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“People power” on a winning streak at the Statehouse

December 16, 2011

It’s not like legislative leaders are about to post a suggestion box near the Independent Man’s perch on Smith Hill. But we’ve seen a hat trick of recent instances in which the court of public opinion has shifted the course of policy:

— In response to criticism that an earlier version was an egregious case of David Cicilline pressing his incumbent’s advantage, a new congressional redistricting map was unveiled last night. State consultant Kimball Brace pointed to the backlash of criticism as the reason for the new version. And though the redistricting commission and General Assembly can still ultimately do what they want, the new map — known as Plan F — strongly suggests that Plan E has beecome a bridge too far.

— The General Assembly — a Democratic bastion in which labor remains a potent influence — passed a pension law over what were once seen as long odds. Yes, there were a number of hanging swords (a looking surge in the annual cost for taxpayers, the prospect of more municipal bankruptcies), and Gina Raimondo used the bully pulpit like no other RI elected official in recent memory. But public opinion also played an important role, as indicated by the strong support for the pension law in the new Brown poll.

— After the Senate earlier this year gave the green light to a binding arbitration bill backed by labor, the House stopped it cold. In explaining that, Speaker Gordon Fox pointed to an outpouring of calls and emails against the legislation.

All of this may come down to smart politics. Legislative Democrats will be able to run in 2012, after all, as the party that passed pension reform and killed most of Governor Lincoln Chafee’s unpopular tax plan.

Backroom deals and the inside game aren’t about to fade away on Smith Hill. Yet the trio of above-mentioned developments points to how citizens (with help from the media) can wield some meaningful influence.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve Martini permalink
    December 16, 2011 4:48 pm

    Help from the media? How about driven from Howard Sutton’s office?

  2. Pat Crowley permalink
    December 16, 2011 6:35 pm

    Of course, since a majority of voters support binding arbitration on financial matters for class room teachers and education support professionals (they have it already on all other matters) real people power would be to enact law.

    Here is another take.

    Don’t let me fool anyone – this new pension law stinks. The changes are horrible and unjustifiable. But the CEO back slapping and fist pumping associated with this new law is so misplaced it is almost laughable. But like wise there is no need for organized labor to wallow in defeatism. During the 2010 election we talked about setting a new political paradigm for working people in Rhode Island and though it is hard to see it in a legislative defeat, it is there. For the first time in more than 30 years, the CEO class in Rhode Island simply didn’t get their way. In the past on issues like unemployment benefits for striking workers in the 1980’s, workers compensation reform in the 1990’s or tax cuts for the rich in the 2000’s, what the CEOs wanted, the CEOs got. This time? They had to fight for it – and they didn’t just get what they wanted – they had to scratch out a victory with our side claiming some points in the end.

    And the folks who really run Rhode Island may have gotten even more than they bargained for. Forget their million dollars in the bank. A motivated and engaged membership base of thousands of rank-n-file activists who spent the last six months working through what was essentially a political boot camp is worth more than all their hoarded gold. The reason they opened up their wallets isn’t because they wanted to save Rhode Island – it’s because they are now afraid of us and what we can do politically. And they should be.

  3. ProJo Login permalink
    December 18, 2011 2:26 pm

    If I were Mr. Crowley and had failed so spectacularly in my job I’d concoct a fantasy story like that to try to help save my own skin too. My sister is a member of your union, sir, and she and her colleagues are less than impressed with your work on their behalf on many levels.

  4. Candace McCall permalink
    December 18, 2011 4:15 pm

    Was it “the people” who backed the voter ID law? This is an ALEC sponsored legislation to get Obama out of office, and has nothing to do with the will of Rhode Islanders.

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