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Travis Rowley: Plain-ly Ridiculous

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Joining the likes of RI Public Radio and the Providence Phoenix, Bob Plain of RIFuture.org became the latest leftist to observe something similar to what I noted in 2010 within a short book on Ocean State politics. The RI Republican: An Indictment of the Rhode Island Left (www.TravisRowley.com) explained, “Resulting from this one-party scenario has been utter voter bamboozlement. The Democratic Party simply became everything. Everything to Everyone. Because the surest way to achieve elected office was on the Democratic ticket, liberals, far-left progressives, and small-government conservatives were all subsumed into the ideological makeup of the RI Democratic Party.”

Where I differ with Plain, however, is in regard to his denial of left-wing dominance within the state’s ruling party.

Plain argues that “many of the Democrats in the General Assembly are more closely aligned with [conservative] ideology than that of the party’s typical platform” and decides that Rhode Island is the “Democrat In Name Only State.” Plain particularly points out that twelve State House Democrats are members of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, adding that “ALEC has no small toe hold on our General Assembly.”

But that’s twelve out of 93 Democrats. How small of a “toe hold” does Plain require before he’ll admit to the progressive attitude that controls the Democratic Party?

I’m sure Plain would respond by pointing out that “there are [also] 14 former members of ALEC in the General Assembly.”

I would respond to that by saying that the key word there is “former” – and that that list reads like a Who’s Who of far-left progressives, including unmistakable leftists such as Senators Harold Metts, Joshua Miller, Rhoda Perry, and Susan Sosnowski.

Conservatism? Or Just Common Sense?

In addition to associations with ALEC, Plain points to the fact that Democrats have recently enacted several policies that conservatives have traditionally called for – and that Democrats have traditionally responded to with accusations of racism and cruelty. These policies include pension reform, Voter ID, and an incremental income tax rate reduction that brought Rhode Island more in line with Massachusetts and Connecticut.

But the sudden adoption of these measures says more about just how batty the Democratic Party has become than they suggest a hard strain of conservatism running through the General Assembly.

These policies more represent responsible governance than they do conservative ideology. These are the types of policies that Democrats finally succumb to, but only after Central Falls goes bankrupt; only after Rhode Island becomes a laughing stock in terms of its business climate; and only after elected Democrats begin to witness election fraud with their own eyes.

These are the types of common-sense reforms that Democrats resist for decades, forcing the Republican Party to become the sole steward of fiscal responsibility before it even has a chance at becoming a champion of limited government. The result is that Voter ID laws and healthy pensions come to falsely define the conservative philosophy.

But safeguarding the integrity of elections and properly funding retirement accounts without further eroding an already defunct business climate does not make someone akin to Barry Goldwater. It just makes him human.

And tinkering with a progressive income tax is not conservatism. Conservatism would be the complete elimination of the state income tax – along with the estate tax and corporate tax.

Bob Plain has no idea.

Raimondo and Taveras

Because Plain’s notion of a conservative is anyone who doesn’t desire statewide bankruptcy, he ultimately draws this conclusion: “Anyone who tells you this state is controlled by the political left or organized labor may as well be trying to sell you swampland in Florida. It’s simply not true anymore.”

But I wonder if Plain can name an organization that has more State House influence than organized labor and its progressive-activist allies? These are the people who were largely victorious during both the Democratic primaries and the general election in 2010. Think East Providence. Think David Caprio. Think Doug Gablinske. Think Lincoln Chafee.

And who can Plain name that has more access to the state’s most powerful politicians than the state’s most powerful labor leaders? Who else has the gall, willingness, and unlimited resources to continuously threaten Rhode Island taxpayers with lawsuits every time responsible reforms are proffered?

Plain is correct to point out that the “most popular politicians in the state [are] Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Treasurer Gina Raimondo – both of whom are most well known for taking on the unions.” It’s true, the most popular thing to be in Rhode Island is a conservative Democrat. Or, at least a Democrat that acts according to longstanding Republican advice.

But Raimondo’s and Taveras’ popularity among Rhode Islanders is a separate issue from what ideology most influences the Democratic Party.

Raimondo and Taveras are simply validating what Republicans have always known: Conservatism is a superior philosophy, and most Rhode Islanders would agree if only given the opportunity to hear it.

Liberated from decades of lies concerning what Republicans truly stand for, Raimondo and Taveras are armed with the benefit of the doubt concerning their character and intentions, enabling them to take Don Carcieri’s message to the voters without suffering the personal blowback. Raimondo sums up the pension crisis by calling it a “math problem.” Rhode Islanders respond by saying, “She’s smart. She should be our next governor.”

That’s how low the bar is for Rhode Island Democrats.

A Long Way To Go

By listening to Bob Plain, one could come away thinking that Rhode Island had outlawed collective bargaining for government employees, become a right-to-work state, had its $8 billion state budget slashed in half, ensured that its welfare spending was the lowest in the region, had become the least regulated state in the nation, established a model of competition for our schools, revoked most tax policies that funnel money to the State House, and redirected political power back to the cities and towns.

Really, though, all we have is a healthier state pension system. And Rhode Islanders will have to show a photo ID at the polling stations from now on.

In Rhode Island, collective bargaining still rules the day. Taxpayers have little say over local budgets that are legally required to expand. This is still the state that Raymond Fogarty of Bryant University was talking about when he lamented, “The regulatory system is out of control.” And the tax code remains highly uncompetitive. Even in the midst of a recession, the state budget continues to swell, and is being remedied with millions of more dollars in taxes.

Plain claims that Rhode Island Democrats are “closely aligned with [conservative] ideology.” But why are such policies still in play if Rhode Island is still not largely guided by people who embrace the philosophy of big-government? After all, taxes don’t raise themselves.

It may be true that the far-left is beginning to lose its grip on the Rhode Island Democratic Party. That’s what happens when your policies result in statewide decrepitude. But it’s a whole other thing to believe that the ideological cleansing is complete, that Rhode Island is now suddenly being steered by the principles of limited government.

Trust me, these Democrats have a long way to go.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is chairman of the RI Young Republicans.


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