Steve Gerling: At the Trail’s End
I can’t say I wasn’t warned; Rhode Island is a tough place for a Republican to run for office. It just came out one day at an East Providence GOP meeting. Someone asked; “Do we have anyone running for Senate 18?” The next thing I knew, everyone was looking at me. Even my wife, who I trust to talk me out of things like this, was jotting down phone numbers and filing deadlines. Given time to consider, I realized that I actually wanted to do it. Not for the grandeur, or some false sense of prestige, but because I knew I could help Rhode Island. That is, if I could get in.
The breadth of the battle ahead was blatantly obvious. The unions would come out strong, but taxpayers were fed up this time. The lassitude of the past, I felt, would be trampled by angry homeowners swarming the polls, eager to show that they were casting off the yoke strapped on them by special interests. I would have to work for it, but the time was right to bring a conservative voice to the Rhode Island Senate.
The initial ferocity of the announcement soon gave way to long nights, disappointing fundraisers, and retrospective inquiry as to the validity of allegiances. Even so, spirits were high. No one else’s fundraisers did much better than mine; kind of like barbeques for vegetarians, so the big money oozing from the coffers on the other side was deemed indicative of the abuse of power that was about to end.
As the sun rose on November second, I arose confident that the efforts of the last nine months would pay off. Standing outside one polling location, the incumbent even lamented to me that he was indeed apprehensive I might overtake him. Boy! Was he wrong!
Had I left any stone unturned, I’d be disappointed. Had I not got the message out from hill to dale, from tower to trestle, I’d still be wondering. Such is not the case. I hit the alleys and the high-rises, alone and in groups. The word was out there, but East Providence didn’t want to hear it. The cause of the full-tilt upset of everything politically sane that took place in my city might be attributed to either an apparent magnification of the “politico-lag” that Rhode Island is so famous for, or as is my view, a para-sensitive semi-allergic reaction to the citywide malaise, real or conceived, that permeated the city.
Unfortunately, they simply voted to restart the vicious cycle they were so sick of. Therein lies the rub; there was no way out. A vote for political sense promised wailing union officials and angry dissertations. Voting to shut them up would promote relative peace until the new committees actually opened the books and realized what they’d stepped in. I won’t be a part of that, and I almost wonder if I got lucky.
Many have contacted me by various media about running again. While I do not rule it out completely, it is highly unlikely that I would do so. Apparently, this has been taken by some as an abandonment of intent. I don’t find that a fair assessment. While I duly respect the dauntless restructuring of many campaigns, I myself have many roads to consider. Simply setting my sights on “next time” would limit my options. In the mean time, I consider myself one of a select few who have a two year pass to complain all I want. No one can say I should have tried to change it, because I did. Now I can do things on my terms for a while.
There’s a bit of a dichotomy taking place when one runs for public office. On one hand, I was asking for the privilege to serve. In order to do so, I needed to ask the general public if it wanted to be helped, even thought the answer was obvious. I needed to put my beliefs in a categorized package to be presented to the voter and bring it to them. At the door: Steve Gerling, this lowly urchin who asks for a moment of their time to explain what I will do if given the authority to affect their lives. Theirs to accept or reject within a span of five seconds. Theirs to thank or to insult.
The fact that they would later blame their problems on “politicians” like me promised amusement in subsequent reflection. I learned to gather solace in those who thanked me for attempting to protect them from being whacked with further tax increases and more affronts to their freedom.
I walked up to their doors and rang the bells of my own free accord. If I met up with a politically ambivalent stranger or dyed in the wool liberal, I suppose I asked for it. The tough part was hearing it from acquaintances. Perhaps it’s just in their programming, but even those we know are far too likely to say something like, “Oh the politician is gonna talk. Get ready for some hot air.” Here’s where being a “politician” loses its luster. The correct answer is, “No, I won’t talk. Not now. I was just going to say hello, but since I’m just full of hot air, I’ll keep it to myself. You hate politicians, yet when anyone with a thread of moral fiber steps up to fill the role, you drag them down to a level you can make fun of rather than congratulate them for breaking the status quo. You moan about the fact that your property value, which is the basis of your net worth, has been stolen by those who wouldn’t be insulted by such a comment then project it onto me. Since you think I’m full of hot air, I’ll stay quiet while you wallow in unfounded self-aggrandizement at the ever so cunning comment you used to silence me, and I’ll try not to display my disdain for the abject ignorance you display when you so effortlessly convey your moronic sense of dominance on to me. I picture you slapping your chest like a gorilla, so I’m leaving before you start throwing your excrement to further your point.” Never get to say that as a politician, do you?
Candidates need to be careful of what they say and how they say it. Incessant blathering gives me a headache. I doubt it would have gone over well in the senate for me to respond to a committee request with, “Take a look, punk, do I seem happy? Now go back to the maggot-hole and tell the rest of the larvae to get their pens out and be ready to sign, or I’ll squeeze the ink out of your eyeballs!” Again, the limits of the limelight. I might just have said that.
Aside from my obvious affinity towards theatrics, I shudder to think of what I gave up in declaring candidacy. Responding to threads on the internet was sometimes gut-wrenching. I’d chuckle as I typed out pithy retort, only to have my wife stomp in from another room: “I heard you laughing. You can’t say that.” Sigh… Delete. No, I lived by the Candidate’s Creed: stay in town all summer to attend fundraisers with the same thirty-three people statewide who go to each other’s events. I often wondered why we didn’t just pass a single hundred dollar bank check around.
Simply put, there are some things that I am far more worried about than whether or not to run for office again. I’d love to be quoted on these, but that would take away other’s ability to take credit for the insight. Anyhow, here are a few:
- False Prophets have arisen around the state. It would be frivolous to name them.
- The second amendment will be under assault with Chafee as Governor and Kilmartin as AG. The few supporters we have in the legislature will be hard-pressed to preserve our rights, and the NRA gives little regard to Rhode Island. Don’t bother trying to tell me I’m wrong.
- Just because pension reform was given some lip-service doesn’t mean the problem has gone away, yet I reckon we won’t hear much about it soon. Again, reformers are outnumbered.
- Binding Arbitration is coming back! Watch the House for this. Hopefully, evergreen contracts left with Levesque, but he had friends in low places.
- The senate leadership has not changed! Senators-elect Moura, Ottiano, Kettle, et al. have not been given the numbers they need, and the Dems feel they’ve been given the green light to proceed.
- East Providence will be used as a teacher contract model. The battle will go unabated unless we find the fortitude to go after the professional licenses of those who will do the bidding against the taxpayer.
Rather than holding rallies outside the Statehouse on Saturday afternoons, we need to gather what troops we can and testify at committee hearings. Learn how to read bills. Learn where they come from and the process they follow. Give our people the “heads up” on issues. Know the house and senate calendars and organize knowledgeable groups to write in support of or against upcoming legislation.
Case in point: When Representatives Newberry and Marcello introduced a bill to eliminate the master lever, I was one of only a handful of citizens (one of whom was Moderate Ken Block) who actually made the effort to testify in favor of the bill before the committee. Had there been more concerned citizens there that evening, the bill might not have been “held for further study.” In another instance, I met Terry Gorman because he, Elaine, and I were among the few testifying for eVerify. So woefully inadequate was the turnout that, again, we left in disgust.
When the legislature was performing one of its favorite stunts — pushing myriad bills through in the last few days of the session — I organized a group called “Housewatch” to sit in the balcony and babysit the public interest. I spoke on Helen Glover’s radio program for four straight days. The entire effort amounted to about a dozen people but caught representatives voting on behalf of other reps who weren’t even in the room. This practice was quickly denounced by then-speaker Murphy.
Running for Senate District 18 gave me insight into a realm I already knew existed: a dominion of apathy. Sure, I can go back into the fray and fight some more, but for now, I have my life back. I dedicated nine months and countless headaches to a campaign, and I’m damn proud of my effort.