So these conversations at the national level about abuse of power, it’s been interesting for Rhode Island, because for the last 15 years we’ve been working on this. So we’ve talked to [the national organization] about the kind of work we’ve done at the state level that mirrors exactly what they’re talking about.
Our [issue] here was much more about legislative overflow, rather than executive, but the same idea — that there are supposed to be three branches of government, checks and balances, and when that system breaks down, the entire system will crumble. So it’s been interesting because we’ve provided them with quotes from the Founding Fathers that we’ve used over the past couple of years, and some ideas about how to really make that issue important to everyday citizens today, because people don’t think of it as a major issue when it really is.
What are some of the top issues being pursued by common cause of Rhode Island?
Separation of powers is still kind of lingering out there. Right now, we’re in the Supreme Court, waiting, hopefully, for a ruling by them on whether separation of powers will truly be implemented in Rhode Island. There are a number of boards and commissions that were reconfigured, and there are a few remaining that are among the most powerful: CRMC [the Coastal Resources Management Council], the Narragansett Bay Commission, the I-195 Redevelopment [board].
With CRMC, the reason why we believe this particular question is really important, the House of Representatives asked four questions; three had to do with CRMC, and whether CRMC was carved out of separation of powers, and is it a different entity. But one of the questions was broad reaching and it simply said, is separation of powers self-executing when the voters passed it?
Essentially, it means once the voters passed it in 2004, did it go into effect, or does the legislature need to act? Our position is, of course, it went into effect, because this is about structure of government, and if you have to have the legislature do something to have that go into effect, it’s essentially giving the legislature a veto power over the voters and the Constitution. That, for us, is a serious implication for the rest of separation of powers, and not just CRMC.
Tell us about your recent concern about the state board of elections.
It does impact everyday Rhode Islanders. It came to our attention that the Board of Elections — it has seven members, all appointed by the governor, with Senate confirmation — and it has always been that way. It came to our attention that there were three vacancies, and one pending for the summer, and no appointments had been made for them. So come the fall, or if the Senate had left in June and not confirmed, in the fall when we have our elections, there wouldn’t be a quorum to certify those elections, both the state and federal. So we raised a flag about that. Voters would have gone to the polls in vain had there not been a certified election.