Why RI Republicans fail

Quick to blame Democrats, the local GOP can’t seem to find candidates or a long-term plan of its own
By IAN DONNIS  |  November 14, 2007
GOPinside

As a leading critic of the status quo at the General Assembly, Providence Journal op-ed columnist Edward Achorn has made repeated reference to the apparent “learned helplessness” of Rhode Islanders. In a 2005 piece, he defined this as “a depressive state brought on by repeated blows to the psyche. When people (or, in laboratory experiments, animals) start believing that nothing they do matters, they stop even trying to have their way.”
 
Yet when Achorn used a November 6 column to ask whether Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s improbable rise as a Republican in a Democrat-dominated state offers a lesson for Rhode Island, the columnist succumbed in part to his own diagnosis.
 
“It is notoriously difficult, of course, to change any state’s political culture,” he wrote, offering a sense of defeat about the local prospects for reform. “Old habits and voting patterns are almost impossible to break. Special interests amass power and send out tentacles to control every nook and cranny of the political process.”
 
Granted, the advent of a competitive GOP presence in the General Assembly is unlikely to happen overnight. Yet Rhode Island Republicans, who — like their counterparts elsewhere — tout their enthusiastic belief in personal responsibility, often remain their own worst enemy when it comes to establishing a greater profile in the legislature.
 
We have to go back almost 25 years — to 1983 — for the last instance of significant GOP gains on Smith Hill. During a special election that year, voters, infuriated by a badly botched Senate redistricting plan that caused $1.5 million in taxpayer costs, tripled the number of Republican senators, from seven to 21.
 
In the time since, Republicans have failed at the most basic tasks of political organizing. As Brown University political science professor Darrell West recently noted on WJAR-TV’s 10 News Conference, “You can’t beat somebody with nobody,” and the Rhode Island GOP has failed to run candidates in a large percentage of legislative races in recent years.
 
After making a more aggressive push that yielded modest gains in 2004, the party took the proverbial two steps back when Governor Donald L. Carcieri, who barely gained reelection last year, focused more narrowly on his own race. To make things worse, in a big Democratic election season, Republicans majorities were undone on town councils in Foster, North Kingstown, Richmond, and Narragansett, and the councils in Foster and Warwick went entirely Democratic.
 
While incumbents certainly enjoy advantages, the Rhode Island GOP has played a leading role in its own marginalization. “The party does almost nothing to support its candidates,” West says. “They provide very little in the way of financial support. They’re so disorganized there isn’t even a coherent platform around which they can rally.”
  
Yet instead of recognizing the failure of Republicans to run a competitive slate of legislative candidates in successive election cycles, many party supporters prefer, essentially, to whine about the ruling Democrats on Smith Hill.

1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |   next >
  Topics: News Features , U.S. Government, U.S. State Government, University of Rhode Island,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY IAN DONNIS
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   RHODY'S LOCAL FOOD MOVEMENT FINDS ITS GROOVE  |  February 23, 2009
    Five years ago, when Farm Fresh Rhode Island (FFRI) launched its mission of promoting Ocean State-produced food, co-founder Noah Fulmer discovered a curious disconnection in the local food chain.
  •   TICKET TO RIDE  |  February 11, 2009
    In April 1999, two weeks after I started on the job at the Providence Phoenix , the FBI raided City Hall, formally unveiling the federal investigation that would land Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci Jr., Rhode Island's rascal king, behind bars.
  •   ADVOCATES RENEW PUSH FOR PUBLICLY-FINANCED RI ELECTIONS  |  February 04, 2009
    During a news conference Tuesday afternoon in the State House rotunda, proponents of significantly expanding publicly financed elections in Rhode Island — a concept they call "Fair Elections" — cited a litany of reasons for why it would be good for the Ocean State and its citizens.
  •   THE UPSIDE OF HOPE IN RHODE ISLAND  |  January 29, 2009
    Everywhere one turns these days, there's seemingly more bad news about Rhode Island: the unemployment rate, one of the highest in the nation, tops 10 percent — and the state's running out of unemployment assistance.
  •   BROGAN TAKES ON TEENS, SOCIAL NETWORKING IN TEASER  |  January 28, 2009
    Former Providence Journal reporter Jan Brogan is out with her fourth mystery, Teaser .

 See all articles by: IAN DONNIS