Legislative Grants, “An Extra Perk or two….”
The ProJo highlighted the RI General Assembly’s “Legislative Grant Program” (nee earmarks or the “rub-n-tug), focusing on the legislators (mostly State Rep’s) who believe it’s essentially a political spoils system. As reported by the ProJo’s Randall Edgar, Rep. Karen MacBeth (D-Cumberland) is one of those questioning the “process”:
Testifying before the House Finance Committee this spring, MacBeth said the program, while it may help worthy causes, is being used by the House leadership to hand out “rewards for votes or support.” A case in point: She said that while her grant requests from last fall were being ignored, more recent requests from House Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello were approved.
“I think that’s wrong,” she said.
Committee members gave the freshman lawmaker a cool response.
“I’m a little confused,” said Chairman Steven M. Costantino. “On one end, you’re saying you didn’t receive grants. And, on another end, you’re saying let’s eliminate the whole thing.”
“I’m not upset I didn’t receive the grants, I’m upset with the process,” MacBeth replied. “As I said, if there’s money for communities there, I’m going to absolutely advocate for my community. Do I agree with the process and the money? Absolutely not.”
Her comments about Mattiello prompted Rep. Kenneth Carter, a nine-term lawmaker from North Kingstown, to chime in.
“Representative,” he said to MacBeth, “if I was the leader of the House, I’d expect to get an extra perk or two for the time and effort they put in.”
It’s all there; the passive-agressive “I’m confused…”, which really means you’re confused; the implication that Macbeth was being a hypocrite instead of responding with a straightforward answer to the questions raised; the good ol’ boy (imagine Foghorn Leghorn) lecturing the “young lady” as to how it’s done up he-ah on the hill, ya see.
As many have long argued, there’s no better example of all that is wrong with RI politics than the rub-n-tug. And that’s especially true given the fact that so many think there isn’t anything wrong with it! Veteran scribe Scott McKay has been around long enough to consider it “business as usual” and takes the “disingenuous state house whiners” to task while pointing to a double-standard:
The fact is, we have a representative democracy with elected leaders. To the victor belongs the spoils. At some level, political leadership demands some modicum of loyalty and meting out grants is one lever that legislative leaders have.
So Lima and the others should not act as if they are “shocked, shocked” to find politics being played under McKim, Mead and White’s dome. She supported Rep. Gregory Schadone for speaker. He lost. (Schadone was also one of the complainers in the ProJo piece.)
It has never failed to amaze long-time legislative observers of the disconnect between the way state and federal lawmakers are treated by the media and others. There is a serious double-standard.
Rhode Islanders canonize federal lawmakers who bring the bacon back to the state. We revered Sen. Claiborne Pell for his eponymous grants to college students and named buildings after John Chafee for the federal largess he brought to the state when he was in the U.S. Senate. But a state rep who gets a few bucks for a senior center in his or her community to buy new bingo cards is somehow doing something bad.
Reminds one of that old adage about how one can tell a reformer in Rhode Island: A legislator who is out of power.
He’s got a point, but there are plenty of people who think all of it–call ’em grants, pork, earmarks, rub-n-tug, whatever–is bad.