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Dan Lawlor: The Curious Case of Gordon Fox

Monday, July 02, 2012


"Good luck to you! Bad luck to your ideas!" F Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

We are having a bit of a Fitzgerald moment in the state. For some people, things have never been better - music, art, culture, parties, hurrah! For others, the state of affairs seem like a wreck.

The 38 Studios debacle has brought to our attention a cast of characters on the state level whose judgment calls have cost us opportunities and lost us money that could be spent on actually improving this place- everything from the leaky elementary roof in North Kingston to broken park gates in Providence. Don Carcieri, Teresa Paiva-Weed, Steven Costantino and Gordon Fox have all been regularly mentioned in the fall out.

In a recent Journal interview with Mike Stanton, Speaker Fox took responsibility for losing tens of millions of dollars, lamenting, "There was an energy and a spirit there, gone, almost overnight. I'd be inhuman if I wasn't worrying about this stuff and beating the hell out of myself over it."

Fox has had an inspiring journey to power. His family wasn't connected to the old boy network. He didn't graduate from Brown or Providence College. He is a product of public schools, not the parochial or private system. Despite heavy challenges, he worked hard, was elected, and tried to fight for working Rhode Islanders. That is inspirational.

Yet, as Speaker, frustratingly, Fox has operated in the same old way that echoes the ghosts of Speakers past. From Joseph Bevilacqua to Matthew Smith to John Harwood, the cult of who you know still reigns supreme. That cult is what is holding us back.

How did this neighborhood lawyer become what former Journal Columnist John Hanlon would call "a big deal politician?”

What happened?

Our political culture does not encourage our leaders to do what is best, or at the end of the day, practice what I hope attracted them to politics to begin with.

Visit Woonsocket's Main Street, see the abandoned mills in West Warwick, look at the empty Columbus and Castle theaters in Providence, see all the for rent signs in North Providence, note the cuts to RIPTA, check out the foreclosures across the state, think about all the crumbling school buildings and polluted ponds in this state – we have to do better. The insider games – who will get what job, which bill should we kill, who will be a magistrate - prevent Rhode Island from being what it should be – and prevent our leaders from acting how they could.

There's a wonderful exchange between two characters from Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited:

"I heard that you lost a lot in the crash."

"I did," one says, "but I lost everything I wanted in the boom."

Mr. Speaker, let's try to end the rotten insider's game once and for all. It's time to transform the old boys club into a transparent government, and to work with all people. You can do this Mr. Speaker! You can do this Madame President!

Here are some suggestions:

1. Former legislators must be barred for at least ten years from lobbying the legislature or consulting with lobbyists.

2. Neither legislators, relatives of legislators, or legislative staff may be considered for Court Magistrate positions. This should be retroactive.

3. Speaker of the House and Senate President should have term limits (perhaps 8 years?)

4. There should be a set schedule, with bills posted 48 hours in advance, and a set plan to prevent the legislature from having to work until 3am in the morning on the last day of session.

5. No lobbyists or former lobbyists should serve on the Judicial Nominating Commission for RI Judges.

Mr. Speaker, Madame President, you can help end the madness that is hurting people around our state.

Challenges aside, you are both trailblazers- the first openly gay, biracial Speaker in the State's history, the first female Senate President. Now, its time to be transformative.

You can end the insider culture that scares away investors, undermines public trust, and helps us waste money while real needs are unmet – everything from pay day lender scams to rising tuition costs to job training to polluted ponds.

Mr. Speaker, Madame President, you can end the jokes about RI politics. Please, do that.


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"1. Former legislators must be barred for at least ten years from lobbying the legislature or consulting with lobbyists."

Spot on!!! Lobbyists are a cancer which has destroyed this state!

Just look at the names of current Lobbyists making big $$$$$

Murphy, Goldberg, Alves, Coderre....

Anyone know the current price for "tar and feathers"?

Comment #1 by Fabiano Terrenni on 2012 07 02

gordon fox sucks in more ways than one. how people keep re-electing this tool is beyond me.

Comment #2 by donatello gori on 2012 07 02

I think that all articles that mention a city or town should have its Golocal ranking next to it.

Comment #3 by tom brady on 2012 07 02

not mentioned was that fox was sanctioned / fined $10,000 by the ethics commision
in the past . i find his behavior as petulant, whiny and condesending .
4 term limit imposed on all legislators should diminish the power accrued during
long tenures .

Comment #4 by vinny coia on 2012 07 02

What happened to the neighborhood lawyer who became a "big deal politician", simple, like the villianous characters from the famous movie Key Largo, he wanted "more". He needed more because quite simply he wasn't much of a lawyer. No knock on him, just a fact.
To get more, Fox became the complicit YES man for previous power brokers such as the aforementioned (former Finance Chair)Costantino,(former Speaker) Bill Murphy, (former Mayor) Cicilline and others. This meant rolling over and doing their bidding in committee and on the house floor. Mr. Fox was the epitome of "go along to get along" and his reward was one of the most powerful positions in state government.
Regrettably, along the way, the ethically challenged Fox has made a number of questionable decisions, 38 Studios being the most recent.

Comment #5 by Harold Stassen on 2012 07 02

Lobbyists aren't the problem. They can't impose new taxes, appoint judges, vote on legislation or spend state money. Only elected officials can do that. Blaming "lobbyists" is a cop out. The voters who elected Fox and the representatives who made him speaker are far more responsible for Gordon Fox (for better or worse) than any "lobbyist".

It's convenient for elected officials to blame generic, unnamed "lobbyists" for the state's problems, but the voters in Fox's district that elected him and the other elected representatives who made him speaker are more responsible for Fox having power than any "lobbyist".

Until Rhode Islanders can admit that they themselves are responsible for the current situation, nothing will change.

Comment #6 by Todd B on 2012 07 02

Dan Lawlor writes:

"Yet, as Speaker, frustratingly, Fox has operated in the same old way that echoes the ghosts of Speakers past. From Joseph Bevilacqua to Matthew Smith to John Harwood, the cult of who you know still reigns supreme. That cult is what is holding us back."

The biggest problem in RI politics is even reformers who decry the cozy old-boy, insider system and insist that it needs to be changed frequently do so with the caveat "Let's reform the system, but don't ruin the connections I have..."

Too many people inside and out of government don't want to surender their inside track for special favours and perks. They want to limit such benefits for others, but the idea of "I've got mine, everyone else can get screwed" prevails. This is a direct result from multiple factors, not the least of which is the lobbying revolving door, the general acceptance that a certain amount of corrution is necessary to get anything done and, quite frankly, the abysmal regard too many Rhode ISlanders have for the benefits of a good education being the path to success. Who you know vs. what you know...the former always wins out because of the downright anti-education views of too many political leaders and even a majority of the citizens of this state. I don't care if this sounds elitist, but until RI wakes up and stops lookig to Cousin Vinny for that plum job at the DOT, NOTHING wil even improve here.

Comment #7 by J. Ferreira on 2012 07 02

Even RIers who loathe Republicans would be wise to vote Republican in the November elections, if only to create some balance of power in the General Assembly. Nothing in RI will change if all the decisions are made by a pack of career Democrats. Don't blame the lobbyists...blame the votes who have created a perfect enviroment for cronyism and corruption in our one-party legislature. Find a RI democrat and convince him/her to vote republican just this once, please.

Comment #8 by Captain Blacksocks on 2012 07 02

Even RIers who loathe Republicans would be wise to vote Republican in the November elections, if only to create some balance of power in the General Assembly

excellent point. tjhe legislature controls the state and it need balance.

just think how the power would shift if you had 25-30 republicans....

Comment #9 by jon paycheck on 2012 07 02

Trailblazer? Yeah right? Fox and Weed do the right thing? Keep dreaming. Cockroaches all of them. Parsites sucking off the taxpayer teat. Fox should be indicted. Period.

Comment #10 by Carol DeFeciani on 2012 07 03

Vote for Pete sake and stop all the finger pointing, get out and vote for individual thinking people not a party follower. We need to be represented as citizens of RI not as tax cows for them to spend any amount on anything no matter if it doesn't build value for the citizens.
Change them all in every party.

Comment #11 by Gary Arnold on 2012 07 06

RIers lost $125M in the 38 Studios debacle:

$75M in direct payments to Schilling and $50M set aside to pay the bond interest,for which BTW, we have no legal responsibility.

Comment #12 by catherine celeberto on 2014 03 25

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