I’m going to go out on a limb here and argue against our editor Bob Plain’s article that Anthony Gemma should drop out of the race for Democratic nominee for Congressional District 1. Now, obviously, it’s not because I have any particular love for Mr. Gemma. It’s because I’m a radical democrat.
I believe in the application of democracy, that our ideas and politicians have to be challenged in order to strengthen them. Representative David Cicilline shouldn’t get a free ride (though, obviously, no one can really accuse him of that since Providence Mayor Angel Taveras announced a “category 5 hurricane” about the city’s finances). I think that, regardless of how much I personally feel that between Mr. Cicilline and Mr. Gemma that Mr. Cicilline is clearly the better candidate, Mr. Gemma needs to stay in the race.
This should apply to everyone. In our democracy, it’s a shame that anyone ever stands in any election unchallenged. I’m not deaf to the idea that sometimes the best candidate is already in office, but I sincerely doubt it always applies. Everyone needs to be capable of defending their ideas; those who don’t tend to get sloppy. Even worse, they can get entitled. Mr. Cicilline clearly never got the chance to feel entitled to his seat; when Mr. Taveras made his now famous remarks as to the city’s financial condition, the uphill battle began. Everyday since then has been a justification of why Mr. Cicilline should remain in office. That‘s a good thing. These telephone town halls, while pretty ubiquitous, have been a departure from Patrick Kennedy’s tenure when the representative was… someplace, talking to some people.
Mr. Gemma serves a purpose; to ask the question “can Mr. Cicilline serve as the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer for Representative in RI CD-1?” However terrible an instrument Mr. Gemma is for that purpose, we’ll know the answer on September 11th.
This principle should’ve extended to the Republican race as well. John Loughlin II dropping out was bad for Rhode Island. It denied Republicans the chance to vet their candidate. Hopefully, Michael Donahue can fill Mr. Loughlin’s shoes; although I sincerely doubt he will, with the twin issues of a dislike of lawyers & law enforcement and the Federal Reserve and a likely resources and media coverage deficit.
Today being filing day, it’s important that those who can go out and do as Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Narragansett, Peace Dale, Wakefield) told the audience to do at Netroots Nation: run for office. To make democracy work, we have to run, no matter how impossible the task seems.
That said, I want to lay out the problems to this. First, and foremost, it’s an incredible drain on resources; financial, physical, and emotional. People burn out, or they go bankrupt. Politics is exceedingly expensive. In a perfect world, we’d have public financing and everyone would work with similar resources. But the U.S. Supreme Court seems to be against that, so we have to deal with the fact that our elections are going to become more and more oligarchical. I don’t have the solution to that.
There’s also the grueling personal attacks. I’d love it if political campaigns were cordial affairs (what if candidates campaigned together?), but I recognize that they’re not. And the result is that they can be bitter, wounding attacks. This is because it’s far simpler to make personal attacks, because people connect more easily with emotional appeals, and because we have a news media which rewards the personal attack with coverage and a general blasé attitude. We shouldn’t deny it; the first hardcore “issues” article I read about the CD1 campaign was the Progressive Democrats presentations/questionnaires that both Mr. Cicilline and Mr. Gemma went through. And I’m jealous of our former editor Brian Hull (and the Progressive Dems) for getting it.
Furthermore, more and more candidates in a single race means our first-past-the-post system reveals its inherent flaw: it doesn’t take a majority to win. You only have the win the largest plurality. Which means elections can end with a candidate the majority of people actually don’t like winning. A simple reform would be to switch to instant runoff voting, but it’ll take a sustained campaign and a real threat that the RI Democratic Party might lose its grip for that switch to happen.
But even without changes in how we organize elections and how we cover them, we need candidates to be brave enough to stand up and speak out for what they believe in. We need them to argue with whatever assumptions currently stand; with the consensus. The consensus shouldn’t get to rest on its laurels, it should constantly have to strive to prove its worth. Ideally, Rhode Island should thrive on this sort of idea.
In some places, there’s an option for “none of the above”. Voters can reject all the candidates by selecting it; and it means that a new election is called with new candidates. Perhaps that’d be a more honest way of doing this; giving voters the chance to say “all of these options are unappealing to me.” But until that comes along, that’s what Anthony Gemma will be: an alternative to “none of the above”.