As a non-native Rhode Islander, I continue to learn of the little traditions of which I have never heard, here or anywhere else. Coffee milk, “cabinets”, hot weiners, etc. Now I read in today’s ProJo of the “tradition” of handing out “Rhode Island Official” stickers. At first, it just seems like yet another case of Rhode Island political patronage.
You don’t need to be in state or local government to get one. You don’t need to be a former official. You don’t even need to have considered running for office.
Each state representative and senator is given 25 windshield decals that they can hand out at their “discretion” to friends, family and political supporters.
The practice has been going on for decades; longer than any current lawmaker has been serving.
The decals — about the size of an inspection sticker — include the state seal and say “Rhode Island Official” and the two years of the current legislative term.
The latest batch was handed out recently.
House Speaker William J. Murphy, D-West Warwick, and Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, sent a letter with them saying: “Dear Colleague: Enclosed please find your 2005-2006 Rhode Island Official Stickers. Since the supply is limited, please use your discretion when you distribute the stickers.”
Freshman Rep. James F. Davey, R-Cranston, got his supply and said he was shocked.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate unless you’re a Rhode Island official and in which case you don’t need to get one from me,” Davey said. “Use your discretion only because the supply is limited not because it might be inappropriate.”
Davey called The Journal about the stickers and said he will return his allotment.
“Unbelievable. Unbelievable,” was the response from H. Philip West Jr., executive director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, when he learned about them.
“I would doubt it’s illegal, but it’s certainly wrong,” West said. “It clearly is meant to create a privilege for a group of favored individuals. I would say there’s probably already too much of that in state government.”
The state’s other prominent government watchdog, Robert Arruda, chairman of Operation Clean Government, however, finds nothing wrong.
“Other than status, I can’t think of what else it’s going to gain the individuals that have it,” Arruda said. “I’m more concerned about the jobs [legislators] hand out.”
Others echo Arruda’s claim.
Freshman Rep. John J. Loughlin II, R-Tiverton, first heard about the decals while going door-to-door campaigning last year when a man asked him for one, if he got elected.
“It’s a Rhode Island thing. It’s like low-numbered license plates. It’s like Del’s Lemonade,” Loughlin said. “It’s a visible symbol, that ‘Hey, I know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody,’ which is the Rhode Island way.”
“I don’t think the sticker necessarily purports them to be a state official,” Loughlin added. “It’s a nice little gesture; it’s a nice little thing to have.”
Sen. Leonidas P. Raptakis, D-Coventry, likened the stickers to the medallions given out by the Fraternal Order of Police.
Others just chalked them up to tradition.
“They’ve been around since I’ve got here,” said Bruce J. Long, R-Middletown, the longest current serving member of the House. “They go back to at least the mid-70s.”
So why give the decal to someone who is not an official?
“Because it makes them feel special,” said Long, who was first elected in 1980. “I think they’re given out to impress people. In my early years, I did plenty of that.”
And why would someone want one?
“It’s one of the great mysteries of life and a quintessential Rhode Island political dynamic,” said House Minority Leader Robert A. Watson, R-East Greenwich. “I still don’t think anybody takes those things very seriously, certainly not the police in Rhode Island. Nor do I expect many people believe that [they] would.”
Peter T. Brousseau, president of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association and West Warwick police chief, said the stickers are not some type of “get out of jail free pass” from parking or speeding tickets.
Like the legislators, Brousseau said: “I don’t know what special privilege you get from those.”
Well, if they aren’t worth anything other than making people feel good, why do they need them? If they’re not worth the money that is spent to print and send them, then STOP DOING IT! It’s a waste of money.