Monday, July 25, 2016

One trade that needs to happen

Every year I spend much of my wedding anniversary checking the internet and Twitter for trade news. I share my anniversary, July 31st, with the trade deadline (and my sister — but that’s different story) and so the day is frequently consumed with “what ifs” about the Red Sox. This year, my refrain will be “what if another team could use Buchholz and we could get another starter without trading away our young guys?” Perhaps it’s too much of a fantasy, but that’s a trade move I’d like to see.

There’s a more important trade in Rhode Island that really should come to fruition this year. For only the second time since 2008, Representative John Carnevale will be opposed in an election, giving voters of “his” district the chance to trade up for a new representative. While much of the case against re-electing him involves the word alleged — he allegedly beat his wife, he allegedly raped a woman, he allegedly does not live in his district, there’s one thing that is certainly true — he is a disgrace to “his” district, the House and our state.

When the grand jury charged him with rape in 2011, Carnevale was the 4th Rhode Island lawmaker to face criminal charges that year (for those keeping score at home others were Dan Gordon, Bob Watson and Leo Medina). At that time, the House was being run by Speaker (now federal prison inmate) Gordon Fox. Speaker Mattiello seems to run a tighter ship and moved quickly to get Ray Gallison out of his chamber and off his leadership team when news broke of the investigation into Gallison’s wrongdoing. Although Mattiello waited until this week to remove Carnevale from leadership, I can’t help but think that another bad apple is making life difficult in the House and continuing the narrative of corruption and bad government that no one in Rhode Island needs to perpetuate. 

More than anything else, we all deserve better. Resident of Carnevale’s district deserve to be represented by someone who lives where they live, understands their needs and doesn’t think that their neighborhood is beneath his standards. House members deserve to serve alongside someone who has a moral compass and doesn’t think of himself first. And all Rhode Islanders deserve to live in a state free from public corruption. Let’s hope the voters of District 13 make the trade this year.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Even baseball is no escape

In recent weeks the news in our country and around the world has been more disturbing than I can remember in a long time. Minneapolis, Dallas, Baton Rouge, Nice — the violence and the rampant killings are hard to understand for adults and harder to explain to children. I’ve stopped trying. The TV is off and there’s no family discussion of the world beyond Rhode Island and Pokemon Go. Perhaps I am doing a disservice to my children by not explaining to them that the roots of these conflicts go back many generations and that they are likely to continue for generations more, but it’s more important to me that their few precious years of childhood are not filled with worries about acts of terror or gun violence.

For me, baseball is an easy escape from the news — Big Papi continues to thrill us in the last half of his final year in baseball. Watching him at the All-Star game -- laughing, high-fiving with a big smile and a huge hug for everyone — was a wake up. How would his life in the U.S. be different if he weren’t a recognizable sports celebrity? Do you think he has stories about being pulled over for a broken taillight?  I drove around for a week with a headlight burned out and never once worried about the consequences of being pulled over. Even the fun of baseball is tainted by understanding that our country’s racial divide goes right through every clubhouse and every team.

And ugh. Politics. As we head into the most heated time in the election cycle lots of nasty things will be said about candidates up and down the ticket. Chances are good that some things will upset us and we’ll want to respond with angry words in response. It’s too easy to post, tweet or anonymously comment just to get it off our chests, isn’t it? But adding fuel to the fire is never a good idea and whether you choose to channel Martin Luther King Jr. and “turn the other cheek,” or Gandhi “keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior” or my mother “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” perhaps the best political discourse will be a silent one this year — and maybe that’s what I can tell my kids.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bring on the new faces - and voices

The white-hot Red Sox have cooled a bit in recent weeks. With their pitching continuing to be a bit suspect, it is widely believed that the team will use the trade deadline to get some pitching. Gosh I hope so because it’s been tough to watch our starters blow games so badly that even a high scoring offense can’t save them. It’s time for some new blood on the pitching staff.

We’re also seeing some new faces on the Rhode Island political scene. The deadline for declaring one’s candidacy has just passed and in the coming days, candidates will be gathering signatures to qualify for the ballot. While many General Assembly seats will go uncontested, there were fewer “free passes” than in years past. In the wake of the legislative grant scandal, many political watchers anticipated that there would be a wave of reformers lining up to run for office. This year’s candidates might only constitute a ripple and with some wins, we’ll have a few new faces at the State House.

What we really need is to hear from some new voices. The shock of the Brexit vote — and the rise of Donald Trump on this side of the pond — has shown that some voices in politics might be quiet in polling data or in every day conversation, but they show up on election day. While some like to believe that Trump voters are angry or unbalanced and that the “leave” voters were uninformed, I think it’s more constructive to consider alternative explanations. One thought: a democracy does not punish people for thinking differently than the media or their elected officials. Sometimes being part of a democracy means that you don’t get what you want. Hard to swallow — particularly for millennials who have learned that pitching a tantrum at college can get you “safe space” and anything else you demand — but something that the more aged among us can probably absorb. Sing it with me Mick … “you can’t always get what you want.”

So how do the not-like-minded co-exist? We need to build some middle ground. Back in the days before Twitter wars and 24/7 media, people used to talk to one another. Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch were pals off the Senate floor and President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill enjoyed a deep friendship that transcended their ideological differences. As our country becomes more polarized and the candidates we have to choose from come from opposite ends of the spectrum, it more important than ever that we add different voices to the conversation so we can understand — and perhaps ameliorate — the sharpest differences. I can’t imagine how the passionate “remain” folks felt on the morning after the Brexit vote, but if we don’t recreate some kind of middle ground and invite others to join us there, we’re going to get a taste of their disappointment too.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The horror of it all

I am so grateful for the Red Sox this season. In addition to being entertained by David Ortiz’s epic final season in Boston, the younger players are exciting to watch as they consistently score a bounty of runs for our often-spotty starters. I am especially thankful for baseball this year because politics are such a horror show that I’ve started reading the newspaper through my fingers in hopes of missing the truly gory parts. I can’t decide if I find state or federal politics more distressing these days but they’ve both driven me to log more hours watching NESN.

This year’s presidential race is definitely my main nightmare. For all intents and purposes (sorry Bern, it’s time to give up) we’re down to two candidates with nearly equally high negatives. Oddly enough, their policies probably make them both centrists, but they are both repugnant to the other’s supporters, so this presidential race among the ugliest and most divisive ever. Come November, close to half the country is going to have a visceral dislike for the next occupant of the White House and it’s going to be a(nother) nasty four years.

Why does this matter? I think it’s important for Americans to at least respect the person we call president and commander in chief. When the country is split — as it has been since the 2000 election — and the two factions are at opposite ends of the spectrum, the tone is rancorous and every single initiative is attacked and undermined before it is even launched. We’ve seen these ugly politics in Rhode Island too. This week Governor Raimondo announced that GE would be creating 100 high paying jobs in Rhode Island and I quickly saw criticism of the $5 million tax incentive package she negotiated. The negativity is stunning — the landing of these GE jobs is the best economic development Rhode Island has had in years — and some couldn’t manage to celebrate it for a day. Sad.

The day after the election in November, I can only guarantee one thing: a huge number of Americans are going to be very disappointed with their new leader. I just hope that whoever gets elected has the ability to create a bigger tent than our last two presidents have so we can once again feel like we’re all on the same team.  

Monday, May 9, 2016

We’ve seen this game before

We’re painfully aware that another political scandal has erupted at the State House. Like Gordon Fox’s fall from grace, the details will likely come out weeks or months from now, but as investigators dig into former Representative Ray Gallison’s alleged misdeeds the discussion has quickly turned into a pitchforks n’ torches march to the State House with everyone offering their two cents on what we can do to make sure this never happens again. Ho hum. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this game before and bringing about a different result will require more than just voter anger.

I worked for Governor Sundlun when the banking crisis hit in 1991. Trust me, people were angry: bang-their-fists on doors and scream-in-the-halls angry. In the aftermath —and as a result of other scandals that followed — a wave of new legislators came into office in 1992 (Gordon Fox among them), four-year terms for statewide offices were approved on the ballot and later, separation of powers was instituted to further harness the power of the General Assembly. In recent years it seems that some of that progress has eroded as the General Assembly (using separation of powers as justification) took away the right of a governor to put a non-binding question on the ballot and the Ethics Commission no longer has oversight over the General Assembly.

While the pitchforks n’ torches gang will tell you that the key to success lies in getting the governor a line item veto and ending the secrecy of the legislative grants program, I see a bigger problem that needs to be solved. Call it participation, citizen engagement or just YOU and ME.

If you want to know who to blame, look in the mirror. Do you vote in every election? Do you know the names of your state representative and your state senator? Have you written a letter-to-the-editor and taken a public position on an important issue? Have you helped a candidate who is not an incumbent? Have you testified for or against a bill at the State House? Have you corresponded with your legislator about their legislative grants or their stance on the line item veto? Have you run for office? If you can’t say yes to at least three of the above, you have no ground to complain. If you have three or more, keep at it. Every election year dozens of General Assembly seats go uncontested and that’s inexcusable. This little experiment called Democracy requires participation from all of us to be successful and just and when only a small number engage, things are bound to go wrong because too few are too powerful.

Too busy working and paying taxes to get involved? Corruption is a tax on all of us. Corruption costs us dollars that are lining someone’s pockets, paying for less-than-adequate state services or funding a pet project of a powerful person. Corruption drives good people away from politics, repulses the business community and prevents us from landing companies that could bring good jobs and boost our tax base. Corruption drives down morale and civic pride, making Rhode Island a place that college graduates and retired people want to escape costing us smart minds and people with time to give. The only real way to battle corruption is for more good people to get involved.

So yes, please, push for the line item veto and yes, please let’s rein in the legislative grants program, but first and foremost, please engage public service. If not now, when? WE are the reason that we can’t have nice things and it’s time for that to change.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Whiners don’t like rules

Last weekend brought the first Red Sox-Yankees action of the season to Fenway Park and ended with the first Red Sox sweep of the Yankees since 2013. The final game was an 8-7 thriller that featured a bomb off the bat of Red Sox catcher Christian Vasquez. As New England did a collective happy dance, I’m sure the Yankees would like to bank some of those wasted runs for a future win. Thankfully the rules are clear: you can’t save runs for a rainy day.

Ah, those annoying rules. Children hate them, teens ignore them and most adults have learned it’s easier to follow them, but it doesn’t seem to end the bellyaching when someone doesn’t like them. This primary season, I’ve heard far too much whining about the dreadful primary rules. Everybody has an opinion about what state’s rules are “fair” and which are not. The latest gripes came from team Sanders as they feel “entitled” to all of Rhode Island’s delegates — even the super delegates that Hillary Clinton wooed into her camp long ago. Readers may recall that team Trump spent a fair amount of time and energy early in the campaign protesting the process through which delegates are divvied up. Now that he’s closing in on the required 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination, he’s pointing his finger at the rules every day to ensure that all the loopholes are closed in his favor.

The common thread amongst the whiners is it appears to be that few (if any) of the people who are complaining about the rules actually participate regularly in the parties that create said rules or are familiar with the logic that created the process. Reminder: primaries and caucuses are not supposed to be a democratic process. Party leadership in each state defines how delegates will be awarded with some degree of guidance coming from the national party. On the Democratic side the process is a consistent formula — although far from “democratic” — with unbound super delegates and scenarios that award more delegates to congressional districts that are heavily Democratic. This formula favors an establishment candidate with a strong organization and ensures that a party outsider (like socialist Bernie Sanders) has an uphill battle to capturing the nomination.

The Republican process (not surprisingly) leaves it up to each state party to decide how it will divide up its delegates. We now know that the Republican system is far more easy for an outsider (named Trump) to hijack and many of the #neverTrump folks are now furiously reading up on the convention rules to find their opportunities to take back the party — and the nomination — before it’s too late. Heads up to #neverTrump: it’s probably too late.

When the dust settles after the conventions, there will be plenty of time for the parties to reassess their nominating practices and fine-tune their nominating methods. With the general election now six months away there will be an opportunity to find some other election-related rules to grouse about, but it seems as if everyone’s time would be better spent becoming part of the process instead of a critic of it.