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Side of the Rhode: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in RI Politics?

Friday, July 05, 2013


Rep Jay O'Grady enabled a big step forward this week with the reinstatement of historic tax credits.

Every Friday, Dan Lawlor breaks down who's rising and who's falling in the world of Rhode Island politics. Check out who made the lists this week.

Who's Hot

Return of historic tax credits: Respected by his colleagues for his knowledge on housing policy, Representative Jay O'Grady had a clear win this session with the regulated re-instatement of historic tax credits. Let's hope this tax incentive will help jumpstart projects like the rehab of the Lippitt Mill in West Warwick, built in 1809 but in a very precarious situation today. 

Institute for Study and Practice of Nonviolence: This has been a rough year for the Institute for Nonviolence, and a rough year for the city- from the slaying of 12 year old honor student Aynis Vargas to robberies and carjackings. Severe budget cuts have lead to staff reductions. Alongside the reductions in staff are an uptick in robberies and homicide throughout the city. Gross and the Institute are hosting a fundraiser this week at Columbus Theater on Broadway...donate here.

South Street Power Station Rehab: While not exciting that this proposal was rushed in at the last minute (and there are conflicting reports that the last minute shuffle may have bungled the resolution), the proposal to re-develop the abandoned power plant into a top-notch nursing school for the state is good news. It's the type of development project that invests in Rhode Island, and builds off our strengths in education and healthcare. As someone joked, it will also improve the view from the Hot Club, but the proposal just needs to be vetted properly! 

Scott Slater, Harold Metts, Michael Chippendale: This bi-partisan trio can successfully point to the passage of "ban the box" legislation, which prevents automatic screening out of applicants with criminal records. As Chippendale said months ago, "some of my best employees had criminal records. They worked hard because they valued their jobs. We need to pass ‘Ban the Box’ so people can get a foot in the door and present themselves as a whole package.” Slater emerged as a quiet power player, also seeing his child care worker unionization bill succeed. 

Protesting NECAP: With advocacy from the Mayor Taveras' office (and the plucky Providence Student Union), both chambers of the General Assembly passed resolutions against the use of NECAP as a high stakes graduation requirement. About 40% of students statewide are expected to need to improve on their NECAP to graduate high school, in some Providence schools the number is over 70%. Whatever the solution, clearly the system is not working. 

Questioning the Commerce Secretary: When the House was discussing the new Commerce Secretary (voted to be active February 2015), Rep. McLaughlin asked what the salary for the position would be. He was told "we don't have it yet." Details, details.  

Mark Binder: Classy exits are rare. While the timing was a bit odd, storyteller-citizen Mark Binder announced he would not be challenging Gordon Fox next campaign cycle, musing, "I’m chasing headlines, not writing and telling stories that create joy." Would that more people think that way! Binder encouraged Rhode Islanders to keep fighting the status quo, and encouraged people to donate to a "worthy project" in Mt. Hope - Billy Taylor House, focusing on training and opportunities for young people aged 14-21. 

Dissent: From the House GOP to the Progressive Caucus, from Karen MacBeth to Brian Newberry, our political process is made better by those willing to refuse to "eat the cake," to slow things down, ask questions and read bills. A few more trouble-makers in government will do the state good - and force more re-writes of the budget.

Enacting marriage equality: This session will be remembered for Rhode Island allowing New England to be a region of equal marriage under the law. Kudos to the thousands of Rhode Islanders who called, cajoled, attended vigils, made phone calls, knocked on doors and worked day and night alongside rank and file champions like Representative Frank Ferri and Senator Donna Nesselbush to push for equal rights under the law." 

Who's Not  

Gordon Fox: The state's economy is still in crisis. Fox and his team are losing control of their own delegation - because progressives and conservatives in the caucus are both upset with our lousy status quo.  Despite some notable successes like marriage equality and solid social legislation (kudos for rental voucher funds to the chronically homeless!), the economic development proposed was a re-shuffling of the status quo - no bold reforms (unless you count the suspect Commerce Secretary). The state is not preparing to rocket launch. 

Terea Paiva Weed: Senate leadership divided up wedding officiant request bills into same-sex and opposite-sex lists to allow individual Senators to voice their disapproval for same-sex marriage. Would the the Senate create lists to allow individual Senators to voice their disapproval of mixed race marriages, or mixed faith marriages? Of course not! Politicizing routine wedding officiant applications is arrogant and wrong.  

Suspending Rules: Public notice? Public hearings? 10:30pm bill introduction limits? The purpose of the rules is to help keep the public informed, to ensure bills are properly vetted, and to prevent late night surprises. What the Assembly needs is a better calendar schedule. Just because session didn't end at 4:00am doesn't mean leadership gets a pat on the back.

Sakonnet River Tolls: From the House gallery, after the vote to allow tolls on the Sakonnet Bridge, a middle-aged woman shouted, "Shame on this House! Shame on you! Shame on Fox!" Why do we need a separate bridge and turnpike authority (now empowered to charge folks a dime for using the Sakonnet River Bridge), instead of just having the bridges be maintained by general revenues through the Department of Transportation? 

Bill Murphy: The former speaker, who passers by in the state house rotunda still call "Mr. Speaker," once again was effective in extinguishing chances for reform of high-interest, pay-day lending. Always on the side of the hard-working people of Rhode Island. 

State Properties Committee: The State Properties Committee, of which Richard Licht and Peter Kilmartin are members, is moving to purchase the vacant land between Veterans Memorial Auditorium and RI Credit Union for about $3 million, with a "finder's fee" going to former West Warwick Mayor J Michael Levesque. The immediate goal seemingly is to build a parking lot. In a state with foreclosures, municipalities near bankruptcy, and polluted ponds, what a visionary way to allocate $3 million.

The Budget Process: When's the best time to debate an $8 billion budget? Why not 11:00pm at night? I mean, what could go wrong?  As someone said, "I have to laugh so I don't cry." This was one of the longest General Assembly sessions since the credit union crisis. We deserve better. 


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