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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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