Ask 100 people about Rhode Island’s government and 105 will say it’s broken, and probably not fixable.
Phase 1: Attack the Assumptions
From day one, my campaign for House District 4 has been about challenging that truism. It was clear to me at the start that the Speaker of the House used his power to push through the 38 Studios Video Game disaster, and then denied any responsibility for the outcome.
The most powerful man in the state of Rhode Island beaten by an unknown independent? That would create an opportunity for a breath of fresh air. At the start of the campaign, many people questioned whether my attempt was even credible. Today, few doubt that it is. We’ve had our fair share of media publicity. The smiles on the faces of neighbors and strangers throughout the district when I knock on their doors and give my pitch are reassuring too.
Currently, it’s looking like a close race, so we’re pushing ahead our next plan…
Phase 2: Change the Rules
Politics abhors a power vacuum, and many have expressed fears that whoever comes post-Fox will be “worse.” Better the devil you know? That’s so old school. How about a new way of running the State government that actually works for the State?
The old system works like this. Thirty-eight representatives agree to elect one of their members a Speaker. Then they give all their power to the Speaker, do whatever he (or she) says, and beg for scraps.
Why? I realize that the existence of a Speaker is specified in the State’s Constitution, but the system seems to work well only for the leadership. And the special interests who contribute to campaigns and lobbyists.
It doesn’t seem to work very well for the citizens, voters and taxpayers of this state. It doesn’t seem to work very well for the individual legislators outside the circle of power. Arrangements are made in back rooms, deals are cut, and votes are delayed until the last minute so that no one really knows what is going on.
Today I am inviting and challenging the current and future reps to adopt a government reform proposal in caucus before electing the next Speaker of the House.
Members of the House can and must make it a priority to fix the structural problems that led to such controversial decisions as the 38 Studios deal and this year’s last minute mash-up of the Board of Regents and the Office of Higher Education. We must adopt a drastic reform plan and secure a commitment from any candidate for Speaker to support the plan before committing our votes.
The starter elements for this plan include:
- The proposal put forth by State Representative Spencer Dickinson to prohibit campaign fundraising during the legislative session. This will prevent the corrosive contributions before, during and after working on legislation that benefit the special interests.
- Amending the House rules to prevent the House Finance Chair from introducing amendments to the budget without prior notice. This will prevent late night amendments, like the one that smashed together the Board of Regents and office of Higher Ed.
- Requiring the General Assembly to comply with the 48-hour notice provision of the Open Meetings Law for both committee and floor actions, thus making our government truly open and public.
There are other ideas floating around: a deadline for bringing bills out of committee before the end of the session to prevent the onslaught of last-minute votes and give legislators time to actually read the bills; allotting time in the calendar for legislators to call for votes from the floor for bills, thus short-circuiting the dead-in-committee morass.
Putting the power of the legislator into the hands of one person doesn’t work for the State. It doesn’t work for the voters, and it costs taxpayers money. Meaningful steps have to be taken to prevent the kind of scandals and abuses of power we have seen under Gordon Fox and his predecessors. It’s time to move ahead.
We know that every candidate is getting the message that people are fed up with the kinds of deals and abuses that produced 38 Studios. So let’s do something about it and make fixing state government a priority.
Legislators need to come together in caucus and say that there will be no vote for Speaker until a roadmap for government reform is in place and has the support of the woman or man elected speaker.
Every legislator who supports this roadmap to reform will be able to tell his or her constituents that ‘I stood up and fought to change the way business is done in the State House.’
Most important, these kinds of changes are wins for the people, the voters and the taxpayers.
The rules that we have haven’t been working. It’s time to change the rules.