Dee DeQuattro and Kevin Aherne
2015 was quite a year in Rhode Island politics. We locked up our Speaker of the House, learned way too much about the ideal gas law, and even fired a Police mascot!
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 Christmas, my blue state gave to me...
12 Million Dollars
Although lawmakers continue to still demand answers, this year may have brought what is the ultimate conclusion to the 38 Studios Debacle.
Some of the litigants settled for a whopping total of $12.5 million. Don’t worry, it’s nothing to celebrate since the state is in the whole about $112 million dollars after guaranteeing a $75 million loan to Curt Schilling’s video game company.
By the way, while everyone else was hauled into court including the past and present governor, Schilling miraculously avoided a subpoena and remains to be heard from on the matter.
Meanwhile, lawmakers continue to demand accountability to seemingly deaf ears and as more time passes the less voters and citizens care.
11 Pounds of Pressure
Ideal Gas Law... More Probable Than Not... The Deflator... These are all phrases with which all New Englanders heard ad nauseum in 2015 -- in reference to Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady and the scandal revolving around the constitution of his (foot)balls.
Since we are all "at least generally aware" of the entire controversy, I will spare you the details, and simply note that we are all looking forward to a 2016 without PSI and circumstantial evidence!
Next time, Tom, maybe hit a woman (please don't actually do that), you'll face far less scrutiny from the NFL.
10 Degrees Warmer
Alright, maybe it is not exactly 10 degrees but we needed to fit with the song. This December has brought Rhode Island unseasonably warm temperatures. Christmas Eve temperatures are expected to be in the upper 50’s to the lower 60’s.
Maybe this is why former Governor Chafee wanted to convert to the metric system, so that the temperatures would not seem so unnaturally high. Sixty degrees Fahrenheit translates to about 15 degrees Celsius. Unfortunately, we will never know because after his big appearance in a Democratic Debate and another chance to humiliate Rhode Islanders, Chafee dropped out of the presidential race.
9 Runners Running
One big national story that made our list is the over-crowded field in the race for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.
The most recent GOP Debate featured 9 candidates (and that's not even counting the 'not ready for prime time' crew), all following the lead of Donald Trump. And it appears that in order to be noticed within this crowded field, the candidates must say the most ridiculous or divisive things:
The Egyptian Pyramids were ancient grain silos... Mexicans are rapists... Thousands of Muslims cheered on 9/11...
Does anyone actually believe this stuff? Or is it strictly entertainment? Will this crowd whittle down at some point, or will the circus continue?
These are the questions that 2015 raised, and hopefully, we will get real answers before the 2016 primaries and election.
8 Ladder Companies
Providence has eight ladder companies and of course, one of the most heated political battles of the year has been raging since shortly after Mayor Jorge Elorza took office. The mayor took aim at the fire fighters saying something had to budge to sustain. As a result he proposed a plan to move from a four platoon structure to a three. The plan restructured firefighters schedules and forced them onto a 42 hours a week gig to a 56 hours a week.
The mayor says from savings in overtime and staffing the city stands to save $5 million a year. The only problem is he completely blindsided the union with the plan. Just days before announcing the plan Elorza met with union president Paul Doughty and didn’t mention a thing about the plan. Also, the schedule is unlike one that anyother fire department in the country have to work.
Nonetheless, the debate has been raging and no agreement has been met. Meanwhile, firefighters are overworked and understaffed and often overburdened with calls about drunk college kids. This is a problem that promises to persist into the New Year that will ultimately require both sides to budge to reach a solution.
7th Inning Stretch
If we build it, will they come?
The announcement last winter that the Pawtucket Red Sox wished to abandon McCoy Stadium did not go over well with Rhode Islanders. A proposed plan would relocate the Red Sox affiliate to downtown Providence in an $85 million waterfront stadium. Looked great on paper -- but taxpayers balked at the idea of using state funds to finance the private project. The common theme: Not another 38 Studios debacle.
The plan is now all but dead. The timing couldn't have been worse -- for the team to try to convince Rhode Islanders to fork more money over to a baseball-related project. While the financing would bare no resemblance to the failed Curt Schilling investment, the Ocean State was still gun shy.
So, now the team will look for alternate sites for the project, alternate financing, but in reality, the team is likely to relocate to Massachusetts or Connecticut. It's a shame, the Paw Sox have been an RI staple.
6 / 10 Connector
Rhode Island’s Bridges are falling down, falling down, falling, Rhode Island’s bridges are falling down, my fair lady... Oh, Sorry wrong song. But you get the point. One of the worst pieces of infrastructure in the state happens to be the 6-10 connector. Not only is it in rough repair but according to the Providence Journal, it is one of the most congested areas in the state traffic wise.
While the bridges are falling apart, the governor has been trying to push through a truck tolling plan which would implement a toll on trucks passing through the state. The governor argues that trucks cause the most wear on the roads and therefore they should foot the bill for the repairs.
Meanwhile, the RI GOP and the RI Truckers Association reject the plan as bad for business. Last session ended abruptly when the Governor, House Speaker, and Senate President couldn’t see eye to eye but this issue promises to return and really needs to. Rhode Island is consistently ranked low, if not last for its highway system and infrastructure.
Whatever the solution is, lawmakers need to get on it for the safety of out citizens.
5 Percent Unemployed
Rhode Island made some strides in employment in 2015, reaching the lowest unemployment rate since before the Great Recession (5.2% as of Nov 2015 -- Lowest since July 2007). The 5.2% unemployment rate is down from 6.9% at this time last year.
Considering that Rhode Island had the highest unemployment rate in the nation for much of the last three years, the current #32 ranking is news quite welcomed. Yes, the Ocean State has quite a while to go before we are out of this financial mess, but progress is progress.
4 Right Wingers
Senator Chris Ottiano has resigned from his seat as Senator taking the tiny Republican Senate Caucus from 5 to 4. Republicans can regain that seat in a special election to be held at the beginning of January but for now their numbers have dwindled.
Many Republicans say the absence of Ottiano doesn’t hurt the GOP because he consistently voted with the Democrats on key issues. While Ottiano did reject the tolls on the Sakonnet River Bridge which was largely a bipartisan issues, he has supported the Democrats in other instances such as increasing the minimum wage, the truck tolls, and the 2015 budget. Ottiano even pulled a Benedict Arnold after he resigned from the senate, supporting Democrat James Seveney over Republican John Pagliarini. Maybe the GOP is right, maybe they never had a caucus of 5, its always been a 4 man caucus.
3 Years for Gordon
Former Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon D. Fox reported to Federal prison in Pennsylvania in July to begin serving his 36 month sentence for bribery, wire fraud and filing a false tax return.
Fox waived federal indictment and is expected to plead guilty in federal court to three-counts charging him with wire fraud, bribery and filing a false tax return. The charges stem from former Speaker Fox’s theft of $108,000 donated by campaign supporters to pay for personal expenses; his acceptance of a $52,000 bribe to advocate and move for issuance of a liquor license for an East Side restaurant while serving as Vice-Chairman of the City of Providence Board of Licenses in 2008; and his failure to account for these illegal sources of income on his tax returns.
This all came following the first-ever FBI raid of the Rhode Island Statehouse in March of 2014.
2 Special Elections
This year for Christmas, two local lawmakers gave special gifts to the area they represented; a costly bill to host two special elections.
That’s right, these guys have better things to do than uphold the oath of office: they need to make money. In order for them to make money, they had to resign and then they dumped the bill on the backs of the people they represented to host special elections.
Chris Ottiano resigned this fall to take a job at Neighborhood Health Plan of RI. While he wasn’t required to resign to take the job, Ottiano said he wanted to focus his energy on his new gig and would not be able to give the people he represented the time they deserved. So instead of sticking it out, he left the towns of Portsmouth and Tiverton footing the bills for special elections. But don’t feel bad taxpayers, he had your best interests in mind.
Even more egregious than that, is Representative Donald Lally, who ran for re-election and then resigned just months after the Senate convened. Lally was elected in November, the term started in January, and he resigned at the beginning of March. He claimed he was resigning to dedicate time to his family and law practice. Oh, I guess a man who has been in elected office for over two decades didn’t realize the time requirements and commitment of the job when he was running.
What’s that thing they say about never trusting politicians? Well, they are probably right. While Lally stated that he was departing with the best of intentions, a special election and months later, we find out that Lally has taken a job with the Raimondo administration. With a paycheck of $87,057 a year, he has been hired as a small business liaison to the governor. He side stepped around violating the “revolving door” ban by taking a job with the Governor but truth be told he will be working with the Department of Business Regulation.
Take that Narragansett. While you paid for a special election, Lally set himself up for a sweet paycheck
...And a Dancing Cop Without a Cit-y
It started with a cup of coffee, and ended with the termination of a Providence idol.
The Providence Police decided in November to discontinue a 30-year old Providence tradition by not allowing Tony Lepore, Sr., a/k/a The Dancing Cop, to perform his iconic dance moves whilst directing downtown traffic his holiday season. The controversial decision came following demands by community leaders to remove the now-retired officer from his post. Lepore became a political lightning rod when he began speaking out against the #BlackLivesMatter movement in Providence.
It was later uncovered by WBOB that while Lepore was actively rallying for police to boycott Dunkin' Donuts for their role in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, he had failed to disclose his role as a spokesperson for Dunkin' competitor, Honey Dew Donuts.
Dee DeQuattro is WBOB's signature political columnist and author of the weekly column: Pulse on Politics. Kevin Aherne is WBOB's Senior Editor, radio personality, and jack-of-some trades.