Ken Block, Chairman of WatchdogRI.org
Did you ever wonder how many votes your state senator and representative missed this past year?
I never gave it much thought until the last day of the 2016 Rhode Island legislative session, when the last votes were being cast as the sun was rising after an all-night spasm of deal making and lawmaking. Punch drunk representatives staggered home after casting a mind-boggling 209 votes in less than 48 hours, while our senators cast 141 votes.
WatchdogRI and the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity teamed up to analyze the voting records of every incumbent legislator for legislative years 2014, 2015, and 2016. The Center provided raw data in electronic form from their data provider LegiNation Inc., and WatchdogRI performed the data analytics.
After discarding resolutions and marriage solemnizations, we were left with 615 votes in the House and 532 votes in the Senate for 2016.
In the House, the top 10 legislators with the most missed votes were:
- Thomas Palangio (D, Providence): 536
- John Carnevale (D, Providence): 356
- Arthur Corvese (D, North Providence): 263
- Jared Nunes (D, Coventry/West Warwick): 221
- Joseph Trillo (R, Warwick): 209
- John Lombardi (D, Providence): 202
- Robert Jacquard (D, Cranston): 157
- Edith Ajello (D, Providence): 142
- Nicholas Mattiello (D, Cranston): 126
- Dan Reilly (R, Portsmouth/Middletown): 105
For the Senate, the top 10 legislators with the most missed votes were:
- Frank Lombardi (D, Cranston): 138
- Donna Nesselbush (D, Pawtucket/North Providence): 130
- Edward O’Neill (R, Lincoln/North
- Frank Lombardo (D, Johnston): 115
- Leonidas Raptakis (D, East Greenwich/West Greenwich/Coventry): 107
- Nicholas Kettle (R, Coventry/Foster/
Scituate/West Greenwich): 92
- James Doyle (D, Pawtucket): 91
- Elizabeth Crowley (D, Central Falls/
- Joshua Miller (D, Providence/Cranston): 77
- William Walaska (D, Warwick): 77
Representatives Robert Phillips (D, Cumberland/Woonsocket) and Raymond Johnston (D, Pawtucket) each missed only one vote, joining 23 other representatives who missed fewer than
Senator John Pagliarini (R, Bristol/Portsmouth/Tiverton) did not miss a single vote, joining 15 other senators who missed fewer than 10 votes.
Every representative who understandably decided to go home after midnight on June 18 missed 43 votes or 7% of all votes held for the year. A representative who had a family emergency the last two days of the session would have missed 34% of all votes held for the year.
We all know that the human mind works best well rested, yet 7% of all votes held in the House this year were held after 1:00 a.m. on the last day of the session. Those bills contained 234 pages of legalese. I wonder how many legislators read those pages while most of us were fast asleep?
The practice of pushing most important votes to the end of the legislative session can leave entire legislative districts with no representation. Would you vote for a legislator if you knew he or she would not vote on more than a third of the bills voted upon by the General Assembly in a year? The rules of operation of our General Assembly make it possible for any legislator to miss that many votes if any personal crisis comes up in the tiny 48-hour end-of-session window.
In the seven years that I spent advocating to eliminate the master lever, legislative leadership was fond of explaining away the 50 years it took to get the job done as part of the slow and deliberative legislative process. There is nothing slow or deliberative about the final 48-hour frenzy of last minute bills, amendments, and votes.
Nothing mandates that our legislature operate in such a circus-like manner. Simply passing 10 bills a week over the six-month session would eliminate the end-of-session blitz. Transparency would be increased and legislators would theoretically be better informed about the bills they were voting upon.
The legislature should consider a 25-bill weekly limit (not including resolutions and marriage solemnizations). As a deliberative body, no floor votes should occur after 9:30 p.m. — ever.
Rhode Island needs leaders who are dedicated to changing our political culture. Will we get the leadership we need, or will we be perpetually left with an annual legislative hangover?
Click here to see responses from lawmakers who claim there were extenuating personal circumstances that caused their missed votes.
Despite johnny-come-lately calls from many lawmakers for the release of documents from the government’s 38 Studios Investigation, 81 of the 113 sitting General Assembly lawmakers graded an “F” on their related voting records. This according to a special edition 38 Studios Legislator Scorecard published today by the nonpartisan RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, which documented and scored legislative votes on 15 related bills, amendments, and budgets since 2010.
“The public is outraged that there has been zero accountability on this issue,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “Where the state government has failed to provide any transparency by releasing the 38 Studios documents, our Center is offering its own version of transparency by publishing this scorecard.”
While most 38 Studios votes have occurred in the House, and while many lawmakers have not served long enough to vote on all related bills over the 7-session period, each of the 178 Representatives and Senators who made a 38 Studios specific vote or who voted on a budget that included a 38 Studios bond payment was rated on the scorecard.
THE 19 WORST: With an opportunity to score between (-29) and +29, the worst pro 38 Studios/anti-taxpayer offenders among those with maximum opportunity to vote on such bills, were Representatives Corvese, DeSimone, Diaz, Edwards, Fellela, Handy, Jacquard, Kennedy, Malik, Mattiello, McNamara, Melo, Naughton, Ruggiero, Serpa, Slater, Ucci, Williams, and Winfield – each of whom graded an “F” and scored a negative (-25) or (-24).
THE 3 BEST: With a similar opportunity to score between (-26) and +26, the best anti 38 Studios/pro taxpayer advocates were Representatives Chippendale, Giarusso, and Morgan – each of whom graded an “A+” and scored a positive +24.
Overall, of the 178 lawmakers, 132 graded an F, 10 a D, 8 a C, 6 a B, and 14 an A. Five Senators did register a score, but did not receive a letter grade, because they took no specific 38 Studio related vote, even if they voted on one or more related state budgets or were absent for the initial loan guarantee program vote. Similarly, three 2010 Representatives did not receive a grade, as their only score was based on a single bill that they were not present to vote on.
“Many people might consider it extremely hypocritical for any lawmaker who rated an F or D on this scorecard for their past record to now jump on the band-wagon by calling for the Attorney General or Governor to release the documents,” suggested Stenhouse. “As we approach the November elections, we’re providing voters with the voting records of their elected officials so they can decide whether or not to hold them accountable.”
The full 38 Studios scorecard for all lawmwakers, the scoring and grading methodology, a description of the bills in question, and the bill-by-bill voting record can be reviewed by clicking here.
At their July 29, 2016 press conference, the RI Attorney General and the State Police did not release the names of those officials who may have acted in an unethical political manner in the 38 Studios debacle, nor did they release related documents.
Now, many politicians are calling for the release of the documents. Yet, just six weeks earlier, many of these same lawmakers VOTED AGAINST legislation to initiate a special independent 38 Studios investigation.
On June 15, 2016, Representative Patricia Morgan (R-Coventry, West Warwick) submitted the following amendment to the RI state budget in order to fund a special prosecutor. You can see below who voted FOR or AGAINST finding the truth about the 38 Studios scandal:
What the hell is going on in our state? As Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been claiming for a long time, the system is rigged.
In a lawsuit just this week, the RI OAG was petitioned to release documents they have been hiding related to their collusion to shut down national climate change debate … and now today we find out that he has created a legal shield to hide the identity of those involved in the 38 Studios debacle.
After a 4 year investigation, the public knows nothing more about the corrupt 38 Studios story. For years it has been the position of the Center that the political implications were equally, if not MORE IMPORTANT than any potential criminal implications.
It is an outrageous turn of events that the rigged system that favors insiders will not release the names of those officials who acted in an unethical political manner.
Even though there are no criminal charges, this does not give the ruling elite the right to cover-up the identity of those officials who knew ahead of time, and deny the public their right to hold them politically accountable.
Today, as the many good government groups called for a year ago, I renew our call for the Governor to make good on her campaign promise to initiate an independent investigation .. not with a criminal objective, but with a political ethics objective.
With the new House Oversight chair also doing the bidding of political insiders in stating that she will not further pursue the 38 Studios charges, the public has the right to know the full 38 Studios story.
Look what happened to Rep. Carnevale when his residency lies were exposed. Those who lied to the Rhode Island people and to lawmakers in 2010 similarly need to be held accountable.
Providence, RI — The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity decried the unwillingness of the Rhode Island State Police and the Office of Attorney General to release the names of those “officials who knew” ahead of time that the money designated by the General Assembly was earmarked for the fateful 38 Studios scheme.
The Center renews the call it and other good government groups made last year for the Governor to conduct an independent investigation.
The Center for years has maintained that the true accountability for the 38 Studios scandal was likely to be more of a political nature than of a criminal nature. The political cover-up seen today should not be accepted because there were no criminal charges.
While the Center trusts the judgment of the State Police and the AG not to recommend or file criminal charges, it is “outrageous that they would participate in a political whitewash by not releasing the names of those officials,” argued Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center. “The larger lesson of this debacle, which our Center has also consistently maintained, is that insider corporate welfare deals such as 38 Studios -deals perpetuated even more vigorously on a smaller level by the current administration – are not a legitimate approach to economic development. It is now time for the Governor to make good on her promise to initiate an independent investigation – a political investigation.”
The Center also questions whether all 38 Studios investigations and questioning occurred via the secret grand jury deliberations; whether or not any other information was independently obtained; whether the grand jury was part of the original plan to give legal cover to unethically involved politicians; and whether the technicality of keeping the case open is just a furtherance of that legal cover.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 27, 2016
Center Assists National Group in Climate Change ‘Secrecy Pact’ Document Suit Against Rhode Island Attorney General
AG’s Denial of Open Records Request – part of collusion to shut-down political dissent – Legally Challenged
Senator Whitehouse-Led Enemies-of-Free-Speech Conspiracy Cited as Reprehensible
Providence, RI — The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity (Center) announced that it assisted a national nonprofit organization in a lawsuit, filed today, demanding that the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General (OAG) release documents they have refused to make public. The legal complaint calls for the release of documents related to AG’s United for Clean Power, a group comprised of politically-motivated AGs from about a dozen states, including Rhode Island, who have secretly teamed up with anti-fossil fuel activists to investigate dozens of organizations that have exercised their free speech by challenging the global warming policy agenda.
The lawsuit was filed in Providence Superior Court by the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic and the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute (E & E Legal). Representing these organization are Virginia attorney Chaim Mandelbaum and Rhode Island attorney Will Wray, an adjunct legal scholar to the Center, who recently won a landmark pension reform case on behalf of the city of Cranston.
The lawsuit calls on the Attorney General’s office to release documents it refused to disclose following a standard access to records request by E & E Legal. Today E & E Legal also issued its own media release on the lawsuit that called the OAG’s claimed exemptions “absurd.”
“In America, we must all remain free to voice our opinions without fear of state-sponsored persecution,” commented Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center, which is not itself a plaintiff and otherwise was not associated with the legal strategy. “And whether there is government overreach or not, public officials must not prevent the citizenry of learning of any agreement it may have entered into.”
In a series of April emails obtained by E & E Legal, the RI OAG consented to sign-on to an “agreement” among the larger AG cabal that is colluding to investigate if RICO statutes may have been violated. However, the Rhode Island AG now refuses to make public the group’s ‘Secrecy Pact’ documents related to that taxpayer funded activity.
Recently, under pressure from pro free-speech advocates, several other original AG members have wavered in their support of the group’s heavy-handed tactics, one even withdrawing his subpoena issued to ExxonMobil, which many legal observers saw as an unconstitutional act.
“We believe that General Kilmartin and his fellow enemies of debate are seeking to maintain a cloak of invisibility over the national AG group’s attempt to crush dissent by those who disagree with their radical climate change agenda,” continued Stenhouse, who believes that every American has the right to disagree with their government and to support causes they believe in. “With our state’s own Senator Sheldon Whitehouse among the commandants of this national conspiracy, it is reprehensible that political elitists are colluding to prosecute those who disagree with them on policy.” Whitehouse is among 19 U.S. Senators who have also banded together to attack opponents of climate policies that are harmful to economic growth.
In June, the Center published an energy report that demonstrated how oppressive state renewable energy mandates, as part of the national climate change agenda, will cost taxpayers and ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars, cause job losses in the thousands, and artificially raise local electricity rates. It is research and advocacy such as this that Kilmartin and his AG group are seeking to muzzle and potentially prosecute as criminal.
Even as Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has similarly signed on with a group of 17 Democrat governors to a separate Governor’s Accord for a New Energy Future, the Center questions whether or not the governor approved Rhode Island’s membership into the activist AG group and its anti-free-speech mission, and whether or not her office authorized the refusal to comply with the records request.
The complaint filed today claims that the OAG violated the Access to Public Records Act, Chapter 38-2 of the Rhode Island General Laws. The lawsuit seeks to vindicate the public’s right to a transparent and open government. The Free Market Environmental Law Clinic and E & E Legal ask the Court to require Attorney General Peter Kilmartin to produce the documents he has attempted to withhold.
When contacted by E & E Legal earlier this month seeking a referral for local counsel to file the lawsuit, the Center directed them to a member of its own organization, attorney Will Wray.
Interested Ocean Staters can follow the lawsuit on Twitter at #ReleaseAGdocs.
About the Center
The nonpartisan RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity is Rhode Island’s premiere free-enterprise research and advocacy organization. The nonprofit Center is funded entirely by private tax-deductible donations and never accepts public funding. The mission of the 501-C-3 organization is to return government to the people by opposing special-interest politics and advancing proven free-market solutions that can transform lives by restoring economic competitiveness, increasing educational opportunities, and protecting individual freedoms.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 29, 2016
Enhancements to H7989 Rejected. Misleading and Provocative Language Would Create Affordable Housing Commission Rigged with Biased Members
Hypocrisy from Speaker’s Office Ensures that RhodeMap RI Moves Onward
Providence, RI — It is the mission of the Center to engage in a rigorous and honest debate about important policy issues. Conversely, at least one bill sponsor and her Committee partisans disagree; instead preferring a rigged, one-sided debate, in a demonstrably hypocritical process.
Despite a prior appeal from the Chairman and a motion from other committee members, the House Committee on Municipal Government disregarded fairness and passed a bill that would shut down open and legitimate debate on an issue of great interest to many Rhode Islanders. This after rejecting improvements to the bill as formally suggested by the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity.
H7989A, which will soon move receive a full House vote, would create a commission unfairly stacked with affordable housing advocates and without any legitimate representation of property owners, taxpayers or good government groups. Following its testimony on the original bill earlier in the month, the Center was asked by the Chairman, Rep. Robert Craven (D, N. Kingston), to work with the bill sponsor, Rep. Shelby Maldonado (D, Central Falls), to work out an arrangement whereby the nonprofit Center would be allowed to appoint at least one additional commission member. Maldonado rejected the concept, instead choosing to keep alternative voices off of the commission, which might disrupt the commission from reaching its pre-determined conclusions.
Also, despite passionate appeals and a motion from Rep. Blake Filippi (I, New Shoreham) and Rep. Justin Price (R, Exter) for the Center to be able to designate a commission member, the Chairman allowed the Democrat-controlled committee nonetheless to rubber-stamp Maldonado’s bill.
Hypocrisy? Even the legal council for the Speaker’s office was consulted in a ploy to put down the motion. However, both his and the Chairman’s claims that amending the bill in any substantial way, ostensibly by designating the Center to appoint an additional commission member, then immediately voting on bill, might violate the state’s Open Meetings Act. Incredibly, just moments later, the committee passed a sub-A version of the bill that indeed added a new commission member who had the favor of the bill sponsor.
The bill is flawed not only in that it creates an unfair commission membership, but it is also based on a misleading premise, while making unsupported racial implications.
Also rejected by Maldonado, was language suggested by the Center to correct the bill’s inaccurate and inflammatory language. The bill states that multiple localities are not meeting and have disregarded their required “state-mandated” affordable housing “thresholds”. as the Center pointed out in its testimony, no such mandates exist in state law.
The bill language further cites that “institutional” and “discriminatory actions” that limit home ownership must be addressed. The Center called on the sponsor to provide direct evidence of such provocative accusations, or withdraw the language. This appeal was also rejected.
The Center does not oppose the commission concept and welcomes the opportunity for a public debate. However, it is the Center’s position that it is necessary to have a fairly constructed commission that will explore all sides of this controversial topic; and, by virtue of the high level of research and public awareness it has raised on this issue, that the Center has earned a spot on the commission.
The Center maintains that the commission must be designed to properly debate the Brookings Institution, RhodeMap RI, and the federal government’s HUD agendas, as they relate to this topic, which the commission is obviously designed to advance. The Center also believes that the commission’s formation should be premised on accurate and tempered language.
Ironically, the committee’s actions occurred less than one week after Rob Astorino, Executive for Westchester County (NY), the poster-child for HUD infringement on local sovereignty, spoke of HUD’s heavy-handed tactics at a fundraising event for Center in the Chairman’s own district in North Kingstown.