Is Carcieri RI's Barry Goldwater?
A Rhode Island Republican couldn’t have asked for better timing. Four weeks ago, when Governor Donald L. Carcieri took the state out of a regional effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the Providence Journal’s front-page account was, for practical purposes, basically invisible. The top-billed story in the ProJo — which remained an ongoing staple of talk-radio and local television news — was Carcieri’s effort to aid Madeline Walker, the 81-year-old woman who had been evicted from her South Providence home because of an unpaid sewer bill.
In the instant analysis of some observers, Walker’s plight was a particularly brazen instance of a routine and exploitative practice. In fact, as the Journal’s Mark Arsenault reported, the elderly woman’s eviction was a more complicated matter that involved liens for unpaid taxes and equity used for bail in criminal cases. Still, in the prelude to a legislative session in which a $60 million-plus deficit could spur sparks between Carcieri and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly over cuts in social programs, it hardly hurt the governor to be on the side of the angels — a needy black woman in a poor part of the capital city. And although environmentalists and Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch criticized Carcieri for pulling out of the agreement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions — something that affects every Rhode Islander through global warming — the issue got a shred of attention by comparison.
Certainly, the timing in which the two stories hit the paper could have been coincidental. Asked whether there was a deliberate linkage by the governor’s staff, Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal says, “No, absolutely no.” Then again, the image of the grandfatherly governor reaching out to lend a hand during the holiday season was quite in keeping with the administration’s self-scripted narrative. And although it seemed clear at the outset that Carcieri was going to project a more robust presence than the quietly effective Lincoln Almond, he has emerged, to the begrudging admiration of his partisan detractors, as Rhode Island’s version of the great communicator. Carcieri’s message mastery and comfort in speaking is so natural, says one Democratic observer, “[That] you can’t teach it. There’s no speaking coach that’s going to create Don Carcieri, or the image of him. He comes across as very genuine, and if anyone is responsible for that, it’s Don Carcieri.”
Brown University political science professor Darrell West calls the 63-year-old former corporate CEO the most effective gubernatorial communicator he has seen at the State House. “He knows how to frame a message and to talk to people in a way that they understand,” West says. “He understands that you need to boil down your message to a few simple points, and repeat those points over and over so they sink in with the voters.”
: News Features
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