A Rumored Battle
After revisiting some of the coverage from 9/11/01, on Sunday,I have to say that the controversy over state Representative Dan Gordon’s ouster from the state Republican caucus seems like a minor affair, indeed. Before he declined to run last time around, another Republican representative from Tiverton, Joe Amaral, also didn’t caucus with the party, and nobody seemed to think it made much difference.
But there’s controversy involved with Gordon’s break, and personal disputes, so local Democrats want to spread the tar to as many of their targets as possible, and that appears to include me.
There’s no denying that Dan Gordon has raised some red flags. The largest of them came with his reaction to news about formation of a gay-straight alliance at Tiverton High School. His statements were foolish, both politically and in their content, and he stood entirely alone, but he’d given his opponents a trumpet, and they played it far and wide. Still, one can hope that he learned the full array of lessons from the incident.
With regard to the Republican Caucus, after spending some hours, this weekend, trying to understand what happened, I’m still not willing to pass decisive judgment; it involves two distinct narratives in a far-reaching he said/she said of an intensely personal nature. The practical summary is that several Republicans weren’t comfortable around Gordon and questioned his behavior, most especially when it came to commenting on Facebook, and there was a long buildup of tension. (Anybody who’s spent any time at all reading online comment sections — with participants across the political spectrum — can imagine how such a buildup proceeds.)
Finally, with the next legislative session approaching, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R, North Smithfield, Burrillville) sent Gordon a letter as part of a continuing effort to address the personal differences, insisting on a change of behavior. Gordon posted the letter online in an antagonistic way, and that was the final straw. It’s not as dramatic as some decisive act of violence or public tirade might have been, but that appears to have been the ultimate catalyst for the vote of expulsion.
A key reason that I’m not ready to take all of the accusations against Gordon at face value is the willingness of his detractors (especially local Democrats, but Republicans, as well) to spread their insinuations so darkly that it seems as if they’re really describing the plot of a made-for-TV movie. Some of these insinuations are, again, personal, but a major one involves the nature of Gordon’s business, and his profession before registering it.
In the ’90s, Gordon was discharged from the Marines because of problems, he tells me, with his leg. He spent some years, thereafter, working in various roles as a carpenter, and in 2006, registered his company, Alliance Building Contractors. Anonymous online commenters have thought it peculiar that local contractors don’t know Gordon’s company, but the nature of its projects provides adequate explanation, mostly because he hasn’t worked around here.
Basically, as indicated here and here, Gordon’s is listed as a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, which makes him eligible to claim the 3% of projects set aside for such companies. As with government set-asides for minority-owned businesses, this creates the opportunity for a person in the preferred category to get into the business mainly as a facilitator, subcontracting the work out to other companies that otherwise wouldn’t be eligible for that 3% of the pie. The work that the contractor/manager/facilitator actually does will vary from project to project, but it really needn’t be but very involved or intensive.
Personally, I’m not a fan of such programs, but it’s difficult to fault people for taking advantage of them, if they’re available. More importantly, for my purposes with this post, it explains why the online presence of Alliance Building wouldn’t match that of a middling-sized local contracting company.
On the broader matter of Gordon’s status as a state representative, I haven’t heard complaints from Republicans and conservatives about his legislative record, and that’s the critical factor in judging his activities as a legislator. That said, unless he exhibits an ability to contain the problems that have repeatedly made him a figure of controversy in his short career in the RI House, he’ll have proven himself too risky of an ally to support for reelection.
You know, folks across the political spectrum decry the results of government consisting entirely of polished politicians. I’m an advocate of having political careers begin at the local level so that the unpolished can have some experience as public figures on a scale that’s small enough to allow mistakes and so that they’ll have some sort of public record as they move up to larger constituencies.
Still, we construct our government of those who step forward, and that’s what Dan Gordon did. Frankly, from observation at public meetings, I’m not persuaded that his opposition, in the last election, would have been much less erratic, and I’m confident that he would have been less likely to push Rhode Island toward the deep changes that the state’s very survival requires.