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Russell Moore: Master Lever is GOP’s Scapegoat

Monday, May 12, 2014


The master lever is just a red herring and a distraction that state GOP uses to wallow in self pity, believes Russell Moore

Add my name to the long list of Rhode Islanders who want to see the master lever eliminated.

But not for the reasons you may have heard from Rhode Island politicians and talking heads. There's this notion that the master lever is corrupt, or unfair, or somehow creates an un-level playing field.

"Signifying nothing"

None of that is true. In the grand scheme of things, to quote William Shakespeare, the master lever is "full of sound and fury", but "signifying nothing".

Riddle me this one. Is the master lever how Lincoln Chafee got himself elected governor as an independent in 2010? Is the master lever how Republicans Allan Fung and Scott Avedisian continuously get themselves elected mayor of Cranston and Warwick respectively? Of course not—those three do their thing by relying on public sector union support and name recognition.

Is the master lever how state senator Edward O'Neill (Lincoln, North Providence, North Smithfield) got elected as an independent, defeating the Senate President in the process in 2008—not to mention subsequent re-elections? Of course not. He did it by working hard and spending a lot money.

A Red Herring

The master lever is, however, just a red herring and a distraction that state GOP uses to wallow in self pity. It's easier for the GOP to whine and complain that the deck is stacked against them than it is to do the hard work of campaigning and running the right people for the right positions.

It's just a convenient scapegoat for a misguided and ineffective Republican Party that can't seem to get out of its own way, let alone win elections. The existence of the master lever is like their rationalization to avoid introspection.

Let me be clear: the master lever is not what ails the GOP. The RI-GOP is what ails the RI-GOP.

Time for introspection

With that in mind, I'd like to see the state get rid of this red herring once and for all so that the GOP, might, just maybe, look inward to see some of their real problems and inadequacies, correct them, and than maybe, just maybe we could have a two party system with more checks and balances.

What does the GOP do to shoot itself in the foot? As someone who's followed politics closely for a decade, I can point to a few things. Firstly, the GOP has a tendency to get way too involved in social issues like guns, Christmas Trees, and persecuting the undocumented, which plays to their minuscule base but turns off swing voters and waters down their economic message.

Secondly, the party runs these candidates whose reaches overextend their grasps. It seems like every single year since I've been following politics we get these candidates who'd make great state representative candidates given their intellects, energy, and eloquence.

Candidates in over their heads

In recent years there were Mark Zaccaria, Bill Clegg, and Michael Gardiner, all of which ran in a Republican primary for the privilege of getting hammered by Congressman James Langevin in the general election of 2010. All three would've made terrific general assembly candidates. In 2012 there was Michael Riley, who undoubtedly would've been a credit to the state legislature given his knack for analyzing numbers.

This year is no different, and just as frustrating. There are already two talented, but hopeless challengers who have lined up to challenge Congressman David Cicilline—Cormick Lynch, a former Marine and financial professional, and Stan Tran, a Brown Medical student. They're both well-spoken and intelligent individuals, but they've got a better chance of hitting the moon with a sling shot than they do ousting David Cicilline. The same can be said for Rhue Reiss who is challenging Langevin.

(I heard Lynch on local talk radio (Dan Yorke's show on 630 am) mention that he raised $5,000. Not bad, if you're running for town council.)

Race for the prize

All these folks would make great legislative candidates. But I guess running for the legislature isn't as glamorous as running for Congress. It's like they're fresh out of college applying to become a fortune 500 CEO. Why stop at Congress? Maybe these folks should just run for President of the United States.

If these people were really serious about becoming members of Congress, they'd take a lesson from those who have been successful getting there. Look at the Congressional office holders we have right now. David Cicilline, James Langevin, Jack Reed, and Patrick Kennedy all started off as state representatives. Even Nomar Garciapara and Dustin Pedroia started off in Double A ball before they became Red Sox All Stars and MVP's.

Lastly, you've got a better chance of finding where Jimmy Hoffa is buried than hearing a consistent, easy to understand message from the RI-GOP. The Republicans should craft a well-honed message based on how the state can make itself more economically competitive and stick to it.

Get rid of it

So let's hope the Rhode Island State Senate follows the House of Representatives, and state Representative Joe Shekarchi's lead (D-Warwick) and eliminates the master lever.

Maybe, just maybe, it will lead to a GOP that looks inward instead of blaming the Democrats and everyone else for all their problems.

Excuse me if I'm not holding my breath.


A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments.


Related Slideshow: Win-Loss Records for 2014 Gubernatorial Candidates’ Campaign Managers

Oftentimes operating largely behind the scenes, a candidate's campaign manager or consultant plays an instrumental role in the outcome of the race.  

The 2014 Rhode Island Gubernatorial candidates have assembled their campaign teams -- and managers, all of whom bring extensive political operative experience to the table.  

Below is a look at the "batting average" of past efforts of the current set of top operatives when they were at the helm of other political races.  

Prev Next

Eric Hyers - Campaign Manager, Gina Raimondo

Congressman David Cicilline's 2010 Campaign:  WON

Congressman David Cicilline's 2012 Campaign: WON

NJ State Senator Nia Gill's 2013 Campaign: WON

MA State Sen. Karen Spilka 2013 Congressional Campaign:  LOST

Winning Percentage: .750

Hyers, who cut his teeth organizing for for now-Senator Kirsten Gillibrand when she first ran for Congress in 2006, worked as a field organizer for John Edwards for President in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, directed a statewide field operation in Wyoming, managed state legislative races in Virginia and New Jersey, and served as the Executive Director of the Connecticut Democratic Party. 

Hyers scored big while managing campaigns in New Jersey and Rhode Island, but came up short most recently in Massachusetts.  

Prev Next

Danny Kedem - Campaign Manager, Angel Taveras

Anthony Wiener's 2013 New York Mayoral Campaign:  QUIT

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano's 2011 Campaign:  WON

Winning Percentage: .500

Kedem joined Wiener's political comeback bid after Weiner had resigned from Congress in a sexting scandal -- only to leave when Wiener once more was caught continuing the habit, spelling his downfall once again.  

Connecticut Magazine's Jennifer Swift delineated Kedem's campaign history as having successful managed a New Haven mayoral bid, as well as outlining Kedem's early days organizing for Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill’s U.S. Senate campaign and Hillary Clinton's 2008 run for the presidency.

Prev Next

Jeff Britt -- Campaign Consultant, Ken Block

2002 Bruce Bayuk RI General Assembly Write-In Campaign: LOST

2006 RI Governor Donald Carcieri Campaign:  WON

2012 Mark Binder RI General Assembly Campaign: LOST

Winning Percentage: .333

Seasoned political operative Britt lost close races in Bayuk and Binder, but scored big with Carcieri while working alongside Ken McKay.  Following the Bayuk effort, Britt served in the "Carcieri 1" administration to work across the aisle and support GOP efforts statewide.  

Prev Next

Patrick Sweeney -- Campaign Consultant, Allan Fung

2010 John Loughlin Congressional Campaign: LOST

2012 Barry Hinckley Senate Campaign: LOST

Winning Percentage: .000

The former Executive Director of the Rhode Island Republican Party has extensive campaign and consulting experience, but is still looking to win big spearheading a major candidate effort.  

Sweeney was Deputy Campaign Manager for Loughlin in 2010.  

Prev Next

Devin Driscoll -- Campaign Manager, Clay Pell

Northeast Regional Director, Organizing for Action

Communications Director, Rhode Islanders United for Marriage

Winning Percentage:  N/A

Driscoll has headed up successful grassroots efforts and served on the Obama for America campaign in two separate stints, as Rhode Island state director for the 2012 campaign and as a field organizer in 2008.  Managing Pell's run for Governor marks Driscoll's first bid to win a statewide office campaign.  


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The point you make about a tight Republican focus on enabling economic prosperity is a fair one and a good one. That is precisely the Republican competitive advantage, what the party can legitimately offer, and what resonates best with independent voters.

Comment #1 by Art West on 2014 05 12

Well done article. The GOP needs to take this to heart. The Party won't become an influential factor in the State until it stops looking for excuses for its lack of electoral success, and turns instead to the consistent development of a pool of excellent candidates at all levels, serious ongoing fundraising, and a message that appeals to middle class voters and families who can be influenced by a Republican message if only it were presented effectively. It's amazing how the State can be so overwhelmingly dominated by one party, have decades long major and myriad problems, but remain in the domination of that same party. Yes, the Master Lever is a factor. Yes, it should be eliminated. But it isn't the primary reason why the political culture is controlled by elected officials and special interests who have consistently failed us. Every state (regardless of its inherent partisan bent)needs a viable and strong two-party representation. Continued (permanent?)one party domination doesn't work, whether it's a Democrat or a Republican domination.

Comment #2 by Bob Beagle on 2014 05 12

Good article. The Master lever needs to be placed in dustbin. it should have been done in the 1990's by then Secretary of State Jim Langevin who enshrined the master "line" instead of the master lever.
I don't,for a minute,believe the master lever had anything to do with my election results.I was trounced. I do however,believe there is no justification for continuing the master lever in Rhode Island or any other State. Repeating Mr Moore's point,it will also be healthy for the GOP to focus on solutions rather than excuses.
I look forward to ridding this State of the notion of Straight Ticket voting forever and welcome voters discrimination in determining which individual, regardless of party, best represents them.

Comment #3 by michael riley on 2014 05 12

Eliminating the Master Lever isn't going to radically change the election process. Eliminating it will however end confusion over its use and meaning as well as encourage candidates to run for office.

In the last election, there were about 8,000 people who marked the "Moderate" Master Lever when there were no candidates on their ballot running as a Moderate. Why? Probably because they thought they were answering a question about their ideology.

People cancel out their votes often in down ballot races by checking off the "Master Lever" and then voting for other candidates down ballot.

Lastly, candidates who might run for office but perceive a disadvantage because of the Master Lever will often run for a Party that doesn't represent their ideology or not run at all. The General Assembly has many "Moderate" even "Conservative" Democrats for that very reason.

Comment #4 by Mark Smiley on 2014 05 12

"David Cicilline, James Langevin, Jack Reed, and Patrick Kennedy all started off as state representatives."

Yes--but they are Hacks. Perhaps we should choose a different path?

Comment #5 by Jimmy LaRouche on 2014 05 12

Russell Moore - Great assessment of the RI GOP. As yourself and others have stated the GOP needs focus. Not just hare in RI but also on the national stage.

Once the master lever is gone I would also like to see the party Identifier (D,R,I etc.), if you don't know what the candidate stands for don't vote.

Comment #6 by Wuggly Ump on 2014 05 12

Mark Smiley, voting down ballot, disqualifies the master lever, not the other way around. The biggest concern for me is the non partisan elections in many rural towns, or not voting for bond issues.

Comment #7 by Stephen DeNinno on 2014 05 12

o, the GOP blames the master lever, but without the GOP the democrats would have nobody to blame but themselves....Ohhhhhh an Epiphany!

Comment #8 by G Godot on 2014 05 12

A lot of Righties use the Master Lever, to vote straight Republican, With no master lever, they just might chose NOT to vote for the most extreme GOPers the loony and "out of the mainstream" CRAZY folks like Doreen Costa, Mike Chippendale, Dan Harrop and the plagiarist Representative Kettle

No wonder that the Democrats in the House voted to kill the lever,
Good move by the Dems

Comment #9 by Sammy Arizona on 2014 05 13

Ironically, you can probably thank Gordon Fox for the vote on the master lever. The Dems were dragged kicking and screaming to the vote. Days before the vote, Mattiello was opining that he supported the master lever but thanks to the feds raid on the State House, the Dems had to throw the voting public a bone. It was Mattiello's way of say, "No corruption here folks." Now the Senate is behind the 8 ball.

Comment #10 by Max Diesel on 2014 05 13

The top of the heap in the plagiarism department is Joltin' Joe Biden, Tommy-boy.

Comment #11 by G Godot on 2014 05 13

Sammy Arizona is a child molester

Comment #12 by llik amabo on 2014 05 13

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