The Exeter Board of Canvassers has certified that the Cranston-based RI Firearms Owners’ League has succeeded in getting enough signatures – over 600, or roughly 10% of the number of people who voted in recent Exeter elections – to force a special recall election against four sitting Town Council members. The four targeted members just happen to be Democrats, and nearly all of the petition organizers are Republicans.
“They’re trying to overturn the results of the 2012 election,” said Town Council member Bob Johnson. “They told people things that weren’t true and many voters have told me they felt they were tricked into signing.”
At issue: the vote by the Exeter Town Council on a resolution asking the General Assembly to designate the RI State Police as the agency that would issue concealed carry firearms permits in Exeter, and Exeter alone.
The reason: Exeter is the only one of Rhode Island’s cities and towns that does not have its own police force; the RI State Police perform that function in Exeter. The only “police” official in town is the honorary Town Sergeant, an older gentleman who doesn’t use a computer.
Because of the unique lack of a town police force, Exeter lacks the ability to conduct the required background check to issue a concealed carry permit. The only “police” official in town is the honorary Town Constable, an elderly gentleman who doesn’t know how to use a computer. The Town Clerk does not have access to the proper databases to conduct background checks.
The decision by the Council majority to ask the legislature to transfer that responsibility to the same agency that does the town’s policing – the State Police – was characterized by the Cranston-based Firearms Owners’ League as an attack on gun owners’ rights and a dishonorable surrender of Exeter’s sovereignty rights. Incidentally, the legislation sought by the Exeter Council did not get out of committee.
Johnson asserts the Town Council resolution was neither an attack on lawful gun owners’ rights nor a surrender of the town’s rights. “I support gun rights. I’m a gun owner myself. We just wanted to make sure that concealed carry permits were properly issued.”
But no good deed or sensible act goes unpunished.
The RI Firearm Owners’ League set up a front group as a political action committee called “We the People of Exeter.” Except it isn’t. The headquarters of the group is Fiskeville, which is in Cranston.
The head of the group is Glenn Valentine, who is not an Exeter resident. Included among the founders of “We the People of Exeter” are Raymond Bradley III who lives on South County Trail in Charlestown, David Elkeland of Newport and Roger Swann of Hopkinton.
Only three actual Exeter residents are listed as officials of “We the People of Exeter:” Joseph St. Lawrence, Lance Edwards and former state Senator Frank Maher.
Frank Maher (R), as you may recall, represented the northern end of Charlestown, as well as Richmond and Exeter, for two terms before being soundly beaten by current Senator Catherine Cool Rumsey (D).
Frank Maher’s two terms were marked by negligible accomplishments. He was best known for a bill he sponsored to lighten the penalties on criminals who use crossbows in the commission of violent crimes. Maher also sponsored legislation to eliminate the three knock-down rule in boxing, apparently preferring to have fighters beat each other’s brains out.
Maher is listed as the Treasurer of “We the People of Exeter.”
The radical nature of the recall petition and lies told about the Exeter Council’s effort to resolve the concealed carry background check problem has all the hallmarks of a Doreen Costa campaign.
Costa is a Tea Party Republican (“Teapublican”) who is in her second term in the state House of Representatives representing primarily North Kingstown, but also a part of Exeter. Costa has championed Tea Party causes and fashions herself as a Little Rhody version of Sarah Palin, right down to her unconditional love of guns and complete disdain for gun regulation, however sensible.
So far, Costa has not come out publicly in the Exeter recall, but her fingerprints are all over it.
Perhaps Costa is too embarrassed to weigh in publicly, since she actually agreed with the Town Council majority in November 2011 that the Town Clerk should not be issuing concealed carry permits. Where is Costa on the issue now, some Exeter folks are wondering?
Now that the Exeter petitions have been certified, the Board of Canvassers must set an election date to occur within 20 to 60 days. Most likely, the recall election will be held in December.
If voters vote YES for the recall of any of the four targeted Democratic Council members, they will be replaced by the next-highest vote-getter.
The four Democrats defeated three Republicans in 2012 to win their seats. If all four Democrats are recalled, the three Republicans they defeated in 2012 will take their seats and will then appoint a fourth person – with no voter input – to fill the fifth seat.
There are so many things wrong with this picture. First, there’s the ability of a non-resident group to run an ideologically-centered campaign to topple Exeter’s 2012 election. There’s the twisted, if not flat out false, language that was used in the recall petition and the lies that were told to voters when they were asked to sign.
The spokespeople for the gun owners’ PAC say the recall was necessitated because the Council majority did not listen to the will of the people. Yet, the attacks against the Council’s attempt to seek a rational gun permit background check was mounted primarily by people from outside of Exeter seeking to make an ideological point.
Supporters of the targeted Exeter Town Council members are gearing up to fight, fully intending to battle the recall and win the recall election.
They’ve set up a website called SaveExeter.org. Go to that website and click on the documents to see for yourself what this recall is really all about.
This kind of radical, anti-democratic (small d) attack on the integrity of the electoral process is dangerous and must be stopped. If you would like to help, you can contribute by clicking here, or contact SaveExeter if you want to volunteer to help.
(Ed. note: This post originally appeared on Progressive Charlestown blog. Thanks to Will Collette for thinking to share it with us. Also, full disclosure, Exeter Town Councilor Cal Ellis was a teacher of mine in high school, as was his wife, Lois Ellis, who owns the famous Scailo Bros. bakery on Atwells Ave.)