consequences is as real as gravity, especially when complicated with vote pandering and political posturing. Rhode island is well situated as well in the top tier of public employees per capita[iii].

In a couple of other categories, though, Rhode Island does not sit on the top of the pyramid. In the annual CNBC study of the states that grow jobs and induce new businesses to move in, Rhode Island climbed a notch or two out of the cellar a year ago, but for 2019 dropped into its accustomed spot, fiftieth out of fifty.[iv] We bleed jobs in Rhode Island, and subsequently we hemorrhage population and are in danger of losing one of our two House of Representative seats. More alarming, what we are losing is our young people, so the population demographic is aging. The state spends lavishly to educate our young and hosts several excellent universities, but their graduates head to Texas, Arizona, North Carolina or even neighboring Massachusetts for far better job prospects.

Anyone who has driven Rhode Island potholed roads and over or under its rusted steel and pitted concrete bridges is not surprised at another national ranking. Again, fiftieth out of fifty for infrastructure[v]. That’s right. Sixth in tax burden, fiftieth in infrastructure and business development. Taxpayer money is sucked into the spongy conduits of government: nepotism and connected public jobs, underfunded and unaffordable pension plans for public employees and underwriting bonds for ill advised, but politically attractive private businesses like Curt Schilling’s sports video games debacle. The black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy is more attractive as an investment.

The legislative session for 2018-2019 slowly ramped up after the fund-raising gatherings called “times” and the election furor subsided. Obviously, the most urgent priority for legislators must have been lowering taxes for its beleaguered constituents and addressing the sorry business environment and dangerous bridge situation. Maybe in a happier parallel universe. In Rhode Island, this past session was dominated by authorizing open season on our tiniest and most vulnerable human beings. Urged on by prominent media outlets in the state like the Providence Journal and local TV stations, after several months of contentious hearings, and through the contrivance of previously professed pro-life Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and enthusiastic abortion advocate Governor Gina Raimondo, the Reproductive Privacy Act was passed. Pink shirted screaming bullies shouted down committee hearings and briefly invaded the Senate President’s office. They picketed the homes of swing committee members and with van mounted loudspeakers called them out as hating women to their neighbors and children.

The various backroom Machiavellian maneuvers are beyond the scope of this post.  Attached is a more detailed history for any more curious (or masochistic) readers.[vi]  Some brief clarifying notes:

  • The bill mimics one written by lawyers hired by NARAL and Planned Parenthood, which funded and organized pink shirted assault and publicity. It mirrors similar bills passed in Vermont and New York. The Reproductive Privacy bill had little to do with privacy (it couldn’t have been more public) and nothing to do with reproduction. On the contrary; its singular focus was on violently inhibiting it.
  • It allows abortion for any reason in any form up to the moment of birth. 73% of voters oppose such late term abortions, but the supporters want no restrictions. The bill prohibits any rules regarding abortion clinics, including authorizing some who are not doctors to perform them.
  • Several times the bill was stopped in committee votes, only to be resurrected by its proponents in backroom manipulations. At one point, in violation of Senate rules, the chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee which heard all the late-night testimony, when it became apparent the bill would be defeated again, unilaterally switched it to another committee stacked in its favor that heard no testimony. That was only one instance of several similar moves that kept the bill alive.
  • After a Senate hearing killed one version of the bill, the pink shirts stormed the Senate President’s office demanding that he intervene despite his long professed pro-life stance. Viewers of the evening news were treated to the sight of him with face frozen in fear being escorted from his office by Capital Police[vii].

In my youth a young Democrat Senator, John F Kennedy, launched his career with his wartime heroics and the publication of his Pulitzer Prize winning book about major political figures in American history from all parties who risked their political fortunes and lives to stand up for what was right. “Profiles in Courage” once defined what Democrat politics stood for. There were very few profiles in courage in the Rhode Island statehouse this year. Cowards who feared losing their privileges and influence or their gavel collapsed under pressure and sanctioned sacrifices of babies to a culture obsessed with pleasure and irresponsibility regarding its consequences.

“The promise given is a necessity of the past; the word broken is a necessity of the present.”  Niccolo Machiavelli

[i] Retiree benefits were altered for those retiring after 2008, capping state reimbursement for health care after 65 to 80% of costs. Prior to that, retired state employees with long service would receive 100%.

[ii] https://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-highest-lowest-tax-burden/20494/

[iii] https://www.governing.com/gov-data/public-workforce-salaries/states-most-government-workers-public-employees-by-job-type.html

[iv] https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/09/why-rhode-island-is-the-worst-state-for-business-in-2019.html

[v] https://www.forconstructionpros.com/asphalt/news/21017738/all-50-states-ranked-by-worst-crumbling-infrastructure

[vi] See the attached synopsis of the history of this bill. Link to document.

[vii] https://www.facebook.com/WPRI12/videos/watch-senate-president-dominick-ruggerio-had-to-be-escorted-from-his-office-as-p/442724003171604/

 

2 Comments

Filed under Politics and government

Lil’ Rhody

“Louisiana loses 30 miles off our coast a year. We lost 100 miles last year off our coast thanks to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. We have lost a size of land equivalent to the entire state of Rhode Island.”  Bobby Jindal (former governor)

Rhode Island has its own miles of beaches and estuaries. Through a series of circumstances that were in retrospect fortuitous, we have recently retired on Aquidneck Island near some sublime geography like mile long Sachuest Beach (Second Beach), Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge, Norman Bird Sanctuary, and over the Mount Hope bridge into Bristol an Audubon refuge with an adjacent bike path through estuary and coastline that runs fifteen miles along Narragansett Bay. Although smaller than some ranches in Texas, Rhode Island is a lovely place to live.

One of the original thirteen colonies, tiny Rhode Island possesses the cockiness of a persistent undaunted underdog. Nearby to us, Newport was occupied for a time by British troops during the Revolutionary War after they defeated a small contingent of colonials in our town of Portsmouth on the north end of Aquidneck Island. Mansions were commandeered by British officers and are still gainfully inhabited by locals; one is now the Newport Art Museum. The International Tennis Hall of Fame is located on Bellevue Avenue along with its “cottages” like The Elms and The Breakers. Newport is on the south end of Aquidneck with a long history and many homes from the early eighteenth century and a few from the seventeenth. The oldest still open tavern in the country, the White Horse Tavern, is in Newport, built in 1652 and a tavern since 1673. The Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony of the Old Colony House (Original Rhode Island State House) a few hundred yards away. Fine dining, lively pubs and sailboats in the harbor abound. The America’s Cup races have been held in the waters here.

Rhode Island was just recognized as the most peaceful state in the union by USA Today[i], based on its lowest composite violent crime rate. We have come a long way since Raymond Patriarca[ii] ruled New England organized crime from his lawn chair on the sidewalk outside his vending machine distribution company on Federal Hill. Very little, if any, violent street crime, at least crime not authorized by Raymond, occurred on Federal Hill then, but for different reasons. Muggers may or may not have been successful in their felonious intent towards some Rolex wearing out of state patron of one of the fabled Federal Hill Italian restaurants, however no second attempts by the perpetrator were recorded. Nor were their bodies usually identified, even if scattered pieces were discovered in the Johnston landfill.

Irony is the mother’s milk of Rhode Island. The long list of governors, congressmen and mayors of at least four cities that went to prison just since we have lived here rivals any collection of woeful miscreants in the country. But a few were memorable and contributed to Lil’ Rhody’s ambiance.  One of the Federal prosecutors who put Raymond Senior away for good was a young firebrand, Vincent “Buddy” Cianci. Buddy eventually rode his hard charger reputation to become Mayor of Providence for multiple terms. Twice he lost his mayoralty, both for his own felony convictions. The first time was for straightening out a contractor who had slept with Buddy’s wife during the separation, but before the divorce. This correction was aided by a fireplace implement and (perhaps) a lighted cigarette extinguished on the face of the guy who made Buddy a cuckold. Buddy served no time but lost his job. He took advantage of his temporary ineligibility for office to become a hugely successful radio talk show host while he waited for his parole to wind down: witty, charming, quick and funny, he knew where all the political bodies were buried. His regular callers ranged from shock jock Don Imus and experts on government waste and budgets to Joe the Barber who knew everyone worth knowing among Rhode Island’s panoply of fascinating characters.

When his parole was completed, he easily won reelection swatting away the neophyte pretenders like annoying horseflies on Salty Brine Beach. During his tenure, the city was transformed from potholes and litter into a show place. The Woonasquatucket and Moshassuck Rivers, long imprisoned by concrete and steel conduits and buried by pavement, were dug out and exposed to the sunlight after a century. The confluence of the reborn rivers merge into the Providence River and now play host to gondolas and Waterfire events with music in the adjacent streets. The roads were well maintained, the schools were highly rated. The fire department was one of the best small city units in the country, all while keeping the tax rates low for longtime residents. Mayor Cianci loved his city; his politicking skills and reading of crowds that frequently gathered at his events were legend. We have a picture of him with his arm around our youngest daughter in her baseball uniform at an opening day event. Meg said he was nice and smelled of cigars. He was dressed in pressed jeans and a Providence sweatshirt, managing another city event picking up winter litter along the city roadsides. Ironically, he often held court at one of the Federal Hill restaurant’s sidewalk tables talking to anyone who stopped by. Everyone called him Buddy. His enemies called him Vincent. No one called him Vinny that I ever heard.

His second felony conviction for criminal corruption ended his string of terms after new Federal prosecutors investigated the Mayor’s office for a variety of offenses like cash in envelopes for parking lot permits, liquor licenses not renewed after the Mayor was blackballed by an exclusive and snooty East Side brandy and cigar men’s club and sweetheart snow plowing contract deals. No specific bribe was ever credited to Buddy, but his city hall administrators were knee deep. He rewarded personal loyalty with appointments and trust, and his courtiers profited. The RICO conspiracy due to the stench of his associates brought him down. He spent five years in a Federal prison without public complaint (don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time) and then was almost reelected to a third set of mayoral terms. Now in full disclosure with his famous toupee discarded, his luck ran out, and his independent run after the Republican Party disowned him fell short in a three-way race.

Back at the radio station to much acclaim and enthusiastic welcome from his loyal constituents, Buddy fell ill while on the air and died shortly thereafter to be mourned by most of the city. Despised by the progressive politicians who circled him constantly like a pack of jackals stalking an aging lion, he reveled in ridiculing their pretentions and hypocrisy. A particularly egregious representative of their ilk, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a doctrinaire and unctuous progressive, was always referred on the air as Weldon Shitehouse[iii] whenever Buddy would eviscerate him for some profoundly stupid ideological remark the hapless Senator solemnly opined. I still miss Buddy. The annual oldest in the country Fourth of July parade in Bristol will never be the same without him riding by in the convertible pointing to and greeting those he knew at every turn. The world is less interesting without him.

“Political corruption is to Rhode Island as smog is to people who live in Los Angeles: nobody complains of its absence, but when it rolls around everyone feels right at home.” Phillip Gourevitch, “The New Yorker”

Space and the beleaguered reader’s patience and attention span prohibit more for this post. The next one will address the soulless landscape of the current batch of more sinister and cowardly politicians who this year enacted some truly despicable legislation with a series of backroom power moves. More adventures in the Ocean State to follow.

 

[i] https://patch.com/rhode-island/newport/rhode-island-named-most-peaceful-state-u-s

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_L._S._Patriarca

[iii] https://legalinsurrection.com/2018/09/senator-sheldon-whitehouse-grilled-brett-kavanaugh-about-a-yearbook-fart-joke-seriously/

2 Comments

Filed under Background Perspective, Politics and government