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Dan Lawlor: Time to Hold General Assembly More Accountable

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


The Republicans, Moderates, Greens, and Libertarians (and for that matter, frustrated Democrats) need to work together to build their brand awareness and work toward a bigger goal -there is another, better Rhode Island possible.

Despite a myriad variety of views, each of those cohorts can agree on common challenges in the state- high unemployment, insider political culture, and lack of opportunities for regular people.

The insider culture is the local backdrop for poor policy decisions, failed investments, and low accountability, all of which contributes to over 10% of our family, friends and neighbors without work since 2009.

A Common Agenda for Reform

1. Stop Judicial Magistrate Appointments not vetted by the Judicial Nominating Committee

2. Remove lobbyists from the Judicial Nominating Committee

3. No Voting on State Budget past 10pm, alongside a regular and open calendar for Public Hearings

4. Require the Legislative Leadership to have frequent, regular press conferences alongside the Governor to Update the Public on state business.

5. Full disclosure for all General Assembly spending - at the very least, a cut back on what Tim White calls "taxpayer taxis."

All four of the parties above - alongside reformist Democratic members of the General Assembly itself- can (I hope) agree that simple to enact good government measures can be a common rallying point for change. Channel 12 recently reported that, "The General Assembly's annual budget for 2012-13 is $38.8 million this year, with $21.6 million of that total under the control of the five-member Joint Committee on Legislative Affairs and largely shielded from public view."

Even if only for a term or two, with a big enough group of folks pledging and working to clean up the state's political culture, in a few short years the insider culture that scares away business and creates (often unpleasant) unpredictability for citizens, workers and outside investors can be weakened, and a new, more diverse political culture can be formed.

Beth Croll, a Republican turned Independent in Pawtucket, recently ended a failed challenge to popular incumbent State Senator James Doyle II, son of the respected former Mayor. She offered some ideas for an alternative Rhode Island culture.

She reflected, "We have existing industrial buildings that are ready to be utilized but many of the buildings sit empty. We are about 50 minutes away from Boston, Worcester, and close to NYC. We should be a magnate for industry to locate here but for the high cost of doing business and the high tax rate...Re-instituting the Historic Tax Credits is yet another way to stimulate job growth.. We will make certain a bright future for Rhode Island by giving businesses a reason to invest here, making sure our communities are financially secure, and actually bringing ideas to vote on Smith Hill...I envision a Pawtucket that has an emerging technology park with some of the best and the brightest coming to work in our city, and partnerships with local colleges/universities and business to entice our educated youth to stay here instead of leaving to pursue careers elsewhere."

There were many independent candidates for General Assembly this time around, and only one was successful- incumbent State Senator Edward O'Neill, who had previously toppled Senate President Joseph Montalbano. It is so difficult to be elected without the on the ground support, volunteers, name recognition, and connections that come with being part of the majority party.

To build up a stronger opposition network, I would suggest that the party chairs of the Greens, Moderates, Libertarians and Republicans start talking among each other, and reaching out to prominent independents. How can these smaller parties work together to promote a shared volunteer base, and outreach network? With a "United Front" around some core good government issues (delivered by people who know their neighborhoods)- these minor parties - and reformist Democrat allies - might have a better chance of starting to unseat some of the more lackluster members of our General Assembly.

With greater coordination among those upset with the status quo, and a more concerted effort to engage the public in communities across the state, the harder it will be for some members of the General Assembly to stay with disproportionate control, disproportionate perks, and little incentive to be accountable.


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