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Monday, November 16, 2015

Blake Filippi, self-styled Constitutional expert, has all the answers

Our own mini-Trump
By Will Collette
Flip searches for his version of the truth

Charlestown’s carpetbagger state Representative Blake “Flip” Filippi is an embarrassment in many ones. He seems like a Rhode Island version of this year’s incarnation of Donald Trump – brash and bold especially when he’s simply making stuff up. Like Trump, he has a history loaded with contradictions, no tangible achievements in public service but with an uncanny talent for grabbing media attention.

“Constitutional scholar[FN1]” Filippi’s latest stunt was his announced his plan to introduce an amendment to the RI State Constitution that would give citizens protection against road tolls.

Never mind that what the people of Rhode Island really need is the right to safe roads and bridges, though unlike Filippi, I would not trivialize the state Constitution as the way to get us the right to safe roads.

Flip’s stunt got him in all the newspapers and news & politics websites. He got on TV. He went on the Dan Yorke show.

But strangely, no one called “Bullshit” on Flip’s new plan. I guess that’s my job.

Let’s start by going back just a year ago to Flip’s campaign promises where he said he would introduce bills to clean up state government, get “serious about RI’s economy,” protect municipal governments from the big, bad state government, cut taxes, block state bailout funds for public pensions, limit the use of drones, and “clean up Copar Quarry.”

He said he would introduce bills to do all this in the first week of the General Assembly session last January. He could write them up himself because, he said, he is a lawyer and he has drafted legislation before.

Of course, none of that happened

Flip’s first legislative act was to sign on as a sponsor to a RI Builder’s bill – one that the Charlestown Town Council voted unanimously to oppose and that the Charlestown Citizens Alliance vowed to fight to the death. Somehow, Flip got a pass from the CCA Party on this. Can you imagine how crazy they would go if it had been Donna Walsh signing onto a Builder's bill?

After five weeks, Flip finally introduced the first bill of his own, filled on behalf of Charlestown, asking the legislature to grant Charlestown a special moratorium against mixed use development permits because Planning Commissar Ruth Platner was too busy working on the town’s comprehensive plan (a task still not completed) to deal with them. That bill never got out of committee.

Finally, Flipper got into gear and started introducing a flurry of bills on an extraordinary array of topics, some that would make Ayn Rand spin in her grave.

But the only one Flip put serious time and energy into was a bill to abolish the state salt-water fishing license. He said that because the right to beach access is enshrined in the RI Constitution, he had to do this because, he believed, you can’t “tax” a constitutional right (which isn't true).

Every organized state fisherman’s group opposed Filippi’s bill because they preferred it to the federal license fee. Plus, they liked the way the state used the money from the state licenses to improve fishing facilities.

At first, Flip backtracked and said he would amend his bill – he even came to the hearing on his bill and flashed a couple of sheets of paper that he said was the amended bill – but never introduced it. After DEM Director Janet Coit debunked Filippi’s interpretation of the state Constitution, Filippi’s salt-water license abolition bill simply died in committee. Like all his other bills.

Recently, the issue of the Constitutional right of access to the beach came up again, only this time, the Filippis are on the opposite side of the issue. Ballard’s Inn on Block Island is owned by the Filippis and Flip claims he runs it (he doesn’t, but his brother Steve does). Steve Filippi decided that Ballard’s would block beach access by putting a dumpster and a derelict vehicle across what used to be a public path to the beach and then run a fence down the beach to the waterline.

For weeks, the Filippi’s fought over this with the Block Island Land Trust which owns the adjacent land for the benefit of all, and the Block Island Rescue Squad, which used the beach path to answer emergency calls.

Check out this story with photographs of the Filippi beach barriers in the Block Island Times.

The Filippi brothers at a public hearing on an effort by the town to shut Ballard's down for violating town ordinances. Note Steve's show of respect for the town and its leaders.

This matter appears to remain unresolved, but it does raise a question. In answer to questions about where he actually lives, Blake Filippi claims that he spends most of his time living on Block Island even though he is rarely seen. I have to wonder where was Flipper while his brother was representing the Filippi family in an unpopular – perhaps even dangerous – attempt to deny the public (and fire and rescue) access to the beach.

Where was he? He supposedly holds the Constitutional right of beach access so sacred that he pissed off just about all of Rhode Island’s salt water fisherman. He claims to run Ballard’s Inn (see below). Yet he remained silent while his brother blocks public access, battles with the local land trust, and defies the town’s fire and rescue.

Filippi's report to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission shows him listing himself as "manager: of Ballard's Inn

The answer is simple – Filippi, the master media manipulator, was out pulling one media stunt after another to try to make himself look good, while doing nothing.

He understood that getting into the fight between his family and the rest of Block Island was a lose-lose proposition for him. If he stood with his family, he could lose his base of support on Block Island.

If he broke with his family, well, maybe his mother might kick him out of the houses in Lincoln and Block Island and, at age 35, he would have to find his own place to live.

Now, having laid this foundation, let’s get back to Flip’s media blitz for a Constitutional amendment to block tolls on passenger cars. We all know Rhode Island roads and bridges are among the worst and most unsafe in the country. We also know it will take a lot of money to fix them.

The real question is how to pay for them. Filippi, who sometimes reminds people that he is a Libertarian, didn’t go with the usual Libertarian solution to the problem of bad roads and bridges which is to either to sell them off to private business or to impose a user fee (e.g. a toll).

Instead, Flip stood with the House Republican Caucus and its call for magic unicorns to fly into Rhode Island to defecate all the gold we need to fix our roads and bridges.

They didn’t exactly mention unicorns, but rather the tired old formula of squeezing every other part of the state budget to find the money. As if that hasn’t already been done to the point where few state services work as well as they should. One example is the DEM, Filippi’s favorite scapegoat, which has no money to hire inspectors for such environmental threats as the Copar quarry.

Flip Filippi thinks you should have a Constitutional right not to have to
pay for bridge and highway repairs.
Instead of privatization, user fees or magic unicorns, the Blake Filippi solution to addressing our crumbing roads and yawning potholes is a Constitutional amendment to close off one of the most logical ways to finance the much needed work. 

But because passenger tolls are so wildly unpopular, Flip put his interest in media coverage ahead of the safety and well-being of the people.

Personally, I think it would be a far more appropriate use of the state’s fundamental governing document to enshrine the Constitutional right of the people to travel the state in safety. 

How about a Constitutional right to safe bridges? Or the obligation of that state to promptly repair potholes? But these are more appropriately addressed through general legislation, not Constitutional amendments.

However, Flipper goes for the cheap headlines with a pure gimmick, a stunt that has absolutely no chance of passage. Even if the Governor or the Speaker of the House wanted such a Constitutional amendment, the odds of such a goofy thing ever going to the voters are close to zero.

Then the odds are that by the time the General Assembly gets ready to convene in January, Flip will have moved on to some other issues to get himself uncritically covered in the ProJo or Westerly Sun and may not even bother to introduce a bill.

Voters in the 36th District turned out one of the most competent and productive state Representatives it ever had when they voted out Donna Walsh for this clown. One of my wiser friends explains it this way:
“Flip reminds me of a young Lincoln Chafee, who achieved a lot of political success due to his boyish persona and appeal to an older Warwick electorate as ‘everyone's grandson.’ I sense that same phenomenon with the gentrified Quonnie crowd. They could care less what goes on in RI as long as their independent nation of Charlestown retains its status as The Preferred Retirement  Community of White Privilege.
Flip is coming to Charlestown for a royal visit on Wednesday at the Quonnie Grange. The CCA Party has been promoting this visit for over a week. So has the state Republican Party which is interesting because Flipper claims to be an "independent." 

Expect to see Tom Gentz and Ruth Platner sprinkling rose petals along Route One as the Flippermobile works its way to the Grange.


[1] Filippi is like most radical right-wing extremists in that he only likes certain parts of the Constitution, such as the Second and Tenth Amendments and parts of the First. Filippi is a frequent speaker at gun-nut rallies. 

He is a firm believer in a long-discredited view that the Tenth Amendment that the federal government is only allowed those powers and functions that are specifically mentioned in the Constitution. This would mean that nearly everything the federal government does would be unconstitutional. 

He also represents the radical militia group, the Oath Keepers, who believe that police and military personnel should mutiny against any order they themselves deem to be unconstitutional. Click here to see Filippi’s connections to the Oath Keepers. 

So while Filippi claims to be an expert on the Constitution, just about everything he believes about the Constitution has been proven to be wrong.