While Gov. Chafee’s party affiliation flip-flop has been near-universally declared a political ploy, it’s also been near-universally declared that he is now in the party that matches his political ideology. But is he?
Chafee certainly has bona fide progressive credentials when it comes to non-economic policy. As our senator his principled and at-the-time unpopular stand against war against Iraq is one of the most commendable political positions of the so-called “war on terror.” And as our governor, he’s been a great champion for civil liberties, both on marriage equality and the death penalty.
He’s also fought harder against the disparity between our struggling cities and our affluent suburbs than anyone else in Rhode Island, and I feel that is the most important issue vexing the state.
Economically, he’s taken a somewhat more unconventional path, often employing regressive means for progressive ends.
He tried to help struggling cities, not be restoring cuts to state aid, but rather by proposing relief from state mandates, many of which protected working class union members from wage and/or benefit cuts. I supported this at the time, though now it seems a little bit like robbing Poor Peter to pay Poor Paul while Richie Rich wins again.
Another high profile-profile but failed effort to affect the economy was to broaden but lower the state sales tax. I liked this idea, too, and still do. There’s no reason some sectors should be exempt from taxes while others aren’t and there are at least 51 million reasons Rhode Island needs more revenue. He took a similar tack on corporate tax policy this, supporting an across-the-board cut while wanting to eliminate a give-away that by and large only benefits CVS.
On pensions, we often talk about negotiating with unions or not, but really Chafee took a third way. He quietly pushed for cuts without grandstanding and once he had the law on his side he sat back down at the table. That to me looks a lot like negotiating, but doing so from a position of strength. Organized labor and their allies shouldn’t fault anyone for that.
All things being equal, I feel Chafee does belong under the big tent of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, but he also moves that tent even farther to the right. Remember, it’s been said the local Democratic Party tent is so big that it even lets all the elephants in!