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Aaron Regunberg: A Tale of Two Foxes

Friday, November 02, 2012


The general election race between Speaker of the House Gordon Fox and his spirited independent opponent Mark Binder has been getting a lot of attention lately, and for good reason—it’s not every day that the most powerful politician in Rhode Island faces a real electoral challenge.

At this point, I expect Fox to win by a significant margin. He has an overwhelming financial advantage. He has an overwhelming “favor” advantage (being the most powerful man in the state, he’s been able to help a lot of individual projects at the State House, and folks do not want to get on the wrong side of that). And, to his credit, he is an excellent campaigner who gives a hell of a stump speech. He has done a very effective job of asking his progressive critics, “If not me as Speaker, then who?”—a compelling argument considering the House leadership’s conservative makeup.

Having said this, the amount of money, time, and energy the Speaker has been forced to throw into this race makes it clear to me that at some point in the fall, before his campaign began turning up the heat, Fox felt he had a very real shot of getting beaten in the district in which he was born and raised and which he has represented for decades.

I believe that the voters of District 4 have become confused and frustrated by the disconnect they continued to see between the Gordon Fox they knew and supported—the one who entered politics as a progressive reformer eager to fight for Rhode Island’s working families, for its vulnerable citizens whose struggles he understood from his own experiences growing up in the Mount Hope neighborhood—and the Gordon Fox they had seen as Speaker of the House, who seemed to have tossed in his progressive towel and instead was using his power to double down on the trickle-down tax policies of George W. Bush and the Tea Party; to join with conservatives in the war against voting rights; to side with the big banks and the wealthy over middle-class families; and, of course, to engage in the kind of unaccountable, backroom deals that allowed 38 Studios to happen.

While there have been some progressive victories since Fox has taken the Speaker’s rostrum, these victories have been hard-fought and modest in scale. Even what many consider to be the most significant progressive accomplishment, the school-funding formula, has faced criticism for leaving low-income communities severely underfunded (and I’m far from convinced that this and other achievements could not have been won under a different Speaker). The conservative victories, on the other hand—such as Fox’s historic, revenue-draining tax cuts for the wealthy—have been momentous.

Of course, most progressive critics of Gordon Fox understand that Speaker of the House is a hard job. It’s not possible to represent a diverse Democratic caucus without making compromises, particularly in a state like Rhode Island where some of the most conservative politicians are Democrats and a ‘D’ next to your name is an electoral tool more than a statement of shared values. But I don’t think it’s naïve or simplistic to say that on many issues, Fox could have fought harder for what he once touted as his own progressive values, and on many other issues he seemed to have genuinely given up on those values and allowed his hob-knobbing with the rich and powerful to shape the agenda he pursued.

Thanks to Mark Binder, however, the 4th District has seen a return of the first Fox in recent months. Voters are getting their doors knocked by a humble Speaker who talks about the role government can play to help the needy and equalize the playing field. It’s a Speaker who, if he is to be believed, could really help make Rhode Island a fairer and more just place in the next two years.

The question, of course, is which Fox will actually be returning to the State House if the election goes as I think it will on Tuesday? I can’t possibly say. My hope is that the reality of this contested election has proven to Fox that he must return to his core values and spend what is likely to be his last term fighting to leave behind a progressive legacy of which he can be proud.

I’m sure Speaker Fox knows that despite his big business- and wealthy-friendly credentials, conservatives will always revile him because he’s a Democrat (not to mention an out gay man of color). And the 38 Studios hole is a deep one to climb out of. But in two years, I think he could redeem himself. If he were to spend his last legislative sessions clearly fighting for working families—by increasing state aid to cities and towns to relieve the regressive property taxes that are killing middle-class Rhode Islanders and small business owners; by ensuring sustainable funding for public transit so that the thousands of Rhode Islanders who rely on this transportation can get to and from work; by going all in for equality, as he has promised to do, then I believe that Gordon Fox could retire from political life with grace, dignity, and widespread respect. If not, I think it will be another story.

It’s up to the Speaker. But it’s also up to us. Gordon Fox showed us what unaccountable leadership can look like. And Mark Binder’s candidacy is proving to us that leadership that is held accountable looks very different. As Ian Donnis reported in his recent feature on the campaign, a voter asked Fox, “Do you deserve a good, swift kick in the ass?” And Fox gave, in my opinion, a perfect response: “To keep me focused, we all do. We all do from time to time.” Let’s hope that Speaker Fox learns some lessons from this race, but let us also commit to helping him remember those lessons. If both these things happen, who knows? Maybe something really good could come of this.


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You are a repulsive and ignorant person. I am a conservative and a Republican and I could care less about Gordon’s sexual orientation or the color of his skin. I have been friends with his significant other for over 15 years. I do however care about his role and the fact that the Democrat party and the leadership in the GA has destroyed Rhode Island from the inside out.
When was the last time you even socialized with a conservative? You and the Democrat party have now become the organization of intolerance and stereotyping. Please stop spouting the tired old lies regarding my philosophy and my party.
Sean P. Gately
Candidate for District 26 State Senate.

Comment #1 by Sean GATELY on 2012 11 02

Hi Sean. You’re right that that comment was a generalization, and was not trying to imply that every individual conservative harbors prejudice against people of color and LGBTQ people. I don’t know you (which is why I’m not going to say things like that you’re repulsive and ignorant), but I certainly believe that your evaluation of Fox is based on what he has done as Speaker and not who he is.

But I don’t think it’s controversial to say that, generally over large numbers of people, conservatives are more likely to harbor these prejudices. (By the way, that’s how social science works—by drawing patterns from trends among large numbers of people). In fact, it’s not even debatable. There was just a very well-respected poll from the Associated Press that found that “Republicans were more likely than Democrats to express racial prejudice in the questions measuring explicit racism (79 percent among Republicans compared with 32 percent among Democrats),” and were also more likely to express implicit anti-black feelings, “55 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans.” (To be fair, the main point of that poll was that prejudice is still very widespread across both parties, though I’d be willing to bet that the majority of Democrats who expressed racism were more conservative than the ones who did not.)


Comment #2 by Aaron Regunberg on 2012 11 02

If Fox is reelected, it will be a validation of what he has done.

I didn't realize that redistricting had put me into the 4th district until fairly recently. For the second day in a row, I have gotten a flyer from RI-Can pushing him as their candidate. I am very unhappy that Rhoda Perry is leaving and that I am no longer a constituent of Edith Ajello.

I don't understand. You critique the school reform movement regularly. I wish you would provide some sort of analysis why you don't think RI-Can's endorsement is worth mentioning as a factor in this campaign in light of the kind of deals Fox has pushed through in the past. Also, I am not impressed with the fact that he voted to go back on contracts and helped ramrod pension reform through, either. Something doesn't seem to add up here.

I wish there were someone to enlighten me as to what I don't understand about the school reform movement, R I - CAN, DFER and neo-liberal democrats. As things stand, I cannot in good conscience vote for Fox. The education budget is a much bigger pie than the video game market. What's there to make anyone believe that if elected he won't stick in his thumb in an attempt to pull out an even bigger plum next time around?

Comment #3 by edith pilkingoton on 2012 11 02

Sorry about the redundancies and awkward sentences. The way Go Local's page keeps refreshing and erasing anything that is written is particularly annoying. It makes it very hard to concentrate.

Comment #4 by edith pilkingoton on 2012 11 02

Edith, I think you make some great points. Fox has been a pretty good friend to the corporate ed reform movement, and I am certainly worried about what he might continue to support on this front. I also think one of Binder's best qualities, for me, is his strong critique of and opposition to the standardized test-ification of public education.

And by the way, Sean, I do want to apologize if I offended you. I’d love to talk with you about these issues more some time (if you’re interested in gathering some evidence to try to make a more informed decision about my repulsiveness).

Comment #5 by Aaron Regunberg on 2012 11 02

“Even what many consider to be the most significant progressive accomplishment, the school-funding formula, has faced criticism for leaving low-income communities severely underfunded.”

Aaron, I’m confident that we would disagree on most issues, but as a CPA, former school business manager, school committee member for ten years, and city council member for 5 years, I can agree with your comment regarding the education funding formula. I understand the issues and problems with the formula and fought to have the GA get it right from the beginning. RIDE’s condescension towards me throughout the process has been offensive, but they knew they needed to get the votes so they could qualify for their Race to the Top money. It wasn’t about getting the formula right.

When I met with the Speaker, I thought I could get his support for my corrective proposals because he represented a city in desperate need of help. My appeal seems to have fallen on deaf ears and so Providence, West Warwick, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, and other urban centers are being forced to deprive their students of effective educational programs routinely offered in the wealthier suburbs; leading to higher failure rates.

Something as simple as changing the local teacher pension contribution to the share ratio calculated in the education aid formula each year would have saved Providence $13 million this year and could have easily replaced the $11 million acceleration and been paid for with the surplus rollover form FY2012.

This can make you wonder if the Speaker is truly representing Providence, or just the economic class of his neighborhood. I hope his “kick in the ass” can convince him that he has a responsibility to fix the problem that is singularly the most important part of municipal fiscal stress gripping the urban communities.

Comment #6 by John Ward on 2012 11 02


I know Aaron. And let me say that yes he is repulsive, but I would NEVER charactarize him as ignorant.

Just kidding. I actually have a tremendous respect for him. I admire that although he worked his ass off to elect Angel Taveras, he neverthless calls him out when the Mayor acts more like a politician and less like a statesman.

For instance this bone head move to support Cicilline rather than stand with the people of Providence who elected him.

Comment #7 by Joseph Davis on 2012 11 02


Feel free to call me 401-301-1018. Then you can can actually claim that you have spent time with a conservative and a Republican.

Comment #8 by Sean GATELY on 2012 11 02

Hey Aaron, dare you to do a spin...er, write up on this:

.....crickets, thought so!!

Comment #9 by Odd Job on 2012 11 06

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