Despite headlines, little talk to shore up ballot-access process

Posted 8/3/23

STORY OF THE WEEK: Rhode Island is experiencing one of its periodic spasms of embarrassing headlines. First, there was the disastrous trip by two state officials to Philadelphia. (The officials no …

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Despite headlines, little talk to shore up ballot-access process


STORY OF THE WEEK: Rhode Island is experiencing one of its periodic spasms of embarrassing headlines. First, there was the disastrous trip by two state officials to Philadelphia. (The officials no longer work for the state, but the Cranston Street Armory remains in limbo). More recently, the signature-gathering mess involving Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos’ CD1 campaign emerged as the top political story of the summer. While there’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Rhode Island in recent history, the signature controversy raises concern about ballot access in the state, in part since (via WPRI) the state Board of Elections doesn’t appear interested in scrutinizing questionable signatures collected by Matos’ campaign. A criminal probe of the matter is ongoing, and Jon Berkon, a lawyer for the LG’s campaign, maintains that she got well more than enough legit signatures to qualify for the ballot. But we live in a time of widespread cynicism about government and elections, so a lack of broader account of what happened (including the presence of a few signatures of deceased individuals) could contribute to that. Some Republicans, including the iconic Ronald Reagan, have long argued that government is the problem – a view supported over time by some pro-business groups. So when Democrats, who believe in a more expansive view of government, are behind moves that erode public confidence, they are arguably acting against their own cause. Still, there’s been little public conversation about possible changes to shore up the ballot-access process. And given the RI GOP’s inability over time to build a larger legislative presence (or to put someone in the governor’s office since 2006), it’s unclear how much the landscape in Rhode Island may change.

The state Ethics Commission voted last week to open an investigation into a January lunch at the Capital Grille attended by Gov. Dan McKee, his chief fundraiser, lobbyist Jeff Britt and two officials from Scout. The governor’s campaign maintains the complaint filed by the state GOP is politically motivated.

Gabe Amo, Sabina Matos and Aaron Regunberg unveiled TV ads, while Don Carlson touted a $240,000 media buy … Regunberg got the Bernie Sanders’ endorsement, Matos continued to get backing from trade unions, Sandra Cano rolled out more legislative and municipal support, and Amo continued his emphasis on retail politics.

The Rhode Island House this year passed a measure to legalize the herbal substance kratom, but the bill died since it didn’t clear the Senate. Now, the substance, per a report by NPR, is the focus of some wrongful death lawsuits in other states.

The Providence City Council voted last week to hire lawyer Max Wistow, known for leading the state’s effort to recover 38 Studios’ money, to recoup millions in tax benefits granted to a top downtown property owner, Buff Chace.

Rhode Island’s housing crisis hits hardest for those on the economic margins, including unhoused people. Karen Santilli, CEO of Crossroads RI, the largest local provider of services for the homeless, said she perceives an unprecedented degree of commitment and investment at the state level (after officials struggled to respond to a surge in people living on the streets during the pandemic).

 Santilli’s response (via Political Roundtable) to the biggest obstacles to making more progress: “I would say that our biggest obstacle right now is really and truly the lack of apartments that people can afford. I get calls and emails every day from elected officials, businesses, people in the community who know of someone that is losing their apartment, because the rent is going up and they can't afford the new rent, or their landlord has a family member moving in and they have to move out. And people are still living paycheck to paycheck, they don't have the funds to be able to secure a deposit first and last month's rent indoor security deposit. And so really, truly having the affordable apartments available for people to move into. But also, you know, there's this crisis that we read and hear about that I believe is also impacting people experiencing homelessness around behavioral and mental health, and the lack of resources for people to get the help that they need once they’re housed to maintain and stabilize their housing.”

Pining for the bygone days of the 2023 General Assembly session? You can rewind all the feels with a 16-page review of RI’s FY2024 budget and the legislative session from the Economic Progress Institute. On the whole, EPI said, “Although some proposals did not advance or receive hearings, and the General Assembly did not adopt any of the proposals put forth by the Equity Impact Campaign, the 2023 legislative session and FY2024 budget brought many welcome achievements, including meaningful investments in people, programs, and policies.” RI KIDS Count has its own legislative look-back, pointing to victories in a range of areas, including for children (an increase in the earned-income tax credit, the creation of a state low-income housing tax credit, the allocation of $45M in ARPA money for affordable housing and homelessness),

A clash is playing out between Maine’s lobstering industry and efforts to save the 300 or so remaining right whales in the Atlantic. “If we don’t stabilize and begin the recovery, they will be gone within a couple of decades,” former RI DEM head Janet Coit, now assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, tells PBS NewsHour. “They will be extinct. They will be wiped off this Earth.” Vessel strikes and entanglements with fishing gear have killed a number of whales in recent years. The lobster industry contends it’s getting too much blame for the problem.

House Speaker Joe Shekarchi — who counts pooch Merlin among his trusted advisers — has organized his annual benefit on Monday, Aug. 7 at Quidnessett County Club in North Kingstown for a trio of animal shelters: Vintage, Anchor and Warwick. Tickets are almost sold out. The event comes amid reports of animal shelters being swamped with returned pets.

Yep, I’m still on Twitter, more than 14 years after joining, and I’m not going to call it X. Via the NYT: “Many Twitter users, who have spent years tweeting and building up their presence on the site, appeared alienated by the shift. ‘Has everybody seen the (eXecrable) new logo?’ the actor Mark Hamill tweeted on Monday, with the hashtag #ByeByeBirdie. Others saw the move as Mr. Musk’s latest blow to the site, with some stubbornly saying they will still call the site Twitter and will continue to ‘tweet.’ When brands become verbs, it’s the ‘holy grail,’ said Mike Proulx, a vice president and research director at Forrester, because it means they have become part of popular culture. ‘The app itself has become a cultural phenomenon in all sorts of ways,” he said. “In one fell sweep, Elon Musk has essentially wiped out 15 years of brand value from Twitter and is now essentially starting from scratch.’ ”

Ian Donnis can be reached at idonnis@ripr.org

politics, Donnis, ballot


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