Can’t we all get along?

The following commentary was published in today’s Providence Journal (but not available on their website).

Center-right majority will reform RI
Providence Journal 11.24.2010

David Anderson’s commentary (GOP corruption in RI, November 12, 2010) was factually inaccurate with regard to his reference to OSPRI, but his rant brings up a good point in that the center-right coalition has such a large tent that differences of opinion are unavoidable but that doesn’t mean we can’t still work towards common goals.

Firstly, Anderson asserted that Governor Carcieri “successfully threatened the Ocean State Policy Research Institute (OSPRI) to withdraw a commentary about the state’s NECAP testing.”  This is completely false, and the Providence Journal should have known this as we did submit the commentary in question to them in February 2009, but they ran Anderson’s version instead, perhaps because it was more sensational. As you can see by his recent commentary, he sees “corruption” around every turn, even among like-minded people.

And there in lies the problem. “Can’t we all get along?”

As we saw in the recent election, the “center-right” political movement is significant in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, there is a lot of parochial infighting and elitist egos that get in the way of a coordinated effort.

Case in point: the four-way gubernatorial campaign. By most accounts, three of the four candidates were on the center-right side of the political spectrum, in effect, splitting the moderate-conservative vote so that the liberal candidate could win.

Chafee did the smart thing, at least if getting elected was his goal. After supporting Obama and leaving the Republican Party, he couldn’t count on the GOP or the Tea Party movement for his grassroots efforts. So the unions provided the Astro-turf and boots on the ground needed for success.

And while that was going on, the center-right was splintering to ineffectuality.  Ken Block, the Moderate candidate, thought that his start-up party with a limited platform could somehow supplant the GOP with its national infrastructure responsible for two of the largest political landslides in our nation’s history. And he was willing to spend a considerable portion of his own wealth to do it. Imagine how that money could have been used to help the movement, rather than divide it.

And the largest group of center-right taxpayers in the state, the Tea Party movement, was completely caught off guard by the business coalition, RISC, when it endorsed Caprio. Why would a self-proclaimed “statewide” taxpayer group endorse a candidate without even consulting with the boots on the ground and the rest of the coalition?

With the disturbing statewide and General Assembly results from this past election, many of us now realize that our coalition must become more unified. Reform can only be accomplished if we start working together more effectively.

OSPRI will continue to provide leadership in this area by organizing “The Thursday Meeting” – a monthly meeting of advocacy groups dedicated to building a coalition of support for common goals. We have already achieved success in coordinating efforts among our coalition: thwarting last year’s attempt to bring binding arbitration to the teacher contract process; and in providing light on the Deepwater Wind project (an example Mr. Anderson  failed to note where OSPRI vocally spoke out against the position of Governor Carcieri).

These meetings are based on the model used by the One Rhode Island Coalition spear-headed by the unions. They may have figured it out first, but we will do it better because we have principle on our side in addition to the silent majority that we know is out there. Our challenge now is to present a unified message and amplify it as much as possible across multiple fronts.

The recent Pew Research study identifying Rhode Island as the most liberal state in the nation isn’t a surprise, but it only showed that 42% of RI’ers identify themselves as liberal. That leaves 58% on the center-right side of the isle. But a stronger coalition is the 64% of people who voted against the union-endorsed gubernatorial candidate. Herein lies our strength, and of course plenty of room for internal dispute. Groups on the fringe or who may disagree on any particular issue must learn to still maintain unity with the coalition instead of running off and pursuing their own independent and counter-productive agendas.

I can’t speak to Mr. Anderson’s claims about the GOP but if they are based on the same conspiracy theories as is his claim against OSPRI, then I warn the readers to be leery.  OSPRI has and will continue to shine light on public policy by providing thorough and non-partisan analysis, and Mr. Anderson is more than welcome to join with our growing coalition of reform minded individuals and organizations.

It’s the right, or center-right, thing to do.

Bill Felkner is the founder and director of policy and organizing for the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, and chairs RI’s center-right coalition meeting.



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