Pulling Together the Change Agents

If the statewide election results accomplished anything, this year, it was to up the ante for pessimism in Rhode Island. Whereas we used to ask each other how bad things would have to get, here, before voters would begin to wake up, it is beginning to seem more realistic to ask whether the state can save itself at all.
The partisan Democrats are busily constructing distractions to deflect the blame that obviously falls at their feet. The ideologically driven liberals have not relented in their push for progress toward oblivion and, indeed, have inhaled some pure oxygen with Obama’s success. Economic recession, even depression, will shore up the poverty advocates’ ammunition and expand the base of struggling families who are susceptible to their message. And public union members have, if anything, been sending a message that they want to compromise even less than their leaders.
Meanwhile, the exodus of productive taxpayers continues apace. In fact, I’ll be so bold as to predict that the stream will become a flood unless Rhode Island manages to beat the rest of the nation out of recession — an unlikely scenario bordering on impossibility. For many residents who might be inclined to reorder the state, saying “uncle” won’t entail resignation to changing our government, but to changing zip codes. Indeed, I can testify from my own experience that construction industry realities and disconcerting noises from my employer leave me little choice but to begin preparing an escape route.
In other words, time is short to rally those who would change Rhode Island for the better and to concentrate their talents for maximum effect. We have to push aside egos, spread around resources, and work together in designing structure:

  • The Rhode Island GOP: The official state opposition party has to lower its profile for a while. Its role should retrench to support of grassroots operations and maintenance of a channel to the national party structure. Step away from the stove for a bit and let the boil stir the broth; perhaps it’s to the best if some detritus burns to the bottom of the pot.
  • Local “CC” Groups: Town-level taxpayer organizations, such as those in Tiverton, Portsmouth, East Providence, Lincoln, and Little Compton, need to arise in every town and concentrate on changing the habits and processes of government at the municipal level. Their focus should be on identifying citizens who might require only a little push to become active and to give residents a sense that they can make a difference if they would just engage. In this way, they may be able to give hope and a reason to stay to those Rhode Islanders whom we can’t afford to lose, while building up a base of informed citizens with whom to populate town and state government.
  • Rhode Island Statewide Coalition: While the local groups form and get up to speed, RISC should focus on building an infrastructure to link them together and identify areas of common cause. As the “CC” groups develop their understanding of municipal government, they’ll begin to identify the areas in which state law hinders their advancement. They’ll also run right into entrenched organizations, such as the teachers unions, that act statewide. RISC can facilitate the initiation of CCs, whether financially or by connecting interested organizers with the leaders of successful groups in other towns, aggregate the intelligence about state-level obstacles, and prepare channels by which town groups can expand to statewide office and action.
  • Ocean State Policy Research Institute: As an organic network grows from town to town, there is clearly a role for a think-tank-style organization to research the statewide playing field and to develop policy suggestions that answer the CC groups’ findings as well as broader problems that the state faces. While it will be important for OSPRI to remain organizationally independent from direct political interests, it will be critical for it and RISC to work together as complementary state-level organizations — in particular to avoid duplicated efforts.
  • TransformRI: To be honest, I haven’t developed a sufficient sense of TransformRI’s goals to place it within this proposed structure, but there are certainly gaps remaining that it may readily fill. Again, the key will be for the organization to work with the others, not duplicating their efforts.

Any successful network requires the involvement of “people groups,” with the goal of furthering principles that they support:

  • Rhode Island Republican Assembly: RIRA’s Web site quotes Ronald Reagan as characterizing the California Republican Assembly as “the conscience of the Republican Party,” and RIRA’s role should be to populate the reform structure in Rhode Island with an eye toward maintaining principles that ought not be diluted.
  • Moderate Party of Rhode Island: That said, there remain plenty of Rhode Islanders who recognize the pending calamity in their state and have a sound understanding of the steps necessary to avoid the worst of it. For that reason, it will remain important for dyed-in-the-wool conservatives and Republicans to work alongside self-identifying moderates. Compromises will have to go both ways, of course, such that nobody walks away from the table based on tangential or wholly irrelevant differences of opinion or aesthetic preferences. Toward that end distinct party labels are probably advisable, but cross-endorsements, so to speak, ought to be encouraged.
  • College Republican Federation of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Young Republicans: Similarly to RIRA, groups for young Republicans in the state should be brought into the fold, not only to cull active participants, but to involve a different voice and perspective.

Where Anchor Rising Fits into the Scheme.
Having observed the results of such a project, the contributors of Anchor Rising have no intention of becoming a propaganda organ for partisan activism, but when the lines are so clear and the needs so broad as in RI, there is no conflict between independence and cooperation. Our unique platform and established voice put us in an advantageous position to fill in gaps between and connect the various groups described above, primarily for the ends of communications and messaging:

  • The contributors are universally interested in researching and analyzing Rhode Island’s problems, making it a natural inclination to take the findings of others — whether OSPRI’s research or the CC groups’ experience — and fit them into the narrative of the state. In that way, we would connect the various dots and help to make the case for suggested changes.
  • Blogs are also an excellent route by which to bring exposure to stories and events that might fall through the cracks of mainstream media attention. Not only could we keep distant members of the statewide network informed, but we could provide a stepping stone from which to hand stories to larger media organizations, feeding the news upward, so to speak.
  • As a setting for public discussion — not only in the comments, but also through our Engaged Citizen feature — we provide an online forum for continual principle and message development. To keep reformers focused and united will require a mechanism for sharing experience and working out differences (or agreeing to disagree), and an independent Web site allows that discussion to occur.

What I’m proposing, from our end, begins with a request: If you help us to generate enough revenue initially to fund a single full-time position for the site administrator (ahem), we can become a substantial force enabling the construction of a statewide opposition movement. We could expand our coverage of relevant events and develop our understanding of the players and playing field. I’d also take it as a goal to seek out and encourage Rhode Islanders who display an interest in getting involved, particularly with respect to public debate. I’ve got a list of specific initiatives on which I’d embark from day-one as a professional blogger (for lack of a better term), but I won’t burden you with them, here; even presented vaguely, the value proposition is crystal clear.
For the time being, it is our intention to remain non-non-profit, so as to ensure both independence and privacy, but we’d be open to working with anybody who’s interested in helping, whether via donations, advertising, or some other mutually beneficial arrangement.
Considering what we’ve accomplished as a group of part-time hobbyists, I’m confident that, if we can fund a single year of increased involvement, we could get Anchor Rising standing on its own feet, perhaps even chasing down Rhode Island’s problems at a run within a year.
Please contact me with any leads or suggestions:
Justin Katz
jkatz@timshelarts.com
(401) 835-7156
P.O. Box 751
Portsmouth, RI 02871

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Ken Block
12 years ago

Well done, Justin. Rhode Island’s problems are too vast, and her democracy too broken, for a narrow-minded approach to resolving the issues.
The old “you are either with me or you are against me” mentality cannot stand if a cohesive opposition is to be created to guide RI out of this mess.
A simple movement to the middle from both sides of the political divide will yield a large area of agreement over core issues. The core of Rhode Island’s economic problems (excessive taxation, non-competitive business climate, structural spending problems, etc) is well known and obvious to a great many folks. There are many Democrats who understand this and disagree with the direction that our government has led our state. A middle meeting ground, complete with solid financial and political support, can provide the cover that these politicians need to begin to exert some independence from the enforced orthodoxy that the current legislative leadership demands.
A very difficult job lies ahead. But with the right people pulling together with a shared purpose, big change is possible.

Will
12 years ago

I think Justin’s observations are pretty good. A little something positive from all the different change-minded political/reform groups will probably go a long way. I believe in adhering to principles, but that does not mean that one cannot be practical, too. The “real change” people are much too fragmented at present to compete against the agents of the status quo, which have controlled our state with an iron fist for the last 70 years. It’s like David vs. Goliath, except in our version, David doesn’t even have a slingshot — at least, not yet. I don’t necessarily buy this “move to the middle” concept. To state the obvious, the middle is already in the middle. Instead of adjusting our beliefs to appeal to them, why not try to convince them that many of our beliefs are worthy of their support? Since we don’t have a parliamentary form of government, in order to win elections, you generally need to win 50.1% of the vote. That requires building political coalitions. I like Reagan’s 85% rule … if someone agrees with you at least 85% of the time, you should try to work with them. Political balkanization, and everyone going every which way, is not an effective way to change anything for the better. I guess the difference in approach which I would advocate (which may be different from Ken’s), would not be to compromise certain core conservative principles in order to appeal to a nebulous middle. Operating from the assumption that we [still] live in a center-right country, I think it would be more effective to try to develop and market conservative bread and butter ideas in such a way that it will appeal to as many people as possible, perhaps like a Contract with America type of approach. I think Grover… Read more »

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Will,
I tend to agree about not moving toward the middle. I think what we’ve got to design into a reform movement is some real independence among the players, such that we don’t trip each other up on shared goals, but don’t lose our identities.
In our current position, for one thing, it would be a mistake to fold the Moderates into the Republican Party, but it would also be a mistake not to work together and avoid duplicated efforts.

Monique
Editor
12 years ago

“The official state opposition party has to lower its profile for a while.”
A case could be made that a lack of funding has already accomplished that.
But seriously, why do you include that as a requisite, Justin?

Justin Katz
12 years ago

Because there is clearly a native bias against the Republican Party in Rhode Island that goes beyond any rationality. For that reason, a growing reform movement needs space to form its own identity before it merges, to some extent, into a state-level opposition to the Democrats.
More importantly, perhaps, the state GOP clearly has structural problems, and it needs to step back from the game enough to define itself in accordance with the constituency that actually proves itself to exist.

Tom W
Tom W
12 years ago

As for the RIGOP, I can’t state this as fact, merely intuition, but it may have been, and may still, be compromised from within by Democrat / union “moles.”
I don’t mean “moles” so much in the spy movie sense, but in that there are several “moderate” “Republicans” who have made a separate peace with the Democrat (and thus union / poverty industry) machine.
As such, the Democrats don’t aggressively seek to drive them from office, and they in turn “go along to get along.”
In return for this symbiotic relationship, the tacit if not formal understanding between the parties seems to be that the “Republicans” will keep their party from becoming too “uppity” and actually opposing the Democrats agenda – the occasional show in public is allowed with a wink and nod – but symbolism only, behind closed doors they remain one big, happy family.

Will
12 years ago

“The official state opposition party has to lower its profile for a while.” I’m going to need to agree with the Gentlelady from Wakefield (sorry, Justin). I think it would be very hard, barring the “Dan Yorke Option” — which would require the copious use of TNT — for the RI Republican Party to get any lower a profile in Rhode Island. We’ve arrived. The real question should be, “where do we go from here?” The RIGOP can be part of the solution. Justin is correct in that much of what is perceived by too many about the RIGOP is truly “irrational.” For instance, we’re not the party of the rich, corporate fat cats, WASPs, or pretty much anything else we’re accused of — they’re almost all Democrats. The Democrats control everything in RI — and have for nearly all of our lifetimes — yet they don’t seem to get a corresponding amount of the blame when things go bad. Why the disconnect? Perhaps Rhode Islanders are inherently irrational. It’s certainly a possibility — or just perhaps it’s because we’ve done very little as a party to aggressively counter their propaganda. Being that Monqiue, Tom W., and myself have had much deeper interaction (for better or worse) with the actual “organization” which is the RIGOP — and there is a literal organization, although it isn’t always very organized — I feel comfortable that our observations may have a different weight than those from the “outside.” As I think both Monique and Tom can attest, even when you’re perceived by others as being on the “inside” at the RIGOP, you’re probably still on the outside. One often gets the feeling that the state party isn’t controlled so much by it’s members or it’s leaders, than it is by external influences (Tom… Read more »

rhody
rhody
12 years ago

It’s a wonder statis quo survives with less than a majority. There are just as many people on the left unhappy with it as there are people on the right.
Take these jobbers out of power, and you’ll get the vigorous debate over the issues which has long been stifled.

Patrick
Patrick
12 years ago

>>I had a 2008 candidate ask me a few days ago if they would be better off running as unaffiliated in 2010, because with SPV, being a Republican on the ballot hurt them badly.<< Huh? I hope you explained how SPV works. Running as a Republican got that candidate far more votes than running as an independent or as an "unaffiliated" would. Now if that candidate wants to run as a Democrat, there is the potential to get all those SPV votes, if he/she can make it through the primary first. I also believe the RI GOP needs to go lower with exposure and get their feet wet with smaller races. Win some school committee seats first and then you'll see some financial change in towns. Win some town/city council seats and then you start getting free recognition. Financing state seats isn't cheap. Stick to a district in a town and that can be covered much more cheaply and at the same time help people learn how to run a campaign and how to be an elected official. Start small, infiltrate at the town level, show people what you can do for 1-2 terms, do a good job and then winning an Assembly seat will be much easier.

Scott Bill Hirst
Scott Bill Hirst
12 years ago

Hi!
I come from a WASP background and I do have Pilgrims in my linage but have other British Isles ancestry including Irish. UNfortunately I am not wealthy.
The real serious thing is organization of party committees in January and then the reorganization of the GOP State Committee. I think the political scene is sometimes self-inflicted but many times it is not.
People need to be promoted on merit and the willingness and abilility to do the job as party leaders. The real question top those that vote on various political committees who would you entrust your political life and your parties life to?
The bottom line is town,city, and ward committees need to be active and actually do something. My immediate fear/concern of the Rhode Island GOP is the loss of the Governorship in 2011 as obviously we won’t be able to get a strong representation in the legislature.
I could say more.
Regards,
Scott

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