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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Class War in Charlestown, Part One

In her Jan. 16th letter published in the Westerly Sun, CCA President Kallie Jurgens scolded Deb Carney of the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee for stirring up “class warfare” in Charlestown, and for relegating rich, out-of-state property owners to “second class citizenship.”

What Jurgens neglects to note is that class warfare has been a fact of life in Charlestown for many years - and it wasn’t Charlestown Democrats who started it. If you asked the Narragansett Tribe, you might get 1675 as the start date for Charlestown’s class war, but let’s fast-forward 300+ years.

Around 2003, while still living in Connecticut, Kallie Jurgens and some like minded people – many of them wealthy out-of-state land-owners in Shelter Harbor – decided they didn’t want to pay ocean view taxes for homes they only used part-time. To that end, they formed the RI Shoreline Coalition to increase the power – and prosperity – of coastal absentee landowners. According to the Providence Journal (6/2/03) the Shoreline Coalition’s main goals were winning the vote for out-of-state land owners and fighting the Narragansetts over gaming. Jurgens still serves on the RISC board under its new name, the RI Statewide Coalition.

Kallie not only was an early class warrior, but she also made it a North versus South issue, as she told the Providence Journal (September 18, 2005):

"I pay twice the taxes of someone north of Route 1," said Kallie Jurgens, a Stonington, Conn., resident who, with her husband, owns an ocean-view house in Charlestown that's assessed at $679,600. One year ago, the assessment was $352,600. [Fact Check: Jurgens bought their Shady Harbor house for $128,000 in 2000.] Still, Jurgens' $4,621 tax bill is only $182 higher than last year's, thanks, in part, to larger increases for owners with property right on the water.

A senior marketing and sales consultant for IBM, Jurgens said she plans to move to Charlestown full-time when she retires. [Fact check: the Jurgens bought their Stuart FL condo in 2009 and use it as their permanent address].
"That's why it means so much to me, because I'll be on a fixed income," she said.

Kallie and John Jurgens, along with fellow RISC board member Tom DePatie helped form the CCA in 2006. In 2008, CCA became a political action committee and mounted its first election campaign. Most folks in town remember how their Town Council slate swept the election, but forget that CCA also backed former state rep Matt McHugh to run against Representative Donna Walsh.

In McHugh, Jurgens and the RISC faction within CCA had their champion in their quest for voting rights for out-of-state property owners. McHugh said at an August 26, 2008 CCA meet-and-greet that he was ready to continue his 20-year crusade to give absentee landowners the vote if he succeeded in beating Donna (ProJo 8/27/08). Fortunately, he failed.

The Kallie Jurgens of the world think they have a right to vote wherever they own property. “No taxation without representation,” they cry.

But basing the right to vote on property ownership is a truly un-American practice. It certainly runs contrary to Rhode Island values. Rhode Island fought its own mini-civil war in 1843 – the Dorr War – to overthrow Rhode Island’s 1663 royal charter provision that limited voting rights to property owners. Under that ancient provision, 60% of all free white males (and of course all women and non-whites) were denied the right to vote. Though Thomas Dorr’s uprising was judged a failure, it ultimately led to voting rights being based on residency, not property ownership.

If Kallie Jurgens and her friends want the right to vote in Charlestown, RI, they don’t need legislation. They need to live here. Here in Charlestown, not Stuart, Florida.

Or she could lead an uprising of her followers maybe later in the year when it’s too hot in Florida. As Kallie once said to us, via a Westerly Sun letter to the editor, “Bring it ON!”

Check this blog often for on-going frontline dispatches from the Great Charlestown Class War.

Author: Will Collette