State Report: Election Recap & Revamping the Board of Elections
Saturday, November 10, 2012
Not surprisingly, this week's State House Report focuses on Tuesday’s election, which saw Rep. Cicilline and House Speaker Fox get re-elected, table games approved at Twin River, and countless statewide bond measures passed. Additionally, we examine the long lines at the polls and what state lawmakers propose to do about it.
Aside from election-related news, home heating aid, hurricane preparedness and Rep. Medina’s arrest are also on the docket.
Cicilline victory: Although pre-election polls suggested that it would be a tight race, Rep. David Cicilline defeated Republican Brendan Doherty by a comfortable margin on Tuesday evening; winning his second terms in the 1st Congressional District. The two candidates were nearly tied prior to election night, but Cicilline managed to beat Doherty 53 percent to 41 percent.
The contentious race saw a great deal of mudslinging by both candidates including accusations against Doherty that he was simply a “Romney Republican,” as well as claims against Cicilline that he represented violent criminals and sex offenders during his tenure as a public defender.
Although Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District is heavily Democratic, Cicilline was bogged down by charges that he lied about Providence’s financial standing during his first congressional run.
Lincoln gets table games: On Tuesday, voters chose to approve casino gambling in Lincoln, but not Newport. Although table gaming was approved statewide, Newport voters killed the plan, voting not to endorse table gaming at Newport Grand. Lincoln voters, however, voted in favor of allowing casino gambling at Twin River. The Lincoln slot parlor could add its first table games as early as July.
Table gaming has been a major issue in the state ever since Massachusetts approved the construction of three full casinos last year. A 99-page report, commissioned by Gov. Lincoln Chafee, found that that the state’s annual revenue would decrease by nearly $100 million if Rhode Island did not add table games. Rhode Island’s two slot parlors currently generate $300 million dollars annually.
Bond measures pass: Bond measures fared extremely well in Rhode Island on Election Day. In fact, voters approved every statewide bond measure on the ballot including a $94 million plan to build a new state veterans’ home, a $50 million proposal to revamp campus buildings at Rhode Island College, a $25 million commitment to improve affordable housing, a $20 million plan to protect open space and recreational facilities, and a $20 million proposal to support new water and sewer infrastructure.
Speaker Fox keeps his seat: Despite a major backlash over his role in the 38 Studios debacle, House Speaker Gordon Fox managed to fend off Independent challenger Mark Binder on Tuesday night. Fox was highly criticized for helping to secure the $75 million loan guarantee granted to 38 Studios, which fostered their move from Massachusetts to Providence. In the end, Fox was able to easily win reelection by a margin of 15 percent.
Trouble at the polls
Rhode Island’s Board of Elections is under fire following several mishaps during Tuesday’s election. Not only were long lines commonplace on Tuesday, but there were also ballot mix-ups in West Warwick and South Kingstown.
As for long lines, some voters were forced to wait upwards for two to three hours just to cast their vote in Providence. The chaos was witnessed first hand by Providence Mayor Angel Taveras during his visit to the Juanita Sanchez School polling location. “It broke my heart to see it,” said Taveras to WPRO-AM on Thursday.
Taveras cites lack of preparation as the primary reason for the long lines. According to Taveras, the city failed to consider that numerous polling locations have been eliminated due to redistricting. Furthermore, more than two times as many voters cast ballots on Tuesday compared to 2008, which further compounded the problem.
On Wedneday, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis said that the state should think about giving future secretaries of state more control over the Board of Elections. Mollis is currently in charge of overseeing voter registration and election certification, but the Board of Elections manages ballot delivery and poll worker training.
Rep. Medina arrested again
Rep. Leo Medina has been arrested for the second time for allegedly misrepresenting himself as an attorney and accepting legal fees. In one case, Medina, who is not licensed to practice law, allegedly received $45,000 for legal services in a serious criminal case.
Medina also faces previous charges for unauthorized practice of law and accusations that he profited from a life insurance policy on a friend’s deceased daughter. Medina pleaded not guilty to the allegations in March.
Medina, a Democrat, joined the Rhode Island House of Representatives in 2011. Medina ran for re-election in District 12, but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Joseph Almeida. During his brief time in the House Medina was appointed to the Corporations Committee and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
South Coast earns poor marks in storm preparedness
A new USA Today article indicates that Rhode Island was ill prepared for Superstorm Sandy. According to USA Today, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has ranked several Rhode Island towns amongst the worst prepared in the country. In fact, FEMA ranks North Kingstown a 9 (10 being the worst) for its flood preparation. Additionally, Portsmouth and Charlestown both received an 8 out of 10 score.
North Kingstown Town Manager Michael Embury was not happy with USA Today, arguing that the publication should have contacted the town prior to publishing the story. Embury also points out that Portsmouth and Charlestown do not participate in FEMA’s Community Rating System (CRS), therefore do not belong on the list. Embury is currently putting together a complaints letter to send to the editors of USA Today.
Hurricane Sandy was the largest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane in history. Superstorm Sandy caused an estimated $50 billion in damage in the Northeast region, with New York incurring the most in damages at $33 billion.
RI gets $22.8 million in winter heating aid
Millions of Americans need help paying their home heating bills every winter and Rhode Islanders are no different. With this in mind, the Ocean State is receiving more than $22.8 million in federal aid to help low-income households this winter. The federal aid is part of the $3.1 billion granted under President Barack Obama’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
Sen. Jack Reed announced the funding on Friday, stating:
“I am pleased the Obama Administration is releasing this vital heating assistance. LIHEAP helps families in need deal with heating and financial challenges during the cold winter months. With winter approaching it is critical to speed this assistance to seniors and low-income families in time to help with their heating bills,” said Reed.
The $22.8 million amount is slightly less than the $23.2 million in assistance that the state received in 2011, which helped about 32,000 households.
Those interested in receiving winter heating assistance can contact the Office of Energy Resources or their city or town’s local community action program office.