The most common answer of any Rhode Islander when asked about the quality of life in our state is “great state, lousy government.”
For four decades now, this writer has witnessed governor after governor, from J. Joseph Garrahy to Gina M. Raimondo, promise essentially the same reforms. They have promised efficient government, repaired infrastructure, better schools, a lessened tax burden for both the individuals and businesses, more good paying jobs and a renewed pride in being a Rhode Islander.
All governors thus far to a greater or lesser degree have failed. One could postulate that endemic to the chief executive’s position is an inherent constitutional weakness that hamstrings potential efforts for change. Yet still, we Pollyanna-like voters connect the arrows on Election Day with the perhaps illusionary hope that a particular candidate will actually be successful at accomplishing something constructive.
Real significant change in the bloated, inefficient, union-indulgent, special interest accommodative manner in which Rhode Island’s government operates may not be possible without a constitutional reckoning. However a few years back, the idea of a constitutional convention enabled by voter referendum was defeated. A fear-instilling marketing campaign by those who benefit by keeping the status quo prevailed. Thus this perfection of prevarication insured the status of an emasculated governor’s chair and a continuing strange and powerful aristocracy on Smith Hill.
Nevertheless the starting gun of the next election cycle has been fired. This past week, Republican Minority Leader, Representative Patricia Morgan (Coventry, West Warwick) has announced her candidacy for the GOP nomination. Following her, the Republican Mayor of Cranston Allan Fung threw his hat in the ring. Former Warwick Representative Joseph Trillo is expected to declare his intention to run soon. Also, watch purveyor and former state senator Giovanni Feroce is expected to make a run at the nomination too.
On the other side of the political aisle, incumbent Gina Raimondo will inevitably run again. The brand Raimondo may face her predecessor former Governor Lincoln Chafee in a struggle for the Democrat nomination.
Add to this mix of characters whomever party chair William Gilbert and the Moderate Party choose as their nominee and any daring independents.
The quest for this throne of questionable power will undoubtedly digress into a Gina-bashing festival of grand proportions. When one of these aspirants does prevail, will they actually fulfill the enduringly unfulfilled promises of governors past? Or, will we citizens continue to bear the inadequate stewardship of our well-loved but badly managed state?
Unilateralism in the Rhode Island governor’s office is particularly difficult to pull off. The ideal of the founders of our nation of three coequal branches of government insuring not only equity but also parity is inapplicable to the Ocean State.
Most power resides in the General Assembly. Moreover, the power is concentrated among six legislators who run the upper and lower houses. The speaker of the house, the president of the senate, the party leaders and the budget committee chairs hold in their hands a portion of governmental authority that should rightly fall within the auspices of the chief executive. However, in our state the governor holds little latitude to make wholesale changes to the way government is operated without the consent of the cabal on Smith Hill.
Downsizing and streamlining state employment is greatly constrained by over-unionization of public sector positions. Those constrains can only be lifted by legislative action. Considering that the General Assembly is pervasive with unionists, the Ocean States’ overabundance of superfluous jobs will continue unabated. And politicos will continue to distribute patronage jobs like little candies from their political Pez dispensers.
In comparison to other states of similar populations, we have a much higher amount of per-capita workers on public payroll as a result of political largesse from our elected “leaders.”
So, a governor cannot stop the taxpayer-burdened employment agency of the legislative giants. Sadly in fact, Governor Raimondo of the executive branch has extended it. The current governor has added new contrived positions that she has filled with Ivy League friends and associates. Innovation Czars, deputy assistant secretaries of nothingness and a plethora of public relation professionals were hired to glorify every utterance, appearance, or social media message of the ambitious Rhody governor.
Couple these self-serving moves with the famous failures of UHIP, Cooler and Warmer and pushing tolling against the public will, and this campaign season will see the current governor figuratively dangling from a tree of criticism like a piñata.
The Republican hopefuls who will be swinging those insulting bats will be Pat Morgan, Allan Fung, Joe Trillo and possibly Gio Feroce.
Rep. Patricia Morgan has built a reputation in the General Assembly for being a thorn in the side of her Democrat counterparts. She has demanded clarification in regard to budget assertions. She had proposed a number of budget cuts that would have eliminated the need to erect toll gantries to fund bridge and road repair. She has persistently requested a full disclosure of the new public positions that were created by the governor, what their exact salaries and perks are, and what specifically are these new employees tasked to do.
The taxpayers are well served by Morgan’s diligence, even though she is rarely successful in her efforts. Also, Morgan is often belittled as being bothersome and irrelevant in distasteful displays of chauvinism by her fellow representatives in the General Assembly. Morgan’s greatest difficulty in the primary will be financial. Allan Fung is well connected to campaign revenue sources and Joe Trillo and Gio Fercoce can self-fund.
Speaking of Allan Fung, who lost his last governor’s race by less than 4 points, he is probably well positioned to become the nominee once again. With good name recognition from his tenure as Cranston’s mayor and his previous run for the top chair, the public is accustomed to Fung.
Therein may be Allan’s greatest problem. Allan Fung exudes a calm confidence reminiscent of a mundane CPA. Despite several crises during his time in office that include the police administration debacle and the parking ticket flap, generally Mr. Fung has done a competent job. Certainly, the commercial development boon in the Garden City area stands out as a laudable achievement. However, Fung’s greatest shortcoming is that he is simply not galvanizing. In politics, charisma eclipses competence.
Similarly questionable in mass appeal, boisterous septuagenarian Joe Trillo is vying for the GOP nomination as his last political hurrah. A successful businessperson, Trillo has hosted a local access television program called “Trillo Talks” for years. Trillo is eruptive and gruff and has a sandpaper voice which is grating at high volume.
Also, as the unofficial RI Chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign for president, Trillo deifies the current president. As a result of his hero worship, Trillo often comes to Trump’s defense in public interviews. In bluer than blue Rhode Island, and as Trump continues to falter in office, Trillo’s chances to obtain the nomination seem slimmer by his association to the mad hatter in Washington.
Also a long shot, Alex and Ani alumnus Giovanni Feroce is somewhat known by his time as a state senator and by the rebirth of his military watch company, Benrus. Feroce can self-fund, which is a sizable advantage. However, perceptions of Giovanni as being uneven and unique in his public personality might impede his palatability as the nominee.
Waiting for these contenders in the ring is the current Governor Gina M. Raimondo. If “Old Wooden Head” Lincoln Chafee decides to run for the Democrat nomination, it is likely Raimondo will dispatch this challenge rather cleanly.
So, the swinging piñatas that is Gina’s tenure in office will be batted about by her opponents. Can she rise above the critiques of her administration and the criticisms of her constant public relations efforts? I believe she can. In another three-way race where a slight plurality wins reelection, the math is in her favor. Especially, if the Moderate Party candidate has similar name strength to the late Bob Healey who garnered almost 22 percent last cycle.
In my opinion, Gina Raimondo holds an incorrect paradigm in which she thinks more government is the answer to every societal problem. Further, she has made many supervisory mistakes probably as a result of spending so much time marketing her brand around the country like a new and improved detergent.
All that stated, she is the best funded, most polished and most expertly presented candidate for the office. Does that mean she is the best choice for Rhode Island’s future, not necessarily. But the candidate most likely to win public office is not often the best person to fulfill the covenant of that office’s oath. Besides, the governor’s chair that so many are spending time and treasure to obtain; is a constitutionally weak throne. In upside down Rhode Island, the speaker’s chair is cheaper to gain and stronger in stature indeed.