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POLITICS AS USUAL (By Jim Baron) What does 2012 hold in store politically?

January 1, 2012

• Given the absolutely lousy year he had in 2011, if Gov. Lincoln Chafee suffers a sophomore slump he just might shrink to a little soap bubble and — pop! — disappear altogether.

• General Treasurer Gina Raimondo has the exact opposite problem. What’s she going to do for an encore? Somehow I don’t see her retreating to the normal obscurity of the general treasurer’s office.

• On the other hand, there is Elizabeth Roberts. From the time she was elected lieutenant governor in 2006 she was all but a shoo-in to be Rhode Island’s first female governor. Did she lose her shot in 2008 when, in retrospect it is clear that Frank Caprio could be beaten in the primary by someone who ran as a real Democrat? Now she has been eclipsed by a general treasurer whose name nobody knew two years ago today. Now she’s back to being a real lieutenant governor: Elizabeth Whatshername, and just about everyone seems to assume that Raimondo is going to be the next governor without having to even campaign in public in 2014.

• Finally, the Iowa caucuses are tomorrow. How did it come to be that a bunch of pig farmers who apparently spend every fourth year sitting around in coffee shops with their hats and coats on waiting for longshot presidential candidates to shake their hands get to cull the field for the leader of the free world?

• If 1st District Rep. David Cicilline is looking for a motto for his re-election campaign, how about: “This Too Shall Pass”? Almost immediately after Cicilline was elected as a congressman, his successor as Providence mayor, Angel Tavares, exposed the disastrous state Cicilline had left the city’s finances in, while fibbing about it to win the higher office. Cicilline looked like he was defeated for re-election before even being sworn in for his first term. Now all seems forgotten; no credible Democrat has yet stepped forward to challenge Cicilline in a primary and his Republican opposition seems to be the guy he beat last time and a highly respected former cop with integrity to burn but who isn’t particularly popular among Republicans.

• We are going to get a front-row seat to what quite possibly is going to be the most exciting U.S. Senate race in the country this year when Wrentham’s own Scott Brown seeks re-election against Democratic firebrand Elizabeth Warren. Brown rode a Tea Party wave in 2010 where all of a sudden Republicans were the populists. He also had the advantage of a truly lousy opponent in Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, one of the worst candidates in the entire history of the popular vote. Warren is a truly populist, Wall Street-bashing Democrat who will remind voters they live in Massachusetts where Democrats ALWAYS win. This is going to be a fun campaign to watch.

• Let’s start up a pool on who will be the first member of the General Assembly too be arrested this year. Last year started with Sen. Christopher Maselli going to prison for a mortgage fraud scheme he pleaded guilty to the year before. Then there was Rep. Robert Watson busted for possession of marijuana at a Connecticut police checkpoint. Then Rep. Dan Gordon was arrested for some old charges in Massachusetts and then proceeded to dig himself a deeper hole by apparently lying about Gulf War service. Rep. Leo Medina, who had sidestepped accusations about practicing law without a license, was arrested for allegedly stealing money from a life insurance policy. Wrapping up the year (although, as this is written there is still one day to go) Rep. John Carnevale was arrested for alleged sexual assault. That is going to be a tough year to top.

• And let’s not even talk about North Providence pols, there isn’t enough space on the page for them.

• Will the Rhode Island Senate kill E-Verify again this year, or will the House not even bother to send it over?

• And I’m not even going to bring up putting the General Assembly under the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission

• Barack Obama was supposed to be the president of Hope and Change. Instead he extended the Bush tax cuts for the uber-rich until after his term ends, Gitmo is still open, we are still in Afghanistan and he is letting Republicans get away with running the show not only in the House, where they now have a majority, but in the Senate as well, where the Democrats are supposed to be in charge. He’s George Bush with a crewcut. Still, he looks viable against the nutjobs, ideologues and non-entities in the Republican field. Michele Bachmann has no chance, Rick Perry has no brains, Newt Gingrich has no attention span, Rick Santorum has no personality and Mitt Romney has no soul.

• The lawsuit is still pending over the pension changes made by former Gov. Donald Carcieri; state public employee unions are sure to take the Raimondo pension changes to court, and this year we are going to work on breaching union contracts to dismantle local pension plans. When I grow up, I want to be a lawyer who specializes in suing the state.

• Pension reform isn’t going to be anywhere near as sexy an issue this year than it was in 2011, but now the firefighters, always among the most motivated and dedicated of unions, are going to be back in force because this time the reformers will be coming after them.

• Massachusetts is preparing to build three showcase casinos and, just to rub it in to Rhode Island, a slot parlor as well, and we seriously think we’re going to compete with that by rolling a few craps tables into Twin River IF voters approve it next November? We’ve got to be kidding.

• And now Newport decides they might want Newport Grand to be part of that table games thing after all. Now?
• Will 2012 finally be the year we wake up and figure out that the real “job creators” are middle class people who try to put a little bit of money aside so they can start their own business and be their own boss? Will we at last believe our own rhetoric that small business is the engine of our economy and that lavishing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax breaks every year on people who are already rich is sending coals to Newcastle and won’t do anything to actually create jobs, but if you return money to the middle class they will pump it into the economy? No.

• It was a nice gesture for the Occupy Providence folks to try to leave a legacy by demanding a daytime shelter for the homeless – if nothing else, it is better than getting beaten bloody and forced out by platoons of police like their counterparts elsewhere did, but how long do they think it is going to last after they are gone? Shelters are sometimes difficult, always expensive things to maintain and are never popular with the people and businesses in their immediate neighborhoods. A nice idea, but what are the Occupiers going to do when it inevitably gets closed, threaten to come back? No, squatting in a park is a card you can only play once. Both the Occupiers and city and police officials did credit to themselves while it lasted, but it’s over now.

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