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Travis Rowley: Living in a Universe of Lies

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Michael Downey is the president of RI Council 94 (AFSCME, AFL-CIO), the state’s largest government employee union. And he just can’t help himself.

Within a recent submission to the Providence Journal Downey prolonged his effort to absolve government unions from any wrongdoing, faulting only “politicians” for causing the “deplorable state of the U.S. and Rhode Island economies.”

Downey’s official public position amounts to a purposeful concealment of what more and more Rhode Islanders are finally beginning to realize: For years, government unions have controlled the very politicians Downey now seeks to blame, ordering lavish and unsustainable promises from them, and punishing those who dared to warn of the coming collapse.

Democrats Frank Caprio and Doug Gablinske could testify to the power structure that exists within their own party.

But John Gramlish of Stateline.org sums it up nicely as well: “In the past, Democrats who voted against major union-backed bills could expect to find themselves up against a labor-endorsed primary challenger, a major threat in a state where Democratic primary turnout is minimal and unions can decide the winner.”

Downey’s insistence that “elected leaders” are the “true culprits” is nothing but a flat-out lie. It is an intentional misrepresentation of the political dynamics that have long been in play.

A Tough Choice?

Democrats keep referring to the recent pension reform legislation as one of those “tough choices” politicians are sometimes forced to make. But it was only “tough” because, as Gramlish notes, Democrats have “traditionally…depended on union support to win their elections.”

You’ll notice that it wasn’t a tough vote at all for Republicans.

For Republicans, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo’s proposal was long overdue. As former Republican General Treasurer Nancy Mayer (1994-2000) explained in the Providence Journal this week, “I introduced 22 pieces of pension-reform legislation, the majority of which never got out of committee.”

When the harm to public workers would have been much less severe, Republicans were ringing the bell for pension reform. Democrats and labor bosses responded by telling Rhode Island voters that Republicans were “anti-worker,” “greedy,” and “only for the rich.”

Years later, Central Falls retirees would find out who was truly sticking up for them.

Michael Downey

Michael Downey is a delusional labor religionist, a sucker for every popular union myth – not just the fallacy that unions are responsible for a “strong middle class,” but also that Democrats represent the party that cares about “working people.”

Speaking of the overwhelming Democratic support for Raimondo’s pension reform proposal, Downey said, “They’re not acting like Democrats…I was always of the belief that politicians that call themselves Democrats, in general, care about working people and the issues that face them.”

It seems Democrats have broken Downey’s heart. But it’s his own fault. That’s what you get when you choose to live – and participate – in a universe of lies.

The fact of the matter is that Democrats don’t care about “working people.” They care about power – the intoxicating elixir of all big-government statists. The unions simply served the Democrats’ purposes wonderfully for decades. But the political sense in Rhode Island these days is that the labor jig is up. So Democrats are starting to jump ship, looking for the next political fad to jump in front of.

That fad just happens to be fiscal responsibility – otherwise known as “Republican policies.”

Downey’s Labor Religion

Unfortunately, reality and results can’t shatter Downey’s faith. Here in Rhode Island, where labor has reigned for decades, the middle class suffers the most. Widely considered to be “the worst place for business,” it was reported last summer that the “unemployment rate across [the state’s] building trades is running between 25 and 40 percent.”

But Downey still contends that government unions are pure and innocent. He writes, “I don't think I'm alone in failing to make the connection between public-employee unions and the fact that our state has…the worst climate for business in the U.S.”

Why Downey fails to realize that every public employee is also a public expense is anyone’s guess. The stronger the government unions, the more expensive they become for taxpayers; the higher the taxes, the weaker the business environment; and a weak business climate leads to a lowering of wages, a loss of jobs, and the depletion of the middle class. It’s that simple.

Union leaders, among other progressive activists, are now calling for tax hikes on “the rich” to help pay for the ever-expanding costs of government workers and retirees. As the government extracts more money from the private sector, how many building repairs will be put on hold? How many new construction projects will be postponed? How much will wages be suppressed? How many more taxpayers will flee the State of Rhode Island? How many jobs will be lost?

None of this matters to Michael Downey. No dose of reality can rescue him from his universe of lies, or cure him of his haughty self-perception, that he – not the Republican Party – is the true champion of the “working people.”

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is chairman of the RI Young Republicans and a consultant for the Barry Hinckley Campaign for US Senate.

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