Four New Faces… Same Old Media

An interesting feature in Monday’s Providence Journal came as four short reports about new legislators in the General Assembly: Rep. Dan Reilly (R, Portsmouth), Rep. Doreen Costa (R, North Kingstown), Sen. Nick Kettle (R, Coventry), and Rep. Chris Blazejewski (D, Providence). The way they’re framed from the beginning tells readers a great deal about the perspective from which the Projo is written:

  • Reilly is learning how much work it is to be a legislator.
  • Costa is “a bona fide right winger, a Tea Party member who wanted to restrict abortions, preserve traditional marriage and ‘cut, cut, cut’ the state budget,” who is having fun in both the legislative and community-involvement aspects of her new job.
  • Kettle sent a poorly considered email to “Tea Party supporters” concerning a hearing on homelessness.
  • But Blazejewski, ah well, Blazejewski “may well be the House freshman who most bears watching,” and he’s not a “bona fide left winger,” but rather “a self-described progressive Democrat” (which sounds so much more pleasant and less extreme.”

Frankly, I’m tempted to agree that it’s worth watching Blazejewski, albeit in a different sense than that intended by reporter Randal Edgar. One of the featured bills on which he’s a lead sponsor (PDF) would unionize any group of public employees without secret ballots if 70% sign authorization cards. Query: Why would nearly three quarters of a workforce sign authorization cards even when 50% plus 1 won’t vote in secret toward the same end? Perhaps unions prefer their odds when they can intimidate.
Be that as it may, based on these four articles, I find the other three more interesting. Consider Reilly’s excellent response to Governor Chafee’s “show me a better budget” challenge:

“I’m not a huge fan of them saying, ‘Well, we’ve done our job, now you come up with the rest of it.’ As if we have the resources to do these studies. I wasn’t elected governor.”

The real story of the Journal’s series, although the reporters don’t emphasize it, arises in a cross-article fashion from Costa to Kettle. Regarding a bill that Costa supported to eliminate “held for further study” from the GA leadership arsenal:

“This is not really going to change too much,” she said as she summed up her argument. “It’s just going to give us a chance to get the bills voted on quicker and get them to the House floor quicker.”

The Kettle article illustrates what, precisely, would change were “held for further study” no longer a technicality by which every piece of legislation gets its legally required committee vote:

About four months into the session, Kettle says he regrets having voted for Democrat M. Teresa Paiva Weed for another term as Senate president, a move that he hoped would earn him at least a committee hearing on some of his proposed legislation this year.
To date, none of the eight bills Kettle has submitted — including one that would eliminate the state’s $500-minimum business corporation tax — have been subject to a public hearing. Those hearings are generally granted at the discretion of the Senate leadership. “Clearly, that did not pan out as I hoped,” he says.

In stark contrast to the Providence Journal, Andrew Morse has done an excellent job following and explaining how it is that the “further study” trap door transfers power from individual legislators to House and Senate leaders. With the power to control legislation in hand, the Senate president and House speaker can extract votes and favors, as Kettle illustrated with his assumption that backing the right president would increase his odds of legislative success.
That concentration of power isn’t going to go away unless the next wave of new legislators willing to challenge the status quo is much larger than the last one.

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