Rep. Morgan scores top on 'subjective' House Freedom Index

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The Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity has announced that House Minority Leader Representative Patricia Morgan (R-District 26) holds the highest ranking in the Rhode Island House for the Center’s 2016 Freedom Index.

While Morgan may have ranked highest, Rep. Joseph McNamara (D-District 19) has the lowest ranking for Warwick legislators. His score is -24, but he feels that the index is, “convoluted and extremely biased.” He accuses the center of being an “organization cloaked in secrecy with dark money.”

The index focuses on legislation affecting free-market, small-government, or constitutional principles. Each bill that the center deems qualifying is rated from -3 to and voting for or against a bill gives the legislator the points, either positive or negative, that have been assigned to the bill.

Republican Morgan, who represents Warwick, Coventry and West Warwick, is ranked with a positive 14 score out of a possible 40 points. Out of 75 representatives, only 11 share her title of a positive score.

Nine of those 11 are Republicans and one is independent. This means that of the 64 legislators with a negative score, 61 are Democrats. The three Republicans of that 64 are also the highest ranked for those with a negative score.

“I’m not surprised that the Republicans had the better scores. We don’t vote just because the Speaker told us to,” said Morgan.

Warwick’s representatives, other than Morgan, are all negative. Rep. Joseph Trillo (R-District 24) has a score of -4. Rep. Joseph Solomon, Jr. (D-District 22), follows at -18. Rep. Eileen Naughton (D-District 21) ranks with -23.3, Rep. Joseph Shekarchi (D-District 23) at -23.5, and Rep. David Bennett (D-District 20) at -23.8.

There is a trend, as McNamara pointed out, “all the Democrats are negative.”

The center’s communications manager, Monique Chartier, doesn’t see it that way.

“That was not the goal in any way. If all the Democrats won, we would be thrilled.” She argued that it was “the result of [legislators] not doing what we advocate for.”

McNamara remains unconvinced and continued to criticize the center, saying the organization is just a tool for “out of state businesses and billionaires to exert their influence on Rhode Island.”

One of these out-of-state businesses, he alleges, is the American Legislative Exchange Company (ALEC), a lobbyist organization. Morgan is ALEC’s State Chair for Rhode Island.

The center’s CEO, Mike Stenhouse, said this about a connection with ALEC, “There’s no formal affiliation. It’s just a friendly association.”

However, McNamara thinks Morgan’s affiliation with ALEC and the Republican Party is what earned her the high score. The center says it was her votes on bills aligned with their principles including taxes, the state budget, and against tolls.

As McNamara pointed out, the House Majority Democrats put together the 2015-2016 fiscal year state budget with Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s focus on jobs and the economy.

The budget enacted an income tax cut for Social Security beneficiaries, eliminated the energy tax for businesses, and lowered the corporation tax from 9 percent to 7 percent, the lowest in the Northeast.

The House passed the budget unanimously. McNamara said, “Morgan voted with us,” and emphasized that “we wrote the budget.”

Morgan claims the Republicans initially proposed the Social Security tax cut and called for an electricity tax cut, but McNamara contests saying the Democrats proposed the bills. In the case of the Social Security legislation, he said that the Democrats proposed it “over a decade ago.”

Morgan and the Center concede that legislators removed the electricity tax but said the cost of electricity has risen in the past couple years as green energy mandates have been passed.

“Any increase in electricity has to go before the Public Utilities Commission,” said McNamara. “They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

McNamara is not the only one skeptical.

Solomon thinks his score is because of the D in front of his name. He voted for the budget but followed his constituency to vote against truck tolls, as did Morgan. It was a vote that cost him his membership on the Judiciary Committee, yet his score is -18.

“They have an interesting way of ranking legislators. They’re very subjective,” he accused.

Stenhouse said, “It’s completely objective. We rank the bills before anyone even votes on them.”

However, Chartier, said, “we have created the criteria…but yes, it’s subjective.”

In choosing the bills, they admit that it is what is aligned with their principles, but Chartier stressed that the bias was “not in a partisan or politics way.”

“We think we’re doing a great public service,” said Stenhouse.

McNamara think it’s more of a “lobbying special project.”

Regardless, voters can access the Index online at www.rifreedom.org/rifreedomindex2016.

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