STORY OF THE WEEK: The familiar ritual of hearings on gun-related bills played out at the Statehouse last week, with lengthy meetings extending into the night and impassioned testimony on both sides …
STORY OF THE WEEK: The familiar ritual of hearings on gun-related bills played out at the Statehouse last week, with lengthy meetings extending into the night and impassioned testimony on both sides of the issue in the House and Senate Judiciary committees. The five bills under consideration include proposals to limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds, to require secure gun storage, and to forbid open public carry of long guns.
Supporters say these bills would enhance public safety, while opponents express concern about infringement of personal rights. Those testifying in support included Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare, a former State Police colonel, and Stephen Dambruch, chief of the criminal division for Attorney General Peter Neronha, and people who said they had been hurt by gun violence.
Those testifying against the measures included NRA lobbyist Darin Goens, Jake McGuigan of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and people who said the presence of a gun made a positive difference in their lives. The General Assembly has moved slowly on related bills, even while incrementally passing some over time. Lawmakers who support more restrictions say the bills should come to the floor because, they say, a simple majority of legislators would approve them.
For now, the main choke point seems to be the Senate Judiciary Committee. Although the committee includes just one Republican, Sen. Gordon Rogers (R-Foster), the presence of three pro-gun Democrats, Sens. Stephen Archambault of Smithfield, Leonidas Raptakis of Coventry and Frank Lombardi of Cranston (each who have received “A” ratings from the NRA in the past) points to a potential draw, unless Senate leaders – as they did last year – use their ability to vote on the committee in an ex-officio capacity.
SEGAL RISING: David Segal, the activist who previously served as a Providence city councilor and state representative from Providence, is emerging as a potentially strong Democratic candidate in the race to succeed Second District U.S. Representative Jim Langevin. Segal is co-founder of Demand Progress, which boasts affiliation with more than 1.5 million activists.
With the first fundraising quarter having closed Thursday, Segal tells me he will report raising more than $250,000 since he announced an exploratory campaign five weeks ago. He is also loaning his campaign an additional $25,000.
I’m truly humbled by the outpouring of support for this effort both in terms of money and individual support among leaders and grassroots activists here in Rhode Island and across the country,” Segal tells me. “Through all of my work as an elected official on the local and state level, and leader of a national advocacy organization, I’ve seen that when people build strong coalitions around shared values, we can accomplish great things. The fact that so many people I’ve worked with in those efforts are showing the same passion, hope, and trust in this campaign is incredibly meaningful.”
KALUS CASH: GOP candidate for governor Ashley Kalus said she is putting $500,000 into her campaign. “I will raise and write whatever amount is necessary to make this a competitive race,” Kalus said in a statement. “It is important to let the donors, along with the voters, know that I am all-in. All my energy, twenty-four/seven, will be dedicated to this race. It is time for a change. We’re getting killed at the pump, food prices are soaring, it costs more to heat our home, income is not matching inflation, the dream of owning a home is out of reach for many, and we pay more for healthcare and get less. Rhode Island needs a fighter now more than ever.”
(Elsewhere, Gov. Dan McKee’s campaign indicated he had his best-ever fundraising quarter, bringing in more than $400,000.)
THE GOP + CD2: The Republican side of the CD2 race reflects some of the internal battles within the wider party. While political parties and their endorsements are far less influential in the past, the RI GOP’s decision on whether to back state Sen. Jessica de la Cruz, former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, or former state Rep. Bob Lancia of Cranston will offer some insight into the thinking of Rhode Island’s contemporary GOP.
State GOP Chairwoman Sue Cienki said the endorsement is up for grabs, adding that it will be decided during a statewide GOP meeting on June 29. Although there were some strains between Cienki and the Fungs — when Cienki won the GOP chairmanship in 2019, Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, now a state representative, abruptly resigned from the state central committee — Cienki said that’s old news. “I’m Switzerland and the party is Switzerland,” she said. Meanwhile, she described the competition of three candidates – two less than the GOP’s representation in the state Senate – as a healthy sign for the party.
SMILEY’S MESSAGE: Brett Smiley first ran for mayor of Providence in 2014, so he’s had a lot of time to think about the approach for his latest run for City Hall. With fellow Democrats Gonzalo Cuervo, Nirva LaFortune, and Mike Solomon, Smiley will face the voters during a Sept. 13 primary. Smiley unveiled the messaging during his campaign announcement last week. He pledged a two-part focus on 1) Providence’s perennial challenges (under-performing schools, a lack of tax revenue, and the under-funded pension), and 2) the quality of life issues, like lax snow removal and crumbling streets, that irritate residents.
That’s most of the whole enchilada when it comes to municipal governance, so the framing is well placed. But in terms of the capital city’s biggest problems, why will Smiley be able to do more than Mayor Jorge Elorza, or Angel Taveras and David Cicilline before him?
“It all comes down to priorities,” Smiley said during a wide-ranging interview on Political Roundtable. “We’ve had basically honest and ethical government and leadership for the last three mayors, and the city’s come a long way, which is terrific. But my priorities are to focus on those core quality of life issues,” along with education and public safety, because, he said, “we’ve gotten away from the core responsibilities of city government.”
BASIC CITY SERVICES: While some cities (looking at you, East Providence!) welcome the revenue generated by cameras monitoring speed limits in school zones, cites and businesses are far less focused on enforcing laws mandating snow removal from sidewalks. An investigation by my colleague Jeremy Bernfeld shows that these laws are rarely enforced, posing obstacles for people with disabilities: “Why aren't they ticketing?” asked Matt DeLillo, who uses a manual wheelchair to get around. “How come I can get a speeding ticket or I can get a parking ticket seven days out of the week, but you're not going out and ticketing people for not shoveling their sidewalks? If it's written in law and you have the power to enforce it, why are you choosing not to for three years? You haven't handed out a single ticket? I could hand out 500 in a day.”
AFTERMATH: During a scrum with reporters after his campaign announcement, Brett Smiley poured cold water on universal basic income, one of the ideas championed by his former boss, Mayor Elorza. “Universal basic income is an interesting policy – we’ve kind of modeled it during the COVID response – but it was a total distraction for the city,” Smiley said, in large part since many people didn’t understand that it was privately funded.
That made me curious about Smiley’s approach to the fallout from long-ago decisions on discriminatory banking and the placement of polluting industries that still have a disproportionate impact on people of color in Providence. “There’s a lot of work that can be done to improve outcomes and the city is on the right path,” Smiley said on Roundtable, by pursuing zoning changes to promote affordable housing and promoting efforts against climate change.
Smiley said Elorza’s approach on reparations is “a vital conversation,” although with specific recommendations yet to be made, he was non-committal on whether he support the effort.
AMAZON: While the percentage of Americans represented by labor unions has fallen over time, labor remains influential in Rhode Island. Now, in what is being called one of labor’s biggest wins in decades, workers at a huge Amazon warehouse on Staten Island have voted to unionize.
As The New York Times reports, “No union victory is bigger than the first win in the United States at Amazon, which many union leaders regard as an existential threat to labor standards across the economy because it touches so many industries and frequently dominates them.” This is a story that bears watching in Rhode Island, since Amazon is moving ahead with a big warehouse in Johnston.
KICKER: The ProJo’s inquisitive Antonia Noori Farzan had another bright idea: quiz the CD2 candidates on their knowledge of Rhode Island. One test was whether the candidates could identify a place to get New York System wieners. That made me think of an apocryphal local folk tale — that Talking Heads front man David Byrne devised a dance movie highlighted in the “Once in a Lifetime” video — in which he makes a chopping motion on his forearm – from his time arm-stacking wieners at a Providence joint. Byrne set the record straight in an interview with the dearly-departed Providence Phoenix in 2008, noting how “the source of the movement is right there in the video. It’s from Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. They had all these street dancers … in the park and I videotaped some of them.”
Ian Donnis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @IanDon. To sign up for email delivery of this column, visit thepublicsradio.org