Dan Lawlor: Vote Independent Today
Tuesday, November 06, 2012
"You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger, and you don't mess around with Jim." -- Jim Croce
In New England, many independent candidates are tugging on Superman's cape.
To be more exact, numerous independents are challenging powerful Democratic and Republican politicos- fromAngus King in Maine to Abel Collins here in Rhode Island. Locally, independent progressive Mark Binder is tackling Center-Left House Speaker Gordon Fox in House District 4 (part of Providence's East Side), Republican-turned-Independent Beth Croll is challenging State Senator James Doyle II in Senate District 8 (Pawtucket), and Independent John Ricotilli, alongside Libertarian Mike Rollins, are challenging Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggiero (of recent DUI fame) in Senate District 4 (North Providence-Providence).
The three independents mentioned above are but a small number of the more than thirty "Independent" candidates for General Assembly this term, not including the remaining Moderate Party candidate, Joseph Botelho, in East Providence.
Mark Binder vs Gordon Fox
Coming into the final days of the campaign, Independent Progressive Mark Binder, a publisher working to represent Mt. Hope-Blackstone-and Summit neighborhoods, has been working to challenge the sitting House Speaker himself, 20 year incumbent Gordon Fox. Binder has benefited from, and been criticized for, having a "big deal" campaign manager with insider connections, Jeff Britt.
Yet, Binder reflects, "I live and work in this neighborhood. I walked the district even before I started campaigning. I know what matters here. I used to vote for Gordon Fox, but he's not the same person we first elected. It's sad to see the change."
Binder emphasizes his plans to support local business and improve education, particularly, "We need to give up the foolish belief that high stakes testing will improve public education. Over-testing is ruining our schools, our teachers and most importantly our children...We also need to encourage manufacturing on a small scale.It's shameful that the state that was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, where the fabrication of precision machinery was invented, has to send out to Germany for parts to fix a broken windmill in Portsmouth."
Binder remarks, "We need to find better ways to create jobs and connect people to work. Handing out multi-million dollar loans and guarantees to well-connected insiders doesn't work. We have to stop leaving smaller companies begging out in the cold. We need to create incubators not just for high-tech razzle-dazzle companies, but for ordinary businesses."
Beth Croll vs Jamie Doyle
In Pawtucket, Beth Croll is running against popular incumbent James Doyle II, son of the long-time and well-respected former Mayor. One local activist described Doyle as having the district electorally "on lockdown." Independent Croll, like Ricotelli, is a supporter of term limits and, unlike the Libertarian Rollins or Progressive Binder, believes that legalizing same sex marriage should go before the voters. Croll, who previously challenged Doyle as a Republican, is unimpressed with his record.
She writes, "Travel anywhere in Pawtucket and you will see empty storefronts, commercial buildings for sale, and sadly many home foreclosures... According to the latest Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training Local Area Unemployment Statistics Report, Pawtucket has an unemployment rate of 12.9 % with an overall Rhode Island unemployment rate of 10.7%. The U.S. average is around 8.0%...We are about 50 minutes away from Boston, Worcester, and close to NYC. We should be a magnet for industry to locate here but for the high cost of doing business and high tax rate. I envision a Pawtucket that has an emerging technology park with some of the best and the brightest coming to work in our city. Re-instituting the Historic Tax credits is yet another way we can stimulate jobs growth in this area."
In regards to judicial appointments, Croll writes, "It behooves us to select a commission that is not politically involved and can be fair, objective and produce candidates based on merit and not on favors to be gained now or in the future. The vetting process of the 9 member [Judicial Nominating] commission should be rigorous to weed out political cronyism. "
John Ricotilli and Michael Rollins vs Dominick Ruggiero
In North Providence, two individuals are challenging current Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggiero (in office since 1985). One candidate is self-described "totally hardcore" Libertarian Michael Rollins. Rollins is pro-school voucher, pro-marriage equality, and strongly critical of George Nee of the AFL-CIO, who Rollins calls "Boss Nee." Rollins recently mused that while his views might seem unorthodox, he recalls "having personally lost a previous Rhode Island State Senate election to John Celona, and two separate North Providence Town Council elections to Robert Ricci--both of whom are now convicted felons."
Rollins remarks, "Rhode Island State Senate District Four is a gerrymandered construct that spans across several distinct neighborhoods, in two separate municipalities...If there is any single political issue which affects both North Providence, and Providence at least as much as it does any other parts of Rhode Island, that unfortunately would have to be our local political atmosphere of sometimes blatant political corruption... we need to focus upon creating a local business climate here in Rhode Island where all businesses are totally free to compete upon a level playing field."
Rollins opposition to government regulation even results in his ongoing refusal to file campaign finance reports, resulting in over $90,000in fines. He'snot alone. Rollins previously told Go Local that "he stopped filing them in protest after the Board of Election refused to give him a month-long extension on the October 2004 report," following a fire in his condo building.
More toward the middle, with a background in business and service as a veteran in the US Army Reserve and RI National Guard, is John Ricottilli, a first time candidate and Independent, who is the second challenger to Senate Majority leader Dominick Ruggiero. Ricotilli has a platform (and a Facebook page) pledging to "reduce individual income and property tax, reduce business regulation and create incentives to encourage job growth, stop inside patronage jobs for unqualified employees, end sweetheart deals (38 studios), and set term limits for state government."
Ricottilli told the Valley Breeze, "The state needs to be smarter about how it conducts business...following recommended guidelines from such organizations as the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council to streamline resources, cut down on duplication of services, attract new businesses, and lower taxes. It makes sense, but it's not happening. It's time for a change."
When looking at the range of independents across the state, the common thread is a deep belief that Rhode Island's best days don't have to be in the past. The independents differ greatly on the "how" - yet each brings experiences that would add new voices to the table, and challenge the status quo. Many have not held elected office. Some are taking political positions far outside the mainstream. All believe that our state - with over 10% unemployed - can do a much better job of growing the economy and empowering people. I certainly don't agree with all their actions or their policies, but I respect each candidate for running for office.
Mark Binder's remarks on political accountability, while directed at Speaker Fox, should ring true with common frustrations against some of our elected officials more broadly: "He is more interested in preserving his political power than in doing what's right for us and for the people of Rhode Island. There is no better evidence of this than his role in the 38 Studios debacle, his failure to get a gay marriage bill to a vote and his decision to kill a bill to end payday lending abuses as a favor to Bill Murphy, the man who made Gordon Speaker. As speaker, on January 1 of 2012, he promised that he would avoid last minute votes, and then he pulled a no-debate last minute vote the mashup of the Board of Higher Education and Board of Regents... it's time to move ahead with a new approach and new representation in the State House."
Many good people tried to break the insider culture this primary season. The machine clung on. This November, it's time to break the cycle. The independents above don't agree on much- and if you don't agree with them, don't vote for them. Yet, from left to right, they are all believe that our officials need to be held accountable, and our state can do so much better. When you see the Independents on the ballot, don't assume they're superheroes, and don't just write them off. This Tuesday, tell your friends and family - do some research, and consider shaking things up a bit. When elected officials fail us, we don't have to reward them.