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Chafee’s night in the national Democratic spotlight

August 31, 2012

In 30 years in Rhode Island politics, Lincoln Chafee has been elected to every office from Warwick city council, to U.S. Senate and governor. He never has been a Democrat. Yet now independent  Governor Chafee will have the biggest speaking role any Rhode Island political figure has had at any Democratic National Convention since 1964, when Sen. John Pastore was the keynote convention speaker.

Pastore’s speech was a classic that set the table for Lyndon Johnson’s landslide election victory that fall. In 1964, 11-year old  Linc Chafee accompanied his father, then Rhode Island Gov. John Chafee, to the famous Republican convention at the Cow Palace in San Francisco that nominated conservative Barry Goldwater, the first of the sunbelt politicians who began the transformation of the GOP into the right-wing  party it is today.

“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,’’ boomed Goldwater, who was lampooned by Democrats as a warmonger and who scared moderate Republicans into the arms of LBJ. Today Goldwater would be seen as too liberal for the new Republican Party; the Arizonian supported abortion rights and wasn’t much for mixing state and religion; he was no fan of  Christian evangelicals.

No one will ever confuse Chafee with the eloquent Pastore, he of the doomsday-deep voice and partisan rhetoric that skewered Goldwater  for opposing such historic advances in American society as the Civil Rights Bill of 1964.  Pastore, the first Italian-American elected to the U.S. Senate, delivered a paean to the American immigrant experience and brought down the house with his `my cup runneth over’ Biblical line.

Chafee is no orator but he will have a great story to tell the delegates assembled in Charlotte and the millions watching on national television.

The governor will speak on Tuesday evening just before First Lady Michelle Obama. Chafee, a Republican-turned-independent, will likely remind Americans and Rhode Islanders that he is a scion of a proud tradition – moderate Republicanism – that no longer has any place in the Republican Party of the sunbelt, the Old Confederacy and the Tea Party.

Republicans were once an umbrella coalition that embraced both hard-right conservatives and northeastern and Midwestern liberals. Such senators as Chafee, Javits, Dirksen, Brooke, Saltonstall, Aiken and Hatfield supported women’s rights, civil rights and environmental protection. Their governors were Scranton, Rockefeller, Volpe, Weld,  Snelling and Romney; George Romney, that is.

They were  pay-as-you-go fiscal conservatives but social liberals.

In New England, their God was Protestant, meaning they were unburdened by the parochial views of the Roman Catholic Church on such issues as abortion and women’s rights. They were internationalists in foreign policy, politicians who believed in the institutions established after World War II to keep a fragile peace; NATO, the United Nations, the Marshall Plan.

Without moderate Republicans, there is no way America would have tackled the great issue of civil rights in the 1960s; the Democratic Party of that era was too yoked to the apartheid South. In Rhode Island, it was Gov. John Chafee who ushered in the first open-housing law, barring discrimination on the basis of race, in our state’s history.

On Tuesday, Chafee is sure to tell the delegates that there is no room in the GOP of 2012 for independent thinkers and political figures who get things done by compromise. He can remind delegates that he knows what it is like to be run out of the party of his father because of apostasies that seem in retrospect to have been smart moves: then-U.S. Sen. Chafee’s vote against the Bush tax cuts and the lone Republican Senate vote against prosecuting the Iraq War.

Chafee can tell a present-at-the creation tale of what happened after Bush and Cheney won in 2000 and pushed supply side economics and neoconservative foreign policies.

A deficit hawk, Chafee can talk about how tough it has been in Rhode Island to take over from a conservative Republican governor, Donald Carcieri, who left behind such reckless deals as 38 Studios and catastrophic cuts in state aid to communities that have drowned municipal governments with red ink. And, of course, Chafee can speak about working with then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the Senate.

Chafee will be in Charlotte to try to convince independents who are still on the fence that the only plausible choice  come November is another term for President Barack Obama. He will also probably point out that moderate Republicans have no choice but to vote for Obama, particularly in light of Mitt Romney’s bellicose foreign policy views and embrace of  right-wing tax and economic policy.

In this odd political cycle, it will be a lifelong Republican from Rhode Island who will make the case for reelection of  a Democratic president.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. September 1, 2012 11:51 am

    Scott,

    It is all fine and good to heap on Gov. Carcieri for practicing crony capitalism, but that is two columns running where you assiduously avoid mentioning Deepwater, which is by far the worst bit of crony capitalisim in the state’s history and will cost taxpayers 4 to 5 times as much as 38 studios (assuming that the legislature simply pays off on 38 studios without considering the actual nature of our obligaitons because they want to be able to violate the constitution and borrow money using the imprimateur of the state without getting voter approval). Are you getting so old you forgot that or are you drinking the koolaid that that was OK because its ‘green’. RI got more man hours out of 38 Studios than they will ever see out of Deepwater, so in that sense 38 Studios was a realtive ‘success’. Both these projects only help highlight the reality that the state cannot stimulate its own economy efficiently.

    And acting like you are describing the history of the 1964 election and then allowing Pastore to criticize Goldwater’s vote on the Civil Rights Act from the grave is a cheap shot. Goldwater held a relatively progressive view on race relations in the country but refused to sanction unconstitutional means to effect progress. So Pastore is really criticizing him for not allowing the ends to justify the means. Would that more politicians grappled with such issues as Goldwater did. You can’t have your cake and eat it too in policy anymore than in economics.

    • Mister Guy permalink
      September 2, 2012 3:01 am

      “that is two columns running where you assiduously avoid mentioning Deepwater, which is by far the worst bit of crony capitalisim in the state’s history and will cost taxpayers 4 to 5 times as much as 38 studios (assuming that the legislature simply pays off on 38 studios without considering the actual nature of our obligaitons because they want to be able to violate the constitution and borrow money using the imprimateur of the state without getting voter approval).”

      Are we declaring that Deepwater Wind is dead before its even begun?? I have never personally been a big fan of the project, but it’s far from DOA.

      http://www.politifact.com/rhode-island/statements/2012/jun/03/lisa-blais/tea-party-leader-lisa-blais-says-rhode-island-cons

      As for violating the constitution by appropriating money without voter approval, never heard of the concept of a representative democracy before? Like it or not, the state legislature had every authority to do what it did when it comes to 38 Studios, not that it turned out to be such a great idea in the end for sure.

      “allowing Pastore to criticize Goldwater’s vote on the Civil Rights Act from the grave is a cheap shot. Goldwater held a relatively progressive view on race relations in the country but refused to sanction unconstitutional means to effect progress.”

      Goldwater made the decision to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964 based on his false view that the Act was an “intrusion” of the federal govt. into the affairs of states & that the Act interfered with the rights of private persons to do or not do business with whomever they chose. Goldwater was a champion of phony idea of “states’ rights”, which has been unfortunately used as a cover to discriminate against minorities for many, many decades. Good riddance to the likes of him…

  2. September 2, 2012 3:39 am

    Do appreciate your perspective and insight on this, Scott. Thank you. Lesley McLaughl

  3. September 2, 2012 11:40 am

    read that pesky ball and chain on representative democracy, the Rhode Island Constitution, Sec 16 for the prohibition on borrowing:
    The general assembly shall have no powers, without the express consent of the people, to incur state debts to an amount exceeding fifty thousand dollars, except in time of war, or in case of insurrection or invasion; nor shall it in any case, without such consent, pledge the faith of the state for the payment of the obligations of others.

    The legislature did have the power to create EDC and to authorize its borrowing, but not to back that borrowing with the credit of the state itself. This concept has been so blurred that most representatives don’t understand that the state is not obligated.

    I can respect that representatives who voted for this deal believe they ought to support budget articles to subsidize the 38 Studios failure because they feel a personal obligation for having participated in approving the deal, but this is not how they explain it to their constituents – those other pesky folks in representative democracy.

    Our current representatives, including those holdovers who voted for the 38 studios deal, have no legal obligation to subsidize bondholders (or more precisely their insurers). The main purpose in doing so is to protect the ability of the legislature to effectively circumvent the constitution. But representative democracy does not extend to ignoring its constitutional constraints-something you seem equally confused on with regard to the federal constitution.

    Since you seem such a virulent opponent of states rights, I assume you are an equally vocal critic of Governor Chafee’s attempt to frustrate the federal death penalty prosecution of Jason Pleau.

    As to Deepwater, I don’t see where I said it isn’t a done deal. It is, and a horrible one at that. But, representative democracy being what it is, the legislature could still undo it. I’m not holding my breath, I’m criticizing Scott for heaping on Carcieri’s crony capitalism and ignoring Deepwater which is a much better example.

    • Mister Guy permalink
      September 3, 2012 1:18 am

      “The legislature did have the power to create EDC and to authorize its borrowing, but not to back that borrowing with the credit of the state itself. This concept has been so blurred that most representatives don’t understand that the state is not obligated.”

      Have fun arguing that in a court of law my misguided friend.

      “something you seem equally confused on with regard to the federal constitution.”

      I understand the U.S. Constitution just fine my confused friend. What you “states’ rights” people need to realize is that the Articles of Confederation failed, which is why we have the U.S. Constitution in the first place. That’s not my opinion of the Articles of Confederation BTW…it’s the Founders.

      “Since you seem such a virulent opponent of states rights, I assume you are an equally vocal critic of Governor Chafee’s attempt to frustrate the federal death penalty prosecution of Jason Pleau.”

      I am indeed. The State of RI is foolish to pursue that legal fight.

      “As to Deepwater, I don’t see where I said it isn’t a done deal.”

      If it’s not a done deal, then how to do we know in advance how much it will cost?

  4. September 2, 2012 12:54 pm

    BTW – not sure what the point of linking that politifacts column was. There is no assertion in the column that Deepwater is dead, except to the extent that someone mistakes the headline for the concept that Deepwater won’t cost the taxpayer money.

    The column itself was reasonably thorough, but by declaring Blais’s comment ‘mostly false’, because of a quibble over tense, it totally obscured the truth for anyone who simply glimpsed the headlines, which is that Deepwater is essentially a done deal and everybody will be paying for it in their electric bill.

    Instead, what people see is a connection between Deepwater and their electric bill categorized as false, unless they read way into the article and discover that Deepwater will indeed have an outsized effect on their electric bill and the Journal is only quibbling with the tense Blais used.

    If you had instead linked to the Block Island story of Ben Riggs recent federal challenge to Deepwater, it might have made sense. I won’t hold my breath for the feds to support him, the way to kill Deepwater is for the state legislature to withdraw its support.

    Ironically, when the next gen of renewable energy rent seekers sought to create the East Bay Energy Consortium (EBEC) as yet another EDC style state agency this year, part of their sales job to the towns was they had to support EBEC which would create a slush fund to offset municipal energy cost because they would be going up so much when Deepwater comes on line.

    Of course the ratepayers would be filling the slush fund so now they would not only have to pay for the added costs of Deepwater, they would have to pick up the municipalities shares as well.

    One can say this is quibbling because they would have to do it as taxpayers, but the tendency to place costs on utility bills rather than openly allocate them as taxes is poor policy at its poorest. Everything that is added to the utility bill, they just say, it will only be a couple dollars a month. By this logic, every state need could just be added to the utility bill – it will only be a couple dollars a month. But we’re getting to the point of dozens of policy prerogatives larding our utility bills, and we’re headed for hundreds at the rate we’re going.

    Not to mention the endemic subsidy that we are all but effecting that everyone who pays their utility bills has to automatically subsidize anyone who doesn’t.

    It’s too damn bad that Chafee didn’t follow through on his promise to scotch the 38 Studios deal, but it’s worse they he didn’t attack Deepwater with the same vigor.

    • Mister Guy permalink
      September 3, 2012 1:32 am

      “not sure what the point of linking that politifacts column was.”

      That article points out very nicely the bogus idea that the Deepwater project was an example of “crony capitalism”, which it isn’t.

      “except to the extent that someone mistakes the headline for the concept that Deepwater won’t cost the taxpayer money.”

      Deepwater isn’t supposed to cost the taxpayers of RI anything in terms of taxpayer money from what I understand.

      “it totally obscured the truth for anyone who simply glimpsed the headlines, which is that Deepwater is essentially a done deal and everybody will be paying for it in their electric bill”

      …to the tune of a few pennies on the dollar.

      “If you had instead linked to the Block Island story of Ben Riggs recent federal challenge to Deepwater”

      That silly lawsuit is going to go nowhere fast…watch & learn my troubled friend.

      “By this logic, every state need could just be added to the utility bill – it will only be a couple dollars a month.”

      Of course, no one is advocating for that, but beat those strawmen none-the-less my misguided friend…ugh…

  5. September 3, 2012 12:34 pm

    how do you figure that article shows deepwater isn’t crony capitalism? the article explains that Deepwater got a contract through government favoritism after the process applicable to everyone else lead to a decision that the energy was too expensive for a monoply provider to purchase. that is true by comparison to ‘green’ energy as well as conventional sources.

    and just to cap it off with a sweet smell, you get political hires from the former administration.

    Of course the taxpayers are being soaked for Deepwater, just in their role as ratepayers.

    So you didn’t mention whether you support Chafee’s efforts to frustrate the federal death penatly prosecution based on that pernicious concept of states rights.

    • Mister Guy permalink
      September 4, 2012 12:37 am

      “the article explains that Deepwater got a contract through government favoritism after the process applicable to everyone else lead to a decision that the energy was too expensive for a monoply provider to purchase. that is true by comparison to ‘green’ energy as well as conventional sources.”

      There was no “government favoritism” when it came to Deepwater. Having an extremely low goal for a percentage of RI energy coming from truly clean & renewable sources is a good ideal all around. Existing biomass, hydro, onshore wind & geothermal energy sources are all cheaper than existing nuclear, coal or natural (methane) gas sources. According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, newly installed hydro, onshore wind, geothermal & biomass power are all cheaper than newly installed nuclear power & nearly comparable to newly installed coal power.

      “Of course the taxpayers are being soaked for Deepwater, just in their role as ratepayers.”

      No one is “being soaked” by anything my misinformed friend.

      “So you didn’t mention whether you support Chafee’s efforts to frustrate the federal death penatly prosecution based on that pernicious concept of states rights.”

      Sure I did…read above.

      • September 4, 2012 5:35 pm

        >Sure I did…read above.

        Sorry, I missed one of your posts.

        Respect your consistency on Jason Pleau matter. You might have guessed that I support the Governor’s effort based on states rights, however that is not precisely how the governor has argued his appeal, it is focused on provisions of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers and ignores the states rights aspects so our filings seek the same outcome as the governor on different grounds. He has failed to prosecute the case in the most effective way and I think he is likely to lose, although I haven’t seen the cert petition yet.

        >>“As to Deepwater, I don’t see where I said it isn’t a done deal.”

        >If it’s not a done deal, then how to do we know in advance how much >it will cost?

        You don’t seem to understand what I’m arguing here. Deepwater is a done deal for all essential purposes. That is how we know what it will cost. How do you figure that an average of 35¢ a KWH is not soaking the ratepayers?

        Apparently your confusion starts with the following ridiculous assertion:
        >Existing biomass, hydro, onshore wind & geothermal energy sources >are all cheaper than existing nuclear, coal or natural (methane) gas >sources.

        What part of 5¢ per KWH for Natural Gas generation don’t you get. The cheapest bids for onshore wind on the New England Grid are around a dime. Of course that is a hell of a lot better than the sweetheart deal that Deepwater got, which is my point. Even if you favor renewable energy Deepwater is a bottomless pit gobbling up resources that could be better spent on buying more renewable energy at lower prices. Those prices ARE NOT competitive with conventional energy on our grid – but as you point out these are areas the legislature may set prerogatives or priorities. I think the requirement for renewables itself is a waste of money and if they were competitive, you wouldn’t have to have a requirement. Maybe you can logically reconcile why a legislative mandate is necessary for a utility to buy renewables if they are cheaper?

        But you are further confused in advancing the notion that doing the deepwater deal has anything whatsoever to do with meeting a quota of renewable energy. We can meet that at a third of the price of deepwater with competitive bidding on the NEpool grid. That is the process available to all other renewable generators who must have the lowest bid to get a long term contract. The latest such contract is with Blackbear and is just under dime.

        As the story you linked explains, both National Grid and the PUC rejected the Deepwater project as commercially unreasonable. The legislature and the governor subsequently passed a oneoff piece of leigislation designed solely to award a fiscally absurd contract to Deepwater based on the same motivation as 38 studios – that we would get ‘jobs’ (with the underlying benefit that Deepwater happened to employ someone from the governor’s staff. Sounds like 38 studios to me. Don’t hold your breath for the jobs. We got more job weeks out of 38 studios than we’ll get from Deepwater at 10 times the cost. All we’ll get from Deepwater are enormous bills.

        It’s hard to find anything that makes the 38 Studios arrangement look like a good deal but Deepwater can do it.

  6. Mister Guy permalink
    September 4, 2012 6:07 pm

    “Deepwater is a done deal for all essential purposes.”

    No, it really isn’t, since they’ve barely built anything yet.

    “How do you figure that an average of 35¢ a KWH is not soaking the ratepayers?”

    Try reading that Politifact article again…

    “Apparently your confusion starts with the following ridiculous assertion”

    LOL…you’re not arguing with me my misguided friend, you’re arguing with the CA Energy Commission & the U.S. Dept. of Energy. What part of finite source of fossil fuel don’t you get??

    “Even if you favor renewable energy Deepwater is a bottomless pit gobbling up resources that could be better spent on buying more renewable energy at lower prices.”

    Like I’ve said before, I’m no personal fan of the Deepwater project. IMHO, the first significant winter storm or tropical system will take much of the proposed wind turbines down. I’m willing to be proven wrong on that though, so I don’t have a problem with the test location that they’ve picked for near Block Island. Offshore wind is in no way, shape or form as competitive as onshore wind in the USA, but much of that has to do with the fact that there are currently are no offshore wind farms in the USA.

    “Maybe you can logically reconcile why a legislative mandate is necessary for a utility to buy renewables if they are cheaper?”

    Some of them *are* cheaper right this very second…that’s the entire point. RI can’t continue to get a massive amount of its power from finite sources of energy that come from out of state & that pollute too much. That worn out path is nothing but a dead end, period.

    “As the story you linked explains, both National Grid and the PUC rejected the Deepwater project as commercially unreasonable.”

    National Grid is simply not interested in renewable energy. They’ve unfortunately been allowed to be in a position where they have RI over a barrel when it comes to both distributing & generating power for RI, since they own the vast majority of the distribution network in RI & the power sources that RI currently uses. Of course they don’t want increased competition, since what they basically have in RI is a monopoly!

    “It’s hard to find anything that makes the 38 Studios arrangement look like a good deal but Deepwater can do it.”

    That’s just a bunch of Tea Party-type nonsense that was successfully debunked by that Politifact article. Repeating the same nonsense again & again won’t make it any more “true”.

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