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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Filippi gets spanked

Charlestown's libertarian rep gets taken to the woodshed by fishermen
By Will Collette

Expanded CCTV coverage of State House proceedings now allow you to watch most committee proceedings. If you like watching C-SPAN (or watching paint dry[FN1]), you’ll probably like Capitol TV. 

I bring this to your attention so you can watch for yourself as our perky new state Rep. Blake “Flip” Filippi get spanked over his thoroughly unpopular bill to terminate Rhode Island’s saltwater fishing licensing system.

The hearing took place on April 9. You can watch the entire two hour meeting on Capitol TV On Demand. First click on the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. Then click on the April 9th hearing.

Preceding the discussion of Flip’s fishing license bill is a long segment on a compromise bill on wetlands buffers, a subject of critical interest to Charlestown. Despite all the angst by the CCA Party and even though CCA leader and Town Council Boss Tom Gentz loves to go up to Providence to lobby at the State House, no one spoke from Charlestown or represented Charlestown’s interests. I guess it isn’t such a big issue to the CCA Party after all.

When the time came for Flip’s state fishing license repeal bill at roughly 70 minutes in, he was fashionably late and made a grand – though jarring – entrance. He started off by telling the committee that the bill before them for a hearing was not the actual bill he really intended, and then handed each of them paper copies of a new bill he said he planned to introduce.

Flip is lucky that the Committee members are pretty collegial because they  could have simply thrown him out. The hearing notice was for H-5352, the bill Flip actually introduced, not the draft piece of paper he handed out. Filippi’s stunt violated the rules of procedure (and possibly the Open Meetings Act). It was also an act of rudeness not just to the committee but to the audience that came prepared to testify on H-5352.

But being Blake Filippi means never having to say you're sorry.

Flip said what he really wanted to do was to cut the license fee for fishing licenses, and not terminate it. He was asked if he was withdrawing his total termination bill so he could then introduce a bill with the lowered fee or whether he was going to submit a “Sub A,” an amended substitute.
Filippi speaks

Flip was momentarily rattled at the question and then said he preferred to go the “Sub A” route. He may have realized it was kind of a trick question – if he said, yes, he was withdrawing the bill to make way for a replacement, then the hearing would have been over right then.

Here’s the thing: Flip floated this idea of repealing the state license over two months ago and immediately took a beating from the people the repeal was supposed to benefit – saltwater anglers. 

The fishermen told him they like the $7 state license because otherwise they would have to buy a $25 federal license and they like paying the $7 because, with federal matching money, it turns into $21 that is used to improve fishing facilities. They told him in no uncertain terms they did not want the license fee cut.

For two months, Flipper hemmed and hawed to try to save face, saying he really wants to get rid of the federal license because no one should have to buy a license to exercise their right to fish. 

Nonetheless, he filed bill H-5352 on February 5 after being told not to do so – and after he said he would try a different approach.

In other words, he lied and then procrastinated for weeks on cleaning up his mess.

Rep. Justin Price (Wingnut-Richmond) making his first of two stupid
statements. Why, why, why did Richmond voters elect him?
Filippi had two months to fix this problem – to either withdraw the bill because, as the hearing video shows, there is no constituency for it other than two guys from Little Compton who share Flip’s extremist anti-government philosophy. Oh, and freshman Rep. Justin Price (R-Richmond), the Tea Partier who upset Larry Valencia in the last election[FN2]

Other than that, it’s Flip against the world.

There was also no support for the substitute approach of reducing the fee. In fact, one of the Little Compton guys said he supported repeal but opposed cutting the fee. More on that later. 

Instead of doing the responsible thing and introducing the substitute before the hearing, Filippi comes into the hearing with paper copies. That was on April 9th and guess what? As of last Friday, April 17, he had still had not introduced the amended bill. 

Before Flip made a rapid and dramatic departure from the hearing room, he made a statement about the Constitutional sanctity of fishing and how wrong it was for the state to require a license and fee, which he described as a tax, even though the fee had a long list of positive benefits.

Aside from his now rote libertarian spiel, he did make a couple of choice remarks. Because Filippi said that while he opposes the state license fee, he supports all the things the license fee pays – e.g. the boat launch at Galilee - Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Prov.) asked the obvious question. Where would Flip find the money to replace the license fee?

If he doesn't bake the cookies himself, maybe he can
get some sub-minimum wage workers at Ballard's
to do it for him.
Flip’s jaw-dropping answer was that if the state couldn’t find the money for fisheries elsewhere in the budget, “we could host fund-raising drives….I volunteer to host one.” Yeah, bake sales with the Flipper in his apron bringing out the cookies. Filippi made this statement at around 76:30 in the video.

Filippi told Regunberg he just couldn’t see the morality in the state license fee, despite the federal matching funds or the good things that get funded through the fee system. 

Filippi felt his interpretation of the Constitutional principle is more important than the actual public interest. To make his point, Flip compared the state license fee and its beneficial uses to robbing a bank to feed the hungry.

Rep. Michael Marcello (D-Scituate) noted that he wasn’t a big fan of the federal license fee but when the federal law was passed and it gave states the option of setting up their own license program, he felt the state license program was preferable.

No, no, no, said Filippi. What the state should have done at that time was stand up to federal tyranny and challenge the feds in court. Marcello noted that this gambit rarely succeeds, but he suggested Filippi should offer a resolution to ask the state to look into a federal lawsuit rather than his state license repeal or demi-repeal bill. Flip thought that a resolution to direct the state to bring suit to be a dandy idea[FN3].

Our Charlestown aqua-NIMBYs may be interested in some remarks made by senior committee member Rep. Joe McNamara[FN4] (D-Warwick) who said that the only serious right-to-fish issue constituents have raised with him are local restrictions on access to shell-fishing areas. He said the committee should look at ways to curb municipal ordinances that limit people’s access to shell-fishing areas. So, CCA[FN5], this is a new can of worms your boy Flip opened up.

The first witness to address Flip’s bill was DEM Director Janet Coit who proceeded to clean Filippi's clock. She noted that Filippi was only citing part of the section of the state Constitution dealing with fishing. She then read the rest of it which charges the state with the duty to manage and maintain the state fisheries.

She noted state Supreme Court decisions that cited that section of the state Constitution as the basis for the state’s right and duty to regulate the public’s use of natural resources, such as fish, that includes the authority to require licenses and charge appropriate fees.

Ever since Filippi first emerged on the local political scene, he has tossed out odd legal opinions that sounded like they might be true. He is a lawyer after all. However, these views have since turned out to be not based on law and legal precedents but rather on his extremist ideology. Thus it was easy for Janet Coit to make a fool out of him by showing that Flip  cheated by cherry-picking language from the state Constitution.

Following Coit was a long succession of leaders of fishing clubs from all over the state. Every speaker except two objected to both Filippi approaches – they were adamantly against repealing the state licensing law and opposed to cutting the license fee from $4 to $7.

Steve Medeiros, president of the state saltwater anglers association, cracked me up when he began his testimony by saying that he had prepared his testimony based on the bill that Filippi had actually introduced, not the surprise proposed bill Flip handed out as part of his flamboyant entrance. 

Medeiros said his organization liked things the way they are and strongly urged “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” All the other angler association leaders made the same points, many going into personal detail about the benefits of the existing licensing system.

That's the Three Percenter's flag with the Roman numeral for three
surrounded by 13 stars. These guys are itching to go to war against
the rest of us in the 97%.
Toward the end of the hearing, the only two witnesses spoke in support of Flip’s bill. Both were from Little Compton. I don’t know if they came together. 

They did not give a group affiliation as did all of the other witnesses. But both raised odd Tea Party/militia arguments that even though the licensing fee does great stuff to promote fishing, they objected to jackbooted agents of the gummermint making them get a license to fish. Because … freedom.

One guy spoke at some length with a demeanor and tone that I frankly found scary, to declare that he was ready to go to war with the government rather than pay for any dang license.

This peculiar fellow was then complimented by the aforementioned Rep. Justin Price who praised his patriotic fervor and then gave him the ultimate wingnut compliment, saying that the witness may just be the kind of guy who is one of the Three Percent.

That reference to the “Three Percent” is a code phrase used by anti-government militia groups such as the Oath Keepers (one of Filippi’s favorite groups). It refers to the belief held among these extremist groups that it only took three percent of the population of colonial America to successful wage the American Revolution. Today, being a “Three Percenter” means you’re ready to take up arms in an insurrection against the United States government.

Yeah, he was a Three Percenter, too
Based on their testimony, it doesn’t seem to take much to set these guys off.

Yep, that’s the kind of state representatives – Flipper and Price – South County elected last November. Now we all get to pay the price.

While we're on the subject of crazy right-wing extremists, let's take a moment to remember the 20th Anniversary of the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people, many of them babies and small children, by a couple of guys who also thought they were part of the Three Percent. 


[1] If you like watching paint dry, here’s a YouTube video that gives you 10 hours of paint drying. Click here.

[2] Rep. Justin Price (R-Richmond), who doesn’t seem to be the sharpest crayon in the pencil box, noted that when Flip approached him to be a co-sponsor the fishing license repeal bill, he said “sure” because he wants to defend the Constitution. He said he thought it was going to be a “red-white-and-blue issue” but was shocked, shocked he said to discover that not very many others seem to see it that way. But nonetheless, Price said “I’m gonna stick with Blake.”

[3] I would love to be a fly on the wall in AG Peter Kilmartin’s office if, in the unlikely event, a Flipper-sponsored resolution passes directing Kilmartin to investigate suing the federal government on a Tenth Amendment claim that the feds have no right to require Rhode Island anglers to have a saltwater fishing license.

[4] McNamara learned his street cred (or is it ocean cred?) as a fishing industry supporter by getting the General Assembly to pass his bill last year that made Rhode Island-style calamari the state’s official appetizer.

[5] The CCA Party was largely responsible for helping Filippi defeat lifelong public servant Donna Walsh who would never consider such nonsense as this. They should be made to answer for putting an extremist in office instead of a responsible and productive state Representative such as Donna.