Wednesday, April 9, 2014

If it quacks like a duck, it might be lame

Red Sox fans have started the season with our bellies full of 2013 glory and looking forward to warmer days and good games. The first bad series is behind us and only a huge string of losses will turn our full stomachs into full agida with memories of what our last super-confident team did in 2011 by turning a winning season into a losing one with drumsticks and cheap beer. Closer to home, we’ve had changes in our state leadership lineup and many more ahead, so I thought I’d take a quick look at the latest from Governor Lincoln Chafee as we push through the legislative session and look ahead to the fall elections.

The phrase “lame duck” was first used in political circles 150 years ago and today refers to an elected official who will not be seeking re-election. Lame ducks are often thought to be powerless since their imminent departure leaves them with little political sway. Alternatively, some lame ducks have used this time to give voice to issues that are near and dear to them, fill vacancies on boards and commissions and generally leave a mark on the government they are leaving behind.

With his term winding down, Governor Chafee has decided to do something a little different than most lame ducks and do a grand tour. Last week he celebrated his birthday in Wyoming and recently he’s taken jaunts to Minnesota and Texas for speeches. He even hopped over to Connecticut last month to visit with his friend President Obama and did a little surfing in Costa Rica. To some observers of politics, this is just fine since he is almost powerless with his lame duck status and his low approval ratings, but I have to say that I think it’s kind of a “fried chicken and beer” approach to governing. In fact, I find it maddening.

When one signs up to run for office, they take an oath to serve. It’s not in the oath, but the assumption is that one will execute his or her duties for the entirety of his or her term, not just for the part that is appealing or fun. Governor Chafee has started to treat his job like the “no-show” jobs that people are always talking about. He gets paid whether he’s doing the people’s business or not — and its certainly hard to justify how he’s promoting the best interests of Rhode Islanders if he’s giving speeches in other states. I could justify his travels (and the expense we’ve incurred by sending his staff too) if they were promoting Rhode Island to companies wishing to relocate here but there’s no evidence that his travels are much beyond opportunities to muse about his career in politics. His absence would also be less obvious if there weren’t so much happening here — he was gone during key moments of the pension settlement discussions and when Speaker Fox’s office was raided — both times when it would be nice to know that the leader of the state was up to speed.

Several times Governor Chafee has noted that his administration is like a swimming duck that is moving its feet even as it appears to be doing nothing.  That’s definitely the impression I get — and it’s lame.

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