The resolve to resist
Every election has its consequences, and everyone will offer an opinion as to the results of an election. Much has been discussed and will be said about the recent election results at the national level. In time, this column will provide an analysis as to the recent national elections, but for now something should be mentioned as to what occurred here at the local level.
Some have claimed that because the Cranston City Council went from a Democratic majority of 6 to 3 to a Democratic majority of 7 to 2, the voters of Cranston somehow wanted to send a message that they wanted to put a check on Republican Mayor Allan Fung. They did no such thing. In fact, what Cranston voters did in 2012 is what they have typically done for over half a century. In nearly every presidential election since 1960, Republicans have either lost seats or not won a seat on the Cranston City Council. There have been 14 presidential elections since 1960 and in 13 of them, Republicans either lost seats or did not win a seat on the Cranston City Council. In other words, over 90 percent of the time Republicans lose seats or do not win seats on the Cranston City Council during presidential election years. Presidential election years in Rhode Island greatly increases voter turnout. This higher turnout usually means higher turnout from those at the lower end of the social-economic spectrum. These voters who only come out in presidential elections tend to be less informed about state and local politics, and will vote by default for Democrats in state and local races after supporting the Democratic presidential nominee. The higher the turnout, the larger the winning margin for the Democratic presidential candidate, the bigger the problem it is for Republicans running for low profile races. This is why Republicans lost a seat on the Cranston City Council, and for that matter, lost seats in the Rhode Island General Assembly. Even in non-partisan races, like School Committee, candidates supported by Democrats and backed by special interest groups allied to Democrats, like public employee unions, will do well in presidential election years because of this increased turnout.
By comparison, in most non-presidential election years, Republicans have gained seats on the Cranston City Council. There have been 13 non-presidential elections since 1960 and in eight of them, Republicans won seats on the City Council, while in two other non-presidential year elections, Republicans did not lose a seat on the City Council. In other words, over 75 percent of the time, Republicans either gained seats or at least did not lose a seat on the Cranston City Council during non-presidential election years. These reliable voters who come out in non-presidential elections tend to be more informed about state and local politics, and are more independent-minded. Some will try and argue about particular candidates, but this is secondary to the fundamental rhythm of Cranston politics for low profile offices. To some extent, it is the rhythm of Rhode Island politics for low profile races. In non-presidential election years, Republicans generally do well, but in presidential election years, Republicans almost always do poorly. A half-century of history, encompassing 10 different mayoral administrations and hundreds of City Council candidates with different genders, ethnicities, ideologies, some of whom worked hard and were well funded, and others who were not, demonstrates this fundamental rhythm of local politics. Clearly, Cranston Republicans did not lose because of Democratic slogans about checks and balances, but because Barack Obama was on the ballot. Thus, 2014 should be a very different year. Cranston City Council Democrats and certain Cranston School Committee members would be wise to not believe their own hype.
Unfortunately, there is little Republicans can do to change this rhythm to Cranston politics, which also seems to exemplify Rhode Island politics. In the 1960s, the parties at the national level began to move into their current alignment. In 1960, Democrats gained clear dominance in the liberal Northeast with their nomination of John F. Kennedy, while in 1964, Republicans began their dominance of the conservative south with their nomination of Barry Goldwater. Ever since then, Rhode Island has proven to be one of the most Democratic states in the country. In 1960, Kennedy won Rhode Island with 63.6 percent of the vote. Over 50 years later, in 2012, Obama won Rhode Island with 62.7 percent of the vote. In general, Rhode Island voters seem to support economically liberal policies that expand government, especially at the federal level. This was made crystal clear this year when Rhode Island voters decided to re-elect a liberal Democrat to Congress who was so incompetent that he nearly bankrupted the city of Providence and then lied about it to the voters. Furthermore, as the nation has become more polarized in this century, split ticket voting is becoming less common in presidential election years across the nation. This is why the past two presidential election years were so bad for Republicans in Rhode Island. As a result, Republicans, here, seem to take one step forward in a non-presidential election year, only to take one step back in a presidential election year. At times, they feel condemned to suffer the torment of mythical Sisyphus, who was compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and then repeat this action for eternity.
Under these circumstances, for Republicans here in Cranston and Rhode Island in general, there are really only four choices. One is exit and leave Rhode Island. This is a logical choice for those who are not firmly established here and it would be a wise path for the next generation to follow, unless Rhode Island undergoes dramatic change. A second choice is resignation. This choice entails passive acceptance of the state of decline, which Rhode Island has experienced for nearly a century. Those who choose this path do so because their spirit has also gone into decline. Another is collaboration and compromise in a manner that furthers the expansion of government and the promotion of financially unsustainable policies. This path will be attractive to those who are enticed by petty power or enchanted by fleeting popularity rather than guided by enduring principles. However, power without principles is pointless and power used for the bad principles is pernicious. At the dawn of the 20th century, Rhode Island was second in per capita wealth in the United States. Its capital, Providence, was one of the major cities of the world. Cranston was a growing and prosperous suburb. A century later, Rhode Island is an economic wreck, and has been for generations. Its capital city frequently teeters on the edge of a financial disaster. Suburban Cranston is now considered a distressed community. This transformation did not occur because state and local politicians failed to provide enough government programs and services or failed to raise taxes high enough over the past century. The last option is to resist. It is an uphill battle to change the mentality of Rhode Island voters. But, there is satisfaction to be found in this struggle to educate the voters, to organize your supporters, to challenge your opponents and to never yield your principles. This is the path to take.
In politics, there may be no substitute for victory. But as history has shown, there is great honor to be won in fighting for a noble goal. It is hard to conceive of a more noble principle than the principle of limited government. Limited government is the only form of government that protects political liberty while fully promoting the economic prosperity generated by the free market. Limited government is the first principle from which all of the best principles of government flow. It was the underlying principle upon which the Founding Fathers created our Constitution. It is a principle worth fighting for, even under the worst of circumstances.