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June 18, 2004

A Stark Choice for State Voters

On Tuesday of this week, Edward Achorn wrote about Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey's maneuvers at the state Republican convention last Thursday, which I mentioned (with some video footage) last Friday. (I emailed the link to Mr. Achorn, with whom I periodically attempt to make contact, but he hasn't responded.) Achorn assesses the situation thus:

Well, it suggests Mr. Laffey is trying to do more than clean up the financial mess in Cranston. He is trying to put his stamp on the party and change the political culture of Rhode Island.

That irritates some people.

For one thing, it enrages the Republican establishment, small as it is. The country-club set, moderate and pragmatic, is convinced that the GOP in Rhode Island will always be on the losing end of the big battles. It will never compete in the General Assembly, which is overwhelmingly powerful at the state level. The best that the GOP can do is to play nicely with the Democrats -- and with the source of the Democrats' dominance, the public-employee unions -- and quietly claim a gubernatorial, Senate or mayoral seat from time to time. Like the small child of a raging alcoholic, establishment Republicans gingerly avoid giving offense, seeking to smooth over troubles and improve their lot in tiny increments.

Mr. Laffey is more inclined to punch the bully in the belly, and take his chances.

The key issue for Rhode Island voters, right now, is breaking the white-knuckle grip that a single party and the groups whose interests it primarily represents have on state government. The simple question, for the Republicans, is whether they'll benefit from that electoral desire by being the same politicians with different buttons on their lapels or by being contentiously distinct. I think the latter; at this level of domination, increased Republican representation won't threaten the Democrats' key issues, but it will send a message and insert a natural alarm, of sorts, for objectionable goings on in the state house.

I'll go further, though, and declare that I don't think the people of Rhode Island are as supportive of the Democrats' ideological positions as most people assume — whether on government, social, political, or any other issues. There's tremendous apathy, here, and apathy is a quality that comes in degrees. One can be apathetic and simply not care, or one can care, with the apathy obstructing inquiry and thought.

By bringing their differences to the public's attention, conservatives can spark thought among those who care. And by making confident noise in a polity accustomed to skulking whispers, they can perhaps spark inquiry among even those who don't think the people who run our state are worthy of attention.

Be it known to anybody in Rhode Island who stumbles across this blog that I'm willing to help as much as I'm able. For some reason, however, it's proving difficult even to find takers for that assistance when I actively offer it.

Posted by Justin Katz at June 18, 2004 12:53 PM

Just stumbled across your blog and wanted to thank you for keeping an eye on Cranston.

Posted by: Jeff at July 10, 2004 1:52 PM