October 31, 2014
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Those good, bad election bills in the legislative pipeline
My take on the news
Lonnie Barham

GOOD AND BAD ELECTION BILLS: There are many bills in the General Assembly’s pipeline as the current session nears its end that would affect how we conduct elections in Rhode Island. Some are good and should be passed, others are bad and should be shelved.

Good: A bill that would eliminate the master lever. One-stroke voting for an entire political party is undemocratic, confusing and disenfranchises some voters and office seekers.

Bad: A bill that would allow prisoners to retain their home addresses for voting purposes. It would reward cities with many of its citizens absent while incarcerated at the ACI and not using city services, while it would penalize Cranston that provides emergency services to the ACI.

Good: A bill that would allow voters to register online.

Bad: A bill that would repeal the Voter ID Law.

Good: A bill that would put before voters a constitutional amendment to require candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run as a team. It makes sense at the federal level and would make sense here. If we’re not going to eliminate the lieutenant governor position, then let’s at least give it some duties and responsibilities that would come with linking it directly to the governor’s office.

Bad: A bill that would allow in-person voting up to 21 days before an election. It would give more time to local organizers to influence elections by providing support and inducements to lazy, uninformed voters who likely wouldn’t go to the polls on their own. And it would deprive candidates some of the opportunity to pitch themselves in the very important last three weeks before an election.

Good: A bill that would allow citizens to get issues on the ballot without General Assembly approval. A thriving democracy requires that citizens have the ability to band together and petition the government for change. If the legislature doesn’t listen, then the citizens need the right to circumvent it.

Bad: A bill that would allow unaffiliated voters to vote in party primaries without affiliating with that party. It would allow primaries to be skewed by unaffiliated voters who would vote for a candidate they don’t support but who they project to be a weak candidate against their preferred party’s nominee in the general election.

Good: A bill that repeals the requirement that every campaign flyer must indicate the identity of the person who created it. It’s an unconstitutional infringement on free speech as already decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bad: A bill that would expand the list of acceptable I.D.s for voters. Our list is already long. Adding more will make the system weaker and less credible. If a voter doesn’t have the civic-mindedness to obtain an I.D., that is currently approved, then perhaps that person shouldn’t be voting anyway.

Good: A bill that would reduce from 90 to 29 days before an election the window during which a voter cannot change his political affiliation. We shouldn’t be telling voters when and why they can change party affiliation even though allowing such changes increases the likelihood they will be done to help skew primaries.

SERGEANT BERG-DAHL’S TRADE FOR TERRORISTS: The fallout from President Obama’s release of five notorious terrorist leaders in exchange for Army Sergeant Bose Bergdahl is causing a storm of controversy. Three items are worthy of comment:

National Security Advisor Susan Rice, in comments on a talk show shortly after Bergdahl’s release, claimed that Congress could not be notified in advance as law requires because the administration had to “act fast” due to Bergdahl’s deteriorating health. The video of his handover taken by the Taliban show an apparently healthy Bergdahl who was coherent and walking easily on his own.

Rice also commented in the interview that Bergdahl had “served “with honor and distinction.” Interviews with his fellow soldiers and reports at the time he disappeared indicate that he deserted his unit - hardly service with honor and distinction.

Bergdahl was promoted twice while in captivity, from PFC to Specialist, and from Specialist to Sergeant. Why did the Army promote him when it was known that he deserted his unit, and worse, that other soldiers had died looking for him?

Lastly, one of the released terrorists has already vowed to return to Afghanistan and fight Americans.

BI-POLAR SENATE BILL ON VA PROBLEM: In a bi-partisan effort, the U.S. Senate is on the verge of approving a bill intended to address the problem of long waits by veterans for appointments at VA hospitals and clinics. The problem: the bill approves two measures that are diametrically opposite in their long-term effect.

In a move that seems to support the eventual elimination of the VA system, the senate bill allows veterans whose appointments are delayed beyond 30 days and those who live more then 40 miles from a VA hospital to use private doctors who treat Medicare patients or patients in the military retirement health system known as TRICARE. It’s a move in the right direction that should be expanded to cover all veterans, thus leaving the massive, costly and ineffective VA system to implode.

In another move that runs counter to the first, the senate bill allows the VA to expand by building 26 new medical facilities and by spending an additional $500 million to hire hundreds of new doctors and nurses.

Though the bill may help alleviate some of the VA’s short-term problems, overall it is a bad bill since it provides easy access to doctors for only some of our veterans and it allows the already gargantuan and unsuccessful system to grow even more.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK: “He walked away from his guard post while on duty,” said former Private First Class Jose Baggett, who served in Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s company in Afghanistan. “Then we lost men looking for him. I’m not saying he should not be back in America but he has done nothing heroic. The people who died looking for his dumb ass – they are the heroes.”

“After arriving in Qatar, Noorullah Noori kept insisting he would go to Afghanistan and fight American forces there,” a Taliban commander told NBC News via telephone from Afghanistan. Just as many Americans suspected, President Obama’s release of Noori and four other terrorists leaders in exchange for Sergeant Bergdahl will surely result in the deaths of many more Americans.


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