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POLITICS AS USUAL (By Jim Baron) Chafee has gone further than Carcieri did

March 18, 2012

That liberal stooge of the unions, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, has done it again.
Paying the state labor movement back for getting him elected in 2010, Chafe has introduced a legislative package that… that uh,… that, well…that is remarkably similar to the proposals put forward by that snarling, snorting enemy of all unions, Gov. Donald Carcieri, several years in a row.
And still – STILL! – Chafee can still not get a good word, or even a neutral word, from the know-it-alls, the blog posters, the usual suspects who pollute the comment sections of newspaper websites, the callers to and (some) hosts of talk radio, the conservatives who seem to detest him with a visceral, vitriolic, knee jerk, irrational hatred that has no apparent connection to anything he does or doesn’t do. The guy can’t win for losing with those people.
Only RISC’s Donna Perry, on last week’s “A Lively Experiment,” seemed willing to give Chafee his due for doing exactly what these folks have been calling on him to do.
In fact, Chafee has gone farther than even Carcieri ever dared to.
Everybody is picking on pension COLAs (cost of living adjustments) these days, so that is no big headline, but unilaterally taking away step increases that are an integral part of teachers’ contracts? Putting to one side the fact that such a proposal is an unconscionable attack on the collective bargaining process, it takes an incredible amount of testicular fortitude for an elected official to even suggest something like that.
Not that the courts would actually let it happen, or that the General Assembly is going to let it even get as far as the courts, but it took a lot of guts for the governor to wager his political capital to get that kind of discussion going, and he is getting nothing for it in terms of support from the people who should be behind him.
If the so-called fiscal conservatives who make such noise about how this state is going to hell in bucket won’t stand up and support these proposals that they were so loudly in favor of when they were Carcieri’s ideas, just because it is Chafee who is now championing them, none of them are going to see the light of day and those same people will be relegated to once again grousing among themselves about how unions have too much power in state government, something that hasn’t been true for a good five years now.
Remember how during the Cold War, our Kremlinologists used to pore over photographs from Soviet May Day parades to try to divine who was in and out of favor in Moscow? Well, study the pictures from Thursday’s pension announcement -- what do you see and what don’t you see? You see a long line of mayors, many of whom are watching their cities and towns circling the bowl. They are the only ones actually and figuratively standing behind Chafee.
You don’t see the Speaker of the House. You don’t see the Senate President. You don’t see the Patron Saint of Pensions, Gina Raimondo.
House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed issued a statement about Chafee’s pension bills that lent new breadth and depth to the phrase “arm’s-length.”
There will be plenty of time down the road to discuss the merits of Chafee’s bills – and, no doubt, some of them are legally and morally questionable – but right now, we’re talking strictly about the politics of the situation.
Those who are constantly spouting off about how the state is dead if those nasty union contracts aren’t reined in have to get in line behind the governor, or shut up and admit that all they ever really wanted to do is gripe and complain and getting something accomplished only gets in the way of that.

Central Falls Receiver Robert Flanders was hooted and jeered at by the public again last week when he attended a meeting of the school trustees.
Resentful of an outsider coming in and brushing aside the elected mayor and City Council, the people of Central Falls often hurl the epithet “dictator” at Flanders, a former state Supreme Court judge. The problem is, he seems to do everything he can to live up to it.
State law grants the receiver the power to displace a community’s elected officials, but with that power comes the responsibilities of the people whose jobs he has taken over. Like it or not (and Flanders appears to REALLY not like it) part of that responsibility is political: to explain to the people over whom he is exercising power what he is doing and why he is doing it. He also must -- and this is every bit as important – listen to what those people have to say about what is happening in their community and what is being on their behalf and in their names.
Flanders may not be in elective office, but like every governmental leader in this land from the President of the United States to the local water commissioner, the legitimacy of his authority is based on the consent of the governed. Right now, Flanders does not have that.
Flanders is an exceedingly competent man, and he is nothing if not impeccably honest. He put together a plan for Central Falls to allow it to emerge from bankruptcy and sustain itself for several years going forward. Yes, that plan caused a lot of pain, but it was a monumental job and a lot of people said when he started that it would be downright impossible.
But as technically brilliant as he has shown himself to be, when it comes to dealing with the residents of the city – their opinions, their concerns, their hopes, their fears -- he has a streak of “I don’t need this crap” that is a mile wide and a mile deep.
But he does need it. He needs it to be a legitimate leader and he especially needs it to be an effective one. Flanders’ imperious attitude is his biggest drawback right now. If you asked the people of Central Falls to describe the receiver in one word, I would bet my next paycheck that the single most frequent response would be: “arrogant.” If I’ve heard that word once from the people in Central Falls, I have heard it 400 times.
It is a shame he is letting that perception take hold. Flanders is whip-smart and one-on-one or in small groups he can be personally charming. But that does not come across when he is exercising his official duties.
If the receiver is going to be the only government the people of Central Falls have, he has a duty to listen to them – even the loud and obnoxious ones, even the ones who he thinks are dead wrong. No matter what, those people have a right to petition their government for a redress of grievances and at this moment, he is their government.
Why does he think people are clamoring for him to answer questions at the school trustees meeting? Why are there cardboard cutouts of him and his chief of staff, Gayle Corrigan, in seats at City Council meetings? Why were there hundreds of people in the streets on the night the winter parking ban was supposed to go into effect?
Because people are convinced that they have no voice in government; that the person in charge isn’t listening to them. That’s what makes them shout all the time.
If the state is going to appoint any more receivers for financially troubled cities and towns – and it sure looks like it may have to – there should be some kind of training program for them to go through first, if only to prevent them from repeating the same mistakes that have occurred in Central Falls.

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