Don’t Leave; Fight
Matt and Andrew are surely correct about Rhode Island’s pending efforts to work dig its own grave even more deeply. The thing is: There was no plausible outcome, for this election, that could have stopped that.
So, go ahead and feel those feelings: I wish I’d never bought property in Rhode Island, because now it’s worth so much less than I paid that I’m trapped. And I’m exhausted from struggling to survive in this state. But then think of what actually happened.
In the governor’s race, Democrat Frank Caprio ran as a “moderate” Republican, even procuring the endorsement of one of the state’s right-leaning reform groups, the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, and the Republican outperformed him. Linc Chafee, meanwhile, had the left-wingers and the public sector unions. That shouldn’t even have been close, and if it was close, common wisdom would suggest that it should have been the Democrat machine versus those forces. Republican John Robitaille, in other words, came much, much closer than anyone should have expected — within three percentage points, some portion of which might potentially be attributed to RISC’s horrible mistake. Now he’s got a campaign record on which to run next time around, when all of those Rhode Islanders realize what the famed “Chafee brand” actually indicates.
Before that time comes around, consider this: in the next election cycle, voters will have nowhere to go to express their dissatisfaction and strive for a political reordering than the General Assembly, because the governor et alia won’t be up for reelection.
All the other state offices, meanwhile, are purely a measure of partisan dedication. I don’t think many voters pay all that much attention to issues when it comes to any race but governor. Are people really deeply informed about the views of candidates for Secretary of State, or even Attorney General? I think they just vote as they’re used to voting, perhaps switching away from the D. for personal, idiosyncratic reasons. But really, several of these races shouldn’t have been as close as they were, if my assessment is correct.
What’s important to remember is that people built names during this election. In General Assembly races, look at it from the average person’s perspective. Anchor Rising readers know that anybody with an R. or a conservative streak is likely to be better than the buffoons currently in office (not the least because they’ll be more likely to consider views such as ours), but to the average voter, it’s some modestly articulate stranger from the suspicious Right or the modestly articulate stranger whom they know from election after election. They aren’t predisposed to prefer conservatives, politically, so why should they vote for conservative strangers?
Ours has to be a multi-election strategy, with candidates spending off years out in the community (1) becoming known as non-scary, and (2) practicing their speaking and developing their policy opinions. Look, for example, at Dan Reilly and Chris Ottiano, in Portsmouth. It took them each multiple attempts, but now they’ve earned office. Look at North Kingstown’s Doreen Costa: She’s been out there for years, at this point, including pictures confronting Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in the newspaper. Most of the GOP and Clean Slate candidates signed on relatively recently.
Congressional Candidate John Loughlin is probably the archetype of the point that I’m making: He was surprisingly close. From the general public’s standpoint, Democrat David Cicilline didn’t blow his job as Providence mayor too badly, and pushed hard on the fear-driven, disingenuous attacks on Loughlin. He also benefited from an explicit strategy on the part of national Democrats to shore up congressional seats that really shouldn’t have been threatened. In the perspective of those who see Rhode Island as hopeless, Loughlin shouldn’t have gotten anywhere near as close to victory as he did, and now he’s known.
The election results look, to me, to be surprising in the amount of support for some sort of change, but people have to know who the change-bringer is. What the RIGOP and right-leaning reformers have failed to do is to congeal into a united force providing practical advice and unified strategy and to build long-term campaign strategies. Moving forward, those who gained office, from the right, need to perform well and intelligently — proving that they could be trusted to be reasonable as a majority. Candidates who didn’t win should continue a low-to-midlevel campaign, becoming known in their communities and offering alternate arguments as the General Assembly and governor make their inevitably poor decisions.
And the rest of us must do the same: educating our neighbors and promulgating points of view that our fellow Rhode Islanders may never have heard articulated or have considered strange and foreign.
The election results are not bereft of points of opportunity. The new kid in the neighborhood isn’t likely to swing into town and prove a master of a quirky local street game. Keep at it; things will improve.