Kevin Aherne & Dee DeQuattro
2014 was quite a year in Rhode Island politics. We witnessed the (attempted) return of our favorite anti-hero, many notable firsts, tweeting cars, and plenty of famous visitors. So, just in time for the holidays, and with out further adieu, here is our seasonally appropriate version of Rhode Island's year in review!
On the twelfth night of Rhode Island Christmas my blue state gave to me...
12 Brewers Brewing
Remember Gina Raimondo's seemingly co-branded 'Gansett commercial that implied that she was responsible for bringing 1,000 jobs to the Narragansett Brewing Co. Although the cleverly worded message was not technically wrong, it was deceptive -- Narragansett actually has 12 full-time employees (including president Mark Hellendrug, and a dedicated employee at the brewery in Rochester, NY). Raimondo's venture capital firm, Point Judith Capital can boast that as of 2010, the firm helped create 1,063 jobs in the Ocean State, spread across 21 companies. Though, it should be noted that the mission of a venture capital firm is not to create jobs, but rather to preserve capital and increase profits for stakeholders. These jobs were an unintended (albeit welcomed) consequence of their investment.
11 House Republicans
While the state's Democratic Party claimed a near-unanimous victory in November's midterm election, the Republicans did increase their presence in the General Assembly.
Yes, the Dems did take all of the statewide races -- Governor, Lt. Governor, General Treasurer, Secretary of State, Attorney General -- but the GOP increased their small caucus of State Representatives by nearly 50 percent. Come January 6th, the Republicans will hold 11 seats in the lower house, for which they currently possess six.
10 Cents Saved
East Bay commuters had a major win in 2014 as Governor Chafee -- amid pressure from new Speaker and East Bay communities -- ordered the tolls for the Sakonnet River Bridge to be discontinued. So what if we wasted millions of dollars to install the toll collection system in the first place. It was just another half brained scheme that was poorly planned by Rhode Island lawmakers.
9 Unsolved Murders
Providence endured 20 homicides (and counting) in 2014, and of those, only 11 were solved. The lack of action on these violent crimes is nothing new in the capital city, as 120 of the 276 murders in Providence since 2000 have yet to be solved.
Of the 2014 homicides: Eleven were shot and killed, five died from blunt force trauma, three by stabbing, and one strangulation.
8 Percent Tuition Hike
In November, the Council on Postsecondary Education unanimously approved a tuition hike for Rhode Island’s three public colleges, the first such increase in more than three years. Tuition and fee increases for in-state students will range from 3 percent at the University of Rhode Island -- to 8 percent at the Community College of Rhode Island.
Under Governor-elect Raimondo's proposed plan, the first one-hundred dollars will be on the state, meaning Rhody will help make college affordable for families by placing $100 in a College Bound Fund when a child is born.
Students and families better start planning for an expensive fall 2015!
7 Stumpers Stumping
With a convicted felon, a spouse of an Olympic hero, and a pretty cool moose in the mix, the 2014 election cycle had plenty of compelling storylines which garnered no shortage of attention. But throw in some high-profile visits from national leaders, and you've got yourself one heck of an election. We had a sitting President, two Governors, and two First Ladies stop by to get a little taste of Rhody.
Barack Obama (twice): In November, the Commander in Chief made his first Ocean State appearance, as the featured guest at a Democratic fundraiser in Newport. Then, just days before the election, Obama popped up again, this time at Rhode Island College to talk job creation, and to stump for Governor-elect, Gina Raimondo. Barry even stopped at the RI-staple Gregg's for a quick snack.
Gov. Chris Christie (twice): The GOP, pulling out all stops in their bid to put Mayor Allan Fung into the State House, brought New Jersey Governor and potential candidate for U.S. President Chris Christie to the Ocean State twice to garner support among the Republican base.
Gov. Mitt Romney: Former Massachusetts Governor and Presidential candidate Mitt Romney stopped by on October 14th to speak on behalf of Cranston Mayor Allan Fung's gubernatorial bid at the Providence Biltmore.
Michelle Obama: The sitting First Lady popped into Rhody in late October in support of Gina Raimondo and her "Rebuild the Middle Class" initiative by speaking at the Juanita Sanchez School.
Hillary Clinton: Former First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an appearance on October 24th to offer a rousing endorsement for Gina Raimonmdo: “I’m pretty excited about Gina becoming governor. I really think that Rhode Island would be so well-served by having this extraordinary woman take responsibility for your state."
5 Pension Votes
A proposed settlement to the long-embattled Rhode Island pension settlement was derailed in April when the smallest of the six state unions -- the police union -- voted to reject the terms of the settlement. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, “if more than 50 percent of any one of the plaintiff groups vote to reject, the settlement process ends.”
Back to the court room!
4 Years of Gina
Following a long, dirty, and arduous election, the Ocean State elected its first female governor in 2014 when Gina Raimondo defeated Allan Fung to take the state's most executive role. The venture capitalist turned General Treasurer defeated the Cranston Mayor despite winning just 40 percent of the state's vote. However, with a month to go before her term officially starts, questions of her future aspirations have already been raised.
3 Buddy Eras
He was convicted of felony assault in 1984. He came back. He was convicted of racketeering conspiracy -- and served five years in federal prison -- in 2002. He came back. Vincent A. Buddy Cianci had been Providence Mayor for more of the last 40 years than he hadn't, and in 2014, burdened by a pair of felony convictions and a cancer diagnosis, Buddy tried to extend his legacy. He ran, as an Independent, in hopes of regaining the soon-to-be-vacant Mayors seat one more time. Though Cianci received much public attention and celebration from both local and national news sources, it was clear that the attitudes -- and demographics -- of the city he had helped to make great had changed. The 73-year old Cianci lost to political newcomer Jorge Elorza in a race that was not even close.
And a Statehouse under police siege!
The story of the year in the Ocean State was not that the Rhode Island State House was raided by the FBI and Rhode Island State Police in March, but that it was the first time such an action had taken place. A state riddled with a history of political corruption, reached a new low in March when the office of (now former) Speaker of the House, Gordon Fox, was raided and sealed off by law enforcement authorities, who then proceeded to seize piles and piles of documents as evidence.
Evidence of what? That, remains a bit of a mystery. But all sources point to some shady dealings that came as part of the funding for the failed Curt Schilling venture, 38 Studios, which received a $75 million loan guaranteed by the RI Economic Development Corporation in 2010. The video game company declared bankruptcy and closed its doors in May 2012.
Following the raid, Fox resigned from his post as Speaker, and chose not to run for re-election to his seat as the Representative for Rhode Island's 4th District. He was replaced by Nicholas Mattiello as Speaker; Aaron Regunberg claimed Fox's seat.
Dee DeQuattro is WBOB's signature political columnist and author of the weekly column: Pulse on Politics. Kevin Aherne is WBOB's Managing Editor, radio personality, and jack-of-some trades.