Ask any conservative and they’ll tell you that the state’s problems are inextricably linked to the dominance of Democrats. This is not untrue, but what they aren’t telling you is that many of the Democrats in the General Assembly are more closely aligned with their own ideology than that of the party’s typical platform.
Our reporting on ALEC this week brought that rarely-mentioned truism to the center of debate this week. Not only is ALEC’s lone Democrat on its board of directors Woonsocket’s own Jon Brien. But for a supposedly liberal state, ALEC has no small toe hold on our General Assembly – more than 20 percent of legislators are members, and half of them are Democrats.
Ian Donnis, of Rhode Island Public Radio, picked up on the theme writing, “Rhode Island might rank among the most bluest states, but you wouldn’t know it from the General Assembly.”
By way of example, he cites our ALEC reporting, last year’s voter ID bill (not surprisingly, that effort was spearheaded by Brien) and the legislative leaderships’ reluctance to embrace income tax increases as a way to get out of debt, noting that, “Speaker Fox and Senate President Paiva Weed seem in tune with Chamber of Commerce types.”
David Sharfenberg of the Phoenix compared Smith Hill legislators’ stance on tax policy to that of their congressional counterparts, writing:
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse got all kinds of attention for his “Buffett Rule” push, calling on the wealthy to “pay their fair share.” Meanwhile, on Smith Hill, the General Assembly seems all but certain to kill legislation that would raise taxes on the rich.
It’s as good an illustration as any of the striking gulf between state- and federal-level politics in Rhode Island – the former rather conservative, the latter pretty liberal.
While Sharfenberg notes that this phenomenon is particularly acute in Woonsocket, Pawtucket and Tiverton, I would add all of Rhode Island save for South County and the West Bay to the list – though Woonsocket is certainly ground zero for conservative Democrats.
“Is there a decoder-ring for the different flavors of “Democrat” in this state,” he wrote. “Moderate-Democrat, Conservative-Democrat, Rightwing-Democrat, Woonsocket-Democrat.”
And similarly, a nonpartisan State House insider, who asked not to be identified, said to me earlier in the week, “In Woonsocket, Democrat is French for Republican.”
But while Woonsocket is the poster child for DINO’s (Democrats in name only), it by no means lays the only claim to a share of this market.
There’s also Karen MacBeth, of Cumberland, who is sponsoring the ultrasound bill that would make it both more onerous for women to get an abortion, and more humbling. And who can forget Rep. Peter Palumbo, who called Jessica Ahlquist “an evil little thing” for sticking up for the Constitution rather than religion in the case of the Cranston prayer banner.
Or how about House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is openly gay, and didn’t fight for marriage equality last legislative session. He’s only slightly less conservative than Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, who is well known for valuing Catholics more than constituents.
And these are just the most vocal and recently public examples; there’s also: Doc Corvese of North Providence, Peter Petrarca of Johnston, John Edwards of Portsmouth, Peter Martin of Newport and, of course, Nick Mattiello of Cranston … the list goes on and on…
Anyone who tells you this state is controlled by the political left or organized labor may as well be trying to sell you swampland in Florida. It’s simply not true anymore. For evidence of as much one need look no farther than most popular politicians in the state – Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Treasurer Gina Raimondo – both of whom are most well known for taking on the unions. And in case you haven’t noticed, it’s been years since organized labor won a meaningful battle at the State House.
So while conservatives scoff at the notion that there is any relationship between tax cuts to the rich and the Rhode Island’s high unemployment rate (even though the correlation completely undercuts the job creator myth that so many of them espouse), it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the simple fact that as Rhode Island moves to the right it’s economy keeps getting weaker and weaker.