RE: Unprincipled, Undemocratic Behavior

Also of interest in Achorn’s piece was the possibility of a potential quid pro quo between Montalbano and Murphy and Chief Justice Frank J. Williams. For some time, Williams had advocated that executive oversight, ie. the Governor, be removed with regards to the day-to-day operations (firings, hirings, raises, etc.) of the judicial branch. Interestingly, the legislature continued to maintain their oversight responsibilities. Obviously, Governor Carcieri opposed this plan, and he was supported by Common Cause, who charged Williams with attempting a judicial “power grab”. In addition to the opposition by the Governor and Common Cause, some legislators had legitmate questions regarding the “judicial independence” portion of the budget. According to the Providence Journal’s report on the debate on June 25, 2004:

The Senate yesterday easily approved the $5.9-billion spending package for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The longest debate came over the promise of new budget powers for the judicial branch.

Sen. Leonidas Raptakis, D-Coventry, moved to delete an article that would allow the judiciary to submit its budget directly to the General Assembly without revision by the governor.

Sen. Marc Cote, D-Woonsocket, said such a “serious and weighty issue” deserved more debate. “In my opinion this type of amendment and policy decision — to have it incorporated into the budget is bad government,” he said.

Sen. J. Michael Lenihan, D-East Greenwich, called the provision, “by any reasonable standard, a huge change in how we operate our budgets,” and deserving further scrutiny.

But Lenihan suggested that the measure had other problems, including its allowing the courts to set up a separate purchasing system and exempting them from public procedures for establishing new regulations. He questioned how the governor could assemble a budget with “no idea what the package is going to ultimately cost.”

A former Finance Committee chairman, Lenihan also said he knew “full well . . . just how generous the legislature has traditionally been to the court system.” The fact that the Assembly will now be the only body reviewing the judiciary’s spending, “quite frankly scares the hell out of me,” he said.

Sen. James C. Sheehan, D-North Kingstown, had a different complaint. Sheehan suggested that the language violates the constitutional requirement that the governor present an “annual, consolidated operating and capital-improvement state budget.”

However, the plan had its defenders, who cobbled together enough support to pass the bill with the “judicial independence” portion intact.

Then, in a seeming coincidence, and only twelve days after passage of the budget with the “judicial independence” provisions, Montalbano’s son was hired to work as a data entry aide in the Rhode Island Superior Court.

Asked whether there was any connection between the two events, Montalbano spokesman Greg Pare said the Senate president, D-North Providence, acknowledged Stephen was his son: “Beyond that he has no comment.”

Really sounds on the up-and-up, doesn’t it?

To justify the removal of the Governor’s executive oversight, Montalbano stated that, “Let’s recognize that separation of powers doesn’t mean that all executive power is vested in the governor, because that’s not what I meant when I put it on the ballot in November.” It’s too bad for Montalbano that Rhode Island voters believed that all executive power is vested in the Governor. The attempt by Murphy and Montalbano clearly shows they have a different interpretation of Executive power than most of Rhode Island’s voters. We must be sure to disabuse them of their wrongheadedness. If we allow them to keep their foot in the door, it won’t be long before we will find ourselves right back where we started a decade ago.

NOTE: This post was modified at 7:30 AM on 12/22/2004. The original, and shorter, post was “a work in progress” that I mistakenly put up. Then we had a problem with our server, so I couldn’t update it in a timely fashion. I apologize for the confusion.

Show your support for Anchor Rising with a 25-cent-per-day subscription.