September 5, 2007

The Rhode Island Right's Bizarro Politics

Justin Katz

Both intentionally and not, I'm on various email lists from conservative bloggers and activists from around the country, and their content is often too far toward meat-throwing for my tastes. I'll admit, though, that I often chuckle at what the guys are up to and delete their messages. I've got to side with Dan Yorke in saying that those red-meat emails are too often press releases from Republican Party Chairman Gio Cicione, including this one that arrived yesterday:

Rhode Island Republican Party Chairman Giovanni Cicione says the teacher unions which have authorized strikes in several Rhode Island towns this week are breaking the law, disrupting the start of the school year for tens of thousands of students, and creating chaos for families scrambling for child care arrangements at the last minute.

“Strikes are illegal in Rhode Island, and this is nothing but an organized effort by the unions to break the law and the unions have to be held accountable,” says Cicione.

“The U.S. Attorney should consider a RICO Act investigation against the NEA, Rhode Island, which is authorizing, and has authorized in the past, illegal strikes by teachers unions. The NEA involvement in these local teachers union strikes amounts to extortion, which is an explicit RICO violation,” Cicione continues.

“Both Robert Walsh and Lawrence Purtill, top officials of the NEA, RI should be named in such an inquiry.”

“This state faces a serious fiscal crisis, the unions have got to be told that the days of getting their way on every issue are over and they’re going to have to learn that their demands exceed what communities can afford.”

Strikes have been authorized in East Greenwich and Tiverton where contract talks failed to produce a settlement. In several other communities, including Burrillville, the Foster-Glocester school district, the Exeter-West Greenwich district and Providence, contracts remain unsettled but teachers are working while talks continue.

Cicione also emphasizes union leadership’s tactics of authorizing an illegal strike hurts the reputation of teachers who get caught in the middle and have no authority to overrule their own union. “The NEA is breaking the law, and using both teachers and students as pawns for their political gain.”

“Hard working and dedicated teachers in these communities may not want to strike and may only want to return to the classroom but they are not in charge of their own schools once the union takes over,” Cicione continues. “These kinds of illegal job actions hurt their reputation in their communities and the union does a disservice to their respected profession by doing this.”

The tax burden problem in Rhode Island is another key factor in the strike crisis. He credits the Governor with addressing the property tax burden on communities, who led the effort to implement a cap on how much communities can raise property taxes. Communities in the state overall depend on property taxes to fund 60% of school costs, compared to 43% nationally, in figures compiled by RIPEC this year. Overall, Rhode Island has the sixth highest property tax burden in the nation.

“Union leaders don’t want to see caps on property tax increases , they want to hike taxes on the grossly overburdened RI taxpayer, they want very little health benefit co-pays and the list goes on and on,” Cicione continues.

“Communities can’t afford it, the state can’t afford unlimited aid to communities for schools, and we can’t afford - or allow -illegal strikes to hold communities and families hostage.”

The notable thing is how backwards the conservative movement is in Rhode Island. Here's how it's supposed to work:

  • Somewhat wacky and unaccountable bloggers and grassroots activists push right-wing views too vehemently.
  • Right-wing talk radio hosts back off the message a bit, but shout it to a broader audience.
  • Conservative Republican politicians go as far to the right as they think their constituencies will tolerate.
  • Republican Party officials and back-room political geek types translate those views into a practical strategy that will build the party and move the political center.

Note the aesthetically pleasing flow as the more powerful figures back off the comments of the more heated ideologues. In Rhode Island, things are a bit different: We at Anchor Rising are geeky intellectuals. Our most prominent conservative talk radio host stresses responsible journalism. And the party chairman throws red meat when he ought to be translating our good ideas into practical policies that will help get Republicans elected and improve the state by moving its center to the right.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.


I would dispute the assertion that Dan Yorke is a conservative (I think he would, too). Are you advocating that we make Dan Yorke chairman of the RIGOP? Ha, ha.

I see nothing wrong with red meat being thrown about .. it's fun! Whether it's prodcutive in the end is certainly open to debate. It certainly gets attention. However, on a personal level, I'd prefer if someone other than the state party chair was doing it (i.e. Excutive Director or an office staffer)... that's usually what minions are for (for instance, Bob Walsh has Pat Crowley). Let the minions throw the stuff around, see what sticks, then the leader ends up having the luxury of looking like he took the high road or something like that.

PS As for the RICO thing, I'm not sure that it would specifically apply. However, I think a state conspiracy charge would be appropriate ... conspiracy to commit an illegal act (striking) or conspiracy to commit extortion. Of course, that makes the assumption that the brother of the state Democratic chair would ever do anything to enforce the laws of the state for the benefit of its citizens.

Posted by: Will at September 5, 2007 5:54 PM

Not to mention that geeky intellectuals from the left are willing to engage the geeky intellectuals on the right on their own territory. Just like democracy is supposed to work.

But Gio's press release was classic. He took the one issue he could have used as a wedge - his own Governor supported an increase in state aid to education this past year when the General Assembly did not - and turned it into another self-inflicted wound.

Shouldn't someone be asking if this is the best the Republican Party can do to rebuild in Rhode Island?

Posted by: Bob Walsh at September 5, 2007 6:10 PM


You make some very valid points. Gio Ciccione and his group need to hone in and refine their strategies for their party. No question the Rep party needs to sharpen their focus on certain issues and develope a PR strategy to promote those issues in a way that will resonate with everyday citizens. I'm guessing with more on-the-job experience that will come together for them over time. Ciccione seems like a very bright and ambitious guy.
Regarding Yorke quite frankly with me he lacks the credibility to take on the Rhode Island Republican party leadership given his cozy relationship to the Lynch Bros. All of Yorke's points may be valid as they relate to Gio Ciccione but they hold no sway because of Yorke's inability and/or unwillingness to go toe to toe with the Democrat party leadership in the same way. Yorke comes off as a guy who goes after the weak and/or those he knows won't bite back. Does it surprise anyone that Gov. Carcieri is the object of more criticism from Yorke more than any other pol in heavily Democrat Rhode Island? With Cicciline and/or maybe Mollis being a distant and I mean a distant second in time spent criticizing? Carcieri is a gentleman who won't bite back. He's an easy target. Same for Ciccione because he's new and inexperienced at what he's going. That's Yorke's MO. Quite frankly his disingenuous attempt to justify his lack of courage ~'it's a given that they're (the Dem party) the problem'~ to explain away his weak-kneed and quiet approach with the Democrats around here is laughable and insulting to his audience. I find myself enjoying some good afternoon radio sports talk more and more these days. Dan's script has gotten very old and very very predictable.

Posted by: Tim at September 5, 2007 6:42 PM

Was this hyperbole from Mr. Cicione? While most reasonable people would agree that the unions, especially the NEA, have too much influence in this state, advocating a RICO charge is unreal.

We (meaning the GOP candidates for office) can't be viewed as a bunch of yahoos. In order to move the party forward, there must be an organized, strategic and coherent movement. This is the sort of garbage that damages the GOP. Now, Mr. Lynch will have a field day coming out defending the unions and critizing the comments of his counterpart. He will look like Mr. Reasonable while Gio will look like a high school sophomore.

Posted by: Shawn Masterson at September 5, 2007 7:04 PM

"We (meaning the GOP candidates for office) can't be viewed as a bunch of yahoos."

Well then you've got the wrong crackpot in charge. He's more interested in making headlines than progress. He's a firm believer in 'any publicity is good publicity and long as they spell GOP properly' and that's just stupid.

The Party went from a do-nothing leader to a do-nothing-right leader.

Posted by: Greg at September 5, 2007 7:15 PM

You really gotta wonder the following:

1. Did Gio "bounce" this idea off of anyone else before he launched his news release? If so, whom?

2. Did Gov. Carcieri (or any of his senior staff) know that Gio was thinking about alleging a RICO conspiracy?

3. Did it occur to Gio that by dumping this in Corrente's lap -- and Corrente will almost certainly have to reject any RICO charges -- he now puts a possible future Republican candidate in the position of appearing to side with the teachers' unions!?

Posted by: brassband at September 5, 2007 8:54 PM

Keep throwing that meat.

Fine, next time, have someone one step down throw it. But then, you know the media will just be hounding Gio anyway: "Did you authorize this? Do you agree with this? Whose idea was it?", etc. Give him credit for taking it on himself.

Gio is new but his enthusiasm is great and has a real good idea of the problems facing this state AND WHO CAUSED THEM. I would much rather hear today's hullabaloo THAN HEAR NOTHING and wonder if anyone in the loyal opposition is willing to speak up about the cash wielding special interests that darken the corridors of our government.

P.S. Tim, you're so right. Yorke tries to cover his negative, confrontational schtick with a thin veneer of objectivity and "expecting more" from the Republicans. It is certainly entertaining. But he's not fooling anyone and he's certainly not encouraging the robust, two party system this state needs so badly.

Dontcha get it, Dan?? Democrats are paid to participate, advocate, run, serve. Republicans are not.

Posted by: SusanD at September 5, 2007 11:26 PM

Is Gio on the NEA-RI's payroll?

If not, Bob Walsh should send him a stipend for his good work in changing the public debate today.

Gio has done more good work for the NEA-RI in the last 48 hours than Pat Crowley has done in the last month.

So we lost a day. No big deal.

Let it go and ignore Gio's stupid idea from now on so we can get back to the real issues at hand.

Posted by: Donald B. Hawthorne at September 5, 2007 11:27 PM

1) Let's ask ourselves why Yorke is the way he is with Cicone. It sounds personal. If it quacks like a duck... Take away the fact that Dan "Shiny Microphone" sucks up to office holders that show up and "pay him the respect that he deserves as RI's smartest human". He hates Cicone because he hates Depetro and Cicone employs Depetro's sister. Yorke is no better than some nut who wears a tin foil hat to prevent the ET's from stealing his thoughts. Paranoid child who jumped the shark during last election cycle.

2)The RICO move was pure genius. Cicone owned the airwaves today. There are no groups to "push right wing views too vehemently". Anchor Rising is where wonks come to discuss the issues. The RI problems call for some mud wrestling with the other side. What should Cicone do? Sit and hope that some radical right wingers move into the state, start and open the mud pit? The Republicans have been doing that for years. How's that working out for ya?


Who cares what the Governor thinks. The guy doesn't support the Party or its candidates. Why should Cicone care what his plan is? "shh... maybe if we play nice some more Old Stone losers can get a plum job or two in the education field"

And Corrente's not running for anything. He's also not gonna divert from Dollar Bill for this. Judgeship maybe. Politics, no.

Posted by: Zorro at September 5, 2007 11:28 PM

"some nut who wears a tin foil hat to prevent the ET's from stealing his thoughts"

... wait, they don't ...??

"the real issues at hand"

Which, in terms of teacher contracts, is the fascinating juxtaposition of Rhode Island having the eighth highest paid teachers versus schools which rank 46th versus the seventh highest taxes in the country. I would never have known that if Donald and Justin hadn't gotten riled up this week and started exposing the seedier side of education in Rhode Island.

Bring on more strikes. They sure are educational.

Posted by: SusanD at September 6, 2007 12:28 AM

Why do we even take either party chairman seriously? To me, Gio is Classy Freddie Blassie and Bill Lynch is Captain Lou Albano. Only not quite as entertaining.

Posted by: rhody at September 6, 2007 12:35 AM

Justin, you're on the money.

The RI GOP will continue to falter if statements like this come out. Man, politics is not that difficult. This is the expected response from the GOP. Lambasting the opposition and coming off as nigh unto crazy.

Unions are not 'evil' as an old southern guy I used to work with used to say. It saddens me that the GOP in this state continues to push itself to the margins, refusing to take a step back, re-prioritize, and gameplan a way to make inroads into state politics.

It's certainly doable as the Dems have become fat with overconfidence. But, it's going to take a clear and reasoned message. Not this type of, what did you call it? Ah, red-meat.

Posted by: don roach at September 6, 2007 7:24 AM

Justin, you're on the money.

The RI GOP will continue to falter if statements like this come out. Man, politics is not that difficult. This is the expected response from the GOP. Lambasting the opposition and coming off as nigh unto crazy.

Unions are not 'evil' as an old southern guy I used to work with used to say. It saddens me that the GOP in this state continues to push itself to the margins, refusing to take a step back, re-prioritize, and gameplan a way to make inroads into state politics.

It's certainly doable as the Dems have become fat with overconfidence. But, it's going to take a clear and reasoned message. Not this type of, what did you call it? Ah, red-meat.

Posted by: don roach at September 6, 2007 7:24 AM

Donald & brassband,

You're both completely overestimating the import and impact of Gio's actions. Only us political junkie types are paying attention to what's going on these days. It'll take more than over-the-top hysteria from Dan Yorke to drive this story. Relax guys! brass you sound like you worked on the Senate Watergate committee with these questions of yours. lol


Right on! It's an insult to his audience when Yorke downplays his need to confront Democrats because 'everyone knows they're the problem' yet in the same breath he laments that nobody knows who the most powerful pol in Rhode Island is in Speaker Bill Murphy. Jeez ya think maybe if Yorke repeatedly went after Murphy for his abysmal record instead of whining that he won't do the show perhaps Murphy would be more well known among the peoples? Duuuuh!!
What a hyopcrite Yorke is. This is Yorke's weekly and very predictable hit list, Carcieri Cicilline Mollis Ciccione and Esserman. Wow looking at that list it just occurred to me it's heavily Italian. Actually if you take out Esserman it's completely Italian. Interesting! Look at the power players here in Rhode Island. How many are on Yorke's weekly hit list? Yorke has some major credibility challenges.

Posted by: Tim at September 6, 2007 7:35 AM

If Yorke has such an animus for Italians, why does he let Montalbano off the hook? There's the Italian-American politico who is arguably doing more harm to this state right now than the other guys on that list.

Posted by: rhody at September 6, 2007 12:11 PM


I never said Yorke has animus towards Italians. What I said is when you look at the list of his regular targets it's heavily weighted with Italians. That's a fact! Those named Lynch and Murphy do not come under constant scrutiny like Carcieri and Cicilline do. Draw your own conclusions as to why that is. Regarding Montalbano's free ride I would say that Joe Montalbano is a Democrat and Democrats generally get a free ride with Yorke. Other than Cicilline and Mollis Captain Courageous Yorke is quite the wimp when confronting the party of power around here. rhody why do you think in heavily Democrat Rhode Island Republican Gov. Carcieri is Yorke's # 1 target for criticism?

Posted by: Tim at September 6, 2007 4:49 PM
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