Look in the mirror

By IAN DONNIS  |  January 18, 2006

Although the legislature might revisit the measure this year, the ongoing influence-peddling probe leads West to assert, “I think it will be very hard for them to successfully gut this bill in this climate.”

Where's the public
Fifteen years ago, the state-banking crisis galvanized a forceful public response — mainly because the scandal hit people directly in their pocketbooks. “If all of a sudden your money’s gone and you have no idea of when you’re going to get it back, that’s pretty serious,” says Carcieri communications director Steve Kass, who, as a radio talk-show host at time, helped rally State House protests attended by thousands of people.

Now, though, although there’s certainly a cost associated with political corruption — albeit a more abstract one — increased cynicism seems like the most typical response to the ongoing probe of dealings on Smith Hill.

“I don’t know that I’d blame the public, but there’s some culpability on the part of the public,” says Operation Clean Government’s Arruda. “[Government is] going to bear what the public will tolerate. If the public tolerates this kind of influence peddling with little oversight, so be it — this is what is what we’ll be dealing with, scandal and denial. When the public gets to the point where it will no longer tolerate it, that will produce change.”

Although the fallout might work to Caricieri’s advantage as Rhode Island Republicans renew efforts to build their legislative numbers, it does little to instill confidence in public institutions.

As one State House veteran puts it, “Every time something like this happens, it’s five steps back in the public perception. I think a lot of people in the general public throw up their hands and say, ‘We can’t fix it.’ Everyone is lumped in one big package. It’s like the whole General Assembly is corrupt, or everyone who’s elected is corrupt — and that’s not the case.”

Fox sounds a similar note: “We accomplish a great deal in the General Assembly to improve the quality of life for all Rhode Islanders. It is unfortunate that isolated examples tarnish the good work of so many law-abiding public servants.”

Given Rhode Island’s picaresque history, further indictments and future political scandals seem like a certainty.

What would be truly surprising is if public interest in politics were to approach a level where it might discourage such illicit activity.

___

Email the author:

IanDonnis: idonnis@phx.com

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