Monday, November 3, 2014

Get off the bench and vote

For people who work in and around politics, a general election is like jamming four World Series into thirteen hours but only finding out whether you scored any runs after the game is over. It’s a long day at the end of a long campaign and can turn into a long night if things aren’t going your way. Losing brings a lot of regret and “what ifs” but nothing is more infuriating than hearing someone complain about government and then admitting that they do not vote. 
Voting is not hard. Polls open early (most at 7am) and all close at 8pm. Chances are good that your polling place is in your neighborhood or very close by. If you can’t get to the polls during that time, no excuse absentee ballots can be cast ahead of time. If you have a last minute change of plans that takes you out of town, go to the Town Clerk and you can cast an emergency absentee ballot. Our local election officials are accommodating. 
I certainly understand that many people are not interested in politics and are truly turned off by the process, but we all have a stake in how we are governed. From the policies that guide our school systems to the money we ask the state to invest on our behalf, elections matter and have an impact on all our lives. We are lucky to live in a place where we can participate in the process. For anyone who says “my vote doesn’t matter,” there are plenty of races in recent Rhode Island elections that were decided by the tiniest of margins. In fact, one state representative race in 2012 was decided by just one vote. Ask Carlos Tobon if one vote matters — he knows that it does. 
This year turnout will be especially important. While turnout surges when the office of president is on the ballot, the midterm elections for Rhode Island’s general officers frequently see a precipitous drop in turnout. In 2010 — when Governor Chafee was elected — less than 47% of eligible Rhode Islanders chose to vote. Since he won with about 36% of the vote, that low turnout gave him a victory with the votes from only 17% of Rhode Island’s eligible voters. With such low numbers from the voters and no party to draw support from, it’s not a surprise that he was a lame duck from day one. Our state cannot afford another four years of a governor without the public support to move our state forward. We have been the butt of jokes for far too long and have to find a way to be competitive and prosperous again. 
So consider this column another annoying robocall. I am not plugging a candidate or an issue - I am simply asking you to take a few minutes and participate. It's time to get off the bench and vote. 

We don’t need a wild card in every contest

Many of us in Red Sox Nation remember this week ten years ago as being the greatest in sports history. After securing the AL wild card spot in the playoffs, the Red Sox beat the Angels in the American League Division Series before facing the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. After being down three games to none, the Red Sox came back to win four games in a row and beat the Yankees for the American League title. By October 27, 2004, the AL wild card Red Sox were World Series Champions and the generations-long streak of gut-wrenching losses was over.

Since the baseball gods did not smile on the Red Sox this year, I’m forced to reminisce and focus on political races instead of baseball playoffs. In RI we have a wild card in the race for governor. Local attorney Bob Healey was a last minute entry for the Moderate Party, dropping the Cool Moose label and swapping positions with another candidate who was too ill to run. Mr. Healey is well-regarded as a smart man who reflects the common-sense values of our area, so I am puzzled by why he would allow himself to used as a spoiler in such an important race. He insists that his campaign is a serious one but in my opinion, using a loophole to join a race less than eight weeks from Election Day is a stunt, not what one would expect from a person who wants to move Rhode Island forward.

From a constitutional standpoint, Rhode Island’s governor is weak. There is no line-item veto and a governor cannot place a referendum on the ballot. However, the job is nevertheless an immense responsibility as the governor serves as the administrator for state government and the public-facing representative of our state. For most candidates, the decision to run is a difficult one because the campaign — and serving in the office — is an incredible commitment and requires an investment of time and money. I’m sure many candidates would like to slide into the race after the primary, saving money and an entire summer on the campaign trail.

And while I certainly understand Mr. Healey’s dislike for the influence of money in politics and respect his decision not to raise any money or to self-fund, it shows that he’s not in this to win.  The simple truth is that one needs to spend some money to compete in politics. A serious hockey player would never try and play without skates, pads, a stick and ice time and a serious candidate for public office needs basic campaign infrastructure — and that requires money. This is not a revelation: Bob Healey has been running for statewide office over the course of the last 30 years and he has yet to do two things: raise money and win.

While I respect anyone willing to put his or her name on the ballot, I think it’s important to do it the right way and to respect our democratic process. While finding the loophole, dropping the Cool Moose banner and sliding in as a Moderate has been okayed by the lawyers, it still won’t sit well with many voters. Rhode Island needs serious candidates for these difficult days and fewer wild cards on the ballot.