Monday, February 22, 2016

It's too early to panic, right?

It's the most wonderful time of the year! The political junkie in me is thrilled with the nonstop conversations about presidential politics and the baseball fan in me is thrilled that Spring Training has officially opened. Of course this year, both above-mentioned parts of my psyche are in full panic mode. Not only did Red Sox 3rd baseman Pablo Sandoval (known as Panda) report to spring training looking like he gained a whole Dustin Pedroia, it is unclear at this writing exactly where Dustin Pedroia is. While I am quite certain that his slow-to-show is no reflection on his enthusiasm for the season and I want to be clear that I am NOT concerned Panda that ate him, it is worth noting (with anxiety) because Pedroia is usually early-to-show.

All kidding aside, the panic in my political brain is far more serious. Donald Trump has now won two primaries. I will say it again: Donald Trump has won two primaries. On the Democratic side, folks are "feelin' the Bern" and this too angry, too old socialist has not lost momentum. Welcome to the year of the extremes.

People who vote for Trump and Sanders are sending a message by rejecting traditional candidates. Republican primary voters are looking for someone to shake things up and get things done. Sanders supporters are taking a hard left turn with a rallying cry of ending income inequality and adding entitlement programs. While Sanders policies are extreme, his path to the White House still has to go through a Democratic nominating process where Hillary Clinton has a lead and an organizational edge. Democratic voters who are "feelin' the Bern" now may decide "I'm okay with her" when the chips are down. If Sanders wins the nomination, I suspect he loses in the general election: there are simply too many people in this country who believe in lower taxes and less government to vote in a self-described tax-increasing socialist.

Trump. Ugh. Even if I agreed with his politics (and I don't) he acts as if this campaign is just one long episode of "The Apprentice" and the stakes are just a job at a cool office building. To him it may seem like another adventure, but being president of the United States comes with some serious responsibilities and I for one, am concerned that Trump does not possess the temperament or self control to do the job. I don't know what would happen if Trump called Kim Jong-un a "pansy" — and I don't want to risk finding out. What concerns me most about Trump is that he appeals to independent-minded (“swing”) voters and those that don't pay a lot of attention to politics — in other words — he appeals to exactly the kind of people who show up at the polls every four years and vote for the names that they recognize. Double ugh.

There are still many contests to decide - and a brokered convention to get through - so I'm not panicking today. But if Panda doesn't slim down and Trump doesn't tank, it's going to be a rough season all around.

Monday, February 8, 2016

No Shadow for the Independent Man

Even though there’s snow on the ground, there’s the distinct feeling that we’ve lurched ahead into spring and into the maelstrom of a crazy political year. The groundhog was shadow-free. Football fans faced Monday morning bleary-eyed after the big game and the equipment truck rolled out of Yawkey Way this week full of hopes (and equipment) for the 2016 season. Pitchers and catchers report in week, giving us time to learn the many new faces and names in the line up and to consider how they will fit into the Red Sox championship run.

At the State House, the session is in full swing and Governor Raimondo’s budget address last week was chock full of her ideas to get Rhode Island back on track. Critics and fans can agree that she has no shortage of energy and confidence that she can drive a multi-front agenda unlike any predecessor in recent memory. Her RhodeWorks initiative — retooled to take advantage of federal dollars and with language that ensures passenger cars will not be tolled — appears to have enough support in the General Assembly to be voted on this week. She is in a familiar position: leading the charge on something that no really wants to pay for, but we all know we need. At 50th in the country, our roads and bridges are an embarrassment — and getting worse all the time — so kicking the can down the road is not an option. Tolls are part of the cost of doing business for a trucking company and something they pay far more for in other states, so contributing to the maintenance of our roads should not be too much to ask as they pass through our state. After discussing this for nearly a year, it’s time to finalize the plan and get our roads fixed.

It’s time for Providence to move forward too. The city has been teetering on the brink of financial collapse for more than five years and the bill is going to come due. With so many of Providence’s problems tied to lucrative contracts doled out during the Cianci administration, Cianci’s passing will allow for the debate of Providence’s future to move in a productive direction. Even after his time in office, Cianci wielded outsized influence on Providence and its citizens over the airwaves, defending his own actions, giving voice to his allies and ripping down anyone who disagreed with him. Without his voice in the debate, one wonders if move Providence away from its past will be an easier lift.

Lastly, after talking about the 2016 race since 2012, we’re just taken the first hill in what will be a rollercoaster of a presidential campaign. Republicans are dropping like flies, allowing for a smaller stage and more oxygen for the frontrunners. Trump is wearing thin, Bernie’s catching fire and the tease of a Michael Bloomberg candidacy made us middle-grounders very excited at the prospect of a presidential candidate with a history of being a consensus builder. While we sit and wait, there’s a truck pulling out of Boston and heading south for Spring Training, paying tolls in most states along the way.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Saying goodbye to THE guy

The sudden passing of Buddy Cianci last week elicited a wide range of reactions from Rhode Island’s political leaders. Mayor Jorge Elorza immediately ordered city flags to half-staff and announced plans to have Cianci lie in state in City Hall. Governor Raimondo - who had previously only lowered the state flag to honor Sergeant Andrew McKenna - hesitated to lower the flag in Cianci's honor, relenting only to honor the office to which he was elected. Her hesitation was understandable - how does a governor convey such an honor - the lowering of the state flags - on a felon who served time in federal prison for corruption?

The truth is that Cianci was complicated - feared, loved and hated - depending on with whom you are speaking and capable of getting things done because of all those traits. I will grant that on his watch, Providence experienced a renaissance. But there was a different set of rules in a Cianci administration with a “by any means necessary” modus operandi. He “convinced” corporations to fund his pet projects and “encouraged” other elected officials to get on board with his plans. The contracts he approved for police and fire are legendary for their generosity and certainly ensured that Buddy could count men in uniform among his best friends.

I’ll be honest: I found Cianci fascinating not because of who he was but because what he represented. He was the embodiment of everything we fear, love and hate about Rhode Island. He was THE guy in our know-a-guy state and thousands of Rhode Islanders have a story about how he got them out of a jam or into a job. The funny thing is that because there was a face, a friendly name and a loyal listenership to go along with the personification of our political culture, change has not come easy to Rhode Island. The tide had started to turn in 2014: while Mayor Elorza did what no one else had ever done before — he beat Cianci in an election.

Since Cianci’s passing, some have wondered “what will the political scene be like without Buddy?” While it’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, I have to say that without a role model for our  warped political culture broadcasting his message to thousands of people every day, we have the opportunity to finally clean up our image. Public service has changed, today attracting more policy wonks and fewer people who are hoping to enrich themselves and their cronies. There will never be another Buddy — for better or worse — and it would be most fitting if we could get rid of our know-a-guy culture as we say goodbye to THE guy.