12 Biggest Political Stories in Rhode Island in 2012
Friday, December 28, 2012
From Congressman Cicilline's comeback to the collapse of the state GOP, GoLocalProv breaks down the 12 biggest political stories in Rhode Island in 2012.
12) Going Hollywood
Several top Hollywood executives, a former James Bond, Barbra Streisand and the creator of Lost all contributed to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s campaign in 2011, leading critics to question whether his support for internet piracy legislation was more of a fundraising ploy than a policy decision.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Whitehouse and his leadership Political Action Committee (PAC) received $247,114 from the television/movies/music industry in 2011, just as the industry ramped up efforts to curb piracy on the web.
Whitehouse easily won re-election in November.
11) Education Merger
Lawmakers are being asked to consider postponing a plan that would merge the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Governors for Higher Education into an 11-member Board of Education.
The creation of the new board was a last-minute inclusion in the budget by lawmakers and now it appears Eva-Marie Mancusso will head up the board.
10) Chafee VS Gina
From pension reform to 38 Studios, Governor Chafee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo—considered a likely candidate for Governor in 2014— butted heads throughout the year.
In an interview with GoLocalProv, Chafee said he doesn’t understand why the Treasurer didn’t go to bat for municipalities last year.
“That’s the question I can’t answer,” he said. “Why a smart Treasurer couldn’t see the magnitude of the local issues. I don’t have a good answer for that.”
Raimondo meanwhile has defended her pension plan by suggesting that cities and towns needed to do their homework and understand just how severe their problems were before taking up reform efforts.
“Maybe the Governor hasn’t reviewed the legislation that was passed by the General Assembly, but there was an entire chapter dedicated to independent municipalities and that work is happening,” Raimondo said during an interview on the Dan Yorke Show.
9) Providence Finances
A city memo sent in January suggested Providence could be running out of money, which led Mayor Angel Taveras to threaten that the city was on the brink of bankruptcy. The Mayor called for the city’s nonprofits to pay more to the city and warned the unions and retirees that pensions could be slashed if a deal that included concessions couldn’t be reached.
By December, the city had reached agreements with every major nonprofit and a settlement on pension reform is nearly finalized. Taveras calls the days of the city’s $110 million structural deficit a “bad memory.”
8) Gay Marriage
Rhode Island will see more same-sex marriage supporters in its legislature than at any point in history in 2013 thanks to a successful election strategy that targeted Representaives and Senators who were considered “no” votes on gay marriage.
Now the issue appears the be one of the biggest topics to watch in 2013 with House Speaker Gordon Fox already saying his chamber will vote on the bill in January.
7) Municipal Finances
It didn’t pass, but Governor Chafee’s municipal relief package was a major political story in 2012. In March, the Governor joined with municipal leaders from across Rhode Island to unveil a legislative package of reform and relief measures that he says will empower local officials to take the needed steps to achieve fiscal health for their communities.
In 2013, with communities like West Warwick and Woonsocket on the brink, look for this issue to be raised again.
Despite a process that was criticized on the federal, state and local levels, taxpayers paid the consultant who advised the state and more than a dozen cities and towns during their once-per-decade redistricting efforts more than $1 million.
Kimball Brace, the founder of Election Data Services, who has helped redraw political maps across the country for over three decades, was paid at least $1,040,494 for his efforts, with the bulk of the money ($692,420) coming from his work altering the Congressional and General Assembly districts.
5) Speaker's Battle
With 38 Studios still fresh on voters’ minds and a former ally actively working against him, House Speaker Gordon Fox had a battle on two fronts: He had to overcome a challenger in his own district (Mark Binder) and prevent any ambitious Representatives from attempting to take him out as Speaker.
It isn’t clear how much longer Fox will remain Speaker, but he heads into 2013 in a comfortable position with a new leadership team and he says he’ll push for same-sex marriage in the new session.
4) 38 Studios
The biggest story of the year also had its fair share of political implications, especially when many of the lawmakers who voted in favor of the legislation that paved the way for 38 Studios to come to Rhode Island said they were unaware that the money would go to Curt Schilling’s business.
In an effort to further distance themselves from the deal, both current and former lawmakers said they were blindsided by General Assembly leadership and never would have supported the legislation if they knew the funds would be directed toward one company.
3) The Fall of the GOP
This dismal performance of Republican candidates in November’s election led critics to suggest that the Rhode Island GOP is on life support, but current and former leaders said a shift in priorities and improved messaging could help put the party back on track.
The party was left staggering when its already tiny presence in the state legislature shrank from 18 members down to 11 and all three of its federal candidates failed to come within ten points of their Democratic opponents.
2) Anthony Gemma
He kicked off his campaign by refusing to talk to reporters during a press conference and only received attention when he attempted to connect Congressman David Cicilline to a voter fraud scheme dating back to his 2002 Mayoral campaign.
In the end, Gemma, who probably had a stronger showing in his 2010 campaign for the same office, never caught much steam and many analysts suggested his attacks on Cicilline actually helped put the Congressman over the top.
1) Cicilline's Comeback
In February, first-term Congressman David Cicilline’s approval rating had plummeted to 14.8 percent in the polls, a number that had even his most ardent supporters concerned about whether he could hold on to this seat.
But the Congressman and former Providence Mayor apologized for stating that he was leaving the capital city in “excellent fiscal condition” in 2010 and managed to keep all of the state’s political up-and-comers from challenging him in a primary and then he drubbed Anthony Gemma, his only Democratic challenger.
In November, Cicilline’s image had improved and with President Obama on the ballot, he cruised to victory of Brendan Doherty, completing one of the most impressive turnarounds in the country in 2012.