Working with the Problem

Appearing on the Matt Allen Show, gubernatorial candidate Victor Moffitt sings a lot of music to the ears of right-leaning reformers in Rhode Island. Starting each year’s budget process from zero and implementing five percent across-the-board reductions each year for eight years are great ideas from which to begin a turnaround of state government. I’m not convinced, though, that Moffitt truly acknowledges the underlying problem.
He does start out very close, though:

Basically, who runs the state is the speaker of the house. He’s the captain of the ship; he’s the king of Rhode Island. The speaker of the Senate, you might as well say is the queen, right now. They rule the state. The governor has pretty much a figure head position. He does have the bully pulpit. He can look at some policy decisions and try to put together a decent budget.

Moffitt arguably understates the authority that naturally comes with the act of running the state as its chief executive, although, were the governor to refuse to implement legislated policies, the courts would likely step in. But on the matter of those policy — which must be the focus at this time — the only question for a governor is how he can move an unwilling legislature toward the changes that Rhode Island needs, and here, Moffitt flies right off the tracks:

I just think that the governor could work a lot closer with the General Assembly, and in the past that’s not been a working relationship. That’s something that I would bring as a governor — to work a lot more closely with the General Assembly to get legislation passed.

If the premise is — as it must be — that the king and queen of Rhode Island (and their compliant legislative entourage) are harming the state out of a lack of political will and a surplus of self interest, then what use is a figure head governor who stresses working closely with them? Matt Allen brought forward the question of whether Moffitt would use the bully pulpit (that he, himself, acknowledges as the only tool of the RI governor) to highlight things that the General Assembly is doing wrong, and the candidate responded by lamenting Don Carcieri’s “CEO mentality” — giving orders and not compromising.
Letting slide the debatable characterization of CEOs, one must wonder what leverage Moffitt believes that he would have if he shies away from making his case to the public, and thereby disrupting his “close working relationship” with the people who actually have authority to give him orders.

I come small business, with a humble financial background — no big name family with a lot of money. So I look at fixing things from a different perspective: working with the adversaries. In other words, bringing some of the leadership people — the Finance Committee people — in right from the beginning, when I’m crafting the budget to put it together, so when it’s presented to the General Assembly, and to the Finance Committee, I already know that this budget is going to go through.

Matt went on to note that governor gets all of the blame for the consequences of the legislature’s wrong-headed acts, and Moffitt didn’t seem to see the point. Bringing the General Assembly into the governor’s part of the budget process — even assuming that legislators who dawdled for months on a desperately needed supplemental budget and who typically wait until the very last moment to thrust their final budgets into law, each year, would cooperate — only makes easier the political maneuver of blaming the governor.
Moffitt responded that he can work with the General Assembly — Gordon Fox, specifically — and doesn’t care if the Democrats take credit for all of his good ideas. That’s quite a different matter, though, than the challenge that Matt accurately described: The legislators’ practice is to give the governor credit for all of their bad ideas.
Overall, Victor Moffitt’s statement translates as follows: “The General Assembly is the problem. Having been a member of the problem, I can and will work closely with it.” Now, maybe he’s got some grand plan for action that he’ll unveil when, soon into his first term, he encounters the choice of using his one weapon — the bully pulpit — or appearing to work with the General Assembly, but that’s what voters need to know about up front. And maybe he’s hoping things will operate differently with a more politically balanced legislature that gives teeth to his veto power, but then that’s an outcome toward which he must be working even as he runs his own race, and I didn’t hear him stress its importance.

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