Rhode Island braces for the Trump Effect

Elected officials and community leaders worry that a Trump Cabinet will threaten immigrants, roll back civil-rights protections, stop the liberalization of marijuana laws, de-fund Planned Parenthood, gut the Affordable Care Act and undercut support for public education.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Now what?

While some Rhode Islanders are thrilled at the prospect of a Trump presidency, others dread and fear what President-elect Donald J. Trump, his ultra-conservative Cabinet nominees and the GOP-led Congress might have in store for Rhode Island.

The list of worries is long:

The loss of “Obamacare” coverage for upwards of 70,000 Rhode Islanders?

A rollback in clean air and water requirements?

Steep cuts in federal aid to the College Crusade of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and scores of other organizations, including Planned Parenthood?

A ban on Muslims entering the United States? A registry of those already here?

Deportation of the young immigrants who applied for safe haven under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals?

And how about this: A federal slap-down of Rhode Island’s fast-growing marijuana industry?

A number of seasoned local pols doubt there will be a disproportionate impact on Rhode Island, where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 15 percentage points. Warwick’s Republican Mayor Scott Avedisian is among them.

“I do not think that any president-elect would favor any one state over any other, regardless of whether he or she carried that state in the election cycle,” Avedisian says.

Hospital and marijuana-industry lobbyist George Zainyeh, a former Democratic state legislator and gubernatorial chief of staff, says, “I don’t think he has a target on Rhode Island.”

“Everybody has the same fear,” says Zainyeh. “It’s the unknown. But I think it’s premature to say the sky is falling.”

“At the end of the day, we hope that everybody has the same policy goal, and that’s to make sure the citizens of the country are able to get health care and be covered and not spend their life savings if they get sick,” he said in a recent interview.

Put another way: “I don’t think that Trump and his administration pose any greater threat to Rhode Island than any other state,” says Rhode Island native Jennifer Duffy, the senior editor of the Cook Political Report.

“Thus, any of his policies on immigration could be as much of a problem for Rhode Island as it would be for Arkansas.”

But that is small comfort to those who fear the power that Trump is seeking to put in the hands of his attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, and others who, in the words of U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, come from “a place that is culturally and politically very different than Rhode Island.”

Count Mike Stenhouse, CEO of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, among those who have high hopes for the Trump era, at the very least in the government-spending arena.

“With less federal funds likely to be funneled into programs such HealthSource RI, Education, HUD, etc … the challenge for R.I. lawmakers is to be smarter with our state funds,” Stenhouse says.

“We know we cannot raise taxes any higher, so they will have to prioritize spending … make some difficult decisions … so that more organic economic growth can occur and so that more families have a chance at becoming self-sufficient and moving up the income ladder.”

Elsewhere, however, the dread and fear run high…

Poverty relief

As an organization that advocates for policies that help the poor, the Economic Progress Institute – ensconced on the Rhode Island College campus – has a long list of worries, including: “health care, affordable housing, child-care assistance, early-education opportunities, workforce training and other building blocks of a prosperous citizenry and economy.”

Example: The institute’s policy director, Linda Katz, fears many “family-friendly work policies” would be “undermined” under the leadership of Andrew Puzder as secretary of labor.

The chief executive of a company that franchises fast-food outlets, Puzder has been an outspoken critic of worker protections enacted by the Obama administration, including: the Affordable Care Act, expanded eligibility for overtime pay and policies governing paid sick leave.