For many of us, the Superbowl is less about crowning a football champion and more about getting back to baseball. About halfway through the game my thoughts turned to the pitchers and catchers making their way to Florida to open spring training camps this week. I freely admit that long before Peyton Manning mumbled his last “Omaha,” my focus was on the 2014 Red Sox and what the next eight months will bring to this championship team.
But fans of Little Rhody — and others who live here — should not let our minds wander from the game at hand when thinking about politics this year. We need to be focused on one thing these days: how we can pull our state back from the brink. You may have seen a little corner of the Providence Journal last week noting that thanks to Nevada’s improving jobs climate, Rhode Island has taken ownership of the highest unemployment rate in the country at 9.1 percent. The rest of the country has officially climbed out of the recession but thanks to our poor education system, weak infrastructure, relatively high taxes and government regulation, we’re the worst in the country. No wonder Peyton Manning obsesses about Omaha — the unemployment rate there is just 3.6 percent. He’s not calling plays — he’s telling Rhode Islanders where to go to find jobs!
All kidding aside, thought leaders, elected officials, candidates and voters need to have a singular focus: getting Rhode Islanders back to work. Our high unemployment rate affects everything – people have less money to spend, hurting local businesses. Others fall behind on their mortgages and foreclosures clog our already depressed housing market. Everything else can wait; there should be no burning social issues on the agenda and we do not need to revisit any previously enacted legislation. We simply need to take action that will make Rhode Island a place where job growth is not an oxymoron. We have piles of studies that show how certain taxes drive away business and how making ourselves competitive with Massachusetts and Connecticut will slow the creeping tide of businesses moving away. Once we stop the bleeding, we can start to attract businesses, encourage growth and get back on track.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but those who are running for statewide office should be able to articulate their plans by now. There shouldn’t be a candidate in the race for governor who cannot give you specific ideas on how he or she would lead the way out of this funk. If a candidate starts an answer with “we need to have a conversation” then he’s clearly not been listening because we’ve been talking for four years about jobs and the need for policies that will grow our economy and lift us out of recession. Voters are to blame too. When we contact General Assembly members or even see them on the street, don’t ask them for a license plate — ask them what they’re doing to get Rhode Islanders back to work. After all, it’s the only game we should be focused on.
P.S. Red Sox pitchers and catchers report on February 15.