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Travis Rowley: The Texas of the Northeast?

Saturday, July 14, 2012


If the average person was engaged in a word-association game and the word “Texas” was offered to him, it would not be surprising to hear this response: “Republican!” And if the name “Rhode Island” was offered, certainly nobody would be surprised to hear this response: “Democrat!”

While Rhode Island has been controlled by Democrats for over 70 years, Texas is the state that produces governors such as George W. Bush and Rick Perry – and whose state legislature is dominated by members of the GOP. In fact, there may be more kids in Senator John Tassoni’s illegal day-care center than there are Democrats in both of Texas’ two legislative chambers.

While it did become the focus of most local media outlets this week, it really wasn’t very shocking when a CNBC report ranked Rhode Island last in this year’s “Top States for Business” report. After all, the Democratic General Assembly just designed and passed a state budget that siphons millions of more dollars out of the state’s private sector. Calling it a “status quo budget,” House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R) recently explained why every Republican legislator voted against the Democrats’ plan: “We didn’t really do anything to really move the state’s economy forward…We raised...taxes here and there, which are going to hurt specific constituencies. We didn’t make any serious cuts in spending…It was a major missed opportunity to do some good…This Democratic budget punted.”

Texas At The Top

While Rhode Islanders have become accustomed to finding their state at the bottom of such studies, perhaps these habitual Democratic voters would be surprised to discover that Texas landed at the top of CNBC’s report.

While Rhode Island has experienced the nation’s “fastest population decline,” The Economist has reported that people have been moving to Texas in “droves.” Texas – a state with no income or corporate tax – is where leaders from California (one big Rhode Island) went searching for “tips on how to better their economy” last year.

To repeat: Republicans run Texas. Democrats run Rhode Island.

Perhaps worse than Rhode Island’s ranking was Governor Chafee’s reaction to the news. Chafee – who approved the Democrats’ state budget – advised everyone to look at the brighter side of the CNBC report, noting that Rhode Island was ranked “23 out of 50 for quality of life.”

While it would have been reassuring to hear the Governor promise to improve the state’s business climate by working to shrink the size of state government, Chafee instead offered remarks that were reminiscent of Bill Murray’s monologue in the movie Caddyshack. Murray – despite being a hopelessly low-level “greenskeeper” – expresses some hilariously naive optimism over the fact that the Dalai Lama once promised him “total consciousness” on his “deathbed.” Murray finished his famous speech by saying, “So I got that going for me. Which is nice.”

But Chafee’s positive outlook just may be contagious. There seemed to be some giddiness expressed this week when it was announced that JetBlue will be bringing its “high quality, low cost airline to TF Green airport.” GoLocalProv.com called the announcement “a much-needed shot in the arm for the Rhode Island economy and will create hundreds of new jobs for a state that ranks second worst in the country for unemployment.”

With so many people departing from the state, maybe airline companies are among the few that actually view Rhode Island as having an optimum business environment.

So we have that going for us. Which is nice.

A Party Problem

Two years ago I opened up The RI Republican  – a short book on Rhode Island politics – with this sentence: “The only thing that can save the State of Rhode Island is the RIGOP – the Rhode Island Republican Party.”

This proclamation wasn’t born from any long-held admiration for the GOP. It was simply an observation of current political dynamics. Progressives and public unions – the advocates of big-government – control and fund the RI Democratic Party. To make matters worse, liberal thought still has a stranglehold over the mind of its members. The big-government philosophy still resonates with most Democratic politicians.

And whether they’re afraid of primary challenges, or simply enjoy being an accepted member of the state’s powerful establishment, even the most sensible Democrats often lack the political will to do the right thing. At best, they rely on half-measures that dissatisfy both sides of vital issues – yet offer them enough political cover with both the voters and their party bosses.

This is the lack of leadership that Senator James Sheehan (D) personified so well on a recent episode of A Lively Experiment, when he defended his party by reminding everyone that Democrats – after years of Republican warnings – finally tackled state pension reform last year.

Well, whoopty-doo, Senator. But did you happen to see our ranking in the latest CNBC report – something that you and your party did nothing to prevent?

The Democratic Party simply cannot reform itself fast enough. It cannot shed itself of its big-government bosses in order to make the reforms that are needed. It remains true what I wrote two years ago: “[The Democratic Party] is a party of cowards and nincompoops, strictly beholden to radical progressives and unrelenting special interests.”

 A Party Solution 

As much as people are frustrated with party politics, there remains a party solution to Rhode Island’s problems. As Leader Newberry recently stated, “Give us 26 Republicans in the House…and we’ll have a lot of power. And then [the Democrats will] have to deal with us.”

As Texas shows us in the latest CNBC report, Rhode Island is in need of fanaticism in the opposite direction. What Democratic partisans refer to as “right-wing extremism” is, in fact, the Texas method. And it is the cure to Rhode Island’s heavy-handed liberalism.

In other words, the “Right” is, in fact, the “Middle” – inasmuch as the “Middle” represents policies that actually work.

This week’s CNBC report, along with the passage of the latest state budget, makes what I once wrote in The RI Republican as evident as ever: “The only fix for the RI Democratic Party is to shoot it dead like Old Yeller, and then hope that a less corrupted pet finds its way to the prairie.”

But only a competing political party can accomplish that. Only Republicans can defeat Democrats on a wholesale level. And only Republican legislators are willing to do what is needed in order to make Rhode Island the “Texas of the Northeast.”

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is chairman of the RI Young Republicans and the author of The RI Republican: An Indictment of the Rhode Island Left.


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