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Dan Lawlor: Rhode Island Needs More than 1 Political Party

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Recruiting angry candidates inspired by and fears of liberal fascism and/or Marxist conspiracy and/or union thuggery and/or secular humanism does not seem to be working to engage voters in West Warwick, Woonsocket, Providence, and Newport.

This state desperately needs more successful multi-party competition. After this past election, here are the stats (courtesy of Ted Nesi) on General Assembly membership, both House and Senate:

Democrats: 101 out of 113 seats

Republicans: 11 out of 113 seats

Moderates: 0 out of 113 seats

Greens: 0 out of 113 seats

Libertarians: 0 out of 113 seats

Independents: 1 out of 113 seats

Any basic economic theory says that diverse assets is a good thing. The old fashioned way of expressing this is, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket." We don't follow that idea here.

I think I know why we don't.

For example, how many Green, Libertarian, Moderate, Independent and Republican City Councilors do you know in Providence? Not even counting elected officials, how many members of those parties sponsor little league teams (the great work of Republican David Talan in the Reservoir neighborhood very notably excepted)? Advertise regularly in community newspapers? Host neighborhood barbecues? Are active on local boards, neighborhood groups, environmental clubs, with local libraries (here I recognize Greg Gerritt)? Sponsor Christmas, Valentine dinners, or guest musicians at high-rises?

If members of the third parties in this state (and I'm including the Republicans) want to win elections, they need to regularly interact with regular people. You might call it slimy, you might call it politics, you might also call it showing up, listening, and interacting with the public.

I know the criticism against the old-fashioned style of politics - many folks can be very considerate at the door or the community room with voters, and less so when voting in the Assembly. I know that. I also have seen many local races rise and fall based on the candidate's connections in the community.

I recently read that, in Massachusetts, Scott Brown opened up an office in Dorchester just weeks before the November election. Weeks. That's not real community engagement.

The absolute - absolute - worst response of any political party to losing the election is that the "the voters just don't get it." That is a cheap response, it requires no self-reflection, and requires no work.

When the Republicans last were successful in Providence's Southside, in the 1990s, their candidate was Mary Ross, a founder of the West End Community Center. People with connections can win elections. Isolated people with a lot of individual anger and self-righteousness don't.


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'Takers' do not care about political parties. In RI the 'takers' far out weigh the 'givers.'

Comment #1 by Chris MacWilliams on 2012 11 13

This story might have some relevance if Mary Ross' opponent didn't die right before the election!

Comment #2 by Gertrude O' Pell on 2012 11 13

Well I agree that the dominance of 1 party spells trouble for any state. The media needs to give the Moderate and Libertarian, both parties with views that resonate with the voters, more time. We need to educate young children that there are more than 2 parties (more like one in RI) As long as the youth is indoctrinated with the idea that Democrats=good and Republican=bad this state will never climb out of the hole.

Comment #3 by Silence Dogood on 2012 11 13

I think RI Republicans should fold up their tent and just go home. Stop giving Rhode Islanders a choice at the election box. Most Rhode Islanders are socialists. RI Republicans stand for fiscal and moral responsibility, which is entirely incompatible with socialism. Leave the Democrats to rule RI while more cities and towns collapse.

RI Republicans just go away. It would serve RI right not to have a robust democracy with two-party rule.

Comment #4 by Christopher Lee on 2012 11 13

Get rid of the unions and you'll have diversification.
So long as the unions stay in place, we'll always be a democratic state.

Comment #5 by pearl fanch on 2012 11 13

We desperately need more candidates to run as Republicans. Most voters realistically don't know enough about their state legislators to make an informed decision. Many candidates don't have websites, and those that do don't go out of their way to tell you where they stand. We need party labels that mean something so voters can know where a candidate stands on the issues without personally interviewing them.

Unfortunately, in Rhode Island party labels mean almost nothing. The state legislature is strongly conservative but almost exclusively Democratic. Indeed, the Republican caucus in the Senate is probably more liberal than the Democratic Senate leadership. Voters in strongly liberal areas will often support very conservative candidates because all they see is the D after their names.

Comment #6 by Samuel Bell on 2012 11 14

Pearl..you are half right...get rid of the unions AND the MASTER LEVER!!!! How many of the GA candidates won their seat because the master lever for King Obama was pulled??? Yep!!

Comment #7 by Donna C on 2012 11 14

The more Republicans lose, the harder it will be to recruit quality candidates. Rhode Island chose Cicilline, the criminal, mob lawyer, porno defense attorney over Mr. Truth Justice and the American Way.
RI simply wants to be last. It simply is content with being a decaying state of no principle happy to be the butt of jokes. Progressives are on the march and they are winning. THey will take out Democrats like Brien and others who represent a threat to their left-wing agenda... many of them come in sheep's clothing such as Donna Nesselbush. There truly is no hope. Republicans just can't win in this state. It's over.

Comment #8 by Allison Westhaver on 2012 11 14

Where I live, people are voting only because someone makes a good impression upon them at the PTO. Pat Serpa is a loser extraordinnaire; she does nothing except work for Fox... yet she will never lose.

Comment #9 by Allison Westhaver on 2012 11 14

This article is right on. I tried to find non-democrats to vote for for state office. I'm a moderate - someone who was very comfortable voting for republicans twenty years ago when republicans stood for something different than they seem to today. For state office, in my district, most of the republican choices were "social conservatives" who reflected the national republican agenda, which I do not subscribe to. Our mayor is a moderate, (reasonable, believes in facts) republican, and I'd certainly like to see more like him on the ticket - people engaged in the local community, with a positive contribution and constructive approach.

I'd love to have an opposition party in RI, but if it's the "tea party republicans" that I saw as most of our state alternative candidates, I guess I'll have to grudingly stay with what we've got.

Comment #10 by Warwick Resident on 2012 11 14

Consider this: There should be NO political parties at all. The constitution does not mention political parties: they evolved after the constitution was ratified. Political parties only foster divisiveness and gridlock. In my opinion, all political parties should be illegal. People should vote on the candidate's position on the issues, not what political party they belong to. I've heard that $800 million dollars was spent by both parties on this election. What a waste. That money could have been used to better this country instead of paying for advertising, staff etc.

Comment #11 by Ed Jucation on 2012 11 14

ED- I thought the political parties were formed before the signing of the Constitution. The Federalist wanted a strong central government where the Fed gov trumped states rights. The Jeffersonian s wanted a weak central gov with states rights trumping the fed. The southern states compromised if abolition was taken off the table. The Federalists agreed to kick the 'slavery can' down the road and the Constitution was signed.

Comment #12 by Chris MacWilliams on 2012 11 14

@Chris. You are correct about Federalists wanting strong central government but it's not in the Constitution. Here's some info.
Political Parties

Political parties are such a basic part of our political system today, that many people might assume the Constitution must at least mention parties in one way or another... but there is absolutely no mention of political parties anywhere in the Constitution. In fact, in the times of the Articles of Confederation, there weren't even any parties; factions, perhaps; regional blocs, yes; but no parties. Not until the Jackson and Van Buren administrations did organized parties really take hold in the American political system.

Comment #13 by Ed Jucation on 2012 11 14

@ Warwick Resident, your comments are way off base. Many Republicans in RI are either moderates or libertarians on the social issues. If you are voting for someone in the legislature because they are pro choice what's the point. Like RI is going to overturn federal law? There was a Republican candidate for US Senate who was liberal on social issues and he got crushed. The Mayor of Warwick survives because he plays both sides of the fence and supports democrats, republicans and even independents as in his good friend Linc Chafee. He also is very good to the public sector union employees. Your comments are so obvious that I have to wonder if you weren't typing them from city hall after a campaign staff meeting with your Mayor.

Comment #14 by Scott Dickerson on 2012 11 15

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