The Civics Interview with Ken Block: “Are we living in times so extreme that basic principles of democratic government need to be shoved aside?”

Rhode Island’s media and civic organizations have done an excellent job giving the 2010 Gubernatorial candidates forums to present their views to the public. However, there has been at least one noticeable gap in the questions put to the candidates so far: questions involving some particular recent and longer-term state-level developments, that relate to the basic extent of government.

I pre-submitted a series of four questions to the major gubernatorial candidates on this subject and asked for an opportunity to interview the candidates directly. Presented first is the interview with Moderate Party candidate Ken Block.

Question 1: The legislative year began with the creation of a Teachers’ Health Insurance Board, which on its face looks to be a violation of the separation-of-powers provision of the RI Constitution. We ended the year with the passage of a municipal fiscal stabilization bill, that can be basically used to suspend democratic governance in any RI municipality. Are we living through times right now that are so extreme that basic principles of democratic government need to be shoved aside?

Those are two interesting examples, because I think they highlight two completely opposite ends of the spectrum of problems and how you might address them. As far as the teachers’ health insurance board is concerned, that’s an absolute end-run around taxpayer representation and it’s wrong in every way. I’m wholly against it…As it is, the taxpayers don’t have a lot of direct control over way too much that happens in their lives… Audio: 50 sec

As far as the Central Falls receivership is concerned, what we’ve seen is a failure of representative government to do what’s right economically for the people of Central Falls and the state, I believe, does have a very strong vested interest in making sure that our cities and towns don’t tumble into insolvency… Audio: 35 sec

The reason that I called out the difference between the teachers’ health insurance board and the receiver is that in some ways, an all-powerful receiver gives you a way to work your way around these embedded infrastructures that work against the best interests of the taxpayers… Audio: 40 sec

My hope and desire would be that we don’t have to go the receiver route… Audio: 34 sec

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10 years ago

I think Block cedes too much here in regard to the Central Falls receiver. If the system is so bad that you have to suspend the normal rules of democratic governance to get anything done, than you no longer have any rules at all. While it may be in the best interest of the taxpayers in the short-term to give one person dictatorial powers, you have created a precedent that could be used to advance far more pecuniary interests later. Either those “embedded infrastructures” need to be taken on directly or you have to suffer the consequences of leaving them in place. You can’t create a legal shortcut and pretend that it will only be used for good.

10 years ago

I meant picayune, of course, not pecuniary, although it would be that, too.

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