Carol Anne Costa: Exeter’s Recall- Why the People Won

Thursday, December 19, 2013


View Larger +

The people have spoken: the Exeter 4 live to govern another day.

Last year, with the Newtown massacre fresh, the Obama administration began advancing new gun regulations, many states including Rhode Island’s General Assembly started the move toward a gun reform package, and it sent local municipalities scrambling to review town and city policies and safety measures for guns and public buildings, particularly schools. With the nation mourning and angry, a flurry of gun and 2nd Amendment debate and legislation moved through the process on many levels from kitchen tables’ right up to the Oval Office. People formed strong opinions on access to guns, permitting procedures, mental health screenings and those positions proved steadfast on every side of the issue. Right here in the rural and bucolic Town of Exeter similar reviews of gun policies were under scrutiny and a political firestorm that resulted in a recall election ensued.

No matter where you are on the gun debate this process put democracy and citizenship in full view and that is a good thing. The roles of local canvassers, the special election process combined to exhibit the scope and responsibility of delivering a fair election through the town’s workers in charge of those duties. It displayed what activism looks and sounds like, and it provided a spectacular vision of what Saturday voting can do for the process. I believe whole heartily it is time to expand access to voting, streamline elections and give local canvassers more tools to make the process less cumbersome in RI. Did you hear that General Assembly? I am hoping that you are prepared to act forcefully on this in the upcoming session. And, look no further than Exeter to reference what Saturday voting can do for the election process.

The issue that polarized the Town of Exeter was a gun permitting conundrum which commenced a groundswell of participation and old fashioned grass roots campaigning and ultimately a rare event in Rhode Island; a recall election. At odds was the practice of allowing carry and conceal permits to be doled out by the Town Clerk assisted by the 84 year old Town Sergeant, who holds an elected position which remains rooted in tradition and is largely ceremonial. Exeter’s Town Clerk is the only Town Clerk in Rhode Island with this power and responsibility. These legitimate concerns moved the Town Council to act and thereby pitted them against a passionate gun advocates lobby.

The Vote

The special Exeter Town Council meeting of March 11, 2013 with over 300 citizens in attendance was ground zero for what was to come. Upon a motion made by Mr. Monahan to approve Resolution Urging Passage of Legislation Relating to Gun Permitting in the Town of Exeter; seconded by Mr. Ellis; and voted as follows: Arlene Hicks- yea, William Monahan-yea, Raymond Morrissey- nay , Robert Johnson- yea and Calvin Ellis -yea. With that vote, the many folks got fired up and ready to go.

The sitting Town Council voted to move the practice of permitting to the RI Attorney General’s Office which has the resources for more in depth reviews which the Town Clerk and Town Sergeant simply do not. The vote to support the resolution had gun rights advocates and the tea party faithful recoil in horror, and thereby challenge the actions of the 4 council members who voted affirmatively. And, the wheels of democracy hit the ground spinning feverishly fueled by passion, positions and old fashioned, bare knuckles politics; providing a lesson in the “process”. Lines were drawn, alliances formed and the political version of Survivor took shape.

Tribal Council - Battle Lines

On team “We the People” we find a spirited tribe of gun rights and good government advocates whose mission, according to their website, was clear: Re-Establish a Government: for the people, of the people, by the people. Defend your rights as an Exeter citizen and the rights of your fellow citizens. This is a non-partisan issue and concerns the Constitutional rights of all Exeter citizens. Elect officials who will represent the people and faithfully execute the duties of their office in accordance with the Exeter Town Charter and the law. Elect officials who will honor their commitment to the United States of America, respect the rights of its citizens and who will defend the US and Rhode Island Constitutions.

On team “Exeter 4” is a feisty tribe of defenders who assembled to support the embattled 4 Councilors; Calvin Ellis, Bill Monahan, Arlene Hicks and Bob Johnson. The tribe was fueled by the desire to keep moneyed and special interest groups from outside the town from usurping town government, according to their website.

Really don’t you just love a good political fight fraught with words and phrases like; we the people and usurping local government? It gets the people thinking and acting as they are supposed to in a participatory government. It is good for the political soul. Exeter’s people and process certainly came through with a tutorial in civics. Make no mistake, RI and the country was watching.

The special election surrounding the recall of the “Exeter 4” issue was about the process, enthusiasm and exercising the right to campaign, lobby and ultimately vote. While I personally believe the people of Exeter reached the best decision by rejecting the recall, I don't live there and I respect the full throated, passionate example of the process exhibited by this small, engaged and rural Rhode Island town. Rare is the recall election, but the tribe has spoken, turn in your torch We the People, as the Exeter 4 survive to govern another day.


View Larger +

A public relations and community outreach specialist, Carol 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 for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including: GOLOCALPROV, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


Related Slideshow: New England Communities With the Most Political Clout 2013

The Sunlight Foundation, in conjunction with Azavea, released data maps this week showing political contribution dollars to federal elections dating back to 1990 -- by county.

GoLocal takes a look at the counties in New England that had the highest per-capita contributions in the 2012 election cycle -- and talked with experts about what that meant for those areas in New Engand, as well as the candidates.  

View Larger +
Prev Next

25. Merrimack County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $9.86

Total contributions: $1,447,713

Merrimack County is named after the Merrimack River and is home to the states capital, Concord. Merrimack County has a total area of 956 square miles and a population of 146,761.

View Larger +
Prev Next

24. Cheshire County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $9.88

Total contributions: $759,209

Cheshire is one of the five original counties in New Hampshire and was founded in 1771. The highest point in Cheshire County is located at the top of Mount Monadnock, which was made famous by the poets Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

View Larger +
Prev Next

23. Rockingham County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $9.96

Total contributions: $2,965,530

Rockingham has 37 communities and has a population of 297,820. Rockingham County also was home to the famous poet, Robert Frost

View Larger +
Prev Next

22. Belknap County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $10.02

Total contributions: $604,512

Belknap County is one of the ten counties in New Hampshire and has a population of 60,327. It is located in the center of New Hampshire and the largest city is Laconia.

View Larger +
Prev Next

21. Hampshire County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $10.41

Total contributions: $1,664,077

Hampshire County has a total area of 545 square miles and is located in the middle of Massachusetts. Hampshire County is also the only county to be surrounded in all directions by other Massachusetts counties.


View Larger +
Prev Next

20. Barnstable County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $10.90

Total contributions: $2,348,541

Barnstable County was founded in 1685 and has three national protected areas. Cape Cod National Seashore is the most famous protected area within Barnstable County and brings in a high amount of tourists every year.

View Larger +
Prev Next

19. Berkshire County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $12.49

Total contributions: $1,624,400

Berkshire County is located on the western side of Massachusetts and borders three different neighboring states. Originally the Mahican Native American Tribe inhabited Berkshire County up until the English settlers arrived and bought the land in 1724. 

View Larger +
Prev Next

18. Essex County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $13.22

Total contributions: $9,991,201

Essex is located in the northeastern part of Massachusetts and contains towns such as Salem, Lynn, and Andover. Essex was founded in 1643 and because of Essex historical background, the whole county has been designated as the Essex National Heritage Area.


View Larger +
Prev Next

17. Chittendon County, VT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $13.86

Total contributions: $2,196,107

Chittenden has a population of 158,504, making it Vermont’s most populated county. Chittenden’s largest city is Burlington, which has about one third of Vermont’s total population.

View Larger +
Prev Next

16. Lamoille County, VT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $14.82

Total contributions: $369,854

Lamoille County was founded in 1835 and has a population of 24,958. The county has 464 square miles, of which 461 of them are land.

View Larger +
Prev Next

15. Addison County, VT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $15.49

Total contributions: $569,299

Located on the west side of Vermont, Addison County has a total area of 808 square miles. Addison's largest town is Middlebury, where the Community College of Vermont and Middlebury College are located.

View Larger +
Prev Next

14. Newport County, RI

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $16.02

Total contributions: $1,214,26

Newport County is one of the five Rhode Island Counties and was founded in 1703. Just like Connecticut, none of Rhode Island counties have an any governmental functions.

View Larger +
Prev Next

13. Cumberland County, ME

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $18.33

Total contributions: $5,205,507

Cumberland County has a population of 283,921 and is Maine’s most populated county. The county was named after the William, Duke of Cumberland, a son of King George II.

View Larger +
Prev Next

12. Windsor County, VT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $20.57

Total contributions: $1,156,149

Windsor County is the largest county in Vermont and consists of 971 square miles of land and 5 square miles of water.

View Larger +
Prev Next

11. Bristol County, RI

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $20.91

Total contributions: $1,027,472

Bristol County has a population of 49,144 and is the third smallest county in the United States. Bristol County was originally apart of Massachusetts, but was transferred to Rhode Island in 1746.

View Larger +
Prev Next

10. Grafton County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012 :$20.95

Total contributions: $1,868,739

With a population of 89,181, Grafton County is the second largest county in New Hampshire. Home of New Hampshire’s only national forest, White Mountain National Forest takes up about half of Grafton’s total area 

View Larger +
Prev Next

9. Carrol County, NH

Contributions, per capita, 2012: 2012: $22.81

Total contributions: $1,012,10

Created in 1840, Carroll County has a population of 47,567. Carroll County was also named after Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the United States Declaration of Independence.

View Larger +
Prev Next

8. LItchfield County, CT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $22.86

Total contributions: $4,286,143

Although it is Connecticut’s largest county, Litchfield has the lowest population density in all of Connecticut. Since 1960 all Connecticut counties have no county government.

View Larger +
Prev Next

7. Middlesex County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $32.81

Total contributions: $50,432,154

Middlesex County has a population of 1,503,085 and has been ranked as the most populous county in New England.  The county government was abolished in 1997, but the county boundaries still exists for court jurisdictions and other administrative purposes.

View Larger +
Prev Next

6. Nantucket County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $33.41

Total contributions: $344,021

Nantucket County consists of a couple of small islands and is a major tourist destination in Massachusetts. Normally Nantucket has a population of 10,298, but during the summer months the population can reach up to 50,000.

View Larger +
Prev Next

5. Norfolk County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $35.87

Total contributions: $24,459,854

Named after a county from England, Norfolk County is the wealthiest county in Massachusetts. As of 2011, Norfolk was ranked the 32nd highest income county in the United States. 

View Larger +
Prev Next

4. Dukes County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $36.32

Total contributions: $618,960

Consisting of Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands, Dukes County is one of Massachusetts’ top vacation spots. Originally Dukes County was apart New York, however it was transferred to Massachusetts on October 7, 1691.

View Larger +
Prev Next

3. Suffolk County, MA

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $40.73

Total contributions: $30,323,537

Suffolk County has a population of 744,426 and contains Massachusetts’s largest city, Boston. Although Suffolk’s county government was abolished in the late 1900’s, it still remains as a geographic area.

View Larger +
Prev Next

2. Knox County, ME

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $45.89

Total contributions: $1,820,410

Knox County was established on April 1st, 1860 and was named after American Revolutionary War General Henry Knox.  The county has a population of 39,668 and is the home of the Union Fair.

View Larger +
Prev Next

1. Fairfield County, CT

Contributions, per capita, 2012: $55.65.  

Total contributions: $51,970,701 

In a population of 933,835, Fairfield County is the most densely populated county in Connecticut, and contains four of the state's largest cities -- Bridgeport, Stamford, Norwalk and Danbury.


Enjoy this post? Share it with others.


Sign Up for the Daily Eblast

I want to follow on Twitter

I want to Like on Facebook

Delivered Free Every
Day to Your Inbox