PowerPlayer: Tea Party Leader Lisa Blais
Monday, July 02, 2012
This week’s PowerPlayer is Lisa Blais, head of the Ocean State Tea Party in Action. Mr. Blais was kind enough to chat with GoLocalProv about her organization’s work and the issues Rhode Island is currently facing.
1) Rhode Island is considered one of the most liberal states in the country. How difficult has it been to push the Tea Party's agenda in this state?
The Ocean State Tea Party in Action’s agenda is focused solely on the economic health and welfare of Rhode Island. Our agenda can be viewed at http://www.oceanstateteapartyinaction.com. We are independent of other tea party movements across the country, and so to suggest that the OSTPA has “pushed” a “Tea Party” agenda is misleading. We enjoy tri-partisan agreement on many of our positions (Democrat, Moderate, and Republican). Each state has its own political culture, and Rhode Island is certainly unique both in culture and political ramifications because of its history, one party system, and size. A few years ago the tea party movement emerged, and it happened to be the perfect portal for average taxpayers to voice concern about Rhode Island’s governance.
In a nutshell, our agenda has overarching themes: eliminate our structural deficit; reduce the state tax burden; reallocate the use of taxpayers’ dollars to deliver necessary services in a cost-effective and efficient manner by reducing waste and abuse in our government services; and finally reduce political insider cronyism.
Over the past 2 years, we have witnessed an improved reception from legislators in the State House. No longer are they surprised or taken aback by our presence in committee hearings. Many have come to accept the fact that it was long overdue for average citizens to have a persistent, consistent, credible voice in the political process. They have been respectfully reminded that people outside of the hallowed halls of lawmaking are directly impacted by, and struggle under, many of the policies that they have approved over the years.
Yet, the difficulty of advocating for average taxpayers comes as no surprise. It lies with some legislators who are key committee members, or chairs of those committees who are tied to special interests via their employment, or by virtue of campaign donations or political promises. They cling to the status quo rather than providing for sound public policy that benefits all Rhode Islanders.
The upside of this past session is that taxpayers, through the advocacy of the OSTPA, had a direct hand in pushing for pension reform in 2011. While the municipal reform fell short this year, it paved the way to finish the work that must be done in that area. We successfully and relentlessly testified against many bills that were aimed to weaken the steps that have been taken to improve our public education system, or undo the tax reform enacted, and lastly our efforts stopped the East Bay Energy Consortium bill that would have allowed a public agency to wade into private enterprise under the umbrella of the EDC.
2) What are the three biggest problems plaguing the state and how do we solve them?
Unemployment level - Very few businesses are coming to RI or expanding, and small privately held businesses are struggling in our backward economy, as compared with other states. We must complete a comprehensive, coordinated review of all tax policies, regulations, business mandates and the so-called property tax cap, and then simplify across the board. We must also implement zero-based budgeting.
Public Education – We cannot continue to graduate students who are not “work-ready”, or qualified to enter mid-to top-tier colleges. Instead we must reallocate more of the money that we are spending on K-12 to the classrooms, and not to increased salaries and benefits.
The Scope of Public-Sector Collective Bargaining – Public sector wages and benefits have become unaffordable, and unsustainable through promises that have been incorporated into collective bargaining agreements over many years. We must narrow the scope of bargaining to prevent this in the future.
3) Take us through a day in your life.
When the GA was in session, and as a volunteer for the OSTPA, much of the time was spent tracking our bills of interest, writing to and speaking with legislators to ask questions, seeking their opinion and sharing our own. Hours were spent researching and writing our testimony along with my volunteer colleagues. OSTPA was in committee hearings almost every night of the session to present our testimony (we testified on approximately 110 bills) or submitting testimony in writing. A substantial amount of time was also spent weekly to prepare for the distribution of our weekly Legislative Alerts.
4) Election season is heating up. Give us three predictions for November.
There will be new faces in the State House in both chambers, and at the local school committee and council level.
EDC (if kept in place - OSTPA does not think that it should operate as it has) will be re-vamped.
Gina Raimondo will take on a larger role in state politics.
May I have a fourth? Gordon Fox remains Speaker of the House.
5) Tell us something nobody knows about you.
RI hosted its first national invitational conference A New Dialogue: Collective Bargaining in Public Education many years ago. It drew union leaders, education reformers and stakeholders, and legislators from across the country. I had a hand in framing the discussion topics and successfully recruiting participation of union leadership with particularly high profiles including Marcia Reback, former President of the RIFTHP, Richard Stutman, President of the Boston Teachers Union, Randi Weingarten, Brad Jupp and Louise Sundlin to name a few.
Role Model: My husband. He has the most incredible work ethic and value system.
Favorite Restaurant: Tav-Vino’s.
Best Beach: I grew up on Narragansett Pier, so there you go! Sitting on the wall on Ocean Road makes for great people watching
Best Book You've Read in the Last Year: I read a great deal, for pleasure, for my passion (public education) and for professional purposes. The Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor, I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb, The Same Thing Over and Over, by Frederick M. Hess. And, all things HR related.
Advice for the Next Lisa Blais: Be well-informed, committed and passionate. Do your homework and always be respectful and professional. Be an active listener and remember that the State House is the People’s House so try not to be afraid or intimidated. Oh, and be willing to give a lot of your time for free!
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