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Governors in review


Speaking of the runup to 2010, local PR impresario Dave Preston over the weekend had a look-back at Bruce Sundlun's accomplishment-laden tenure (cleaning up the credit union crisis, expanding the airport, reforming workers' comp) in the governor's office. The headline cited Sundlun as a "model of strong leadership."

You will not find Sundlun on the list of “most cuddly” governors. But you will find him high on lists labeled “effective,” “straightforward,” or “plain, old-fashioned leadership.” There were distractions and stumbles, but Sundlun was a governor who knew what he wanted and how to get it done. He did not shrink from controversy, and he did not let conventional obstacles, such as the financial meltdown that greeted him on his first day in office, deter him. In answering the question “When?” the governor was always consistent: “Right now.”

Sundlun's successor, Lincoln Almond, faced a perception as someone who was a bit lax in his engagement with the job, but, as Brian C. Jones wrote in the Phoenix in 2002, Linc was better than you think

With little more than seven months left in Almond's tenure, a powerful case can be made that he'll be leaving office with a respectable record that contrasts with the widespread scorn he's receiving. Here's a partial list:

* By one count, there are 41,000 more jobs in Rhode Island than when he took office in 1995. The unemployment rate, which was then more than seven percent, is now about four percent. Big-name companies like Fidelity Investments and Dow Chemical actually have squabbled with each other for the right to build new facilities and boost their workforces (Almond helped mediate their dispute).

* There's a half-billion dollars worth of construction going on at the state's colleges, reversing decades of decay. The state is recognized nationally for having one of highest levels of health insurance, thanks to a state program that Almond brought into its own.

* Rhode Island's much-scarred and scorned highways and bridges are under repair and getting smoother and sounder every year. The state bond ratings are improved, so less taxpayer money is squandered on interest.

* Taxes are down. Really. The state income tax rate has been lowered nearly 10 percent, just as Almond vowed it would be when he took office. And some other "anti-business" taxes are being phased out, too.

All this relates to how Governor Carcieri will be remembered.

During the recent media blitz following his televised address on the supplemental budget, Carcieri touted a significant decrease in the number of state employees and efforts to raise Rhode Island's tax competitiveness, among other things. The governor's critics, of course, judge him more harshly. Bottom line: a good part of Carcieri's legacy will depend on what he can get done in his remaining time in office.

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