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Carol Anne Costa: That’s What He Said

Thursday, April 24, 2014


In the push, pull and tussle that is running for and holding political office, temptations exist on many levels. It is not an easy task to govern, legislate, be present for constituents, raise money, develop new ideas to help a district and at the same time present a cohesive and compelling message to the public, in order to be returned to office cycle after cycle, often times while holding down a full time job. So while we can agree and/or disagree with our pols we must acknowledge the commitment. So can we blame part time politicians for taking shortcuts or engaging in guerrilla like tactics? Are recent RI developments in RI Senate District 21 merely youthful exuberance or cold political calculus?

The Magnetic Draw of “Real” Libertarianism

It appears that the Rand Paul form of libertarianism is drawing Tea Partiers and civil libertarians like a moth to a flame, as so many of them are finding his words and message completely irresistible. Included in the crowd who are so magnetically attracted to the Paul message is the youthful Minority Whip and Senator from District 21, Nick Kettle. It seems Kettle’s latest distraction revolves around alleged plagiarised material from some of Rand Paul’s position papers. But, Kettle is not alone. There is a bit surging wave of Rand Paul copycats scattered about the nation, as chronicled by Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski. To quote William Shakespeare, is it “much ado about nothing” or is it blatant plagiarism? The definition of plagiarism, according to Merriam Webster is: pla·gia·rism noun \ˈplā-jə-ˌri-zəm also -jē-ə-\ : the act of using another person's words or ideas without giving credit to that person : the act of plagiarizing something. Apparently, imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism or libertarianism.

In politics and in crafting positions often times thoughts are “commandeered” and manipulated to drive a message which will dovetail into more global feel, or mimic a nationally recognized voice. It happens. But, where I get the squishy feeling is non attribution to the author or authors and lack of guilt in absconding with another’s intellectual property. As the Kettle plagiarism story developed, it was the laissez-faire reaction of the Senator which is most concerning. When faced with the questions of plagiarism the Senator's reaction is a bit insouciant, as he stated in part to Providence Journal’s political reporter, Randy Edgar, “Perhaps it was mimicked.” and continued in part, “There are only so many words in the english language.” This reaction exhibits a lack of guilt or ownership of the misstep and could easily be chalked up to youth, but not for the pattern emerging from the Kettle bivouac. Perhaps Senator Kettle’s exuberance is catching up with him, as responsibility and remorse tend to go far with voters but are sparse in his quiver. In my experience the public doesn't expect perfection but they do admire and reward humility.

Kettle in Hot Water, Again

Although Mr. Kettle is still steamed up it might be the perfect time to simmer down. Kettle has had at least 2 other incidents which garnered media scrutiny. Back in 2011 Kettle was forced to issue an apology for urging Tea Party members to fill a statehouse hearing room before “the homeless folks” showed up. As covered by GoLocalProv The tone of the Kettle call to action email certainly raised some eyebrows. The email text read in part,

“I need as many tea party supporters there for this one. Get there early to fill up the room before the homeless folks! Help me ask why this homeless person has better clothes than I? I need some support when myself and Senator’s Maher and Pinga raise the tough questions to end this dog and pony show of Chairman Tassonni’s…

Thanks, Nick Kettle”

Fast forward to February of 2014, when as reported in the Coventry Patch, Kettle again found himself in hot water with the creation of a fake Facebook page attacking Coventry Representative, Scott Guthrie. The cartoon image of a Dr. Otto Octavius type character adorned with Representative Guthrie's face whose tentacles were reaching into bags of money was created under murky circumstances and pushed through social media. Is it politics, 1st amendment or bad judgement? Again, it is the Senator's reaction to the revelation that is most concerning as, Kettle’s response as documented in the Patch story states, "I'm not going to apologize or complain about the rough and tumble politics that is Coventry." A little “my bad” could go a long way. Make no mistake, this young man is a political force, he cleverly harnessed a wave of Tea Party sentiment and rode right into office. He is also to be saluted for being the youngest man elected to the RI state Senate. That is an impressive feat. I truly admire Kettle's gumption to run as a young man and further give him great props for running two successful campaigns. And, to a great degree I concur with his assessment of the rough and tumble of politics, as aptly stated by Mitt Romney, “politics ain't bean bag.” I have nothing but respect for Kettle’s political prowess, yet remain suspect of his tactics.

So as the political cycle heats up, Kettle, this time around has a motivated opponent in Margeaux Morisseau in what I am sure will be a terrific political fight and definitely worth the price of admission. This race, I hope will be a battle of ideologies. I can envision the fight card now …. The Liberal vs. The Libertarian. These two contenders enter the political ring from completely opposing corners, it will make for an interesting heavyweight card, as contested and smart campaigns make us all better.

Full disclosure, Nick Kettle is my Senator and Margeaux Morrisseau is a Scituate Democrat. I only hope the campaign remains about the issues, as only the citizens will benefit from a full throated debate. DING DING DING, Let’s have a clean fight….

Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


Related Slideshow: The Ten Biggest Issues Facing the RI General Assembly in 2014

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The Budget

The latest report by the House Finance Committee illustrates that Rhode Island will start the next fiscal year, which starts in July 2014, with an estimated deficit of $149 million. The report shows the FY 2014 Budget contains numerous overspending problems—meaning that the General Assembly will have to cut costs somewhere.

So where will the cuts come from? Lawmakers will have to examine the state's costliest programs. According to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, the most expensive government programs in Rhode Island are Elementary and Secondary Education, Public Welfare, Pensions, Higher Education, and Interest on Debt. Click here to view a comprehensive list of the state's costliest government programs.

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Bankrupt Communities

The state may be two years removed from Central Falls filing for bankruptcy, but 2014 could be the year that other financially strapped Rhode Island communities follow suit—most notably Woonsocket and West Warwick.

With bankruptcy on the table in both 2012 and 2013, this year poses more financial uncertainty for the cash-strapped city of Woonsocket. Earlier this year, the city's bond rating was downgraded due to the city's numerous financial issues—including a growing deficit, increasing unfunded pension liability, and a severe cash crunch.

Similarly, the embattled town of West Warwick faces a variety of financial questions in 2014. With its pension fund set to run out by 2017, the town must address its unfunded liabilities this year if it hopes to regain financial stability. That, coupled with an increasing school department deficit, make West Warwick a contender for bankruptcy.

Look for Woonsocket and West Warwick's elected state officials to address their respective cities' financial issues in the upcoming legislative session.

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Sales Tax

With the Special Joint Legislative Commission to Study the Sales Tax Repeal set to report their findings to the General Assembly in February, the possibility of sales tax repeal in Rhode Island could become a reality in 2014.

"Our sales tax is killing small businesses, especially those in border communities," said Rep. Jan P. Malik (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren), the commission's chair. "How can Rhode Island continue to compete at 7 percent, with Massachusetts already lower than us and considering reducing its sales tax even farther? How can Rhode Island restaurants compete at 8 percent? They can’t. We need to find a way to fix this, and a serious discussion of our sales tax is a discussion we need to have, now, before more small stores close their doors."

In addition to Malik, proponents of sales tax elimination include the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity and Forbes Magazine.

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EDC Reorganization to Commerce Corporation

On January 1, 2014, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation will be replaced with the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation—a move which has the potential to impact to adversely affect recipients of federal funding contracts made possible currently through the EDC.

This could include the state's Broadband Initiative, Brownfields program, and other contracts made through the EDC. As a result, recipients will now be required to re-apply for federal funding as of January 1st.

The massive overhaul of the EDC was prompted by the 38 Studios debacle, which is projected to cost Rhode Island taxpayers $102 million. 38 Studios, the now defunct video game company, filed bankruptcy in May 2012 just months after securing a $75 million loan from the EDC.

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Marijuana Legalization

With the state's marijuana decriminalization law going into effect this past April, Rhode Island may be a candidate for marijuana legalization in 2014.

Legislation to legalize marijuana has been introduced in each of the last three years, but has never been voted on. Earlier this year, Rep. Edith Ajello (D-Dist. 3, Providence), who is chair of the Judiciary Committee, introduced the bill in the House. Roughly half of the Judiciary Committee supports the measure.

The bill also has the support of the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization focusing on drug policy reform, which hopes to legalize marijuana in ten states, including Rhode Island.

Approximately 52 percent of Rhode Island voters support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, according to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted in January.

Marijuana is currently legal in Colorado and Washington.

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Constitutional Convention

Come November 2014, Rhode Island voters will likely be asked whether they wish to convene a constitutional convention, which involves individuals gathering for the purpose of writing a new constitution or revising the existing one.

Every 10 years, Rhode Island voters are asked whether they wish to amend or revise the constitution. Voters rejected this opportunity in 1994 and 2004. Although rare, Rhode Islanders can vote to hold a constitutional convention and in effect, take control over the state government.

If approved, a special election is held to elect 75 delegates, who then convene to propose amendments to the Rhode Island Constitution. These amendments are then voted on in the next general election.

The likelihood of this occurring highly depends on if the General Assembly does its job to ensure residents that the state is heading in the right direction financially and structurally.

Rhode Island’s last constitutional convention took place in 1986. It proposed 14 amendments—eight of which were adopted by voters.

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Education Board Structure

Less than a year after the General Assembly created the 11-member Rhode Island Board of Education to replace the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Governors for Higher Education, there are multiple questions surrounding the structure of this newly consolidated agency.

Although lawmakers voted to merge the state's two education boards in June, the Board of Education now wants to split its agency to create two separate councils—one with the statutory authority over kindergarten to grade 12 and another governing higher education.

The Board of Education will present its proposal to the General Assembly during its next legislative session and lawmakers will once again determine how the agency should be structured.

The Board of Education currently governs all public education in Rhode Island.

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Sakonnet Bridge Tolls

Rhode Island may have implemented tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge this past year, but they could be gone by 2014.

On January 15, the East Bay Bridge Commission—which was established to allow lawmakers and officials investigate various funding plans, potentially eliminating the need for tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge—will report its findings to the General Assembly. The General Assembly is then required to vote on the issue by April 1.

The commission was established in July following the General Assembly's approval of the 10-cent toll.

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Superman Building

Located on Westminster Street in Downtown Providence, the former Bank of America Building (commonly referred to as the Superman Building) may be the tallest building in the state, but as of right now, it's just a vacant piece of property.

The building's current owner, High Rock Westminster LLC, was most recently looking for a total of $75 million to rehabilitate the skyscraper—$39 million of which would come from the state.

With the sting of the 38 Studios deal still fresh in the minds of lawmakers, a $39 million tax credit appears unlikely.

The question of what will become of the Superman Building remains to be seen. 

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Master Lever

Championed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Block (while head of the RI Moderate Party), the movement to eliminate the Master Level, which allows voters to vote for all candidates of one political party with a stroke of the pen, is poised to heat up in 2014.

Despite Block's strong push to repeal the 1939 law, the measure did not get a vote in the General Assembly last session.

In October, Block told GoLocal that he believes that House Speaker Gordon Fox is responsible for the General Assembly not voting on the proposal.

“Despite the support of a majority of 42 state Representatives, thousands of emails from concerned RI voters and unanimous testimony of more than 100 people who came to the State House in person to testify that the Master Lever had to go, the Speaker personally killed the bill in the most unaccountable way possible—he did not allow the House Judiciary Committee to vote on the bill,” Block told GoLocal.

Speaker Fox has stated on multiple occasions that he believes the Master Level is a legitimate tool that many voters use.


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