“Only an outsider can fix what’s broken here,” said Barrington businessman Ken Block during last night’s first Republican debate for governor.
His opponent, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, may want to paint Block as a opportunistic flip-flopper, but to me he sounded a lot like the last affluent private sector executive from the suburbs to preach the “outsider” gospel.
And we all know how that turned out.
Don Carcieri was a private sector superstar before turning to politics. He was elected governor twice, in 2002 and 2006, but he’s now widely regarded as the worst chief executive of the state in recent memory. He wasted huge amounts of time opposing economic growth, like a deep water port at Quonset and a casino, both of which came to fruition, albeit late, after he was gone. His economic coupe de grace, of course, was his very publicly courtship of Curt Schilling and 38 Studios. He also ordered state troopers to raid a Narragansett Indian tobacco store when the tribe claimed a tax exemption. Whatever folly one associates with Carcieri, it’s fair to say he’s a third rail for Republicans, a whipping post for Democrats and an embarrassment for everyone else.
And before being elected to office, his political resume looked a lot like Ken Block’s.
Carcieri is from East Greenwich while Block is from Barrington. Carcieri ran a business called Cookson while Block runs one called Sympatico. Both built effective bully pulpits through favorable treatment from right-wing media like WPRO and the Providence Journal editorial page.
They have similar policy prescriptions, too. Both believe very strongly that welfare inefficiencies substantially hinder economic progress. And both suggest shrinking government is a growth strategy. Both believe private sector experience translates into public sector effectiveness, even though the Ocean State has seen scant evidence of such ever since Democrat Bruce Sundlun left office.
The problem for Block is that Carcieri, Rhode Island’s most recent GOP governor, has more-recently exemplified how terribly wrong the CEO-governor model can go. Carcieri’s Big Audit mentality may have succeeded in shrinking the size of government, but that has harmed the overall economy and exacerbated unemployment. What then will be the unintended consequences of Ken Block’s goal of eliminating $1 billion in government programs. A business person can eliminate expenses, but a governor can only redistribute them.
Governments, wrote House GOP leader Brian Newberry in the Valley Breeze last week, “are, in the end, not a business.” His submission was about 38 Studios, the most famous failure of the Carcieri Administration.