Dan Lawlor: Who is the Political Machine Serving?
Monday, July 23, 2012
A political machine is a group of people who seek elected office, and disperse jobs, appointments, and support one another. Political machines can be corrupting and vile, but they often attract people who need work, who are inspired by a candidate, who are attracted to politics (for the money), and, occasionally, people who are attracted to politics because they care about people.
What happens when the political machine is no longer geared toward serving the working class?
In the last few years, we have seen cuts at the Department of Labor and Training, loan debacles for insiders (costing millions), cuts in the budget for the developmentally disabled, proposals to tax prescription medicine, crumbling school buildings in rural and urban areas, and 12% unemployment.
On local levels, we have seen cuts to summer jobs for teenagers, cuts to town firework displays, rats running around neighborhoods, higher property taxes, rising homelessness, foreclosed properties, broken bottles and broken gates at parks for working people.
So here's the question: Who is the machine serving?
The people who played the game. The machine, however questionable and retrograd, once empowered immigrants and working people to move forward. Now, on the state level, the machine is beginning to cut back and undermine opportunities for working people to succeed (from crumbling schools to overburdened public defenders), yet the network on the top stays the same.
In fancier language, as someone said, the superstructure remains.
Look, in the big picture, the $100,000 to $200,000 a year jobs that former legislators and their family members obtain in the court system are not enormous amounts of money (Wall Street anyone?). Yet, the median income in RI is around $54,000. In Providence? $36,000. We have a right to know, transparently, the best people from a big pool of applicants are being considered for the jobs.
The political machines used to be a source of summer jobs for teenagers, neighborhood clean up crews, and other assorted jobs. Not the highest paid work, sometimes done sloppily, but still a way to put money into the hands of working people, and give people a chance to work, save, and spend. Many people sent their children to private schools, and into the middle class, through these types of positions.
This is not to glamorize all that type of city and state work - clearly, in some cases, better accountability and better leadership was needed. Now? More and more little people positions are being cut, in the name of the budget crisis. But wait? The people at the top of the machine are fine, or at least they think they are.
In the last thirty years, high wage-high school graduate positions in factories across RI and the US have disappeared. City and state jobs have been cut. Large banks have been bought out and downsized. Parts of the urban and poor rural public education systems, aside from having many polluted, crumbling buildings, aren't necessarily designed to give students (or families and teachers) the skill sets to grow, experiment, take risks and succeed.
What has happened? A hollowing out. The working people are still here. So is the political machine. Yet, at this point, when you look at the conditions of working Rhode Islanders, you have to ask, just what is the machine doing for you?
There are many hard-working elected officials, especially among our Mayors, notably Angel Taveras and Alan Fung (both were classmates at Classical). Gina Raimondo was very politically astute when pushing pension reform last year - the state's court pensions weren't touched. Who fills many of the court positions? The leadership of the General Assembly and their associates.
Regular people are hurting. In New England, among larger cities, only Hartford stands out as having a worse jobs situation than Providence (a 14.4% jobless rate compared to our 12.8%). Our unemployment level is worse than any time since the early 1970s, when there were race riots, the mob ran this place and the Navy bases were closing.
The machine has cut tax-payer funded job opportunities for working people. Fine. They need to cut tax-payer funded job opportunities for themselves.
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