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Arthur Schaper: RI Reclaims Christmas Tree

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Rhode Island has been national front-page news for less stellar subjects, like pension reforms which look to be unraveled (or unwrapped?) in the near future, following union protests and lawsuits throughout the Ocean State. General Treasurer Gina Raimondo was on the National Review’s Nice List per Michael Barone and the Naughty List with The Rolling Stone. If anyone deserves coal in their stocking, it would be a publication which lavishes celebrity status on a homegrown domestic terrorist (i.e. the Boston Bomber).

In 2011, Independent Governor Lincoln Chafee started a mini headline frenzy when he renamed the festive green which graces the Providence Statehouse “The Holiday Tree”. The uproar over Chafee’s chafing political correctness and secular pandering proved too much for local and national conservative media outlets.

Local backlash

First, there was WPRO’s John DePetro and company, who descended on the 2011 dedication with full mirth and flair. Despite the fuss raised over the controversial conservative’s latest strain of inflammatory refrains, at least DePetro had led the holly rally to put the Christmas back in Rhode Island’s Christmas tree two years ago. For that, he gets a “half-tribute” from me. The video he posted standing up to Governor Chafee, with Christmas Carols and good will toward all Rhode Islanders, warmed my heart.

According to the light drama played out in DePetro’s YouTube montage, Communications Director Christine Hunsinger attempted to cover Chafee’s demotion of the winter holiday with children singing. Then DePetro obliquely compares Chafee to Italian “Duce” Benito Mussolini. Fascist exaggerations aside, the governor’s move to boycott the entire WPRO news affiliate, plus his ongoing expansion of the state into every Rhode Islander’s life and well-being, plus his growing affiliate-fascination with Obama and all things Democratic, should heighten the fears of all freedom-lovers.

The montage then displays “Look at my wonderful Godless tree.” Indeed, how can there be Christmas without the holiday’s religious underpinnings? No one can have a holiday without the holy. Besides, Rhode Island is the most Catholic state in the union.

Drowning out the staged children’s choir, DePetro and friends interjected with real Christmas cheer, breaking out with the beloved “O Christmas Tree” carol for all to hear in Providence hall.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging;
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging;
Not only green when summer's here,
But also when 'tis cold and drear.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging!

That refrain “leaves so unchanging” must have really riled Chafee, since everything about him changes, and never for the better for Rhode Island. As the children’s choir continued with “Have a Holly, Jolly, Christmas”, DePetro and his carolers clapped and cheered, then the Governor made like a Christmas tree and left the Capitol balcony.

National coverage

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly also weighed in on Chafee’s name changing. First, he denounced atheists who claimed that public Christmas displays forced religion on Americans. What religion? Christianity, of course, yet O’Reilly countered with: “Which Christianity?” Catholicism, Lutheranism? Muslims respect Jesus, and the Founding Fathers espoused Judeo-Christian values (although many were deists who rejected the divinity of Christ). Then O’Reilly laid into Governor Chafee’s refusal to identify the state Christmas tree as such. Justifying his stance, Chafee commented: “Times are changing.”

Indeed. The Fox News contributor then teased out the real reason for the season: a secular, progressive agenda in which Christmas has no part. At least Chafee had the courage to answer some of O’Reilly’s pointed questions about the matter. Or did he? Not a chance, since the governor duffed all the responsibility to the previous administration (actually, Carcieri called it a Christmas Tree. Ho Ho Ho!). Gulping under the pressure of the No Spin Zone, Chafee admitted calling the festive shrub a Christmas tree at his home, and that everyone should celebrate this happy time of year.

Bravo! I only wish that kind of ground swelling had salvaged Christmas in my South Bay, California home. Around the same time as the Chafee-Christmas tree trials, the war on Christmas broke out in my backyard, and the results did not end so merrily. For nearly six decades, Santa Monica permitted local churches to sponsor a life-size series of Nativity scenes in Palisades Park. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit, and then atheists won a majority of the holiday stalls by lottery. The city decided to discontinue the Nativity displays. In 2012, church groups lost an appeal to reinstate their displays. Religious Liberty? Bah, humbug!

The Christmas tree returns

This year, Chafee put the Christmas back in the statehouse Christmas tree. Democratic-turned-Republican Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin applauded the Governor’s common-sense decision. Now, if only the Governor and the General Assembly would spread the holiday cheer a little further. How about bearing other gifts, like a streamlined, welcoming tax structure, or comprehensive reforms of the state’s public sector collective bargaining units. Better yet, a state constitutional convention which outlines stronger separation of powers, non-partisan redistricting, and the end of the Master Lever.

Merry Christmas (that’s right, Christmas!), Rhode Islanders, and to all a good night, and a happier, brighter 2014!

Arthur Christopher Schaper is a teacher-turned-writer on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance. Follow him on Twitter @ArthurCSchaper, reach him at arthurschaper@hotmail.com, and read more at Schaper's Corner and As He Is, So Are We Ministries.

Related Slideshow:
10 Questions Gina Raimondo Has to Answer When Running for Governor

Prev Next

10. Money

Can she explain the amount of out of state money?

Most of the candidates for Governor need to answer the question, can they raise enough to be competitive? That is not a problem for Raimondo. She has proven to be the most skilled fundraiser, but her issue is justifying that the vast majority of the money is coming from out-of-state.

Raimondo will face a number of questions regarding who is really behind her campaign - the amount of out-of-state dollars is just one of the questions.

Prev Next

9. Pension Reform

Did she only reform certain pensions?

Raimondo rose to celebrity status because of her leadership on pension reform. Her efforts helped to stabilize the pension system, but the reform was hardly democratic.

Teachers took the vast majority of the hit, while major groups of pensioners escaped reform including the judges, state police and disability pensioners. Raimondo has some explaining to do.

Prev Next

8. Lack of Transparency

If she lacks transparency as Treasurer, what will it be like as Governor?

From her deepest critics to the media and even members of the retirement board, many have questioned her and her office's willingness to share information and provide the public insights into her management of the investment commission and the performance of the fund under her leadership.

Data which historically was easily accessed by the public and media is now locked behind the Raimondo wall. Often this raises serious questions and forces the media to seek the simplest information via FOIA requests.

Prev Next

7. Wall Street

Why is Wall Street spending so much money supporting Raimondo?

Raimondo is the queen of fundraising and so much of it derives from the major players on Wall Street.

Prev Next

6. Performance

Has Raimondo managed the pension fund competently?

The most important job of the General Treasurer might be the management of the state's retirement fund. The blockbuster investigative piece by Stephen Beale unveiled that the pension system under Raimondo lost $200 million

While she may be able to blitz the airwaves with positive messages about her bio and her leadership in pension reform, her Democratic primary competitors and/or her GOP opponent in the General Election may be able to destroy her credibility by playing up her "mismanagement of the pension system."

Prev Next

5. Hedge Funds

Will Raimondo pay the price for shifting so much of the assets into Hedge Funds?

For the past six months, Raimondo has been under constant critique for shifting more than 20% of the State's retirement dollars into unregulated Hedge Funds. The critics has included forensic auditor/Forbes contributor Ted Siedle, Rolling Stones magazine's star reporter Matt Taibbi, former General Treasurer and candidate again, Frank Caprio, as well as many of the public unions. The combination of where she gets her campaign dollars, coupled with the shift in investment strategy and the under performance of the fund may all build into a snowball effect.

Prev Next

4. Connect to RIers

Educated at Yale and Harvard, a Rhode Scholar and a millionaire, can she connect to the average RIer?

Raimondo is a born and bred Rhode Islander, but for her adult life she has been educated at the best colleges in the world and living a professional life aligned with many of America's super rich associated with Wall Street. In her announcement she mentioned a number of times she was a mother, but did not mention that her husband is a partner at Mckinsey - and according to Forbes magazine probably takes home $2 million or so per year.

Raimondo talks a lot about her father losing his job when she was a child, but she has come a long way since then. She could come across as the ultimate RI success story or be perceived as an out of touch venture capitalist.

Prev Next

3. Siedle and Taibbi

Neither Ted Siedle or Matt Taibbi are going away - can she deflect their questions and charges?

In the past two months, both forensic auditor/Forbes columnist Ted Siedle and Rolling Stone's star reporter Matt Taibbi have raised serious issues about Raimondo's motivation and judgment.

As Taibbi wrote, "The dynamic young Rhodes scholar was allowing her state to be used as a test case for the rest of the country, at the behest of powerful out-of-state financiers with dreams of pushing pension reform down the throats of taxpayers and public workers from coast to coast."

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/looting-the-pension-funds-20130926#ixzz2o2bLhqKW

Prev Next

2. Is she a Democrat?

Will Taveras and Pell paint her to be too conservative?

Raimondo is simply hated by the teachers unions and others - big blocks of voters in the Democratic primary. Both Clay Pell and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras will tack to the left and may compete for the same voters allowing her to sneak through to the general. However, progressives and unions may decide to pick Pell over Taveras (who is struggling to raise money and whose track record in Providence may come under fire) and then Pell can take the left leaning primary.

Prev Next

1. SEC Investigation

Can Raimondo survive an SEC investigation?

Both Siedle and a state senator have written to the SEC calling for an investigation into the investment practices of Raimondo. A federal investigation would be at a minimum a black eye to the General Treasurer and an enforcement action might end a credible campaign. Timing may prove to be everything.


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john jacks

Hard hitting journalism. Thank you for your courage.

You clearly have wonderful insight to our state, being a lifelong socal resident and all. Please keep us updated on these important issues for our state.

Sammy Arizona

The conservatives have "invented" way to many loony, phony wars to list here, including, but not limited to, The War on Christmas, The War on Marriage, The War on Guns, The War on Religion, The War on Masculinity, The War on Christians, The War on white men, The War on Femininity, The War on Catholics, The War on Conservative Women, The War on Easter, The War on Santa,
even The War on The Easter Bunny.....LOL

Every year, it seems like the Christmas Warriors have to search harder and harder to find something to be upset about. Their usual method is to take some small incident, omission or innocent phrasing (using "holiday" instead of "Christmas," ) and spinning it up into a faux outrage

The phony "war on christmas" is a myth perpetrated by the folks on the Reight
Happy Holidays to all...Sammy in Arizona

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