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Travis Rowley: Profiles in Cowardice – Senator Jim Sheehan

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Rhode Islanders who are under the impression that it’s impossible to discover a worse legislator than Senator John Tassoni (D) – who believes that the law doesn’t apply to himself or his family – might want to familiarize themselves with Senator James Sheehan (D), who made an appearance on last week’s episode of A Lively Experiment.

Joining Sen. Sheehan on the weekly talk-show was Rep. Jon Brien (D), Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R), and House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R).

Regarding the recently passed $8.1 billion state budget – annual legislation that largely defines Rhode Island’s direction – Newberry (R) criticized it as a “status quo budget.” “We didn’t really do anything to really move the state’s economy forward,” the leading Republican explained. “We raised...taxes here and there, which are going to hurt specific constituencies. We didn’t make any serious cuts in spending.”

While private citizens are forced to adjust to economic realities, Democrats designed a governing plan that is “a 6 percent increase in state spending,” Sen. Dawson Hodgson (R) reminded everyone.

“It was a major missed opportunity to do some good,” Newberry said as he explained why every Republican voted against the FY 2013 Budget. “This Democratic budget punted.”

When it was Sheehan’s turn to speak, he opened his remarks with his first disingenuous statement of the day: “First, it’s regrettable we raised any taxes.”

Liberals always find implementing tax hikes “regrettable.” But, somehow, they always manage to do it anyway.

To “regret” something is to wish it never occurred. But just moments after expressing his sorrow, Sheehan made it abundantly clear that, if given the opportunity, he would vote to raise your taxes again: “I think the budget overall was a reasonable one.”

This is the language of deceit and cowardice that one must cut through in order to discover where Democrats truly stand.

Democrats: We’re Not As Bad As Chafee

Just how does Sen. Sheehan come to consider the FY 2013 Budget “reasonable”?

“We rejected a number of taxes,” Sheehan proudly proclaimed, referring to the fact that Governor Chafee had proposed even more tax increases than the Democrats ultimately enacted.

Governor Chafee’s budget proposals have apparently become the measuring stick by which Democrats now judge their own reckless designs. Last year’s tax-hiking state budget also served to replace another disaster offered up by Governor Chafee. Afterward, Rep. Helio Melo (D) went on to celebrate the Democrats’ alternative strategy as a more “balanced approach” that would place “Rhode Island on a good footing.”

Do any Rhode Islanders out there feel like they were on a “good footing” last year?

While defending the “status quo budget” Sheehan admitted, “There are some structural issues that we need to address.” He added, “Going forward I think we need to be a little more long-term, long-plan sighted in terms of embracing the problems that we confront.”

But when it was asked by moderator Dyana Koelsch why nothing was accomplished during this legislative session, Sheehan bumbled, “The problem…is that you can’t really do this in a session that lasts, starts in a finance committee and then just goes to June…It’s a short-term process.”

Credit Koelsch with asking the appropriate follow-up question: “But that’s the way [the legislative process] works. So does that mean we’re never going to [solve the structural issues]?”

But Sheehan only decided to evade the question and enhance the confusion he was causing: “The problems are longer term than that, and they’re much bigger than can actually be done maybe in one term.”

Fortunately, Rep. Jon Brien – a rare conservative Democrat – was there to tell the truth, particularly in terms of relief measures for cities and towns: “There was no political will to get it done.”

Senator Hodgson was even more straight-forward. Addressing Sen. Sheehan directly, he said, “Jim, this is a question of leadership.”

Exactly. And Sen. Sheehan is not a leader. He’s a talentless, disingenuous Democrat – who just happened to be sitting on a panel with three legislators who are highly familiar with all the illusory language and tactics union-Democrats consistently employ in order to maintain the political status quo.

Courage vs. Cowards

Meanwhile, Rhode Islanders are suffering from high taxes, a dismal business climate, and an increasing amount of strain on their local budgets.

Rep. Brien went on to state that a municipal relief package “would have helped us, and would have saved a lot of the pain that Woonsocket is going through right now.” And when Rep. Newberry seconded Brien’s frustration over the fact that Democrats left these vital measures out of the state budget, Koelsch turned to him and asked point-blank, “We have two Democrats here. So who are you talking about? What Democrats are you referring to?”

“Anybody that supported the budget,” blasted Newberry.

Senator Sheehan would ultimately be asked, “Who lacked the will in the Senate to get this moving forward?”

Feeling the heat at this point, Sheehan suddenly vowed to get serious about municipal pension reform. “We need to do, we will be doing more. It didn’t get done this session. I certainly look forward to doing something on that front.”

But Sheehan doesn’t “look forward” to taking on such issues. That was just another lie. Within the same breath that he expressed his giddiness to do “something on that front,” Sheehan added, “If it’s required.”

If it’s required? Was Sheehan not listening to Rep. Brien, his Democratic colleague? Has he not looked out his window in the past ten years? As Rep. Newberry stated, “You don’t need a study to say we have to relieve [cities and towns] from some unfunded mandates. We’ve been pushing that for years…You don’t need to study that. Just do it!”

Fortunately, Sheehan’s muttering began to reveal his closeted philosophies and allegiances: “Providence showed us the Mayor and all the stakeholders there that they can actually solve the problem themselves [without municipal relief]…It’s easy to vilify the unions…But the fact of the matter is they can’t share all the blame themselves.”

And there it was. The unions. You may have heard of them. These are the people that local progressive pundits believe have lost their influence over the General Assembly. Apparently, however, they had something to do with blocking the relief packages that Rhode Island’s cities and towns are clamoring for.

Perhaps it’s noteworthy to mention at this point that Sen. Sheehan is a unionized public school teacher, and that his personal finances hinge on these crucial pieces of legislative reform.

On last week’s episode of A Lively Experiment, Sen. Sheehan was surrounded by three sharp and responsible legislators – who were able to easily expose him for what he truly is. Unfortunately, the situation is reversed when they reconvene at the State House, where establishment-serving politicians largely outnumber reform-minded statesmen.

What are Rhode Islanders to do in the face of such corruption, and when squaring off with an entrenched ruling class that begins to dig its heels in?

“Give us 26 Republicans in the House…and we’ll have a lot of power,” Rep. Newberry explained. “And then they’ll have to deal with us.”

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is chairman of the RI Young Republicans and the author of The RI Republican: An Indictment of the Rhode Island Left.


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