Friday, October 9, 2015

38 Studios in the full-length mirror

I have to say that I was a bit surprised at the reaction I got to last week’s post. While I heard several “you betchas,” it seemed that when I said I wanted to put 38 Studios in the rear view mirror, some folks thought I wanted to sweep 38 Studios under a rug and walk away. As I wrote, “Rhode Islanders deserve transparency and we should hold any criminally culpable parties accountable,” so I am game for the examination, but I still think we need to be ready to move on. Rhode Island has been obsessing about 38 Studios for nearly five years and we need to make sure that “never again” doesn’t make Rhode Island even less friendly to businesses and entrepreneurs than it was before. Should the new tourism campaign say, “Welcome to Rhode Island, We’re Bitter About Getting Fleeced”? Of course not—I still contend that it’s time we put our best foot forward—but let’s go ahead and pour some salt in a wound:
Carcieri wanted a success and, for once, had the tailwind of General Assembly support. There was a train to an economic development win and he hopped on. Since the principal brought glory to a cursed franchise, surely he could do the same for Rhode Island. He and his staff were “all in” for the win.
Chafee wanted no part of the project—despite having responsibility for administering it—and maybe even wished it to fail. Perhaps we should have been able to “Trust Chafee” to appoint a special investigator in the days after the collapse of 38 Studios. I can only imagine considering how petulantly he behaved in the deposition that any investigation would reveal he did absolutely nothing to ensure that taxpayer dollars were protected. His “leadership” of the EDC is probably the most painful part of this whole episode. We elected someone who was more focused on being right than doing right by Rhode Island.
For as much as the blame could be laid at the feet of Governor Carcieri and Governor Chafee, the truth is that Rhode Island’s governor can do nothing without the engine of the General Assembly. The office of the Rhode Island governor is one of the weakest constitutionally — and one of only six in the nation without a line item veto. The power imbalance is enhanced by fact that our state government is politically lopsided as well. As a result, the now-jailed speaker was able to ram the “deal” through the General Assembly with very few questions from the rank and file of our part-time, underpaid and understaffed, and overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. Most of them had heard Bob Watson railing against something before, so his lone opposition raised no red flags.
Unfortunately, the post-mortem is most unsatisfying because we have no one to blame but ourselves. No one crowned or appointed Gordon Fox: he was elected by the people of his district and he was elected speaker by the people who represent the rest of us. In this debacle we elected the people who steered us wrong (an R, an I and a D) and the vast majority of us are not engaged enough in the process to ensure that it will never happen again. We don’t all need to run for office (but more of us should) and we don’t all need to support good candidates (although many good candidates cannot self-fund) but if we want to get to the bottom of 38 Studios, we need to be willing to look at a full-length shot of ourselves and then decide if we are willing—or capable—of engaging in the process enough to change it.

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