I’m probably the only progressive in Rhode Island who didn’t break out in celebration upon learning that ultra-conservative Woonsocket state Rep. Jon Brien had been knocked out of his State House seat in Tuesday’s primary.
Not that progressives don’t have good reason to celebrate his political demise; they do. Though Brien calls himself a Democrat, in practice he’s one of the most conservative members of the General Assembly. On socially issues he falls to the right of even his Republican colleagues and on fiscal policy he’s simply draconian. He’s both a Catholic, and an Ayn Rand acolyte – a toxic combination to the left.
He refers to himself as the “godfather of voter ID in Rhode Island,” but he might be best known for being on the board of directors of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a shadowy, business-backed political operation that pairs corporate leaders with state legislators to write and hopefully export conservative legislation.
He also attracted a lot of attention when he and his cohort Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt killed a property-tax bill that was supported by both the mayor and city council – not to mention almost every member of the legislative and executive branches of government.
I’ll always remember him as the guy who almost got into a fight in an elevator with a union official, being as that was our first proper introduction to each other.
As you can see, there are no shortage of reasons for progressives and liberals (and even maybe middle-of-the-road moderates) to fear and/or detest his radically conservative agenda.
Me, on the other hand, the aforementioned fiascoes can also be seen as a list of many of my favorite stories to report over the last year or so. Jon Brien was like job security for me, I could always count on him necessitating some editorial coverage. I feel a little bit like an account who just lost tax season. Seriously, he’s driven a lot of traffic to RI Future. Our readers love to hate him and I truly enjoy reporting and writing about him.
But none of that is why I didn’t celebrate when I heard he lost his reelection bid.
I genuinely like Jon Brien, and consider him a friend. In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, my dad was once married to his cousin, so in a way, we’re family!
For those who don’t know Jon Brien, in addition to being a right-wing ideologue, he’s also funny and personable and thoughtful. He can also be crude and irascible and pompous. With the notable exception of the right-wing ideologue part, all that sounds a lot like me, if I do say so myself.
And furthermore, he very rarely dodged an interview, which goes a long way with me. Not just because it makes my job easier, but also because I like when people stand up for what they believe in and Jon Brien certainly did a lot of that.
That said, I think his politics and his policy proposals are generally bad for Rhode Island and I think Woonsocket will be better served with someone different in office.
So here’s hoping my friend Jon Brien finds that silver lining in his electoral defeat … but here’s also hoping it leads him far away from the public sector.