House Speaker Gordon Fox Should be Re-Elected

Gordon Fox on WPRI Newsmakers.

It’s not easy to endorse the opponent of a colleague, but I’m supporting Speaker Gordon Fox over RI Future contributor Mark Binder.

Binder may, as he’s claimed, be a more progressive voice for the East Side of Providence – a neighborhood that certainly warrants one – but I can’t find reason in his credentials to endorse him over arguably the most liberal Speaker of the House Rhode Island has ever had.

Furthermore, the way he ran his campaign is not at all cool. In fact, it should be the kind of thing progressives campaign against, not engage in themselves!

Warranted or not, and oftentimes not, Binder has lobbed as much negativity at his opponent as any other candidate in Rhode Island this election cycle – and that’s no small accomplishment. One can argue that’s just hardball politics, but Binder was supposed to be campaigning against hardball politics. If his goal was to cleanse the bare-knuckled political culture at the State House, he accomplished the opposite – he made it dirtier. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness,” Martin Luther King Jr. once said. “Only light can do that.”

It should be noted that Gordon Fox is by no means perfect – he did co-sign the voter ID bill and shepherded through tax cuts for the wealthy – but he’s also by no means a dark force or a dirty politician, as Binder has frequently asserted. On the contrary, he’s a good man trying to succeed in an often cutthroat business.

It clearly weighs heavy on him. I remember sitting down with him more than a year ago and asking him about his infamous decision to not to bring a vote on marriage equality to the House floor. His moral dilemma with this decision was written all over his face.

It’s certainly hard to understand how an openly gay man wouldn’t go to the mat for a vote on marriage equality. But such is the plight of being the speaker: you sometimes have to put your own agenda aside for the good of the group – or at least for the good of the budget, which surely would have been a much more volatile process had some prominent Democrats been forced to show their hands on gay marriage.

I’ve given Gordon grief on all of these issues and more, and will continue to do so if he is re-elected. It’s not that I don’t understand his predicament, it’s just that I’ve got my role to play just as he has his: his is to build consensus among disparate agendas, mine is to call attention to progressive issues. All things considered, Gordon has been a good guy to work with.

I also don’t think I’ll have as much reason to give Gordon grief next session. It’s just a hunch, but I suspect Fox has realized that he’s moved too far to the right and he’s ready to lead the House in a more liberal direction. He’s already promised to call a vote on marriage equality next session and said he would reconsider the voter ID law too. Don’t be surprised if he signs on to a tax equity bill too. Or look for his name on the payday lending bill perhaps.

While I like Mark Binder a lot, and look forward to however he intends to stay involved in public service if he doesn’t win on Tuesday, I like Gordon Fox a lot too, and look forward to seeing how far back to the left he ventures next session if he does.

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Bob Plain is the editor/publisher of Rhode Island's Future. Previously, he's worked as a reporter for several different news organizations both in Rhode Island and across the country.

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