Pam Gencarella: Don’t Touch That Dial

Thursday, September 18, 2014

 

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It's easy to say that you don't like politics so you just stay out of the fray. But the reality is that politics hits your wallet in a big way and generally speaking, it's to remove your hard earned cash from your possession. The governor's race is typically one that most people can get excited enough to care about. But those 'other' offices like Secretary of State and Attorney General, well, they can be a bit of a sleeper for many. 

Whose Job Is It Anyway?

The office of Secretary of State is responsible for providing transparency when it comes to who is lobbying your elected officials. In theory, that helps prevent political corruption.

But take a good look at what has happened with the unassuming office of Secretary of State.  Among other things, the role of that office, as defined by Ralph Mollis, is making government more open and accessible. Apparently, he is a man of his word when it comes to ignoring the fact that a lobbyist, who was paid $300,000 'to interact with government,’ has open access to all elected officials and never has to file the required paperwork to do so. Reducing red tape for businesses to succeed is impossible in this state, but reducing the red tape for connected lobbyists to do their thing, well that's another story.

In RI, it seems it's the media's job to identify lobbyists breaking the rules. You have seen the reports of Target 12 investigators who thought to themselves, hmm, 38 Studios was a big deal, in the end, investors will receive a significant amount of money from our General Assembly, and yet there was no one registered to lobby on their behalf. Seems odd. Of course, some digging provided a document that indicated Mr. Corso, associate of former Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, was paid handsomely to lobby. Where was the office of Secretary of State? It appears, asleep at the switch. Then when confronted with the actual contract, what has been the response? Haven't heard much about it. That deal cost you and me over $100 million. 

Then there is the issue of the Secretary of State subsequently hiring Mr. DeSimone, cousin of the House Majority Leader, John DeSimone, as the hearing officer investigating possible lobbying violations by Mr. Corso. Connect the dots - the Rhode Island way.

And what about the issue of voter fraud? Many claim that there is no evidence of voter fraud at the polls (except for Providence Representative Anastasia Williams and Providence Senator Harold Metts, both of whom who recounted stories supporting the claim of voter fraud at the polls). But some have alleged that there are few controls over mail in ballots and that is where the potential for fraud lies. While the allegation is just that - an allegation - have you heard anything from the Secretary of State's office about addressing the potential for fraud with mail in ballots? The only thing we have seen is the General Assembly loosen the restrictions on mail in ballots. 

Next let's turn to the office of Attorney General. The AG's office has within its realm the ability to investigate the 38 Studios deal. Have you heard much about the subject from the AG? Another 'too little, too late' response from our trusted elected officials.

Of course, you can't forget about the legislators and their reaction to 38 Studios. While they all claim that the wool was pulled over their eyes, when Representative Morgan proposed an independent investigative body with subpoena power, most of your representatives voted against it, generally voting with the Speaker of the House (however, there were exceptions so you should know how your representative voted).

And by the way, the decision on whether to hold a Constitutional Convention or not will be on the ballot in November. Again, this may be a snoozer for you but keep in mind that this is the forum where things like providing the Ethics Commission with jurisdiction over the General Assembly has a possibility of becoming part of RI's Constitution. It may not sound like much, but just think how it might have impacted the 38 Studios deal and the nearly non-existent subsequent investigation. Stay tuned for more information on a Constitutional Convention.

One Hundred Million Reasons to Care

If you had not cared much about these offices in past elections, you will probably pay closer attention this November. While the 38 Studios debacle may not have been avoided had Corso filed the appropriate paperwork, the media may have picked up on the connection between Corso and Fox and 38 Studios and you would have been alerted to the potential for insider dealings. But, more importantly, your legislators may have been better informed that night when they went to vote on the last-minute Jobs Guaranty bill that they now claim they had no idea was to benefit the likes of 38 Studios.

So, when the Secretary of State candidates debate, don't change the channel. And if the debates aren't televised, seek them out on Youtube. Candidates Nellie Gorbea and John Carlevale have already stated their position on Voter ID:  Gorbea wants to 'look into it' and Carlevale fully supports Voter ID. But where do they stand on the issue of improving the lobbying process or mail in ballot controls? 

And when the Attorney General candidates debate, don't change the channel. While incumbent Peter Kilmartin may not be strong on investigating 38 Studios, former prosecutor and current Senator Dawson Hodgson has it as a top priority. 

And although your representatives and senators will most likely not be debating, make sure you know how they voted on the 38 Studios independent investigative body and how they voted on the Voter ID bill. These issues aren't just politics, they affect your life directly and they hit your wallet hard.

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Pam Gencarella is a member of OSTPA, a taxpayer advocacy organization in Rhode Island.

 

Related Slideshow: Winners and Losers on Primary Day

The 2014 Rhode Island primaries has upsets and delivered a number of winners and losers. Take a look.

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LOSER

LOSERS: Millionaire Newport Blue Bloods

Despite combining to spend nearly $5 million dollars - both Clay Pell and Guillaume de Ramel finished poorly. Pell was suppose to be coming on fast and might even take the Democratic nomination, but reality was that Pell finished in 3rd and 15% behind the leader in a three-way race.

Pell spent more than $106 of his own money per vote (the final numbers are not in). de Ramel was leading the race by more than double digits with a couple of weeks to go, but was beat by the under funded Nellie Gorbea.

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WINNER

WINNER: Dan McKee

The Cumberland Mayor has been a champion of education reform. He ran on a record of school reform and even attracted out-of-state dollars from major proponents of education reform.

McKee's win was a blow to teachers unions that ran an anyone but McKee campaign. McKee will now face GOP candidate Catherine Taylor who was hoping for a rematch from 4-years earlier with Ralph Mollis (she challenged Mollis in the 2010 Sec of State race).

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LOSER

LOSER:  Bob Walsh, Head of NEA

The Teacher's Union Boss bet big and paid the ultimate price.  Walsh was so angry at the antics of Gina Raimondo and how much the teachers paid in pension reform, he went all in and created Clay Pell.

The bad news is that Walsh's bet on Pell split the Democratic base. Progressives and traditional union voters went any where but with 
Raimondo and kept the base under 50%. Outcome: Raimondo the winner and Walsh the loser.

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LOSER

LOSER: Hackers

GoLocalProv got hit earlier in the week by a Malware attack.  Many media companies have been hit by hackers including:The New York Times, CNN and the Boston Globe. It was fixed quickly but the clean up is time consuming and expensive for a small company.

GoLocal was still first to call the Democratic race for Governor, Lt. Governor and Secretary of State. Kudos to the news team. Note, WJAR called the Providence Mayor's race first.

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LOSER

LOSER: Democratic Pollster Fleming/WPRI

The Democratic pollster produced the only public bellwether political poll in RI in late August. His poll missed badly. Raimondo won by a far larger margin than he predicted and two of the other three races he polled he got just plain wrong.

Fleming/WPRI had de Ramel and Mollis winning. The poll was released less than 3 weeks before the primary.

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LOSER

LOSER: Turnout

Voters simply may be too depressed in Rhode Island due to the condition of the economy to even believe there is hope.  Despite the record spend for Governor, only 123,757 came out to vote in the Democratic primary to cast a vote for Governor.   The turnout was 40,000 less than the Democratic primary of 1990.  

Whomever is the next Governor will need to help Rhode Islanders gain some confidence about the state.

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WINNER

WINNER: Allan Fung

The Cranston Mayor faced a tenacious Ken Block in the GOP Primary. The former Moderate Party Chairman poured money and organization into the race.

The popular Fung, however, leveraged his Republican roots to beat back Block. 

Fung's victory sets up a difficult battle with Raimondo who won big against two Progressives - Angel Taveras and Clay Pell. Fung is out of money and will get state matching funds, but it pales to Raimondo's fundraising machine.

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WINNER

WINNER: Nellie Gorbea

Nellie Gorbea was outspent by hundreds of thousands by Guillaume de Ramel.  He loaned his campaign $900,000. The Gorbea upset was a battle of substance over style and her home spun commercials set her apart from rest of the field.

Gorbea could be Rhode Island's first statewide elected Hispanic elected official come November.

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LOSER

LOSER: Local TV

The political and media world changed forever in RI. Never before had a candidate won a contested campaign for a major office without buying local TV. Candidates stopped buying newspapers years ago, but Jorge Elorza's win over Mike Solomon is will shake-up the world of local TV consolidation. Elorza bought no TV. 

This year, Channel 10's parent company (Media General) bought the parent company of Channel 12 (Lin Media) and then the new company sold off Channel 10. If political begins to move away more and more towards digital and direct mail, the implications will be significant on these mega media groups.  

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WINNER

WINNER: Women (Maybe?)

GoLocal has written a lot about the plight of women candidates in leadership roles. They trail their male counterparts in both politics and business leadership roles in RI. With the BIG Raimondo win and Gorbea's upset the Democrats have two strong female candidates to win in November. 

In addition, Catherine Taylor is a credible and well-known candidate to battle Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee in the Lt. Governor's race. Don't look know, but RI could have a majority of General Officers' offices being held by women.

 
 

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