Monday, February 15, 2010

Political Scene: With Fox in power, the shuffle of chairmanships begins

By Steve Peoples, Randal Edgar and Katherine Gregg

Journal State House Bureau

Rep. Anastasia P. Williams offered an eloquent endorsement of Gordon Fox to the House chamber last week.

By the end of the night, Fox was the speaker and Williams had been named chairwoman of the House Committee on Labor.

A Providence Democrat, Williams later acknowledged that her philosophy differs substantially from the more conservative former chairman Arthur J. Corvese, D-North Providence.

She also acknowledged that she has been a longtime member of the executive committee of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, the largest coalition of labor unions in the state.

Her page on the legislature’s Web site lists various associations and memberships, but excludes the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, for which she serves as the chairwoman.

We confirmed Williams’ unpaid service as an AFL-CIO board member in the organization’s most recent tax filing.

The House Labor Committee reviews legislation that affects workplace issues, including binding arbitration and the state’s minimum wage.

“I have no idea if it is a conflict,” Williams said of her AFL-CIO connection, adding that she would seek the guidance of the state Ethics Commission.

“If it is in any way shape a conflict, I will certainly remove myself [from the AFL-CIO board] immediately.”

Malik loses out

Rep. Jan Malik has been stripped of his role as chairman of the House Committee of Environment and Natural Resources, apparently for backing the losing candidate in the House speaker’s race.

Malik, a Warren Democrat and liquor store owner, held the chairmanship for more than two years. But he backed Rep. Gregory J. Schadone, the losing candidate in the speaker’s race, and even seconded his nomination on the House floor Thursday evening.

“I understand that this is how the political game is played,” Malik told Political Scene.

Still, he conceded that he’s not happy.

“He’s got his chance now. Prove me wrong,” he said of Fox. “Not putting stuff in for Common Cause and looking like a knight in shining armor for one day, and then all of the sudden he gets rid of people, not just me, who don’t support him. People are tired of that kind of leadership. Why should anyone up there get punished for voicing their opinion?”

While Fox repeatedly urged cooperation in his first speech to the House chamber as speaker, his spokesman Larry Berman later declined to respond to Malik’s criticism.

Malik’s replacement will be Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston, who voted for Fox.

“I think that’s maybe why I was picked. But I had already decided to support Gordon before this was discussed with me. It wasn’t something I had to do on my end. It wasn’t a trade for me,” Handy said.

He continued: “Rep. Malik chose not to support Leader Fox, even after he knew what the conclusion was. ... It’s the way it’s always been done. In business, you certainly wouldn’t put somebody in charge of something you didn’t trust.”

Another Caprio

Also voting for Gordon Fox was the lawmaker who is the son of Providence Municipal Court Judge Frank Caprio and the younger brother of state Treasurer Frank Caprio.

State Rep. David Caprio, D-Narragansett, claims both those titles, and as of last week, he also has a new title.

Fox chose him to be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, a post that had been held by fellow South County Democrat Donald Lally.

First elected to the House in a 1999 special election, David Caprio, 42, is a first-term member of the House Finance Committee and has also held seats on the House Corporations, Labor and Judiciary Committees.

He said he told Fox, who is currently the House majority leader, that he “would be happy to serve him in whatever capacity I could serve him best.”

While he works with his second-cousin Anthony Caprio out of the Caprio family law offices just beyond the arch at the gateway to Federal Hill, Caprio said he would actually describe himself as a sole practitioner with a general practice that includes a lot of family law.

Lally, who voted for Fox, also received a promotion of sorts, becoming the deputy majority whip.

Mayors’ PR

Mayors and town managers, not generally shy about communicating their feelings about the governor’s plan to cut local aid, have begun an organized effort to speak with a unified voice.

A group of about 15 mayors and managers has taken to issuing its own collective news releases, with the help of True North, a Providence-based communications firm led by longtime PR man Bill Fischer.

The mayors and managers –– from places ranging from Cumberland to Providence to Westerly –– have dubbed themselves the Coalition of Communities Improving Rhode Island.

While trying to absorb budget cuts, the local officials are willing to pay True North about $200 per press release, said Cumberland Mayor Daniel J. McKee, who stressed that the company is not being paid on a retainer basis but only for each job.

The most recent release, issued Feb. 3, highlighted a new report that calls for Rhode Island to adopt a school funding policy that is “child-centered, equitable and accountable.”

Trillo’s fame

State Rep. Joe Trillo has made national news.

Sort of.

The outspoken Warwick Republican was among a handful of conservatives interviewed for a special report that aired last week on Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart.

The segment was hardly complimentary of the Republican National Committee’s decision to host its winter meeting in Hawaii.

“This is not a vacation, this is a working meeting, it’s our working meeting, we’re here to do the business of the party,” RNC chairman Michael Steele says, wearing a Hawaiian shirt with a red lei around his neck.

Roughly two minutes into the segment, the Daily Show reporter is shown outside the Hawaiian hotel alongside a penguin. “This is a party with their finger on the pulse of Main Street,” he says.

It’s a few seconds later that Trillo appears on camera: “They’re out of touch, they’re totally out of touch,” Trillo says of Democrats.

Trillo, the Rhode Island Republican Party’s national committeeman, defended the location when contacted by Political Scene, saying the annual meetings are held in different spots each year — preferably in states with Republican governors.

Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, a Republican, spoke at the recent event and “delivered an excellent talk,” said Trillo, who noted that the national Republican party held its Northeast regional meeting in Newport last fall.

Trillo said he paid all his expenses for the Hawaii meeting, including travel and accommodations.

“Not one penny did I spend of my campaign money or get money from the party,” he said.

GOP primaries

Members of the Republican party’s State Central Committee succeeded last week in keeping alive their goal of closing the party’s primaries, but should they be closed, it won’t happen this year, says party Chairman Giovanni Cicione.

True, Cicione allowed supporters of closed primaries to read a motion to that effect at last week’s central committee meeting, but he said the soonest the issue could be discussed would be at the next central committee meeting, in April. That would be too late to allow a rule change this year, he said.

Cicione, who faced a movement to oust him as party chairman over this very issue, said he does not oppose the change, per se, but does oppose the push to do it during an election year, when “individual candidates” can try to influence the decision.

“I don’t think it’s fair to candidates or people who are thinking of being candidates to change the rules at this late stage,” he said.

He pointed to a rules change during 2006 that allowed the party to support then U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee in his primary campaign against Cranston Mayor Stephen P. Laffey.

“It allowed a national committee to fund Chafee’s campaign prior to the primary, rather than allowing voters to decide who … to put up,” he said.

Laffey, viewed as a potential candidate for governor in 2010, is one of the Republicans who supports the move to close the primaries, which would block non-registered Republicans from voting.

Republican boost

The state Republican party is getting some much-needed help in paying its full-time staff of one.

State Central Committee members learned at last week’s meeting that the national Republican party has agreed to pay for a staff member in each of the 50 states.

The move comes at a good time for Rhode Island Republicans, who had about $2,000 in the bank as of Friday, said party Chairman Giovanni Cicione.

The low figure is not unusual, Cicione said.

“Our fundraising programs are probably not as consistent as the Democrats’ are,” he said.

The party does not plan to let its account go to zero. Cicione said a mailing that seeks donations is in the works.

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