PowerPlayer: House Minority Leader Brian C. Newberry

Monday, December 26, 2011


This week’s PowerPlayer is House Minority Leader Brian Newberry. Mr. Newberry was kind enough to chat with GoLocalProv about the state of the RIGOP and his hopes for the future of Rhode Island.

1) You became House Minority Leader at a turbulent time for the party. What is your role when it comes to strengthening the Republican Party in Rhode Island?

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As Minority Leader I have three primary roles that go beyond simply representing my district. First, for a variety of reasons, relations between the Democratic and Republican leadership of the House had been somewhat poisonous in the past decade. The problem started before my time when there was an effort made to oust former Speaker Murphy in 2004 and has only recently begun to thaw. Being the opposition party presents a delicate balance because on the one hand you have the goal of increasing your membership so that eventually you become the majority party and can set your own agenda, which by definition you believe is better for the state than that being set by the Democrats. On the other hand, you have an obligation to help govern and not simply to sit on the sidelines and function as “bomb throwers” seeking to turn everything to political advantage. As Minority Leader I try to effectively work with the majority party when our views coalesce on the issues, such as they did on the recent pension reform, but to also draw sharp public distinctions when they do not. An effective opposition party influences public policy where it can, either publicly and loudly or quietly behind the scenes, while also allowing voters to see the distinctions between the two competing options come election time.

Second, my role is to act as spokesman for the House Republican Caucus and, given the lack of Republican statewide officeholders at the moment, for the Republican Party as a whole on issues pending before the General Assembly. This dovetails with the first role because I have a responsibility to speak not just for myself but to be the public face of my colleagues. If I look bad, it reflects poorly on all of them as well. Likewise, if I do my job correctly, it should strengthen their own ability to do their jobs.

The third primary role includes doing what I can to recruit, train and assist Republican candidates for the House of Representatives. I do not think that role has been effectively embraced by the Republican leadership of the House for a long time and I am looking to change that. It has been years since the Rhode Island Republican Party has had a skilled “party builder” leader. For a short period of time at the beginning of his term, Governor Carcieri, working with my now House colleague Rep. Patricia Morgan, who was chairwoman of the state party at the time, did an effective job of building both financial and electoral support, something which was born out in the 2004 General Assembly elections. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, that momentum dissipated and only in 2010 did it begin to come back. I want to build on that. One of my great frustrations as a Republican in Rhode Island is how many people, when you actually listen to them, hold Republican views but don’t vote for the GOP – and how many people run for office as Democrats because they feel that is the only way they can win and make a difference even though at heart they are Republicans. That needs to change. This one party culture is not healthy for the state.

2) What do you see as the three most pressing issues Rhode Island currently faces?

I think there is one pressing issue that Rhode Island currently faces but a multitude of ways to go about attacking the problem. Basically, nearly all of our problems stem from the fact that there is a lack of private sector employment. Our pension crisis would not be as severe as it is if we had a robust private sector economy. Our children would not be looking to leave the state for employment if they had options here. Although it is no secret that, for a variety of reasons, I personally believe we need to cut back on our very generous social welfare spending, those expenditures would not be the strain on our budget they are if we had a better private sector economy. It sounds cliché to say “jobs jobs jobs” but at the end of the day that is the root of most of Rhode Island's problems.

The logical follow-up question is what do we do about it? Rhode Island is overtaxed and overregulated. We have made strides in the last few years in reducing the personal income tax burden but our sales tax is still among the highest in the country and our corporate tax structure could use some serious revisions. I hate crony capitalism. I hate it when government tries to pick winners and losers. We need to stop searching for a magic bullet and instead look to lower our business taxes across the board and generally encourage outside investment into the state. We also need to address the regulatory climate that makes it so difficult to do business here, especially for small business which is the real source of job growth. The General Assembly has the power to address these issues and we need to act. If I were Speaker of the House that would be the centerpiece of my agenda.

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3) Take us through a day in your life.

This is an impossible question to answer because my schedule takes me all over the place. My office for my “day job” is in Boston but I am typically only there about three days a week and that is not on a set schedule. On days I go to Boston I often work for a few hours in my home and help see the kids off to school, leaving after the rush hour traffic has dissipated. Typically I will stay there and wind up putting in a 12 hour day. On other days I stay in Rhode Island for business reasons either because I need to be in court here, attend a deposition or do something else connected with my legal practice which is typically split with half my cases in Rhode Island and half in Massachusetts along with a smattering in Connecticut. Some days I am able to work most of the day from home. When we are in session I need to be at the State House by 4 PM so I will typically juggle my schedule to keep my Massachusetts obligations on Mondays and Fridays and my Rhode Island obligations in the middle of the week but that is not always possible. While in session there are typically political obligations of all kinds in the evenings. When out of session, I try to put the State House out of mind and spend time with the family although this fall, between pension reform and redistricting, has been an exception.

4) What's the next step for Brian Newberry? Where are you ten years from now?

10 years ago I had a four-year-old and a one-year-old and no thought of ever running for elective office. 10 years from now my youngest child be a senior at North Smithfield High School, my middle child will be in college and I will still be wondering how I am supposed to pay for it all. At the moment I am just trying to enjoy watching my kids grow-up while doing what I can to make the State a better place for them. Politically speaking, 10 years is a lifetime and I have no idea what the future holds in that regard.

5) Tell us something nobody knows about you.

I learned to play chess at age 4 from my father and grandfather and have played all my life. Before my kids were older I used to play a lot of tournaments, including the World Open. The game fascinates me and I still play some online “postal” chess. Someday, when I have time again, perhaps when I am retired, I will hit the tournament circuit.

Quick Hitters

Role Model: People with the courage of their convictions but who are open to listening to others and admitting when they are wrong. I have always admired Winston Churchill for this reason.

Favorite Restaurant: Two hidden gems: For a nice dinner out with friends, Bella’s in Burrillville. For a very reasonably priced, excellent lunch, Lotus in North Smithfield.

Best Beach: I am going to steal a line from my friend Chris Fierro who answered the same question with “one without sand.” I love the ocean but I do not like beaches so I will go with Spring Lake in Burrillville, which is one of the prettiest places in all of Rhode Island that nobody knows about.

Best Book You've Read in the Last Year: A Game of Thrones

Advice for the Next Brian Newberry: Things are never as good or as bad as they appear. Keep an open mind, but stick to your principles and choose your battles wisely. Channel your passions and keep an even keel. Never personalize anything.

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