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Aaron Regunberg: RI-CAN Shows its True Colors

Friday, September 14, 2012

 

On Tuesday, to my very pleasant surprise, State Representative Jon Brien lost his election to represent Woonsocket at the State House. Even though I’d heard his challenger was running an aggressive and effective campaign, I had not expected this result. I’d figured Brien was relatively safe—in no small part because I knew he was receiving significant outside support from RI-CAN, Rhode Island’s premiere organization lobbying for what I call corporate education reform. (I like to differentiate between what I call community-driven education reform—which comes from the parents, students, teachers, and other stakeholders who are members of a school community—and the kind of policy changes first proposed by far-right think tanks and now being promulgated in large part by Wall Street hedge-funds.)

According to the latest Independent Expenditures filing report, 50CAN—the parent organization of which RI-CAN is a part—spent at least a whopping $11,225 in support of Jon Brien through September 4th (money that was donated by several billionaires from out of state, including the head of Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company that has made billions off the sale of the often-abused drug OxyCotin). Considering that the average competitive campaign for state representative in Rhode Island raises less than $30,000, that is a huge expenditure, and one that I believe goes a long way towards revealing the true priorities of this organization.

Here’s a prime example. RI-CAN’s stated goal is to ensure every student in Rhode Island gets a great education, with what seems like a particular rhetorical focus on the Latino community. Pretty hard rhetoric to argue with, right? (At least until you hear the specifics of the plans they are pushing, the majority of which I would argue have very little to do with that goal).

Yet here they are, going all-in for Jon Brien, who may just be the most anti-immigrant legislator in a State House full of folks vying for that title. Brien was vehemently opposed to in-state tuition for DREAMers, and worked furiously against the passage of Grace Diaz’s state-level DREAM Act for years. Hard to see how 50CAN or RI-CAN can legitimately claim to be representing the educational interests of the Latino community while spending at least $11,225 to elect the same man who’s fought tooth and nail to limit college access to so many Latino youth. Or was it Brien’s hardcore support for E-Verify that won RI-CAN’s endorsement (because everyone knows it’s easier for students to achieve in school if they face the constant fear of their parents’ deportation)?

The best thing folks with real progressive values can say about Jon Brien is that the guy’s honest about his opinions. He’s one of (if not the) most conservative

members of the Rhode Island General Assembly, and he’s not afraid to make that clear. He’s a proud member of ALEC (the right-wing corporate-legislation organization that gained infamy for its introduction of the “stand your ground” gun laws in Florida and other states), and a proud follower of Ayn Rand. And I have a certain amount of respect for that authenticity, because it makes it easier to have a real, grounded debate about the merit of the ideas and issues he represents.

What I have no respect for is an organization that claims to be representing the interests of all Rhode Island children doing everything in its power to support a legislator who’s done so much against the interests of some of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable youth. I have no respect for an organization claiming to carry the mantle of progressive change doing everything in its power to support RI’s most conservative representative. I think it’s time for the folks at 50CAN and RI-CAN to grow a backbone and just admit the truth. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, it’s a duck. If you are pushing ideas proposed by the Cato and Heritage Foundations, funded by conservative billionaires, and supporting the most far-right legislators in the state, then guess what: you’re the right wing, and after this election it’s not much use pretending otherwise.

 

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