“People power” on a winning streak at the Statehouse
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.