One of the most common refrains I hear from Pro-convention people is the need for a line-item veto for the governor’s office. Others argue for the need to re-assert the Ethics Commission oversight over the General Assembly. And maybe it’s just me, but I do not foresee voters citing these as their top concerns when it comes to whether to hold a convention or not. On one hand we have the possible de facto outlawing of abortion in Rhode Island. On the other, the governor gets to decide which parts of the budget he’ll strike down.
Maybe if a governor ever bothered to veto the budget, the case for line-item could be stronger. Certainly, forcing an override is a dramatic turn of events. Had Chafee vetoed the budget last year, it’s possible the House leadership might’ve collapsed as the Sakonnet River Bridge tolls controversy exploded. Instead he signed the budget, and the facade of tranquility in the House survived until the Five Days in March.
But this is precisely the point; Rhode Island only thinks about hypotheticals in relation to how things are now. Call it a sort of status quo bias. What many in the Pro-convention camp are calling for weak sauce reforms to the current state of affairs. Thus, we suggest that the governor gain the line-item veto, but fail to call into question whether a governor is even required in Rhode Island. The drum is beaten for eliminating the ballot’s straight party option, but we never ask ourselves whether first-past-the-post is the best voting system we should have.
A more recently trumpeted problem in the state is the lack of trust Rhode Islanders have in their government. The line-item veto does not restore trust. Ethics oversight might boost trust, but it is unlikely to change the lack of transparency in state government. Furthermore, none of the commonly proposed structural changes increases civic participation in government. The Pro-convention movement needs to pause and consider what reforms will genuinely make the citizenry of this state more active and involved in our democracy. Half-assed modifications of the current system are going to be rightfully ignored.