Don’t Bind Elected Unionists; Force Them Out
Last night, Matt Allen made the point that Congressman Patrick Kennedy’s perpetual reelection makes his antics most profoundly an indictment of the voters who keep sending him back to Washington. The same is true of most corruption at the state and local levels, and I’m not sure, therefore, whether the proper route to reform is to leverage an unelected government panel, the Ethics Commission, to build low barriers around school committee members who are also teachers’ union members in another town:
Groups such as Operation Clean Government and Common Cause Rhode Island argue that the rules should be tightened, because how public officials act on union matters in their communities could affect their own unions. Labor contracts in one town are often cited in negotiations in another town. And local unions are often affiliated with the same statewide union.
Defenders of the status quo argue that the current ethics rules are sufficient. The Ethics Commission has held repeatedly that there is no financial or business relationship between a public official who belongs to a union in another town and a union negotiator.
Realistically, the single largest task of any school committee member is to vote up or down on negotiated contracts, so removing the ability to make that vote effectively denudes an elected official. Anything short of disallowing that vote — or even disallowing the candidacy — places an Ethics Commission stamp of approval on the problem itself. That, I must admit, puts me in agreement with a crowd with which I’m typically at odds:
George Nee, secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, countered that further restrictions would unfairly limit a public official’s ability to participate in the democratic process. Voters are aware of the backgrounds of the people they elect, he said. That position was echoed by lawyer Robert Mann, who spoke on behalf of Working Rhode Island, a coalition of labor organizations.
The tasks before those of us who see the problems are to educate the public and to move preferred candidates into office. It’s a long, slow process — and, given the emigration of some of our natural allies, not at all a sure thing — but people are beginning to awaken to the damage that’s been done. Having identified the methods by which the unions and others have done that damage, our best use of that information would be to inspire opposition and motivated participation — at the local level, first, and then, with the advantage of a statewide farm team, at the state and then national levels.
Otherwise, it’s not inconceivable that we may find our own methods of instituting constraint through the Ethics Commission binding our own hands in the future.