First, though, voters need to indicate their thinking this November on the partisan balance of power.
H. Philip West Jr., the executive director of Common Cause of Rhode Island, questions part of the governor’s public-minded self-description, although he praises him for going a long way in restoring the credibility of the state Ethics Commission through strong appointments. “I can understand him saying he’s on the side of the people,” West says. “I’m not sure he always is. His embrace, for example, of voter initiative as a wedge issue sounds populist and all for the people.” But voter initiative has been used in a number of Western states “to prohibit any kind of expansion of civil rights, either by the legislature or by the courts.” In passing separation of powers legislation, West adds, “[Carcieri] played a part, but he also claimed ownership at a level that didn’t reflect the enormous amount of work that had gone on, including by legislators, before he had come on the scene.”
In terms of the 2006 gubernatorial contest, Fogarty’s fundraising ability remains one of the major unknowns in his fight against the wealthy GOP incumbent. As Brown’s Darrell West says, “The big question is if he can get enough money to run [broadcast] ads to get his message out. You really need to be able to control the timing and content of message delivery to be effective with voters.” (Fogarty has hired a Massachusetts-based fundraiser, Coleen Burgess, and fourth quarter results from 2005, due to be made public at the end of January, will offer some insight on how he’s faring in building his war chest.)
Another wild card is posed by the complaint filed with the state Board of Elections by William Lynch, chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, charging that the state GOP illegally used money from the national Republican Party to air a pro-Carcieri commercial in 2002. While the GOP denies any wrongdoing, a special counsel has found that Republicans seemingly broke state law. State Republican chairwoman Patricia Morgan has responded by calling for the resignation of Elections chairman Roger Begin — who in December took himself out of the board’s handling of the case — because of conversation he had about the matter with Lynch.
The board’s next hearing on the matter, to consider a number of motions filed by lawyers for the Republican Party, is scheduled for January 24.
“The important thing to note is that there is an independent prosecutor who has authority to investigate this matter and to subpoena individuals,” says a Democratic observer. “Breaking campaign finance laws may not necessarily be an issue that grabs voters’ attention, but if we have learned anything throughout history, it’s that the cover-up is always worse than the crime. And the Carcieri administration has not been forthcoming on this issue before the Board of Elections or in the media. But when you’re subpoenaed and have to take an oath to tell the truth, that’s a whole different ball game. If there turns out to have been collusion between the Republican Party and the governor’s campaign to circumvent Rhode Island’s campaign finance laws, that’s a serious issue.”