In Your Community

Legislative package introduced promising a fair shot for a better future

New-found vitality in what some have termed the “progressive” caucus at the State House promises to energize voters in November, despite being dismissed by many “traditional” Democrats

Photo by Richard Asinof

Rep. Aaron Regunberg announces the 2018 Fair Shot Agenda, with more than 25 legislators standing in support of the legislative package.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 2/12/18
The strong support by one third of the members of the R.I. House of Representatives for the 2018 Fair Shot Agenda demonstrates that voters in Rhode Island may not be as conservative as some have portrayed them.
How will the R.I. House Speaker respond to the legislation proposed under the Fair Shot Agenda? How will the ground game by Working Families, particularly in the East Bay, change the electoral equation in November? Will women voters become more galvanized by the recent efforts by President Trump to dismiss concerns about domestic violence? What kind of polling will be done to ask about the Fair Shot Agenda to test public support for the legislative package?
At the House Oversight Committee hearing on Thursday, Feb. 8, legislators sparred with Eric Beane, secretary of the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and Courtney Hawkins, the director of the R.I. Department of Human Services, to determine when the Unified Health Infrastructure Project and its Deloitte-designed software system would finally be in good working order and the backlog in cases eliminated.
However, the underlying assumption of the more than $400 million project, that a health IT software system would improve the delivery of services, increase workplace efficiency and save money, has never been challenged. The disliked reality may be that the Deloitte system can never be fixed and will need to be junked or rebuilt by another vendor, much like the disliked reality that nuclear power has never been proven to be economically viable.
What is missing from the conversation is how to develop an alternative to the technological approach, based upon improving the human relationships involved in delivering care.
As the demographics of Rhode Island keep evolving toward a population that is increasingly older, with the likelihood of chronic diseases peaking and requiring 24/7 care, the efforts to build a health IT system that do not correspond to the needs of those being served appear to be an expensive example of cognitive dissonance.

PROVIDENCE – Approximately 25 state representatives gathered in the House lounge on Thursday, Feb. 8, to support the 2018 Fair Shot Agenda, one third of the 75 members who serve in the legislative body.

“Everyone deserves a fair shot at a better future,” said Rep. Aaron Regunberg, in introducing the 2018 legislative package, focused on pay equity, raising the minimum wage, investing in school facilities, ensuring affordable long-term care and prescription drugs for seniors, and passing a budget that protects “our neighbors” from critical cuts.

“We’re committed to using state policy to tilt the scales back toward everyday people,” Regunberg said, espousing what some have labeled a progressive caucus agenda, building on the success of last year’s enactment of the earned sick leave law.

“For our children to thrive and succeed, their schools must be safe, warm and suitable for learning,” said Rep. Gregg Amore from East Providence.

“For Rhode Island to move forward, we must increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and ensure that everyone is still paid fairly for their hard work,” said Rep. Susan Donovan, who represents Bristol and Portsmouth. “Rhode Island women working full time still make only 87 cents to the dollar that their male counterparts make, and it’s worse for women of color.”

“Our families need affordable, accessible long-term care options to allow their loved ones to age in dignity,” said Rep. Lauren Carson of Newport.

[For the record, according to the news release accompanying the announcement, the state representatives supporting the Fair Shot Agenda include: Rep. Edie Ajello, Rep. Gregg Amore, Rep. Jeanne Philippe Barros, Rep. David Bennett, Rep. Chris Blazejewski, Rep, Julie Casimiro, Rep. Bob Craven, Rep. Helder Cunha, Rep. Grace Diaz, Rep. Susan Donovan, Rep. Kathy Fogarty, Rep. Arthur Handy, Rep. Katherine Kazarian, Rep. Jason Knight, Rep. John Lombardi, Rep. Shelby Maldonado, Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, Rep. Michael Morin, Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vasseli, Rep. Aaron Regunberg, Rep. Evan Shanley, Rep. Scott Slater, Rep. Teresa Tanzi, Rep. Camille Vella-Wilkinson, and Rep. Moira Walsh.]

A tale of two competing narratives
Watching and listening to the rollout of the Fair Shot Agenda, ConvergenceRI could not help but recall the biting exchange on “A Lively Experiment” he had had with lawyer Eva Mancuso on the Friday, Jan. 26, edition of the talk show, two weeks ago. [See link below to YouTube version.]

The show began with a discussion introduced by panel moderator Jim Hummel about how House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello had declared that the Senate version of a legislative package to support the building of a new Pawsox stadium in Pawtucket “dead on arrival.”

In response, ConvergenceRI said that the public was growing frustrated with too much talk and no action by House leaders, and that it could spark a continuing wave of progressive revolt by the electorate in 2018, surprising Mattello and his colleagues.

“What I have heard on the street,” ConvergenceRI continued, “is that the progressive movement is far more organized and has a better ground game than anyone else in the state right now.”

Mancuso took umbrage at the remarks. “I don’t know what the progressive movement means,” she said in response. “I heard a lot of people talk about that. I think that some of the things that have come out from people who are quote-unquote progressive are not progressive. I think that they are no less than anarchy in terms of what they’re looking at in some of the proposals they’ve put forward.”

Promoting anarchy in Rhode Island? Really?

Translated, the strong show of support by one-third of the members of the R.I. House of Representatives for the progressive 2018 Fair Shot Agenda undercuts any attempt to portray those supporting it as somehow belonging to a new version of the 1970s punk band, the Sex Pistols.

More in touch with what voters want
Georgia Hollister Isman, the state director in Rhode Island for Working Families, offered her analysis of the current political divide. “The folks in that room were more in touch with what their voters want than their colleagues,” Isman suggested, in an interview with ConvergenceRI the day after the Fair Shot Agenda event.

Part of the problem, Isman continued, is that the legislative proposals articulated in the 2018 Fair Shot Agenda, “run counter to the narrative [some legislators have] been telling themselves about how conservative their districts are.”

Isman talked about the organizing efforts now underway in the East Bay, with a strong group of 100 or people in Barrington, Warren and Bristol engaged on behalf of Working Families policy priorities.

“We are giving voice to a huge number of voters who share our values,” she said, coalescing support for candidates who will really represent them at the State House.

The organizing efforts by Working Families have included a series of house parties, Isman said. A recent phone banking night drew 31 participants.

For herself, Isman said the label of progressive was fine. “I know what I mean by it,” she said. “I think legislators who are putting the needs of people first and foremost when they are writing legislation, I am happy to call them progressives.”

She continued: “I certainly don’t think that anything being proposed [as part of the Fair Shot Agenda] is particularly radical. It is very much in line with what voters would like to see their legislators do.”

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