One Degree of Disconnect
You grew up with the guy. Went to school together, played sports on the same teams. Went your separate ways after high school, but still saw each other every once in a while. When he ran for the legislature, you didn’t think too hard about voting for him. As you got older and had kids and raised your family, you started paying a little more attention to politics.
Now, when you run into him at the ball field or church or at the kids’ school, you exchange pleasantries and maybe bring up a thing or three about the economy or this bill or that issue. You’re an unaffiliated, independent voter and your buddy is a Democrat, but you get the sense that he is pretty much on the same page as you: traditional kinda guy, law and order, keep taxes down, kind of live-and-let-live.
You agree, for instance, that this country has to do a better job to protect its borders. But it really wasn’t a state issue. Then Arizona decided to take matters in its own hands because the Feds wouldn’t. You weren’t sure about all the details. We need to protect the borders, but you have some questions-you aren’t sure about some of the civil liberties issues, for instance–but you could understand how Arizonans are fed up and you’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Then you heard that a similar bill was submitted in the Rhode Island house. The other day you talked to your legislator buddy and learned that he was pretty much in favor of the bill, had some of the same questions as you and was looking forward to a good debate and hearing on the issue. Rhode Island ain’t Arizona, so there would be differences, no doubt. But the debate would be worthwhile.
Except now we won’t get the chance because the Speaker of the House, Gordon Fox, quashed the hearing. That’s his prerogative as Speaker, of course, but it sure doesn’t seem right that one person can make that kind of decision, does it?
Yet, that’s the way the system works in Rhode Island. The truth is, it really wasn’t one person who tabled that bill, or who tables any other bill, for that matter. In Rhode Island’s political system, one guy really runs the show, and it ain’t the Guvnah. It’s the Speakah. He’s selected and empowered by the members of his own Party who are elected by their neighbors and the people they grew up with, who consider them good guys.
That includes your buddy, who may not agree with the Speaker on more than 30% of the issues. But your buddy ran as a Democrat because that’s how you do things around here. And he voted for the heir apparent to ensure that he was in “good standing” down the line, if you know what I mean. And now–not for the first time and surely not for the last–an important issue won’t see the light of day because you and your buddy and the rest of Rhode Island continues to follow the same pattern, year after year.
It’s only a single degree of separation between us and the Speaker. But that one degree enables us to say our guy is all right, it’s the rest of ’em that are the problem. It allows us to keep fooling ourselves into thinking that our buddy ain’t the problem, that we aren’t the problem. Of course, the truth is we are the problem. We’ll continue to help push Rhode Island down the same rutted path until we realize that the only way to shake up the system is to vote out the entrenched powers. Even our old buddies.